4 Ways to Respond to "I Don't Know"?

I am sure as parents, we have all heard plenty of "I don't know" responses from our kids.

Sometimes, they really meant it. But have you ever suspected that your kids may know more than they let on and are using "I don't know" often as an easy response to your questions?

Over the years, I have learnt to differentiate the true meanings behind all these "I don't know" replies that my kids and students gave to my questions.

To begin with, I do ask hundreds of questions a day. Yes, hundreds of questions.

I know all too well, that my kids, like all kids, will pick the easy way out and patronise me with "I don't know" to save themselves the trouble of furnishing me with details unless they see a huge incentive. It was especially so when my kids were younger. Now, I hear "I don't know" less frequently because they know I do not accept such quick responses easily.

I see the same reactions and responses from my students, especially the ones who are new to my programmes.

Usually, those who have attended my classes for a while will learn to reflect on their own "I don't know" and figure out how they could better phrase their responses to my questions. Of course, my students and own kids have been taught and shown how to reflect and identify the true reasons behind their "I don't know".

Naturally, this learning process takes time to develop, but the earlier we start teaching them this important skill of reflecting on their own "I don't know" and realising what exactly they do not know, the sooner they will master it.

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The Struggle to Speak Fluent Mandarin

Why do so many Singaporean students struggle to speak fluently and write competently even after years of Chinese tuition and enrichment? 

The main reason is these kids come from English-speaking families.

Instead of listening to good Mandarin being spoken daily in their environment and having sufficient practice speaking the language, most Singaporean students view Chinese as just another subject that they have to learn and excel in. Even if students resort to tuition to help them, the improvement they made is only for the grades.

The teaching methods used in Chinese tuition and enrichment centres are ineffective and insufficient to encourage kids to speak up. With the teachers speaking/teaching most of the time and little time for kids to practise speaking, it is impossible to learn to speak good Mandarin.

Besides, the huge class size in tuition centres and Primary schools means teachers are unlikely to be able to provide sufficient time for individuals to practise speaking good sentences. 

The heavy dependence on worksheet-based activities/readers and overemphasis on word recognition also creates a false impression of competence.

Without the ability to speak good Mandarin and express one's thoughts/views fluently, it is nearly impossible to write well. 

Even when kids come from a Chinese-speaking or bilingual environment, they may not necessarily find it a breeze to excel in the composition (作文) component of the Chinese examinations.

Writing compositions requires more than a strong language foundation. Besides this, the student must master the writing techniques which are expected of them, but not always effectively taught in schools. 





Our Chinese Lapbookers (click HERE for more) programme aims to achieve 2 main objectives:

1. to raise confident Mandarin speakers who can express their thoughts and views fluently;
2. to build a strong language foundation so the child can competently write short stories and compositions (作文) and with ease once he starts Primary school.

Parents whose children have attended/are attending our Bright Minds Lapbookers classes will know that our focus is always on every child's learning process. Our lapbooking process is NOT about reading a story, making a few crafts and doing some worksheet- based activities.

Learn more about Our Lapbooking Style and Why It Is So Effective!  

Similarly, for our Chinese Lapbookers programme, it is NOT about reading a Chinese story, discussing in Mandarin and doing a few crafts while speaking Mandarin. Even if we add in some word recognition and writing activities, it is still insufficient to achieve our main objectives (as stated earlier), especially for children from English-speaking families. 

Reading lots of Chinese storybooks with a child and doing word recognition activities may be possible to teach a child to read Chinese words. Drilling with assessment books may teach kids to fill in blanks and answer questions. Teaching a Kindergarten 1 or 2 kid ahead of the Primary school syllabus is possible to create the impression that the child has a strong foundation.

But do all these learning activities truly build a strong foundation in Chinese? 

Unfortunately, the short answer is NO.

With enough drilling (read: lots of assessment books from Popular), kids may be able to ace Primary 1 and 2 Chinese curriculum. But once the composition (作文) component is introduced in Primary 2, the child's real standard will show. Those with weaker foundation will struggle to write a decent piece and many have to resort to memorizing model compositions.

Parents with kids already in Primary schools will know that many kids cannot express their thoughts and views or hold a decent conversation in Mandarin fluently, despite scoring above 85 marks (band 1) in exams. This is fine in lower Primary, but if this problem persists, it is most likely that the exam scores will slip drastically by the time the child is in Primary 5 and 6.





Word Recognition, Reading vs Comprehension

Being able to recognise words and read sentences does not necessarily mean children can understand what they read. Being read to often also does not mean the child will be stronger in his ability to comprehend stories.



It is a misconception that we should only teach comprehension skill after the child can read and write. In fact, intentional instruction of comprehension skill before the child can read hugely benefits his acquisition of vocabulary and development of reading skill.

At From Tiny Acorns, we expose students as young as 3 years old to rich spoken language, carefully selected stories as well as engaging and interactive activities designed to encourage students to connect, question and infer. Such practices strengthen children's ability to comprehend what they are read to, which in turn accelerate their ability to read. 




Older students learn more advanced comprehension strategies such as summarizing and synthesizing as they are exposed to reading materials of different genres and increasing difficulty. 

Readers can’t understand what they hear, read, or view without thinking about what they already know. To comprehend, learners must connect the new to the known. Kids must be prepared not only to think about what they already know but also to revise their thinking when they encounter new and more accurate information.



Consistent exposure to our Bright Minds Lapbookers and Chinese Lapbookers programmes ensure our students become competent and motivated readers of both English and Chinese.

Learn more about our programmes:
Bright Minds Lapbookers (age 3 to 8 years)  http://bit.ly/2r3Q3ot
Chinese Lapbookers (age 4 to 10 years)   http://bit.ly/2u5qSSK