lunes, 31 de octubre de 2011

Grammar clinic: Will vs going to

The internet keep surprising me day after day. A few weeks ago I read an entry post by ESL Chesnut where they have collected a number of resources on the net in which the differences and similarities between will and going to were dealt with.

Watch the choice of videos below. I think the differences between will and going to will be all too obvious after you have watched them all.

If you need further practice and would like to do some online written activities go to ESL Chesnut here, where you will find some other resources Anna Costikoglou has compiled.

Writing workshop 4: Feedback

When your teacher corrects your compositions, they are giving you feedback, so that you can do some things differently in the future and improve your writing ability. This way, learning happens.

There are two conditions to make feedback work:
1 The feedback must be useful and usable.
2 You must use it.

The teacher’s feedback may come in three different ways, although most teachers combine two or even the three types of feedback described here:
A) Correcting: sometimes teachers correct what is wrong; some other times they simply underline errors, leaving it to the student to work out where the problem lies; on occasion they tell students the kind of error (tense, word order, spelling), but they don’t correct it.

B) Comments like ‘do some work on indirect questions’ or ‘improve on paragraphing and connectors’ or they give some explanation of vocabulary items or a grammar point the student seems not to know.

C) Grades: Some teachers don’t give a grade, some others do (6/10).

We are going to take it for granted that the teacher’s feedback is useful and usable. If it isn’t, you should talk to him/her and let them know that their feedback isn’t really helpful to you.

As for the second condition, the way a student uses feedback entirely depends on him/her. There are several things you can do in this area. Here are some suggestions. Choose the one(s) which suit you best, but make a point of working on it on a regular basis:
A) Memorising: Read the teacher’s corrections, make sure that you understand them and finally try to memorise them. Look at them from time to time.

B) Re-writing: Keep a copy of the work you hand in to your teacher. This is very easy if you write your composition in a word processor. Read the teacher’s corrections and check that you understand them. After a few days, go back to the copy you made of your original composition and try to spot the mistakes in the composition. Then you can compare ‘your’ corrections with those of the teacher.

C) Collecting points: Read the teacher’s corrections and make sure that you understand them. Then, in a notebook, make notes on the points the teacher corrected: depend on, not of; used to is only used in the past, for the present we use usually. You can group the corrections in categories (prepositions, tenses, articles, vocabulary). Look at the points from time to time.

This is a summary of chapter 4 of Feedback, Cambridge University Press, an excellent course for intermediate students to develop their writing skills.

Remember you can gain access to the previous entries of the Writing Workshop by clicking on the 'Writing workshop' tag on the righ-hand side of this blog. They include:
01 Presentation of our written work.
02 Having something to say: How to get ideas for our written work.
03 Assessment criteria: How our written work is marked in exams.

Next week: Paragraphing.

domingo, 30 de octubre de 2011

Charles Dickens's characters in pictures

Opening a year-long celebration marking the bicentenary of Charles Dickens's birth, The Guardian has compiled a guide in words and pictures to some of the most vivid personalities in literature, from Miss Havisham to Mr Micawber, the Artful Dodger to Little Nell.

Click on the picture below to see the full guide and read some short descriptions Dickens wrote about these characters.

You can also visit the Charles Dickens museum here and read and article about Dickens' times and life here.

How to improve your presentation skills

How to improve your presentation skills was a post Jeffrey Hill published on his blog The English Blog in late September this year.

I liked the video for a number of reasons: The topic may be of interest to a large audience, it gives us an excuse to listen to English to intermediate English students and, last but not least, we might use it as a springboard for conversation, as Jeffrey suggests.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and note down the pieces of advice the coach gives the girl after her two presentations.

After watching the video get together with an English-speaking friend or relative and do what Jeffrey suggests: Prepare a one-minute presentation on a given subject. One of you plays the role of the coach, giving positive feedback and points for improvement. Then swap roles.

You can read the transcript here.

Changing the time video

Here's an animated CBS explanation for moving our clock forwards and backwards in spring and autumn which we published in March this year.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and say whether the statements below are true or false.

1 We change the time to save energy.
2 Daylight Saving Time was first used in the US.
3 Daylight Saving Time was also useful in the 1960s oil crisis.
4 The use of heating and air-conditioning systems means that we use more energy than we save.
5 People in Indiana were happy with changing their clocks.
6 People are healthier with more sun light.

You can read a transcript here.

You can also watch this video explaining the background to time change.

You can read the transcript here.

1T 2F 3F 4T 5F 6T

sábado, 29 de octubre de 2011

The history of Halloween

Self-study activity:
Watch this History Channel video about the history of Halloween and say whether the statements 1-7 below are true or false.

1. Tribes of Celtic farmers believed there was one day a year when evil spirits could rise from their graves and walk amongst the living.
2. Druid priests tried to predict whether their villages would survive the summer.
3. Ordinary Celts lit great candles and disguised themselves to repel and confuse the spirits.
4. Pope Gregory IV established “All Hallows’ day”, a day honouring all saints known and unknown on November 1st.
5. In the mid 19th century a pumpkin famine drove two million starving Irish to America.
6. The origins of trick or treating are quite clear.
7. Halloween is one of the most profitable holidays on the calendar, earning retailers billions of dollars.

You can read the transcript here.

You can also look up the following Halloween resources on this blog:

1T 2F 3F 4F 5F 6F 7T

H/T to Elena Perez for the activity.

Language tip: 'control of' or 'control over'

A few weeks ago The MacMillan English Dictionary published an entry about which preposition to use after the noun control, either of or over.

Click on the picture below to read the explanation they give.

Song: I am, by Hilary Duff

I learn about I am through the ELT Song Chart of It's magazine. The song is of interest to us for several reasons:
  • It's suitable for students of all levels, so elementary (Básico 1 and Básico 2) students will enjoy it.
  • It lends itself to the study or revision of personality adjectives and their pronunciation.
  • If students get together to practise or a teacher uses the song in class, a nice activity to do after listening to the song is using the adjectives as a springboard for conversation, where students have to apply the adjectives in the song to describe people they know.

Finish it off

Finish it off is a nice conversation game from EFL Classroom to play with friends or classmates so that we speak English while having fun.

The way we play the game is self-explanatory: We are given the stem of a sentence and we must finish it off in a meaningful way. To further develop our oral skills we can explain the reasons why we completed each sentence the way we did.

It is true that some of the sentences are only suitable for intermediate students, but even elementary students will find that they can use some of the sentences in the game.

viernes, 28 de octubre de 2011

Talking point: Do boys have less intense friendships than girls?

How important are your friendships?
How do you think boys’ friendships differ, in general, from girls’?
Do boys' friendships often “fade” in intensity in adolescence and after?
If so, why do you think that is?
Do you think everyone needs intimate friendships to be healthy and happy?
Why or why not?
Do you find that girls are encouraged to cultivate more intense friendships than boys?
Do stereotypes ever get in the way of having the relationships you want to have with a friend or friends? Have you ever suffered the loss of a close friendship?

Before you get together with your conversation group to discuss the topic of differences between boys and girls in the concept of friendship you may wish to read this The New York Times article by Jan Hoffman “Allowing Teenage Boys to Love Their Friends”.

During your discussion, you may need to interrupt your partners on occasion. Do it politely using some of these expressions:

Can I interrupt just for a moment?
Excuse me for interrupting, but …
I’d like to comment on that.
Sorry to interrupt, but …

Similarly, after being interrupted you will be willing to return to what you were saying. Use some of these expressions to do so:

As I was saying …
To get back to what I was saying, …
I’d like to get back to …
Anyway, …

Forest boy

German police are still trying to figure out the identity of a teenager who walked into Berlin City Hall on September 5, claiming to have been living in a forest. According to German media reports, the boy knows nothing of his origins.
Watch this BBC news video and answer the questions below.

1 How old is the boy?
2 How long has he been living in the forest?
3 What language does the boy speak?
4 How long had the Cambodian woman been missing?
5 Who had snatched Ramu?
6 Who did John Sseebunya live with?
7 What sport was John Darwin doing when he disappeared?
8 Why was he sent to prison?

You can read the transcript here.

1 seventeen 2 five years 3 English 4 twenty years 5 wolves 6 a group of monkeys 7 canoeing 8 For fraud. He swindled the insurance money

jueves, 27 de octubre de 2011

Pronunciation clinic: dessert vs desert

What's the difference in pronunciation and meaning between dessert and desert? Lots of English students seem to have difficulty with them.

Watch this Sozo Video and find it out. Remember you can also use the online MacMillan Dictionary on this blog to read further examples and listen to other native speakers pronouncing these two words.

Anecdotes: A party I recently attended

Watch these two anecdote videos about a birthday party from the MacMillan Inside Out web page and answer the questions about them.

1 Whose birthday party was it?
2 How old did he turn?
3 What was special about the party?
4 What kind of party was it?
5 What was the theme of the party?
6 Why?
7 What fancy dress did she wear?
8 Where was the party held?
9 How many people turned up at the party?
10 Did she know everybody?
11 What did they eat?
12 What did they do all night?
13 Who did she dance with at the end of the night?

1 Her brother’s 2 Nineteen 3 It was a surprise party 4 A fancy dress party 5 The letter G 6 Her brother’s name is Ges 7 Lady Gaga 8 At her sister’s house 9 Forty-five 10 No, just a handful. All of her brother’s friends were there 11 Pizza, burgers and chicken wings because they had a barbecue 12 They played music and danced 13 A twenty-one-year-old

1 When was the party?
2 Whose party was it?
3 How old did she turn?
4 Who was invited to the party?
5 What did they eat?
6 Did they dance?

1 Last weekend 2 Her friend’s Sarah 3 Thirty 4 Loads of friends and family 5 A massive birthday cake and loads of other food 6 No during the official birthday party, but afterwards they went to a club, where they danced until very late

Now over to you. You are going to talk about a party you've been to. Think carefully about what you are going to say before you start talking. Use the questions below as a guideline to help you structure what you are going to say.

Whose party was it?
Why did he/she have a party?
What sort of party was it?
Was there a theme?
Where was the party?
How many people were there?
How many people did you know?
What did you eat and drink?
What was the music like?
Did you dance?
Did you stay until the end?

Now get together with an English-speaking friend or relative and tell each other about your anecdote.

miércoles, 26 de octubre de 2011

Ashton Kutcher's First Scene in Two and a Half Men

I have made it a habit to watch Two and a Half Men in summer time. I find it funny, original and  entertaining. Since Charlie Sheen was fired from the series, the Two and a Half Men fans were looking forward to Ashton Kutcher's debut in the ninth season.  Here is it finally.

Watch the short clip and answer the following questions.

1 Why was Ashton in the ocean?
2 Why is he so unhappy?
3 Is Ashton broke?
4 Whose house is Alan Harper (Jon Cryer) living in?

You can read the transcript here.

1 He was trying to commit suicide 2 His wife or girlfriend has dumped him 3 No, he's got a fortune (his wife demands 1.3 million dollars of him) 4 His brother's, who has just died

Virtual Farm

Virtual Farm is an online game which will give you the opportunity to find out all about farming and the environment. Two of our farmers, Sally and David, are ready to show you around the virtual farm.

There are lots of fun things to do on this walk, with lots of fascinating facts about farms and the animals and plants that live on them, which you can read about or listen to.

You can visit many different parts of the farm, meet the animals and look at the machinery. You can even go pond dipping!

martes, 25 de octubre de 2011

The Name Engine

What's the correct pronunciation of these names: Rachel Weisz, Rebecca Romijn, Hermione, Granger, Joe Pesci?

The Name Engine provides the correct name pronunciations of athletes, entertainers, politicians, newsmakers, and more. Even well-known names are often pronounced in different ways, leaving you to wonder what the correct pronunciation is. You'll find the right answer here. Better yet, you'll actually hear the right answer.

On the minus side we must say that The Name Engine is on the making, but if you badly need to know how to pronounce a name, you can ask The Name Engine to include it on the site.

Also, do not overlook two great online pronunciation dictionaries we have mentioned here, where you might also find how to pronounce names:

Speakout Pre-intermediate: Time out

Watch this video from the Longman Speakout series and note down the answers people give to these two questions:

What do you like doing in your free time?
What are you going to do this weekend?

Now answer the questions for yourself.

You can read the transcript here.

lunes, 24 de octubre de 2011

Writing workshop 03: Assessment criteria

In the first installment of this writing workshop we discussed presentation: Presentation is important because it reflects on the quality of our writing and speaks of who we are and how respectful we feel towards the reader. But presentation, let’s face it, doesn’t have much to do with the quality of the content.

In the second installment we touched on the topic of ideas and how to get them. Having something to say is essential for a good piece of writing. If we are unable to produce anything in writing, the teachers will also be unable to mark our work.

What next? Today we are going to discuss the assessment criteria that teachers at EOI Aragon use to mark compositions. It is important that we are aware of them, so that we can fulfill as many of them as possible when we write our compositions, especially if we are sitting an exam.

There are four criteria we should pay attention to when writing a composition: 1 Adequacy; 2 Coherence/cohesion; 3 Linguistic range; 4 Linguistic accuracy

Criteria 1 and 2 stand for 40% of the overall mark. Criteria 3 and 4 stand for 60%.

Is the composition well presented?
Does the student do the task completely?
Does the student keep to the required number of words?
Is the content (ideas) relevant to the task?
Does the student respect the conventions of the piece of writing (formal/informal letters, descriptions, articles, and so on).

Does the text read well and can be understood without ambiguity?
Does the text progress naturally, with no repetitions and no monotony?
Is the text well organized and structured in a logical order?
Is the text divided in paragraphs?
Are paragraphs and sentences correctly linked through connectors and through a good use of punctuation marks?
Are pronouns, adverbials and tenses correctly used?

Linguistic range
Are both vocabulary and structures varied and complex enough for the student’s level?
How many different vocabulary items are used?
How many times is the same word repeated?
How many different tenses are there in the text? And conjunctions?
Is the student translating from his/her own language at times, and so creating incomprehensible information?
Does the text have (a few) complex sentences?
Are there expressions commonly used in everyday English?

Linguistic accuracy
Are both vocabulary and structures correctly used?

For most students, having something to write about and trying to make as few mistakes as possible are the two key factors when writing. But after reading the questions above, they might understand the reasons for the marks which are given to their compositions.

As you can see, composition writing is much more than writing in English, and much more than writing in English without mistakes. It has to do with our general knowledge and our understanding of the world and the way we structure ideas and present them on paper.

Next week: Feedback (the teacher's corrections of our written work)

Lucky bird rescued

Self-study activity:
Watch this short news item about a rescued parakeet and say whether the statements below are true or false.

1 The bird was recued from a fire.
2 The parakeet can sing 'Cucaracha' and some other songs in different languages.
3 The guy who is adopting the bird has been trying to adopt a bird for a long time.
4 The parakeet will be the first bird in his household.
5 He will allow the bird to be free everywhere.

You can read the transcript here.

1F 2F 3T 4F 5F

domingo, 23 de octubre de 2011

Daniel Radcliffe interview

Self-study activity:
Understanding in detail this excerpt of Daniel Radcliffe interview for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - part 2 would be really demanding for Intermediate students.

However, you might not find it so difficult to answer some general questions. Let's give it a try.

Watch the five-minute video and answer the questions below.

1 When did the interviewer see the film?
2 Which part [of the Deathly Hallows] is more action-packed?
3 Is Daniel Radcliffe pleased with his perfomance?
4 Was Daniel happy with the Resurrection Stone scene?
5 What are the most important things Daniel is taking from the Harry Potter experience?
6 What's Daniel's father's nationality and what religion is his mum?
7 What special characteristic do Harry Potter fans have?
8 Where is Daniel working now?
9 When did the interviewer meet Daniel?

You can read the trasncript here.

1 yesterday 2 the second part 3 yes 4 he was frustrated when filming it but it is fine on screen 5 memories, friends and two pairs of Harry Potter glasses 6 his father is Irish and his mum is Jewish 7 curiosity (and imagination) 8 in Broadway 9 when he was ten years old

Culture shock

Culture shock describes the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one which is unfamiliar. It is an experience described by people who have travelled abroad to work, live or study; it can be felt to a certain extent even when abroad on holiday. It can affect anyone, including international students. It includes the shock of a new environment, meeting lots of new people and learning the ways of a different country. It also includes the shock of being separated from the important people in your life, maybe family, friends, colleagues, teachers: people you would normally talk to at times of uncertainty, people who give you support and guidance.When familiar sights, sounds, smells or tastes are no longer there you can miss them very much. If you are tired and jet-lagged when you arrive small things can be upsetting and out of all proportion to their real significance.

This is the first paragraph of the section on Culture Shock offered by UKCISA, UK Council for International Student Affairs.

It goes on to explain the areas of life culture shock has an effect on:

Social roles
Rules of behaviour

Read everything on culture shock in the UKCISA webpage, which includes its different stages, the effects and some advice to help you overcome culture shock.

They also let us know about What's up with culture?, a similar site for those students who are going to move to the States.

sábado, 22 de octubre de 2011

Vocabulary clinic: In the beginning vs at the beginning

The Language Tips section of the MacMillan Dictionary Blog explained the difference between at the beginning and in the beginning a few weeks ago.

At the beginning is used to refer to the start or first part of something. It is usually followed by of, and it used in situations with a clear beginning and end (a year, a class, a chapter, a book).

In the beginning means ‘at first’, and it usually suggests a contrast with a later situation. It is not usually followed by of.

Grammar Genius: Present Simple vs Present Continuous

Hamilton House ELT has a more than interesting collection of videos on their YouTube channel.

On this video Básico 1 and Básico 2 students can revise the difference between present simple for habitual actions and present continous for actions we are doing now.

The video also shows some examples of stative verbs, [verbs that never take the present continuous form]: love, like, hate.

Finally, we can also see the use of present continuous to talk about fixed future plans (my cousing is coming; he's only staying for dinner; I'm staying for a week).

You can read the transcript here.

viernes, 21 de octubre de 2011

Talking point: How much do you gossip?

  • How much time do you spend every day gossiping or listening to gossip, whether in person or online?
  • Do you think gossiping is dangerous?
  • Do you think you could refrain from gossiping for an entire day?
  • What are some of the consequences of gossip that you have observed in your own life?
  • Talk about your experience of gossip.
Before you get together with your discussion group, you may like to gain further background information about the topic by reading this The New York Times article, In Small Town Gossip Moves to the Web, and Turns Vicious.

When you get together with your friends, you may agree or disagree with the ideas they express. Use these expressions to show your attitude to what they say:

I quite agree.
You are quite right.
I agree with you entirely.
That’s absolutely true.

Partial agreement
I agree up to a point, but...
I agree with you to some extent.
I see what you mean but...

I’m not sure you’re right there.
I’m afraid I can’t accept that.
I can’t possibly accept that / agree with you.
(I’m afraid) I don’t agree.

Social Media

Social Media

How can your business benefit from these social networks? Even if you are not in business, how do you go about setting up a Facebook account or your Twitter page? What are the advantages?

Social Quickstarter gives us all the details about it in their user-friendly online guides.

Self-study activity:
Watch Social Quickstarter promotional video and fill in the blanks in the transcript below with the missing words. The activity is not difficult and is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermedio 1 students.

Social Media 101, from Social Media Quickstarter from Social Media Quickstarter on Vimeo.

Does your business feel like an (1) ... sometimes, like you’re trying to figure things out, stay (2) ... to your customers, the community and the rest of the (3) ... all on your own? You know you need to find a way to connect with your customers when you are not (4) ..., but there’s one of you, and hundreds, thousands or millions of them.

Enter Social Media. It’s changing the way people connect with each other. You know that you're happy because customers have always been your (5) ... for success. When they like you, they tell other people.

Social Media is really nothing more than people talking to other people. Every time they say something, it can be (6) ... by dozens even hundreds who (7) ... be interested in what you’re doing.

Constant Contact is all about helping small businesses and that’s why we created the Social Media Quickstart. It puts all of the important information you need together in one place, organized with step by step (8)... . So you can get going today.

1 island 2 connected 3 world  4 face-to-face 5 recipe 6 heard 7 might 8 guidance

Here is an introductory video on Facebook.

Facebook Overview, from Social Media Quickstarter from Social Media Quickstarter on Vimeo.

Here is an introductory video on Twitter.

Twitter Overview, from Social Media Quickstarter from Social Media Quickstarter on Vimeo.

And here is an introductory video on LinkedIn.

Linked In Overview, from Social Media Quickstarter from Social Media Quickstarter on Vimeo.

jueves, 20 de octubre de 2011

Learning adjectives to describe the weather

Básico 1 and Básico 2 [elementary] students are going to find this English Raven video of interest.

Jason Renshow has convinced his son Jamie to help him out on an activity to teach the weather adjectives.

Summer:  sunny, hot     
Autumn/Fall:   windy, cool    
Winter:  snowy, cold    
Spring:   sunny/fine, warm    
(Neutral):   rainy, stormy, cloudy, clear

The video is fun and easy to understand, and it will also give us practice in listening to authentic English in a conversation between a father and his son, while we consolidate or learn basic vocabulary and learn how to use it.

Listening practice with numbers, dates, names and addresses

Understanding numbers of all kinds (figures, telephone numbers, dates, credit cards) and the spelling of names is a bone of contention for English students, irrespective of their level, especially if they don't live in an English-speaking country and exposure to the language is mostly restricted to the classroom.

A few weeks ago Domenic Cole published a listening activity (van hire listening) to give students practice in this conflict area. Domenic Cole's blog focuses on preparing students for IELTS. If you are interested in taking IELTS, his blog is a must. But even if you just want to develop your English for general purposes, you will find Domenic's tips and activities of great interest.

I think this listening activity on numbers and spelling is suitable for students ranging from Básico 2 (elementary) to Intermedio 2 (intermediate) students. The former might be more than happy getting 5 answers out of 10 right, while the latter should aim at 9 or 10 out of 10, while Intermedio 1 students should aim at getting 7 marks out of 10 right.

You can download the activity sheet here and the key and transcription for the recording here.

miércoles, 19 de octubre de 2011

Are office romances a mistake?

Self-study activity:
Today's task might be a bit more daunting than usual, but I feel we can give it a try to check how well we do with authentic English and very little -if any- contextual help.

Before watching the video draw up two lists with, in your opinion, the advantages and disadvantages of having a romance with someone you work with. On the video they call it "office romance", but I feel we can apply the situation to all work environments.

Now watch the video and check how many of your ideas were mentioned.

You can check your answers by reading the transcript here.

50 difficult words to pronounce

English Club has asked their Facebook fans, tweeters and chatters to share the English words they find most difficult to pronounce.

They have compiled two lists. By clicking on this link you will be directed to the first batch of words (words 1-25). Here you will be able to listen to Tara Benwell's Canadian accent. She will give you a definition of each word and tell you how the words are pronounced. Follow Tara's advice: Listen, repeat the word, repeat the example sentence.

1. thistle
2. crisps
3. should
4. would
5. clothes
6. order
7. murder
8. air
9. literature
10. language
11. onomatopoeia
12. deterioration
13. little
14. assailant
15. catastrophic
16. alter
17. exclamation
18. crocodile
19. unfortunate
20. six
21. development
22. decision
23. ambulance
24. law
25. low

Click on this link to go to words 26-50 and follow the same procedure as above.

26. gorgeous
27. thoroughly
28. daughter
29. challenge
30. enhance
31. variety
32. influence
33. effect
34. whistle
35. throughout
36. adjective
37. island
38. appliance
39. shrimp
40. refrigerator
41. scissors
42. cough
43. though
44. through
45. praise
46. free
47. trade
48. vocabulary
49. psychologist

You can also check the entry 100 most mispronounced words for Spanish speakers. No pronunciation is available here though, so you will have to rely on the great online pronunciation dictionary howjsay to get the pronunciation of these words right. Another excellent online pronunciation dictionary is forvo.

H/T to Speak English.

martes, 18 de octubre de 2011

Live a healthy life

Life a healthy life, a presentation pieced together by Kirsti Dyer, physician, health educator and professor, gives us food for thought for a whole term.

The 35 slides tell us about all aspects of our lives: diet, sleep, exercise, relaxation, health, fun, friends, the lot.

You may wish to compare your lifestyle with the ideas put forward by Dr Dyer. To do so, why don't you get together with an English-speaking friend or relative and discuss some of the issues Dr Dyer touches on?

Speakout elementary: Where do you live?

Where do you live? is another video from the Speakout Longman series. Watch the video and note down the answers the people interviewed give to the questions below.

Then answer the questions for yourself, if possible with an English-speaking friend or relative. You may wish to try and read the transcript here beforehand and choose some of the expressions the native speakers used in their answers.

Where do you live?
Do you live on your own, or with friends or family?
How often do you see your friends and family?
What do you like doing with friends or family?

lunes, 17 de octubre de 2011

The French Wine Industry

Self-study activity:
Watch this short video clip about Beychevelle wine makers near Bordeoux, and say whether sentences 1-7 are true or false.

1 The started exporting wine to China in 2008.
2 The price of a bottle of Beychevelle’s best wine was almost €50 in 2010.
3 The wine makers do not sell to China directly.
4 Chateau Beychevelle is a well-known brand name in China.
5 The Chinese are getting to know more and more western products.
6 Beychevelle is not 100% happy with the success of their wine in China.
7 The high price of the wine is welcome by everyone.
You can read the transcript here.

1F (we don’t know) 2T 3T 4F (its commercial name in China is “dragon boat”) 5T 6T 7F (the wine’s loyal customers may not buy it any more)

Writing workshop 2: Having something to say

Having something to say

Everything you know or hear or see, everything that happens to you, anything that strikes you, can be used by you in your written assignments: Your daily life, your direct experiences, your thoughts and feelings, books and magazines and films, what you watch on TV or read in the newspaper, what people tell you, even what you have studied –they can all be transformed by you into what you have to say and write about.

But what if you don’t have anything to say on a given subject? One of the reasons why we find it difficult to say something in writing is simply that we have not said it in writing before. We are used to saying things face to face to people we know. We are not used to saying things in writing to people we don’t know, so sometimes nothing comes when we have to write.

We need practice. What we need is to cultivate our own voice in writing: to get into the habit of putting our own experience, perceptions, ideas, reactions and interests on paper or somebody else’s experience, perceptions, for that matter (through the news, conversation, TV, books, newspapers, films, anecdotes) to manage to get to every nook and cranny of reality. That way, we will manage to comprise a very wide spectrum of experience and we will be able to find inspiration and ideas for practically any composition topic we are given.

We need practice. We need to cultivate our voice in writing. So it would be a great idea to write as many written tasks as possible, to write all the compositions your English teacher asks you to write. Sometimes, even if we do all the written homework, we feel we need extra practice. Why not keep a diary? You can make a point of writing an entry once a week or once every other week. And you can try to write about a wide range of subjects, both concerning you and the world: the news, your feelings, life’s difficulties and pleasantries.

This way, you will have to find the words you need to write about life, it will make you start to look for things that are worth writing about, it will get you into the habit of writing. And take your diary-writing seriously: Once you have decided to write about a topic, plan what you are going to write about, make a few notes beforehand, not sentences, divide your writing into paragraphs, check your entry for linguistic accuracy before you make your final draft.

And make sure you follow all the presentation requirements we talked about in the first instalment of this writing workshop.

Next week: Part 3 -Criteria teachers use to correct compositions

Most  of the ideas here have been taken from the writing course Feedback, Cambridge University Press

domingo, 16 de octubre de 2011

The 1,800-Mile Cat

From The Learning Network of the New York Times comes this fill-in the blank activity about Willow,
a calico cat who disappeared from a home near the Rocky Mountains five years ago, and who was found on a Manhattan street and will soon be returned to her family, where two of the three children and one of the two dogs may remember her.

To complete the gaps, use your own words and phrases, or scroll to the end of the post to choose from a scrambled list of the words or phrases that were removed.

Another way of doing the activity is reading the original article, or listening to someone read it first, and then fill in the blanks from memory.

You can check your answers by reading the original article here.


Bold agency and animation studio presents the video clip of The Beatles song "Help!" made with kinetic typography.

Kinetic typographay is the technical name for "moving text", that is an animation technique mixing motion and text to express ideas using video animation. The text is presented over time in a way intended to convey or evoke a particular idea or emotion.

sábado, 15 de octubre de 2011

Breath vs breathe

The Macmillan Dictionary has lots of interesting features that need exploring in detail.

One of those features is the Language Tip of the Week, where we are given advice on how to use specific vocabulary items.

A few weeks ago, they presented the difference between breath (noun) and breathe (verb). Click on the picture below to fully read the explanation, which comes together with examples and links to the Macmillan Dictionary, where we can listen to the differences in pronunciation between the two words.

How to find a job at 55

Self-study activity:
Watch this video clip from TodaysTHV, where we will be listening to a short report in which laid-off workers after 55 are given some advice on how to find a job.

What does the following refer to in the video clip?

2.1 million
6 weeks
dye your hair
wine company

You can self-correct the activity by reading the transcript here.

viernes, 14 de octubre de 2011

Eco hotels

Self-study activity:
Watch this short video about how Gaya Hotel has gone green in San Francisco Bay area and answer the questions below.

1 In what areas can the hotel save between $50,000 and $75,000?
2 What does LEED stand for?
3 How many rooms does Gaya Hotel have?
4 Why is everything made out of natural materials?
5 What incentive has Gaya Hotel got from the local authorities?
6 What has the hotel installed on the rooftops?
7 What happens during 10.00 to 4.00 at the hotel?

You can read the transcript here.

1 energy and water 2 Leadership in Environment and Energy Design 3 one hundred and thirty-two 4 so that it can be recycled in the future 5 a one-million dollar tax credit 6 solar panels 7 the lights are off

How to stay focused in the age of distraction

This is a blog post from Learning Fundamentals that caught my eye a few weeks ago.

The fact is the Internet, social networking, emails, ipods, ipads and the like are addictive. More and more people are getting hooked on the new technology in its different manifestations. So is there anything we can do about it?

The people behind Learning Fundamentals have come up with some suggestions for us:

Create Focus Rituals/Habits
Managing Email
Take Time to Reflect and Review
Help for Addicts
Take a Digital Detox
Managing Your Space
How to Work

Click on the picture below to read further information about the problem and how to fight it.

jueves, 13 de octubre de 2011

Subject and object questions

This is a nice revision activity from ESL.ABOUT to practise the difference between subject and object questions in English.

By clicking on the picture below you will have the opportunity to do two online grammar activities focusing on the difference between subject and object questions.

You can also watch this video by Ellen Quish where as well as subject/object questions all the wh-words are revised.

Water Splashing Festival

Self-study activity:
This is an authentic listening activity for Básico 2 students (elementary) taken from BBC Earth.

Watch the three-minute excerpt about a water festival in China and answer the questions below.

1 Where does the celebration take place?
2 What do the Dai call themselves?
3 How long have the Dai lived in the Yunan's river valleys?
4 What are the two most important things for the Dai?
5 What are the Dai grateful for?
6 Where do the rivers in the Dai region come from?

You can read the transcript here.

1 south-west [corner of] China 2 the people of the water 3 for more than 2,000 years 4 Buddhism and their home 5 the rivers and their land 6 from the mountains of Tibet

miércoles, 12 de octubre de 2011

Christopher Columbus

Self-study activity:
Watch this video from the National Geographic Kids that I discovered through the blog Ines Workshop, and say whether the statements below are true or false.

1 When Columbus was born educated people thought the Earth was flat.
2 Columbus decided to find a sea route Asia-Europe because it was impossible to import spices.
3 The Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella financed Columbus's voyage.
4 On 9th October the sailors rebelled against Columbus.
5 Columbus believed he had arrived at a place near Asia.
6 Columbus made three trips in total to the New World.
7 Columbus succeeded in finding the new sea route to Asia.
8 Columbus was the first European to reach America.

You can read the transcript here.

1F 2F 3T 4F 5T 6F 7F 8F

The penguin ruined his suit with fruit juice.

A few months ago we informed about Joanne Rudling's spelling blog here.

Joanna regularly posts practical activities which can be of interest to all English students, irrespective of their level.

Here she's revising the pronunciation of the ui pattern, as you may have worked out from today's post title,  The penguin ruined his suit with fruit juice.

Visit Joanne's blog and do the activity-cum-dictation that she has prepared for you.

Go Social Studies Go

Go Social Studies Go is a site developed by Kenneth Udhe, a social studies teacher in Michigan, for his students and the world.

Go Social Studies Go is essentially a series of multimedia books about common social studies topics. The site is divided into four main sections; World Geography, World Religions, Ancient History, and Colonial America. Within each section is a series of booklets containing text, pictures, videos, and links to additional resources.

So what is it in it for the English learner? I think intermediate students can greatly benefit from Go Social Studies Go, as it gives us the opportunity to develop our English vocabulary and reading and listening skills while learning Geography and History.

H/T to Free Technology for Teachers.

martes, 11 de octubre de 2011

Comparing people

This is a nice activity to revise the comparatives in English.

By clicking on the picture below you will be redirected to Cin Wilkinson's game Comparing People. The game is divided into two parts. In the first part, you will be comparing Bob, Homer and Alice and you only have to choose the correct comparative form.

In the second part you will be comparing Harry, Garfield and Sponge Bob, but you will have to add three missing words in the sentence: verb, comparative and preposition.

When you have finished, click on DONE to see how well you have done and check your answers.

H/T to The English you Need.

Speakout Upper-intermediate: Does money make you happy? (issues)

Do you think money makes you happy?
What things are more important than money?
Should wealthy people be taxed more to support the poor?

Watch this new installment in Longman's Speakout series and note down the answer each of the speakers gives to the questions above.

You can read the transcript here.

Now it's your turn. Get together with an English-speaking friend or relative and answer the same questions about you. Try and use some of the vocabulary and expressions the speakers on the video used.

lunes, 10 de octubre de 2011

Writing workshop 1: A neat presentation

One of the objectives of this blog for the 2011-12 school year is helping students to develop their writing skills, as one of the papers in the exam is writing.

Every Monday, we will be publising a blog entry with composition writing techniques to help students, especially those in the intermediate level, in the writing process.

The first post in this series, Presentation, was already published in September last year.


When writing a composition, or any other piece of writing for that matter, we must get used to drafting (writing on rough paper) it several times until we are happy with the end result. Nobody, even well-established writers, manages to come up with a decent piece of writing at the first go. We are not exception to it, and we must bear in mind the fact that we are writing in a foreign language and we are putting together an academic assignment, something we hardly ever do in our lives. So drafting, drafting, drafting is a key rule to composition writing.

When we are happy with our final draft, our composition will be ready to be published (handed in to the teacher, most of the times). Consequently, our document will have to keep to normal presentation requirements:

1 Standard-size A-4 blank paper (not ruled, or squared).
2 Double-spaced writing if we use the computer or with enough separation between the lines if hand-written.
3 Easy to read: Legible hand-writing, no crossing out, no changes, no insertions.
4 A margin (two centrimetres wide on the right, on the left, at the top, at the bottom)
5 A title: This is a must in all types of writing, especially if we are writing a story, a newspaper article, a blog entry.
6 The date when you hand in your composition.
7 Proof-reading: We must have checked our composition for accuracy before publication. That doesn't mean that there will not be mistakes in it (that is in fact why we are writing compositions -to learn, to improve, to have our mistakes corrected), but that there will be no mistakes that the students themselves could have corrected.

Treat your work with respect. Make it look good before you send it to the world. Treat your reader with respect.

The ideas presented here are a summary of chapter 1 of Feedback, Cambridge University Press, a writing course for intermediate students.

Next week: Having something to say.

Spray on clothing

Self-study activity:
Watch this short video clip, suitable for elementary (Básico 2) students, about what might be the latest fasion craze, spray-on clothing, which will allow you to make your own clothes, and answer the questions below.

1 How long does it take you to make clothes with a spray?
2 What season(s) can you wear these clothes?
3 Can the clothes be redesigned?
4 What applications does this technology have?

You can read the transcript here.

1 just minutes 2 all seasons 3 yes, they can be resprayed again and again 4 fashion, medicine (bandages)

H/T to English on Target.

domingo, 9 de octubre de 2011

One day on Earth

ONE DAY ON EARTH creates a picture of humanity by recording a 24-hour period throughout every country in the world.

They follow characters and events that evolve throughout the day, interspersed with expansive global montages that explore the progression of life from birth, to death, to birth again. In the end, despite unprecedented challenges and tragedies throughout the world, we are reminded that every day we are alive, there is hope and a choice to see a better future together.

Founded in 2008, ONE DAY ON EARTH set out to explore our planet’s identity and challenges in an attempt to answer the question: Who are we?

Here’s a trailer to the movie I got through Larry Ferlazzo but, more importantly, here is a link to the map where you can pick a video from just about anyplace in the world and watch it.

One Day on Earth - Motion Picture Trailer from One Day On Earth on Vimeo.

It's like, it is as though you were standing outside the universe looking in. We are not just a speck here. We are not even a speck in a speck. Ok? Were a speck in a speck in a speck.
May the 7000 actions of our brothers and sisters from around the globe, on the most wide spread day of environmental action in the planet's history make a significant difference.
One community trying to exist apart from all other communities is not in any way acknowledging the entirety of existence and how it depends, everything depends on everything.
All these... thousands, thousands of different minds, different views, different thoughts interconnected.

Talking point: Making decisions

Do you find it difficult to make decisions?
What helps you to make good decisions?
Do you usually turn to someone for help before making a decision
How long do you take to make up your mind before making a decision?
Have you experienced decision fatigue?
Do you think that being tired erodes your willpower?
Do you remember an important decision you made that you know regret?
Do you remember an important decision you made that you are really happy about?

Get together with your conversation group and discuss all the ins and outs of decision-making for you. Before you get together to talk, you may like to gain some insight into the topic through The New York Times article Do you suffer from decision fatigue?

During your discussion with your friends you will be stating your views all the time. Remember to use some of the following expressions when you express your opinion:

In my opinion/view …
Personally, I think …
I really don’t think …
[It seems] to me …
As I see it …
I reckon …
As far as I'm concerned
To be perfectly honest …

sábado, 8 de octubre de 2011

Tsunamis 101

Self-study activity:
Watch this short National Geographic video on Tsunamis and say what these figures refer to.

10 to 60

You can self-correct the activity by reading the transcript here.

Stop disasters

Stop Disasters is a game designed for students to learn about natural disasters, disaster prevention, and city design.

There are five game scenarios that you can play. You can plan to prepare for hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, and tsunamis. The scenarios are set in geographically accurate contexts of Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Caribbean.

You can learn more about these natural phenomena through BBC's animated guides.

viernes, 7 de octubre de 2011


Google’s autocomplete algorithm is the best friend of the inquisitive Web surfer.

Thanks to this powerful search tool, anyone can enter a simple, incomplete query like “Why does” and stumble upon the most popular questions asked by other curious souls. You’re missing out if you have yet to see how Google autocompletes “Why does”, “Why did” and the like.

Similarly, the algorithm can also provide an inside look at cultural stereotypes. Type in “Why do [INSERT NATIONALITY HERE]” and watch as Google instantly unveils the most-asked questions about the cultural group of reference.

Theresa Dold subjected 14 different groups to the test: Americans, the French, the British, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Dutch, Russians, native Americans, Mexicans, Italians, Greeks, Africans, Germans and Canadians, to which I have added Spaniards.

The results range from “objectively” hilarious to undoubtedly offensive and in no way represent personal views.

Self-study activity:
Get together with an English-speaking friend or relative and discuss what the most common stereotypes of the nationality groups mentioned above are, and to what extent people from those nationalities you have actually met conform to those stereotypes.

Then go over the screenshots Theresa has collected through Google’s autocomplete algorithm and discuss the stereotypes there.

Sportswoman of the year

Self-study activity:
Watch this interview with Korean skater Yu-Na Kim at the 31st Annual Salute to Women in Sports  held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in October last year and answer the questions below.

1 What category has YU-Na been nominated for?
2 Which sportswomen and atheletes did YU-Na know before the event?
3 Why has YU-Na moved to Los Angeles?
4 How long has she been living there?
5 What's Peter Oppegard [YU-Na's trainer] like?
6 Who is Michelle?

You can read the transcript here.

1 sportswoman of the year 2 none 3 to train 4 one month 5 calm and collected 6 a skater YU-Na admires

jueves, 6 de octubre de 2011

Aula Fácil

Aula Fácil offers intermediate students a free self-contained online English course which I discovered through Maripaz Ruiz blog.

It contains 26 lessons. Each lesson keeps to the same structure: There is an introductory oral activity about the lesson topic, followed by a listening activity based on a video.

After that, a teacher offers a video explanation of a grammar point, which is followed by a written activity on the same grammar point. Finally the same grammar point is practised in both listening and speaking activities.

All in all Aula Fácil course offers a structured approach to the English language for intermediate students, with lots of listening and speaking activities, which makes it suitable for intermediate students.

Lección 0ª Introduction
Lección 1ª It’s my birthday!
Lección 2ª Life events 
Lección 3ª Life after university 
Lección 4ª Amsterdam’s ‘clean up’
Lección 5ª Annoying & unusual rules 
Lección 6ª Dangerous situations
Lección 7ª Socialising 
Lección 8ª The perfect weekend 
Lección 9ª Film review
Lección 10ª Friends & Family 
Lección 11ª A famous capital city 
Lección 12ª Golfing genius 
Lección 13ª Sports time 
Lección 14ª Moral dilemmas 
Lección 15ª Problems & complaints 
Lección 16ª Life in the jungle 
Lección 17ª News Time 
Lección 18ª Mysteries 
Lección 19ª Fact or fiction? 
Lección 20ª Everyday English 
Lección 21ª Time for bed
Lección 22ª Fame & fortune 
Lección 23ª Celebrations 
Lección 24ª Chinese New Year
Lección 25ª Online social networking

Three stories from my life

This video clip is a summary of Steve Job's commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005.
The latest news of his death today  makes it really up-to-date.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and answer these questions:

1 Who was Steve's biological mother?
2 What's the second story about?
3 How many people started Apple?
4 What happened to Steve at 30?
5 When did he meet his wife?
6 What's the third story about?
7 Who wants to die?
8 How does Steve define death?
9 Which two things are important for us to have the courage to follow?

You can read the transcript here.

1 a young college graduate student 2 about love and loss 3 two 4 he was fired from Apple 5 after he had been fired from Apple and before returning to the company 6 death 7 nobody 8 death is the best invention of life 9 our heart and intuition

miércoles, 5 de octubre de 2011

Drinking in Britain

Self-study activity:
Watch this video from David Mitchell on his views about Britain's drinking culture and say whether the statements below are true or false.

The level might be a bit high even for Intermediate 2 students. Try to focus on the questions and construct meaning from the words you can understand, as the task is well within the grasp of Intermediate students.

1 David's mum enjoys a drink on occasion.
2 One and half hours is very little time in a pub.
3 The British don't usually eat when they drink.
4 It wouldn't be possible to stand the people at a party without drinking.
5 The British don't find it difficult to talk to acquaintances for a long time.
6 Britain's drinking culture encourages being slightly drunk.
7 David is in favour of Britain's drinking culture.

You can read a transcript here.

1F 2T 3T 4T 5F 6T 7F 

Pronunciation of regular verbs in the past

This blog has a number of entries about the pronunciation of regular verbs in the past and participle. By clicking on the tag Regular verbs on the right, you can get access to a number of posts which both explain the way to pronounce -ed endings in English and give you some practical activities for you to try.

Today, we are publishing a new addition to the list, coming from El Blog para aprender inglés.

First of all, watch this video by Monica, who gives all the explanations on how to pronounce these verbs.

Then visit El Blog para aprender inglés to practise pronouncing these verbs.

martes, 4 de octubre de 2011


Pronunciator was launched on September 1st and it contains basic vocabulary, verbs, phrases, and conversation in 60 languages, although our main interest will be English, I guess, and here we can choose between British English or American English.

There are 421 units of multiple lessons all completely free, although not all of the content is up yet, but it’s coming.

In addition to the audio flashcards, there are listening and reading exercises plus playback and vocal recognition modes where you can compare your pronunciation to the native speaker.

Básico 1 and Básico 2 (elementary) students will be specially interested in checking out the site, as they will be getting lots of listening and pronunciation material on basic structures and vocabulary.

H/T to Jennie en France.

Speakout Intermediate: When is it OK to tell a lie? (tales)

How do you find out what's happening in the world?
Do you always believe what you see or read in the news?
When is it OK to tell a lie?
Tell me about a time you told a lie.

Watch this video clip where some native English speakers answer the questions above.

Now you can answer the questions about yourself.

You can read the transcript here.

lunes, 3 de octubre de 2011

How books are made

How books are made is a five-minute Discovery Channel video clip which demonstrates the importance of vocabulary in the language learning process.

The process of book-making is strongly supported by the video footage, so it's not really hard to understand what the whole process consists of.

However, understanding the voice-over comments is a different kettle of fish, despite the fact the narrator speaks really slowly and we can hear every word she says.

My point here is that sometimes we get really worried about our communication problems in English, both to speak and understand, but more often than not the root of that deficiency lies in our insufficient input. We need to read a lot, we need to read regularly, we need to make a conscious effort to learn and develop vocabulary. Otherwise progress is going to be really slow.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and take notes of the process of book-making, as if you were attending a lecture at university. There's some specific vocabulary which you may find difficult. Try to ignore it and concentrate on the general ideas expressed by the narrator and the images.

You can self-correct and read the transcript here.