lunes, 30 de abril de 2012

Writing workshop (and) 29

This is our twenty-ninth and last installment in our writing workshop. Throughout our posts we have intended to make students familiar with some techniques and we have also tried to raise their awareness about specific writing formats and tasks they may encounter in an exam.

Posts 1 to 9 of the workshop are based on basic writing techniques and have a universal value. This is very useful advice we can follow if we want to write well, inside and outside the class, as English students and in life. The ideas on the posts are mainly taken from Feedback, a Cambridge University Press writing course that despite its age, it was published in 1994, it is as valid today as it was when it first came out.

Posts 10-13 list a number of connectors that may come in handy when writing compositions, when dealing with any sort of task where we have to write complex sentences or when we speak and must link sentences together. In many respects,  these posts are also a good opportunity for grammar revision, as some of the connectors listed are closely related to specific grammar points to express condition, result, cause, and so on. They are mainly taken from another great book we can still find on the market, Successful Writing, intermediate and upper-intermediate, Express Publishing.

Posts 14-28 are intended for students at an intermediate level who must sit an English exam with a composition writing paper. More specifically, they were written with the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas  Intermediate cycle exam in mind, and especially for the distance –That’s English!- students, as they must work at home and are often lacking in a tutor’s guidance about specific aspects of the exam and how to tackle them.

Posts 14 and 15 focus on the different types of tasks and how to understand them.

Post 16 makes a summary of the most relevant aspects of all the information published on this writing workshop up until that moment.

From posts 17 to 28 we focused on task formats that demand the students know specific conventions and formulas that may have a key influence in the overall mark:
Post 17: Informal letters/emails
Post 18 Formal letters
Post 19: Letters of complaint
Post 20: Writing a character reference
Post 21: A letter of application
Post 22: A letter of advice
Post 23: A letter asking for advice
Post 24: A letter to the editor
Post 25: A report
Post 26: Expressing your opinion
Post 27: Expressing a balanced argument
Post 28: Problems and solutions

In some of these posts, especially in 26, 27 and 28, some specific writing techniques were also touched on.

There many other types of writing tasks we haven't explored:
Description of people, places, buildings
Description of festivals and events
Writing stories and narratives
Writing reviews of films, books, plays, concerts, CDs, websites

We have decided against dealing with them here because their occurrence in the exam so far has been marginal and because, let’s face it, however much we try to “fence in” the written task, reality always proves itself impossible to cover.

I always say in class it’s easier to win the lottery than guess the composition topics in an exam. It is an exaggeration, but my point is, and the point we have tried to make on the blog is, that technique is very important, and technique, together with inspiration and our grasp of English, can help us sail through whatever written tasks we are faced with.

We know that some of the content in the writing workshop would have demanded a more detailed explanation, with practical activities and composition samples, but that is ground that overlaps a teacher’s task and that students should explore on their own if a teacher is not at hand, or with the help of some of the reference book we have mentioned here.

Just before the Easter break a student, who was badly pressed for time, asked me how he could make headway in English without devoting too much time to it. I am afraid to say I don’t have the answer for that, but if this is your case and you badly need some quick guidelines for composition writing, I think that posts 3 and 16 will do it for you.

Online vocabulary game

A few weeks ago Heidi Hyte from ESL Trail published information about a vocabulary online game, Lemons for Literacy.

Students who are interested can play and practise vocabulary while taking part in a good cause. Lemons for Literacy can be accessed online here.

domingo, 29 de abril de 2012

Chance meeting

Oxford University Press is about to publish the third edition of the English File series. One of the key elements of the series is the video material, where learners come across practical language in everyday situations.

In the video clip you can see below Rob and Jenny meet in the street. He's from London, and Jenny is from New York. The video is suitable for Básico 2 and strong Básico 1 learners.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video clip and answer the questions below.

1 When's Rob's interview?
2 What time is Jenny's meeting with Daniel?
3 What size does Rob need?
4 How much is the shirt?
5 What are the people in Jenny's office like?
6 Where is Jenny while she's talking on the phone?
7 Is Rob Jenny's boyfriend?

You can read the transcript here.

1 In twenty minutes 2 at half past nine 3 medium 4 forty-four pounds ninety-nine 5 nice and polite 6 outside a men's clothing store (American English for "shop") 7 No

sábado, 28 de abril de 2012

Wellworths, challenger business

Listen to Claire Roberts, a manager from Wellworths, explain the reasons that make the chain store a successful business.

Self-study activity:
Say whether the statements below are true or false.

1 The original Wellworths closed in 2009.
2 They now sell children's clothes and entertainment products.
3 One of the challenges Claire mentions is the difficulty to get the right amounts of stock.
4 Claire misses the Head Office telling her what to do.
5 Wellworths gets a lot of information and suggestions from customers and from other businesses.
6 Wellworths is unique because most of the staff come from the area.

You can read the transcript here.

1 F (it was Woolworths that closed) 2 T 3 T 4 F 5 T 6 T

viernes, 27 de abril de 2012

JK Rowling

Watch this short Biography Channel video clip about bestselling writer JK Rowling and answer the questions below.

1 When was JK Rowling born?
2 What happened in 1987?
3 What illness did her mum die of?
4 What did she use initials in her first Harry Potter book?
5 How did she manage to continue writing?
6 What did the series fourth installment become?
7 How many legal disputes are mentioned?
8 How many copies were sold of the sixth installment in 24 hours?

You can read the transcript here.

1) July 31, 1965 - 2) she graduated - 3) multiple sclerosis - 4) to attract more male readers - 5) through a grant [from a Scottish arts council] - 6 the fastest selling book in the history of publishing - 7) two, a claim that the books were based on a 1984 series and a parent school who wanted the books banned from school libraries - 8) 6.9 million copies

jueves, 26 de abril de 2012

Words of the World

From Nazi to Chocolate, words play a vital role in our lives. And each word has its own story. But where do they come from? What do they mean? How do they change?

Some of these questions will be answered by Words of the World - a series of short videos presented by experts from the University of Nottingham's School of Modern Languages and Cultures.

In addition to exploring the words themselves, they explore a little about the varied research experts are working on.

On the image below, you can see all the words in the project so far, and furhter below historian Paul Smith talks about the origins of Feminism.

Now, there is no transcript for the videos, although we can activate You Tube's CC on the lower side of the screen. This device is more accurate with some speakers than with others, and accent and background noise have a great influence on the accuracy of the transcription.

H/T to Free Technology for Teachers.

miércoles, 25 de abril de 2012

Talking point: How productive and organised are you?

Are you overwhelmed, with too many things to get to every day?
How organized are you about your homework and the other tasks you have to perform?
Are you distracted by technology, even while it sometimes helps you work more quickly?
What other things get in the way of your organisation?
What systems do you have to accomplish your goals?
What organizational tips would you give to others?
Do you keep to-do lists?

This is the question The New York Times posed their readers a few weeks ago. Get together with the members of your conversation group and discuss the topic of personal organisation.

In preparation for your talking session, you can read Dr David Allen's article in the NYT When Office Technology Overwhelms, Get Organized.

What do you think of Mr. Allen’s ideas?
Could you apply the “two minute” rule of doing anything that takes two minutes or less right away?
Have you articulated big goals for yourself, and do you regularly think about them?
What other methods do you have for staying organized and achieving what you want to achieve?

martes, 24 de abril de 2012

Writing Workshop 28: Problems and solutions

Problems and solutions

When we write, we always need to think about the reader. That means we have to introduce our ideas clearly. To do this, we need to use topic sentences.

We have mentioned topic sentences several times during this Writing Workshop. They help the reader follow the plan of our composition. They are like signposts for a driver.

Topics sentences are usually the first sentence in a well-organised and well-developed paragraph. But topic sentences are helped by other sentences within the paragraph, the supporting sentences, which develop the main idea, give examples, and explain points.

Let’s have a look at an example. Take the composition topic “The number of people who are overweight or obese is far higher than in previous generations. What are the reasons for this, and how can the problem be dealt with?”. We have included five points within our paragraph:

1 The main idea of the paragraph = topic sentence
2 An explanation of the main idea
3 An example
4 The solution to the problem
5 The result of the solution (i.e. what would happen if we tried the solution). We tend to use the conditional would because we are making hypothesis.

One of the reasons that so many people are overweight is that they eat junk food instead of cooking a healthy meal (1). It is common these days for people to eat takeaway food or pick up a ready meal from the supermarket, rather than cook a healthy meal (2). For instance, in the UK, sales of pre-prepared meals, which contain high levels of fat and salt, have increased dramatically in the last few years (3). To tackle this issue, the government could increase sales tax on food considered to be unhealthy (4). This would hopefully encourage consumers to buy healthier food and therefore lose weight (5).

There are several ways we can develop topic sentences in a paragraph. Let’s have a look at some of them:

a) Linking phrases to explain the main idea: That is to say, … / In other words, …
One problem in cities is the cost of public transport. That is to say, in big cities like Madrid the price of using public transport such as the bus or tube is extremely expensive. As a result, …

b) Giving reasons:  This is because… / The reason is…
One issue is that a lot of young children don’t have a healthy diet. This is because their parents don’t have time to cook, so they end up having takeaways and processed food. As a consequence,…

c) Describing facts: … means that …
One issue of living in a big city is the stress of getting from one place to another. Living in a big city means that it takes at least an hour to get from your house to where you want to go, which is very tiring and time consuming. For example,…

d) Describing the result: As a result, … / As a consequence, … / Therefore, …
One problem with working at home is that you don’t have contact with colleagues. As a result, it is difficult to improve your knowledge and skills, as you don’t get new ideas from workmates. For instance,…

Problems and solutions is another typical task we can come across in composition writing. As usual, a clear organization of our writing is key:

Paragraph 1: Cause 1 + Solution 1
Paragraph 2: Cause 2 + Solution 2
[Paragraph 3: Cause 3 + Solution 3]

With information from IELTS Advantage Writing Skills, Delta Publishing

Speakout Intermediate: Life in the past (History)

Do you think life is better now than in the past?
If you could have lived through a different age or decade, which would you choose and why?
What historical events or people have changed the course of history?

These are the questions people in the street are asked in a new installment of Speakout Intermediate, Longman.

What the video and note down the answers people give to the questions above.

Now it's over to you. If possible, get together with an English speaking friend and answer the questions about yourself. Try and use some of the expressions you heard on the video.

You can read the transcript here.

lunes, 23 de abril de 2012

Kate Middleton's First Public Speech

A few weeks ago the Duchess of Cambridge made her first public speech since the royal wedding at the East Anglia Children's Hospice in Ipswich.

Self-study activity:
Watch Kate Middleton's speech and complete the blanks in the transcript with the missing words. The activity is suitable for Básico 2 students.

First of all, I’d like to say thank you. Thank you for not only accepting me as your (1) ... but thank you also for inviting me here today.
You have all made me feel so (2) ... and I feel hugely honoured to be here to see this wonderful centre. I am only sorry that William (3) ... be here today; he would love it here.
A view of his that I share is that through team work so much can be (4) ... . What you have all (4) ... is extraordinary. You as a community have built the Treehouse; a group of people who have made every effort to (5) ... and help each other.
When I first visited the (6) ... in Milton, I had a pre-conceived idea as to what to expect. Far from being a clinical, depressing place for sick children, it was a home. Most importantly, it was a family home, a happy place of stability, (5) ... and care. It was a place of (7) ... .
Today, I have seen again that the Treehouse is all about family and (7) ... . For many, this is a home from home — a lifeline enabling families to live as normally as possible during a very precious period of time.
What you do is inspirational, it is a shining example of the (5) ... and the care that is delivered, not just here, but in the children’s (6) ... movement at large, up and down the country.
The feelings you inspire, feelings of love and of (8) ... , offer a chance to families to live a life they never thought could be possible.
So thank you again for inviting me here today. I feel enormously (9) ... to be part of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices and to see the wonderful life-changing work that you do. Thank you.

1 patron 2 welcome 3 can’t 4 achieved 5 support 6 hospice 7 fun 8 hope 9 proud 

domingo, 22 de abril de 2012

Tater Hill

I came across Tater Hill through Rob Whyte's ESL Writing. As a matter of fact, the activity is entirely Rob's, I've just added the transcript.

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

1. What did the girl wish for?
2. What is grandmother doing?
3. Where will the box go?
4. What does the girl want to keep?
5. Did she keep it?
6. What was the girl’s hair color?
7. Why did she hold a large rock?
8. What did she see on the hill?
9. Why is the girl sad?
10. What is Tater Hill?
11. Summarize the story.

You can read the transcript below, where you will find the answers to the questions:

A month. I wished and wished the baby would be a girl. A little sister. Maybe I shouldn’t have wished so hard. A boy might’ve lived.
It’ll be easier for your mama if these are gone when she gets home.
The clothes were washed and ironed, ready for a new baby, but now grandma was packing them up for another family. It wasn’t fair.
What about the yellow blanket I made. Can’t we keep that?
I couldn’t touch the blanket and not think of the tiny amount of Mary Kate on the church graveyard.
As long as I was running I didn’t have to think about Mary Kate and how grandpa said she had red hair just like mine. I didn’t want to think. The rocks felt good in my hands. The harder I threw the more the lump on the back of my throat melted. Finally it was gone. Now I imagine the rock was a baby. It felt an empty hole inside me.
Who was that in the woods? I stared at the disappearing figure until the woman blended in with the shifting shadows. I wonder if I’ve really seen anyone at all.

sábado, 21 de abril de 2012

Studying English in the UK

The school year is coming to an end, and at this time lots and lots of students of English feel the urge they have to do something extra to improve their English, and consider travelling to an English-speaking country for a few weeks to do so.

Watch this British Council video where several students talk about their experience of studying English in the UK, and try to understand as much as possible. Then, answer the questions below about yourself.

Have you ever been abroad?
Have you ever studied English abroad?
What are the differences between studying English in an English-speaking country and in your home country?
If you had the opportunity to study English abroad would you rather stay with a family or in a residence?
Would you rather go to a language school or work?

viernes, 20 de abril de 2012

Character study in New York

Character study can make a nice speaking-cum-listening activity for intermediate students of English.

Lesson idea:
Discuss with a partner:
What bizarre, strange, interesting people have you met throughout your life?
What bizarre, strange, interesting people live in your city?

Watch this NYT video.
What bizarre, strange characters can you see in it?
What's funny about them?
Describe them in as much detail as possible or describe what you can see them doing.

Watch again, and answer these questions.

1 How long has Reporter Corey Kilgannon worked for the NYT?
2 How many days a year does Gary Atlas of Brighton Beach swim in the ocean?
3 What two jobs does Sonya de Monacus have?
4 What nationality is the trapeze artist?
5 What's the general perception about New York people?

1) 15 years; 2) 365; 3) teacher and boxer; 4) French; 5) they are unfriendly

This is the transcript for the clip:
You know, it’s hard to go even a block in this town without meeting all kinds of interesting people.
I’ve written about so many characters in my 15 years in The New York Times, and I’ve met many more. Now I’m going to have a regular column in the Sunday Metropolitan section called Character Study in which I will be able to feature a different character of New York City every week.
Latino street vendors…
I’ll  be writing about the people who really make New York New York.
People like Gary Atlas of Brighton Beach, who swims in the ocean 365 days a year.
People like Linda Hutchinson, a Harlem woman who considers herself the second coming of Billie Holiday.
I’m so parallel to everything she’s been to except incarceration and drugs. You know heroine use.
People like Sonya de Monacus a New York City school teacher who is also one of the top-ranked female boxers in the world.
This French boy wonder still have it? Well, let’s see.
You know, it’s a fast-paced and crowded city and there is a perception that  New Yorkers can be unfriendly but if you take the time and talk to them usually the opposite is true. Most people can be pretty accommodating and they easily have a good story to tell.
I just put it up on my head and it took like a duck to water.

jueves, 19 de abril de 2012

The right location for a business

Oxford University Press has uploaded a few educational videos on the YouTube account which a part of the Business English Result series.

Today we are going to show Choosing the right location. Although the Business English Result series has business English students in mind, I think we can use some of the material for all kinds of English students, as the topic is quite general and relevant to them. The activity is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermedio 1 students.


What location is good for these businesses? Give reasons for your opinions.
   gym - supermarket-  marketing agency- car hire company -bank -flower shop

What does a graphic designer do? What sort of location do they need?

Video comprehension
Watch the video and answer these questions.
1 Why does Tom want a new office?
2 Where is the first office?
3 What equipment and facilities are there in the first office?
4 Where is the second office?
5 What equipment and facilities are there in the second office?
6 What does Tom decide to do?

Watch the video again. 
Write down the positive and negative things about each office.

Which location do you think Tom should choose? Include these points in your answer and think of reasons to support your opinions:

A graphic designer designs printed material – books, leaflets, posters, etc. They need an office with space for computers and the material they produce.

1 He works from home at the moment and needs more space for new staff. / 2 In the centre of town. / 3 An office with desks and chairs, phone, meeting room, kitchen and toilets, shelves. / 4 5 miles out of town. / 5 Kitchen and toilets, parking. / 6 He doesn’t make a decision.

Office 1 
+ furnished, near to the station, easy for clients to visit, 
-  other companies share the facilities, not attractive, small

Office 2 
+ beautiful location, big, light, car park
- difficult to get to, no furniture

You can read the transcript here.

miércoles, 18 de abril de 2012

Talking point: What would you name your neighbourhood

What neighbourhoods or areas are there where you live?
Do they have a name?
If so, why are they called that way?
What makes specific neighbourhoolds in your city different from the others?
What makes the area where you live unique?
What's good about your neighbourhood?
What would you change if you could? Why?
What might you name your area if you were in charge of giving it a (new) name?

Your neighbourhood is the talking point for this week. Get together with the members of your group and use the questions above as a springboard for discussion.

In preparation for your talking session, you may wish to read this New York Times article by Alison Gregor about New York's South of 72nd Street on the Upper West Side, Donald Trump's newest development, which needs a name.

martes, 17 de abril de 2012

Speakout Pre-intermdiate: Nature

Do you enjoy city life?
Do you like wildlife?
Are there any animals you are frightened of?

These are the questions the people interviewed answer in a new installment of Speakout, the video podcasts from Longman. Today's video is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students.

Listen to what the speakers say and make a note of their answers.

Now it's over to you. Get together with an English-speaking friend or relative and answer the same questions about yourself. If possible, use some of the expressions you heard the native speakers use.

You can read the transcript here.

lunes, 16 de abril de 2012

Writing Workshop 27: A balanced argument

A balanced argument

In some written tasks, we have to present the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages of something. In other words, we have to write a balanced argument.

As usual, our essay will be clearly structured:

Remember it is very important to make a good start to our composition by writing a clear introduction. In writing workshop 26 we mentioned the technique of writing a rhetoric question in the introduction to help us present the topic.

Today we are going to present a ready-made formula that may help us write the introduction. It consists of four sentences:
Write a general sentence about the topic (a)
Add an extra sentence to support the first (b)
Focus on the question in your own words (c)
Tell the reader your plan (d)

Let’s take, for example, the topic of studying on campus. An introduction to the topic using the above-mentioned technique would look like this.

(a) Living on campus is one of the accommodation options university students have. (b) In fact, the number of British students staying at halls of residence has increased dramatically in recent years. (c) However, there are both pros and cons to deciding to do this. (d) In this article/composition/essay/post, I will look at both sides and try to draw some conclusions.

We also discussed conclusions in writing workshop 26. Let’s work on a more specific technique to write a conclusion. A good conclusion generally consists of:
1 A general, one-sentence summary
2 A focus summary of the main points –avoiding repetition of vocabulary
3 Something new/your opinion

Let’s apply this technique to the composition of studying on campus:
To sum up, we must bear in mind that the main reason for being at university is to study. Although it has some obvious drawbacks, living on campus allows students more time to study without the distractions and responsibilities of rented accommodation. As a result, I would recommend people to live on campus if they have the chance.

When we write a balanced argument, or any piece of writing for that matter, we most certainly have to list reasons. The following linking words can be of help:
Firstly / In the first place / For a start / First of all
Moreover / On top of that / Secondly / What is more
Lastly / Finally

To introduce the advantages and disadvantages we can use some of these phrases:
Let’s begin by looking at the advantages of studying on campus.
I will start by looking at the advantages of studying on campus.
There are a lot of advantages to studying on campus.
The main/first/most important advantage of…
Another/An additional advantage is

Turning to the other side of the argument, studying on campus also has some downsizes.
However, there are some disadvantages to studying on campus too.
The main/first/most important disadvantage of…
Another/An additional disadvantage is

With information from IELTS Advantage Writing Skills, Delta Publishing and Straightforward Intermediate, Macmillan

Sephonics, the perfect tool to learn phonetics

Improving pronunciation is a priority among English language students. One of the tools teachers use to make students improve their pronunciation is phonetics.

In general, English students do not like phonetics, as they view it as something theoretical, difficult to grasp, and with little relevance over their grasp of oral performance.

The advent of online dictionaries, many of which offer the actual pronunciation of the word, has made the study of phonetics less relevant these days. Check this entry on this blog to get to know the best two online pronunciation dictionaries, Howjsay and Forvo.

However, the study of phonetics should still occupy a head of the table position in the English class because it is an invaluable tool to make students independent learners, not to mention the extra benefits of speaking practice and vocabulary learning they gain when studying phonetics.

Sephonics is freeware developed by Swedish Marianne Wartoft. This software will allow us to get familiar with the English alphabet, do tons of practice in matching sound with phonetic symbol, do spelling activities, listen to a word and identify its phonetic transcription, get familiar with reading the phonetic script and transcribe words into their phonetic script.

All in all Sephonics is software that can be of interest for students with a priority in improving their pronunciation or for teachers who want to work with their students in the computer laboratory in a systematic way. You can download Sephonics from here.

domingo, 15 de abril de 2012

How to make a staycation the perfect holiday

Yesterday's blog post on Staycation gave an idea for today's entry, how to make a staycation the perfect holiday.

Self-study activity:
Watch Sophie Uliano, writer of the book The Gorgeously Green, giving us some advice on how to make a staycation a successful holiday, and answer the questions below.

How to create a staycation -- powered by ehow

1 What is a staycation?
2 Why should you do staycation?
3 What are the two basic points one should bear in mind for the staycation to be successful?
4 What's the main rule for a staycation?
5 What should a family do if something urgent comes up?
6 What's the additional benefit of a staycation she mentions at the end?

You can check your answers by reading the transcript here.

sábado, 14 de abril de 2012


Stephen Fry, Julie Walters, Harry Potter star Rupert Grint and Downton Abbey actress Michelle Dockery are starring a campaign to encourage Britons to holiday at home in 2012.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and complete the blanks in the transcript with the missing words.

Where are the past poets, it’s just not worth it … an opinion. You are supposed to be on holiday. Why on earth would anyone want to go (1) ... in 2012. I mean, there are so many events all around the country, like the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Green and pleasant land summed it up pretty well, I think.


Because Wordsworth didn’t wander into the nearest tavern. No, he wondered (2) ... as a cloud, right here in The Lakes. Excuse me! No, no, no, this is the Tate Liverpool. There is no Tate Algove, I’m afraid.

And what about Anglesea, well, if it’s good enough for winning Kate.

You know, people have been coming to visit the Giants’ Causeway for centuries, hardly surprising, really, as you won´t find (3) ... like these on the beach in the Med.

Why bother crossing the Channel when you can come here?

Local. Reminds me of somewhere. Why go all the way to Bondi when you could come here to Bridlington?
And you won’t get to see the Olympic (4) ... relay in Corfu or Creet.

No (5) ... , no jobs, no (6) ... , no euros – no wonder holidays at home are so great.

And there’s (7)...% off from thousands of other great value offers if you book by (8) ...    .

You may watch many more videos promoting Britain starred by celebrities and well-known UK personalities on the Visit Britain website.

H/T to Jeffrey Hill.

1 abroad 2 lonely 3 rocks 4 torch 5 passports 6 visas 7 20.12 8 September 9th

viernes, 13 de abril de 2012

The most astounding fact about the universe

Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse  Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History and host of NOVA scienceNOW. Here he answers the question “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?”.

Try to understand as much as possible and make the best of this beautiful video. If you are so captivated by it that you would like to know everything he says, here's the transcript for you:

The Most Astounding Fact from Max Schlickenmeyer on Vimeo.

“The most astounding fact, the most astounding fact is the knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on earth - the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars- the high mass ones among them- went unstable in their later years- they collapsed and then exploded- scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy- guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These ingredients become part of gas clouds that condense, collapse, form the next generation of solar systems- stars with orbiting planets. And those planets now have the ingredients for life itself. So that when I look up at the night sky, and I know that yes we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up- many people feel small, ‘cause their small and the universe is big. But I feel big because my atoms came from those stars.”

That’s a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant. You want to feel like you’re a participant in the goings on and activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive.”

The bit we have just watched is part of another video Tyson recorded for Time Magazine for their 10 Questions feature.

You can watch the whole video below, but I am afraid we cannot offer a full transcript. Enjoy!

jueves, 12 de abril de 2012

The Life of Charles Dickens

In mid-February we posted a number of resources on Charles Dickens to commemorate his 200th anniversary. These resources included the BBC video The Life of Charles Dickens.

Chance has it that I have stumbled upon some online activities around this video created by English Exercises.

The activities include a fill-in the blanks listening activity, two vocabulary activities, and a general comprehension activity. A transcript of the video is also provided.

If you are Básico 2 or Intermediate 1 student, click on this link to be redirected to English Exercises and do the above-mentioned activities on  The Life of Charles Dickens.

Along these lines Oxford University Press also published in their February newsletter a number of online resources on Charles Dickens, which I list below.

Charles Dickens Gad's Hill Place
The Literature Network
Victorian Web - Web. Date viewed
BBC - Follow this link to complete a 'Get to know your favourite writers!' activity
Oxford Bibliographies
BRITAIN EXPRESS - Copyright David Ross and Britain Express.
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Dickens 2012

miércoles, 11 de abril de 2012

Talking point: What have you done to earn money?

Chance has it that yesterday we posted a blog entry about the way we travel to work and this week's talking point is about work, too.

Get together with the members of your talking group and discuss the questions below. In preparation for the activity, you can read the NYT's article on summer jobs for students or this other article on Joshua Johnson's train tap dancing.

What interesting, or not so interesting, things have you done in your life to earn money or even just to gain job experience or skills?
If you’ve never worked, what creative ideas do you have for using your free time on weekends, in the evenings or this summer to make some cash?
What do you think of the ideas of students like Joshua Johnson, Cameron Stephens or the other five teenagers profiled in this New York Times jobs article?

The article on Joshua Johnson comes with a short video where he explains all the comings and goings that led him to tap dance on the New York subway. Try to understand as much as you can. Some bits are within the grasp of strong intermediate students, some others are really hard. Anyway, if you want to understand everything he says, here's the transcription of the video:

At least two weekends a month Joshua Johnson travels in State College Pennsylvania to New York City to tap dance on the train.

Johnson is a second semester sophmore at Penn State University, and dancing on the subway pays better than his job near campus.

I ‘m used the tapping on the train as a way to fund my meal plan, for books, yeah. This is the way it´s at.

A Harlem native, Johnson has performed professionally ever since he learnt to dance seven years ago. For when his mother lost her job, Johnson used his skills to help his family, by paying his own way.

First time I started tap dancing in the train I remember I told myself  I’m hungry’ and myself told me ‘Well, I can’t do nothing for you’, so I grabbed my tap shoes and went on the train and I rode the train up and down the train for like a good three and a half, scared out my behind, I was nervous, but then some guy gave me like 5 dollars and, I was like What?, is this how easy that is? Ok, well, let’s go to work then.

Johnson knows every bump and turn on the two and three tube trains. It’s the route he prefers because the distance between the stops gives him time to perform and collect money. He adds a routine down to a science.

I always think the introduction and the conclusion is the most important parts of the step. You let them know like, you know, this is what just happen, a tap dancing on a moving train, yeah.

And while he loves tap dancing, Johnson has greater aspirations.

Graduating itself, it’ll just be a great personal accomplishment, and you know, I know the degree is going to mean a lot to me, my family, my friends, so yeah, I look forward to graduating

martes, 10 de abril de 2012

Writing workshop 26: Expressing our opinion

Expressing our opinion
Opinion compositions can present themselves in different ways and with different formats in an exam task:
  • Write a newspaper article expressing your opinion about the current controversy with … 
  • Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper stating your views about the situation of … 
  • Your school is organizing a composition competition about the topic of… 
  • You have decided to post an entry in an internet forum about the problem of … 
  • Write a diary entry with your views on … so that future generations find it easier to understand the problem. 
In this type of composition, we take a side in an argument, we express our own ideas about an issue, we say whether we agree or disagree with something and we give our reasons for our point of view.

The first thing we must bear in mind is that our written document must have a clear structure. A standard paragraph layout in this type of task would include four paragraphs:

Introduction to the topic
What some people think about this issue
Your opinion on the issue

Remember that in an essay, it is important that the introduction engages the reader’s attention. It should introduce the topic, but should not include the specific points that we are going to mention in the body of the text.

A good introductory paragraph describes the present situation and gives supporting evidence. It should refer to the statement or question you have been asked to discuss. This can often be done in the form of a rhetoric question which the rest of the paragraphs should answer.

For example, for the topic “More and more people are getting addicted to text-messaging in today’s world” the introduction could be:
Being able to send short, written messages with mobile phones or ipads has clearly advanced communication in many aspects, but do you know anyone who spends over an hour a day texting their friends? Or anyone who neglects their work or studies to check their phone for text messages? If the answer is yes, the chances are that these people are textaholics.

The paragraphs where we present what some people think about the problem and our own opinion must also have a clear structure, with a topic sentence and two or three supporting sentences.

Topic sentence: What the paragraph is about. It is usually the first sentence in the paragraph.
Supporting sentences:  We expand the topic sentence by giving (an) example(s)  and/or giving reasons/consequences or explaining the idea in the topic sentence.

For example, for the topic ‘People who take unnecessary risks should not receive free health care' the paragraph where we state some people’s opinion could look like this:
Topic sentence: I've heard it said that people who take unnecessary risks should not receive this free health care.
Supporting sentences: For example, people who participate in risky activities such as skiing are more likely to have an accident. It has been suggested that these people should pay for any medical treatment they require.

Some typical phrases to introduce what some people think are
I’ve heard it said that
It has been suggested that
Some people think that
It’s sometimes said that
Some people argue
It is often claimed that

Some typical phrases to introduce your opinion are
In my opinion
I feel that
I believe that
In my view

To refute opposite arguments
This may have been true in the past, but nowadays,…
There are a number of flaws in this argument
This is simply not the case

The conclusion should briefly sum up the arguments we have made without repeating –as far as possible- the same words, and can include our personal opinion, which should follow logically from the arguments presented.

With information from English Result upper-intermediate, Oxford University Press, New Headway Advanced, Oxford University Press and Straighforward Advanced, MacMillan

Speakout elementary: Transport

How do you get to work?
What do you do on your journey to work?
What do you like about it?
What don’t you like about your journey to work?

This is a new installment in the Speakout video podcasts,  Longman. This week's video is suitable for Básico 1 and Básico 2 students (elementary).

Listen to the people interviewed and make a note of the answers they give.

Now it's over to you. If possible, get together with an English speaking friend or relative and answer the same questions about yourself.

lunes, 9 de abril de 2012

Time is nothing

LA // London // Bath // Paris // Algeciras // Lagos // Granada // Malaga // Tarifa // Chefchaouen // Fes // Marrakech // Dades // Merzouga // Essaouira // Casablanca // Cairo // Aswan // Abu Simbel // Luxor // Dahab // Bahariya // Istanbul // Cappadocia // Amman // Petra // Dead Sea // Bangkok // Pattaya // Chiang Mai // Pai // Koh Tao // Phuket // Bali // Nusa Lembongan // Gili Trawangan // Gili Air // Narita // LA // SF // Buenos Aires // Montevideo // Cordoba // Cafayate // Salta // San Pedro de Atacama // Uyuni // Oruro // La Paz // Cusco // Machu Picchu // Manu // Lima // LA // Las Vegas // Washington DC // Philadelphia // New York // Boston // SF

These are all the places Kiem Lan visited in his round-the-world trip in 2010. It took him 343 days, and he visited 17 countries and took 6237 photographs.

Lesson idea:
I think Kiem's video blends in well with a holiday lesson or a lesson on the cultural diversity in today's world.

Watch the video and make a note of all the places you have already visited. Choose three places you would like to visit in your lifetime and explain to your classmates why you would like to go there.

If you want to gain some insight on the destinations, you can read Kiem's weblog, where he gives some (short) background information about each of them.

Time is Nothing // Around The World Time Lapse from Kien Lam on Vimeo.

domingo, 8 de abril de 2012


Signs is a short film about love and fears and the reason for our existence.

A few months ago I came across  Signs on St George International Teacher Training Blog, where Bren Brennan published a fully-fledged lesson on the story for trainee teachers.

What you can read below is an adaptation of Bren's idea, adapted to intermediate students who are working independently or in small study groups. To find out about the original lesson, click on St George's link above.

Lesson idea:
Discuss with your friends before watching the film.
What are the dating habits in your country?
Where do people meet?
How do people meet?
What do you do on the first date?
How easy is it to find a partner?
Is it easier to find a partner in the city or in the country?
There are so many people living in cities, so why are there so many lonely people?
Have you ever been in a situation where you were in a new city and you didn’t have any/many friends?

Watch the film and stop at 3:08
What do you think will happen next?
What would you do if you were him?
Where should he go to meet new friends?
How could he stay in his job but make it more enjoyable for himself?
Should he quit his job?

Start the film at 3:08 and stop again at 3:20
What will happen with that girl?
Who is that girl?
What is her job?

After the film
Were you surprised by the end?
Do you think they will be together in one year?
Do you know about a real life similar story?
Did you like the music?

Now tell the story in your own words.

sábado, 7 de abril de 2012

Grammar quizzes is an open educational resource for understanding, learning and practicing English grammar through the use of current event stories, pictures and self-quizzes.

Although it is originally written for intermediate students, Grammar-Quizzes now includes practices for native speakers.

Grammar points are listed both by grammar term and by word on this index page.

Remember that this blog features other grammar sites:

Grammar Speaks (Azar Grammar)

viernes, 6 de abril de 2012

Easter video

Self-study activity:
Watch this History Channel video clip, where we can gain an insight into the origins of Easter and some of the traditions around this celebration, and answer the questions below.

1.  What do we celebrate at Easter?
2.  What is Passover?
3.  Who celebrated Easter first?
4.  Who established our modern Easter calendar?
5.  What does the Paschal candle symbolize?
6.  Where does the word Easter come from?
7.  What did the eggs traditionally symbolise?
8. What is the origin of the White House Easter roll?
9. When did the Easter rabbit appear?
10.  Apart from the religious festivity, what do we celebrate at Easter?

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

jueves, 5 de abril de 2012

Four stories

About one year ago we published a post with the title Online TPR exercises, from Henny Jellema, which was more than suitable to practise commands (the imperative) in English through listening and reading for lower level students (Básico 1 and Básico 2).

Henny Jellema is also the mastermind behind Four Stories, where  lower level students (Básico 1 and Básico 2) are given the chance to continue practising listening and reading in situational contexts.

In Four Stories students have to listen and identify a number of sentences which belong in one of the stories.

H/T to Larry Ferlazzo.

miércoles, 4 de abril de 2012

Sceptical savers keep money at home

Self study activity:
Watch this short BBC  video clip about how the economic crisis is forcing people to change their saving habits.
Fill in the blanks in the transcript below with the missing words.

For depositers the past four years have been tumultuous. Back in 2008 British savers could choose from (1) ... of banks and financial institutions from all over the world, but the financial crisis changed that. But many foreign banks (2) ... , especially from Ireland, America and Iceland. At the same time, the money earned for your savings crashed, as interest rates fell from almost 6% to their current  (3) ...  per cent. It led to millions of British savers out of pockets and worrying for the first time in generations about whether their money would be safe in a bank. And it looks as if that fear hasn’t disappeared. The Financial Services Compensation Scheme reckons that there is around 5.6 billion pounds under the proverbial (4) ...  at home.

It’s only five years since we saw the first bankrupt in 150 years. The Bank of England is printing more money all the time, (5) ... billion pounds, which is abound to be to inflation. Maybe we could answer that. I’ve met some quite sane people who just don’t trust money any more, they think if the banks are going to keep printing it, we’ve got to find something else to store our (6) ... from.

Savers are also reminded that in the current high inflation environment, keeping our money in a (7) ... ... instead of a bank makes even less sense. And this, though, the number of people doing that was down on the same time last year.

Joe Lynam, BBC News.

1 dozens  2 folded 3 half of one 4 mattress 5 325 6 assets 7 assets 

martes, 3 de abril de 2012

Speakout Upper-intermediate: Good or bad manners

What kind of behaviour in public places gets on your nerves?
Give a recent example of when you experienced good or bad manners.
Do you think our attitude to behaviour changes as we get older?

Public behaviour is today's topic in a new installment of the Speakout video podcasts, Longman. Watch the video and note down the answers the people interviewed give.

Now it's over to you. If possible, get together with someone who also speaks English and answer the questions above about you. Try and use some of the expressions you heard on the video podcast.

You can read the transcript here.

lunes, 2 de abril de 2012

How war stories inspire children to learn

For many British school pupils, the events of WWI and WWII have not been only learned through studying history textbooks. Many fiction books - often based on true wartime events - have also helped children to understand what happened.

At Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, a new exhibition - Once Upon a Wartime - celebrates novels that have helped youngsters engage with the battlefield horrors and domestic hardships at times of conflict.

Watch this BBC audio slideshow which tells us a little bit about three of the books in the exhibition - The Machine Gunners, Carrie's War and War Horse and answer the questions below.

1 Why do Charles McGill and his friends build a fortress in The Machine Gunners?
2 How does their relationship with the German parachuter end up?
3 What anecdote does the narrator tell about his life as a child in Manchester living near an RAF Ringway?
4 Were Carrie and her brother in Carrie's War happy in the countryside?
5 Why were children sent away from London in WWII?
6 When was War Horse written?
7 Who was interested in the British horses? Why?
8 Who tells the story in War Horse?

You can check your answers by reading the transcript here.

domingo, 1 de abril de 2012

Talking point: April Fools' Day

Have you ever played practical jokes?
Have you ever been the victim of practical jokes?
Can you tell any stories?
Do you know about any pranks that went too far?

Today is April Fools' Day and our post lends itself to a reading and speaking activity you can do with the members of your talking group. In preparation for your conversation lesson, you can read this  The New York Times article about the cultural purpose of pranks. These questions may help you focus on specific aspects of the article and help you trigger off the debate in your talking group:

a. Why do people play practical jokes on each other?
b. What functions, from an anthropological point of view, do pranks serve among social groups around the world?
c. What are the characteristics of each of the three categories of pranks described by Abbie Hoffman?
d. Based on your own prior knowledge, what “human fears and failings” might be humorous fodder for a good prank?
e. What psychological benefits can arise from being duped?
f. According to the article, what are the necessary requirements to design and carry out a “good” practical joke?
g. What is counterfactual thinking and how does it facilitate personal growth and improvement?
h. In your opinion, does the article provide a justification for bullying and/or hazing? Why or why not?

If you wish to have a visual element to add to your discussion you can drop by Pranksite, where you will have the opportunity to watch funny prank videos. Perhaps you can watch one of the videos at home and explain the practical jokes to the people in your conversation group in as much detail as possible.

You can also listen to the BBC Podcast entry we published last year for April Fool's Day.