viernes, 31 de agosto de 2012

Pushing Carts Provides Work for the Congolese

We have mentioned Voice of America (VOA) a couple of times on this blog, and we should have put more emphasis on this site, as it provides news coverage from around the world as well as learning English lessons. 

As a matter of fact, our blog entry of 24 November 2010 informed about VOA News The Classroom, a new (at the time) segment of the VOA Learning English section where students, especially lower level ones, could find more resources to learn through activities, articles, programmes and stories.

All in all, Voice of America (VOA) provides an invaluable source of authentic and updated material which comes in really handy for those intermediate students who must sit an exam where they will have to deal with authentic material.

Today's listening activity is taken from  Voice of America (VOA), although it doesn't belong in the VOA Learning English section, but in the mainstream one. The activity is suitable for intermediate students.

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

1 How high is unemployment in Eastern Congo?
2 In what parts of Congo can you find the Chikudu cart?
3 What does the Chikudu cart symbolise?
4 How and where is the Chikudu cart made?
5 What does Matias Mulumba sell for children in his art store?
6 Who invented the Chikudu cart?
7 Why don't some drivers buy motorcycles or trucks?

To check the answers, you can read the transcript.

In this dusty corner of Eastern Congo, locals say unemployment is 70, 80 or 90 percent.  With no available jobs, many seek out a living carrying things - vegetables to the market, construction materials, crates of goods to the supermarket.
Unlike other parts of Congo, this region boasts a vehicle they say is only found here: the Chikudu cart.  It is a two-wheeled scooter of sorts that these men can push more than 24 kilometers a day, carrying more than 114 kilos of materials. On a good day, they can make $6 to $8.
But for Eastern Congo natives, the Chikudu cart is more than just back-breaking work.  It is a symbol of Congolese endurance through decades of conflict and crushing poverty. One man takes photos to sell to tourists of the Chikudu statue in the center of downtown Goma.
“The statue that you see here represents the hard work of the drivers to survive and to develop our town,” he said.
Like other Congolese tools and art, Chikudu carts are hand-made, deep in the countryside.   They cost drivers $50 to $100 dollars and are crafted from wood found in the Virunga Forest, a national park that has been plagued by conflict for decades.
Matias Mulumba owns an art store in Goma.  He sells miniature Chikudu carts for children, and occasionally foreign visitors. He says the Chikudu is not just a symbol of the Congolese struggle, it is also representative of this region’s unique and practical craftsmanship.
“The Chikudu cart is unique to this region- you can't see it any other part of Congo. That’s why they decided to build a monument to the vehicle.  It does a job.  It helps many families to eat.”
He says Chikudu carts were developed by farmers, who once pushed their goods to market over Congo's rocky roads on wheel-barrows, and can now deliver three times faster.
But in a land now populated by motorcycles and trucks, some drivers say they wish could afford a more modern method of transporting goods for cash.
“I’m doing this because it is not possible to get another job here in Congo.”
The driver laughs when asked about the golden Chikudu statue in the center of town, saying with eight children at home and without even the ability to read, what else would he do for a living?

jueves, 30 de agosto de 2012

Imagine all the water

Imagine All the Water provides information on the way water is used these days. It deals with the problem of how much water is consumed in producing foods and manufacturing products. The site offers many short readings and a short video that could be a good source of information on the issue for learners at all levels.

H/T to ESL Etc.

miércoles, 29 de agosto de 2012

Talking point: What can other schools learn from your school?

This week's talking point deals with the positive side of your school, and it is taken from The New York Times Learning Network.

Think about your [language] school –its routines, timetables, teachers, facilities, even traditions and unofficial habits that are all part of the average day.

How does it work?
How many teachers have you had?
How much time do you spend in class?
What's your favourite place at school?
Which room(s) have you discovered recently?
What happy (and not so happy) moments have you lived in your school?
What successful aspects of your school could other schools learn from your school?

To gain some insight into this topic before you get together with your conversation group to discuss your school, you can read David Brooks article in the in the Op-Ed piece of The New York Times “The Relationship School”.

martes, 28 de agosto de 2012

US astronaut Neil Armstrong dies: Video listening activity

On 25th August astronaut Neil Armstrong died. We have been flooded with news and reports about this sad event. I think that this BBC video clip is more than suitable for a listening activity intended for intermediate students.

Self-study activity:
Watch the clip by clicking on the picture or the BBC link and answer the questions below.

1 What was the problem the Apollo 11 had to face right before landing on the Moon?
2 When did Neil Armstrong start flying?
3 What did he do before becoming a test pilot?
4 What negative characteristic of his personality is mentioned?
5 What characteristics made him suitable to command the Apollo mission?
6 What did he do after his return from the Moon?
7 What was happening while President Obama was talking to the Apollo 11 crew?
8 What was the positive effect of the moon landing for mankind?

To check your answers you can read the transcript below.

If you wish to find out more about Neil Armstrong and the first landing on the moon, you can watch this BBC4 documentary. It is really long, one hour, and unfortunately there are no subtitles available.

In July 1969 the world watched in awe as Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon.
 “It’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The commander of the Apollo 11 mission had earlier manually piloted the lunar module to a suitable landing site with just seconds of fuel to spare…
 “Listen… The Eagle has landed.”
… to the obvious relief of mission control.
 “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot.”
Tonight his family said “While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hopes that it serves as an example to young people around the world.”
And a man who walked beside him on the lunar surface issued his own tribute.
“I was fortunate enough to be one of those crew members and to fly with an outstanding test pilot, Neil Armstrong, and accompany him in the Lunar Module Eagle. We’re missing a great spokesman and leader in the space programme.”
A pilot from the age of 16, Neil Armstrong flew 78 missions during the Korean War before working as a test pilot flying rocket powered aircraft at Edwards Airforce Base. He was chosen as an astronaut for the Gemini Programme bringing his Gemini spacecraft safely to earth in March 1966 after it got out of control while reentering the atmosphere. Though painfully shy his professional approach and coolness under pressure, shown here when he ejected during training on a lunar landing module, made him a natural choice to command the Apollo mission.
Following his return from the moon, Neil Armstrong avoided publicity and became a professor at Cincinnati University. On the 30th anniversary of his historic landing he made a rare public appearance which summed up his view of the moon landings.
 “The important achievement of Apollo was the demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited.”
Ten years later the Apollo 11 crew were feted by President Obama to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their mission, but as hands were being shaken the White House was making plans to scrap the Space Shuttle Programme ending the US’s man space programme. When I met Neil Armstrong later that year he wouldn’t speak out publicly against a decision that angered him and many of his Apollo astronauts, but when I spoke to him 15 years ago he was confident that one day astronauts would follow in his footsteps back to the Moon and maybe on to Mars.
 “The dream remains, the reality has faded a bit but it will come back in time.”
Although the flag was American, it was a moment that belonged to the world, bringing together a warring planet and showing us all what humanity could achieve.

lunes, 27 de agosto de 2012

Hong Kong series: What's your hobby?

What’s your hobby?
Can you tell us a bit about your hobby?
Why do you like your hobby?

These are the questions three teachers from The British Council in Hong Kong answer in today's videocast.

The activity is suitable for strong Básico 1 students, and for Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 learners.

Self-study activity:
To develop your listening skills, just minimise the computer window and see if you understand the way the teachers answer the questions above.

Then you can check the answers by watching the video in a normal way. Many of the phrases the speakers use are subtitled on the screen.

Finally, you can practise your pronunciation by trying to say some of the phrases on the screen in the same way as the speaker has pronounced them.

As a follow-up you can answer the questions on the video about yourself.

domingo, 26 de agosto de 2012

The Shard

In early July the Shard in London opened, right in time for the Olympics.

Self-study activity:
Watch this Associated Press video and answer the questions below. The activity is suitable for strong Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students.

What do the following figures refer to?
one and a half

Watch the video again. Answer these questions.
1 What does the first girl compare the Shard to?
2 How does the second girl feel when she looks at the Shard?
3 What two adjectives does the man use to describe the Shard?
4 Why has the construction of the Shard been criticised?
5 How long will the Shard be the longest building in Europe?

1016 feet tall; that's nearly 310 metres; 11,000 glass panels; one and a half billion pounds is the cost of the building; that's the equivalent of more than two billion dollars.

1 a Christmas tree; 2 she feels dizzy; 3 fantastic and great; 4 it has cost too much money in recession times; 5 until the end of the year.

You can read the transcript below.

A laser show wrapped up the official opening of Europe's tallest building, the Shard in London, 1016 feet tall, that's nearly 310 metres. It dwarfs the rest of the city skyline, including the relatively new skyscrapers in the Canary Wharf financial district. But its structure is still graceful. With its 11,000 glass panels it resembles a giant sliver.
"It was clear enough that this building was not going to be a symbol of arrogance, a symbol of power, but more like a sparkling, quite gentle spire, playing, flirting with the weather."
Still, the structure gets mixed reviews from people in the street:
"When I first saw it, I thought it was a Christmas tree to be honest. It looks a bit like a Christmas tree, so.”
"It makes me feel sick, when I look up at it, it makes me feel dizzy."
"I actually think it's a phenomenal looking building, you know, made out of glass, I just think it's fantastic, I love looking at it. I've seen it from the outset, from the start, when it started to be built, and now this is the first time I've seen it almost completed, and I think it's great, I love it, I think it's a real landmark for London."
Even so, spending one and a half billion pounds, the equivalent of more than two billion dollars, on a structure in the teeth of a recession has got to be a big gamble. But with a solid Qatari investor behind him, the developer believes the mix of apartments, offices, restaurants and a hotel will prove to be a success...
"No, we're not nervous. We are confident. We're confident we've got very strong financial backers, who have provided long-term funding."
Successful or not, the building has made a permanent change to the London landscape, even if it won't be the continent's tallest for long. Russia's Mercury City Tower is expected to eclipse the Shard before the end of the year.

sábado, 25 de agosto de 2012

How to learn English

I came across this inforgraphic from Kaplan International through Blendedmec.

Kaplan International asked hundreds of people what helped them learn English. Read their infographic to learn some interesting facts about what has helped people learn the English language.

How do these results reflect your English learning habits?
Do you find any of these ideas appealing for you to put into practise?

viernes, 24 de agosto de 2012

Music English

Music English looks like the site everyone is going to love. Here you'll find a good choice of YouTube music videos with the lyrics and you can also download the words in a text file.

There are optional subtitles for the lyrics, sometimes in several languages, and the site also features a few worksheets which both students and teachers can use.

H/T to Teaching English in a Foreign Land.

jueves, 23 de agosto de 2012

San Francisco

Self-study activity:
Watch this Lonely Planet video on the city of San Francisco and complete the gaps in the transcript.

The activity is suitable for intermediate students. Beware! Some of the missing words are devious, believe me!

Once you have completed the listening activity and looked up the vocabulary items you don't know, try to shadow read the text (read at the same speed as the narrator) so that you can practise your pronunciation.

San Francisco sits on the (1) ... of a peninsula on the northern California coast. With 43 hills and a population of over 800,000 (2) ... , crafty inventors and oddballs, this city refuses to be brought down to earth.
San Francisco's stratospheric booms and crashing busts aren’t for the weak of (3) ... but as anyone who’s clung on to the side of an iconic cable car will tell you, this town gives one hell of a (4) ... .
The cable car offers the best way to explore the city, (5) ... climbing the hills.
Jump a ride to Fisherman's (6) ... . Fight through the tourists to (7) ...  a bowl of clam chowder and stroll down to Pier 39’s K dock to catch the colony of sea lions that call it home.
(8) ... through Golden Gate Park, San Francisco's back yard. (9) ... your senses in the Mission district, the cities hub for music and art. Then step back in time and (10) ... through the neighborhood of Haight Ashbury, a national symbol of the 1960s hippy revolution.
San Francisco (11) ... a serious foodie scene. The availability of fresh and organic sustainably harvested produce, means local chefs and diners are (12) ... for choice.
The Ferry Plaza farmers market, in the Embarcadero, is a gourmet emporium with almost 100 (13) ... offering the best in locally grown produce. About 25,000 locals visit the market each week with the market at its (14) ... best every Saturday.
San Francisco has its own brand of iconic (15) ... , from Alcatraz, the world's most notorious prison, to the Painted Ladies, a line up of pastel colored Victorian houses. And Lombard Street created in 1922 with eight sharp (16) ...  and paved with red (17) ... it’s one of the crookedest streets in the world.
The Golden Gate Bridge is the most iconic landmarks in San Francisco. Completed in 1937 the Art Deco suspension bridge connects the city to Marin County. More than (18) ... cars cross the bridge each day.

edge 2 freethinkers 3 heart 4 ride 5 effortlessly 6 Wharf 7 grab 8 Stroll 9 Indulge 10 wander 11 boasts 12 spoiled 13 stalls 14 bustling 15 landmarks 16 curves 17 bricks 18 120,000

miércoles, 22 de agosto de 2012

Talking point: family stories of sacrifice

We all love family stories. They are usually a must in family gatherings, and we never get tired of hearing the same good old stories being told over and over again.

I have a vivid memory of my grandfather telling me anecdotes about the Moroccan war he fought in and the way he once risked his life for a drink of water; or my father getting up at 5 in the morning and having to ride his bike for 10kms every day to bring parcels for the family business before he set off for work; or one of my nephews, who used to ask me to tell him about the day my car broke down in the fast lane on one of the busiest ring roads in Madrid.

As it is stated in The New York Times Learning Network, family stories often include events in which people make a sacrifice: Perhaps relatives fled political oppression in their home country or moved to a place where their children and grandchildren were likely to have more opportunities. Perhaps they worked long hours to provide for the family. What stories are there in your family story of personal sacrifice?

Get together with the members of your conversation group and discuss how the actions and decision of your parents, grandparents or other relatives spoke, or speak, to their hopes for their children. What did they do? How have you benefited by their sacrifices, hard work or planning? What have you learned from their examples?

To gain further insight into this topic you can read The New York Times article by Sam Borden and Keith Bradsher Tight-Knit Family Shares Lin’s Achievement,” where they tell the story of basketball sensation Jeremy Lin’s parents.

Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company

martes, 21 de agosto de 2012

Hong Kong series: My Hong Kong

We start here a new series of videos which are suitable for Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students.

The videos have been made by teachers at The British Council in Hong Kong, and deal with aspects of their life there like their routine, hobbies, family, favourite food, career, trips and so on.

The first video on the series is entitled My Hong Kong and it features several teachers' opinions about the city. These are the questions they answer:

When did you come to Hong Kong?
Which places do you like about Hong Kong?
Do you find anything unusual here?

No real task beyond understanding the teachers' answers to the questions above. You will get plenty of help with understanding through the highlighted phrases you will be able to see on screen.

Once you have watched the video two or three times and you are familiar with the information the teachers convey, try to improve your English pronunciation by freezing the screen and echo some of the phrases on screen.

lunes, 20 de agosto de 2012

UK design industry

In this new installment from the Foreign Office short film series, See Britain through my eyes, French designer Sebastien Noel and German designers Conny Freyer and Eva Rucki discuss the characteristics of the UK design industry.

This is not an easy clip to understand, because some of the speakers have a heavy foreign accent, so the film is just suitable for strong intermediate students.

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

1 Sebastian did a postgradute course in Italy.
2 Conny set up a studio while still at college.
3 English clients prefer experienced artists.
4 The sculpture they created for British Airways is 5x2x1
5 This sculpture is inspired in the displays airports used to have to give information.
6 Sebastian, Conny and Eva have designed UK's Expo pavilion in Shanghai.
7 They designed a plant that they called 'The Self -Killing Plant'.
8 Britain has a long tradition for innovation, and new things, and taking risks.

You can read the transcript here.
My name is Sebastien Noel. I'm one of the three founding directors of Troika together with Conny Freyer and Eva Rucki.
Troika is an art and design studio based in London.
I'm from France. The two other are from Germany.
And this is "See Britain Through Troika's Eyes".
I was originally working in Italy and very soon I felt the need to go and do a postgraduate in design. And I guess I chose to come in here in England because you have the Royal College of Art, which was one of the best schools in Europe.
Already during college time we had worked together quite a lot. So, I decided to set up a studio a year after leaving the college.
I think in general, clients in the UK are quite happy to take well comparably quite large risks like commissioning people coming out of their degree.
For British Airways we created a five - meter long sculpture, two - meter wide, one meter tall that is suspended in the first class interior in Terminal Five, Heathrow. It is covered with 5,000 little mirrors like that, that can flip from one side to the other so we can animate the whole skin of the sculpture. This is what was used in old train stations and airports to display information and go. We're kind of re - exploring an older technology and see what kind of identity it could have over a more conventional technique.
We use play, humor, provocation, they're all sort of essential elements to our work.
We were commissioned to create the exhibition content for the UK Expo Pavilion in Shanghai. Thomas Heatherwick designed the pavilion, we designed three large-scale installations that form part of the exhibition. So, the last installation describes how plants can help us to live a more sustainable life in cities. So, we designed a plant that we then called 'The Self - Eating Plant' that constantly regenerates itself but destroys itself, eats itself and creates oil. And those fictional, futuristic plants are telling specific stories that were inspired by current UK research.
I think Britain has a long history in approaching the world in a very open way and has traveled a lot in the last hundreds of years bringing back certain influences from other countries into Britain and this has continued now. So, I think that there is almost a naturally grown attitude towards new things to have a culture of innovation and testing and going out and searching for new things in Britain. So, anything that really has to do with exploration and innovation, that culture is really developed here and that has, that needs an openness towards risk – taking and a willingness to explore new grounds.
And I think you can really find that here. A client who is willing to take the risk and an audience who enables you to do risky projects.
People from other countries come and search for that and seek that. This is also the experience we have now, working internationally. People come and give us like carte blanche to do something, which is great.

1 F (in England, he just started working in Italy)
2 F (a year after he finished college)
3 F (doesn't really say, but Eva says English customers take risks with recent graduates)
4 T (five meter long, two meters wide and one metre tall)
5 T
6 F (they have just designed the three large-scale installations that form part of the exhibition)
7 F ('The Self - Eating Plant' )
8 T

domingo, 19 de agosto de 2012

Vocabulary test

Everybody will love My Vocabulary Size.

My Vocabulary Size is an online tool to measure up the size of your vocabulary. My Vocabulary Size has teamed up with researchers at Victoria University of Wellington to bring English learners a way to measure their word knowledge. 

Users can take the tests by using Paul Nation's Vocabulary Size Test. These are the test instructions we must bear in mind before we begin the test:

• There are 140 questions in this test.
• Look at the word and an example of the word in use.
• Choose the meaning that most closely matches the word.
• Try to answer all the questions, even though you are not certain of the answer.
• You can not go back and change your answer.
• You will not be penalised for giving incorrect answers.

A native speaker of English is said to know 20,000 word families, but according to Nation, 8,000-9,000 word families are enough for getting by in reading, and 6,000-7,000 for listening.

sábado, 18 de agosto de 2012


Impossible? What is impossible?

Lesson idea:
Discuss the quotes below. What ideas come to mind when you read them in hindsight?

  • "Everything that can be invented has been invented." (Commissioner US Patent Office, 1899)
  • "The telephone has too many short-comings to become a means of communication." (Executive from world’s leading telegraph company, 1876)
  • "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." (IBM Chairman, 1943)
  • "Guitar music is on the way out." (Record executive who rejected The Beatles, 1962)
  • "10 meters in under 10 seconds? Not in our lifetime."
  • "An Asian team will never reach the second round of the World Cup."

Watch this motivational video clip about great achievements in the history of sport and complete the blanks in    the transcript. The activity is suitable for Básico 2 students. The listening activity starts at 2.20.

What is impossible?
Was it impossible for the humble son of an Alabama cotton (1) ... to enter the politically charged arena of Berlin, win four gold medals, the (2) ... of the world and become the true message and lasting memory of the 1936 Olympics?
Was it impossible for a young girl who at the age of six was diagnosed with (3) ... polio, whose doctors told her she would require (4) ... braces for the rest of her life, to go on to win three gold medals in Rome?
Was it impossible for an athlete who one day decided to jump over the bar (5) ... instead of (6) ... , who was (7) ... at and booed at every track meet, to go on and win gold and revolutionize his sport in the process?
Was it impossible for a man who (8) ... qualified for the Olympic finals to take off into the thin air of Mexico City and land somewhere in the next century, (9) ... a world record that had hardly (10) ... over four decades by 55 centimeters?
Was it impossible that the first gymnast to (11) ... a perfect ten would also be the second to  (11) ... a perfect ten, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth and the seventh at the age of 13?
Was it impossible for a (12) ... eighteen-year-old from Kentucky become heavyweight champion of the world only to be (13) ... of all his titles and his freedom because of his (14) ... , only to come back, stronger and faster than ever before to become the (15) ... of all time?
Was it impossible for a team of unknowns, immigrants’ sons, (16) ... and (17) ... in their own country to surprise the world’s very best, (18) ... from game to game, and go on to win the World Cup and the hearts of an entire nation?
Was it impossible for a simple (19) ... from a small town inspired by his passion for sport and athletes to (20) ... an entire industry and become the founder of the world’s largest and most innovative sports company?
It wasn’t. Don’t accept impossible. Adi didn’t. Athletes don’t. And… we’ll never will.

farmer 2 hearts 3 incurable 4 leg 5 backwards 6 forwards 7 laughed 8 barely 9 shattering 10 changed 11 score 12 skinny 13 stripped 14 beliefs 15 greatest 16 underestimated 17 doubted 18 grow 19 shoemaker 20 pioneer 

viernes, 17 de agosto de 2012

Walk London

Take a walk around London, and see what the city has to offer.

Walk London has worked with the local authorities to develop a network of walking routes which comprise both short and long distances.

Walk London promotes seven routes around the city of London:

Capital Ring: Threading together parks and open spaces with pleasant residential roads

Green Chain Walk: Dozens of woodlands and open spaces that cover South East London.

Jubilee Walkway: Designed to connect London's key attractions, a great way to see London.

Lea Valley Walk: 50 miles of post-industrial landscape fast being reclaimed by man and nature.

London Loop: 150 miles of public footpaths, parks, woods and fields along Outer London.

Thames Path: Intensely interesting, with constantly changing and awe-inspiring views.

Jubilee GreenwayLinking 2012 Olympic venues with parks, waterways and great attractions.  

Drop by Walk London and plan your routes, get to know interesting places along the routes, download leaflets, watch videos, listen to audio guides and read visitors’ comments.

jueves, 16 de agosto de 2012

Smash behind the scenes

Smash is an NBC TV series that revolves around the creation of a new Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. The show is initially entitled Marilyn and goes on to become Bombshell. As the production takes shape, everyone involved in it must balance his or her often chaotic personal life with the all-consuming demands of a life in the theatre.

Smash star-studded cast includes Debra Messing, Jack Davenport, Katharine McPhee, Anjelica Huston and Uma Thurman among many others.

Here's a promotional five-minute video of the series,  Behind the Scenes, the music of Smash. I know the video clip can be way too difficult for intermediate English learners, as it is fast-paced, with short out-of-context scenes and lots of songs. To make matters worse most students won't know anything about the series.

Anyway, as the clip also includes actors' comments and opinions, I think that gives us a chance to come face-to-face with authentic raw listening material.

Self-study activity:
Watch the clip through and enjoy it.
Watch the clip again and complete the actors' opinions with the missing words.

0’21” Debra Messing
Smash is about two actresses who are (1) ... for the role of a lifetime.

0’35” Katharine McPhee
Do you take your chances with the (2) ... or do you go with the veteran?

0’47” Katharine McPhee
You got to dance better, you got to sing better, you got to act it better to have one chance of standing in the (3) ... .

0’59” Christian Borle
One of the most exciting aspects of the show is that the story is told by music.

1’10” Craig Zadan
We set out to do something that no series has ever really done before. We’re creating (4) ...  this musical about Marilyn Monroe.

1’ 35” Jack Davenport
They really are sort of writing a musical in sort of in tandem with the show.

1’46” Christian Borle
You don’t have to be familiar or even in love with the world of theater to (5) ... what we are trying to do here.

1’53” Megan Hilty
These songs make sense within the story and they drive the (6) ... forward.

2’12” Anjelica Huston
We have two brilliant song writers, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

2’29” Anjelica Huston
They seem to be a kind of (7) ... pit of talent. They come up with at least two original songs per episode.

2’45” Jack Davenport
If you’re going to do a musical about Marilyn Monroe they better be good songs. And they’re (8) ... .

2’58” Marc Shaiman
What we’ve discovered is were really making a musical of the characters on Smash. The musical that their writing of Marilyn Monroe becomes just a (9) ... . Most of the songs end up speaking to what is going on with the characters emotionally. So it was really fascinating to write this.

3’25” Neil Meron
There is so many moving parts its like doing an action film but instead of action sequences you have musical numbers.

3’58” Christian Borle
I don’t know where else on television you’re going to find original songs every week.

4’05” Craig Zadan
Smash is not an (10) ... that if you love Broadway or love the theater you’ll like the show and if you don’t you wouldn’t be interested. Smash above everything else is about stories everybody can relate to.

4’25” Megan Hilty
I’m not a doctor but I loved (11) ... . It’s not about medical procedures it’s about the drama that’s going on all around it.

4’35” Neil Meron
At the very end of the day it is a show about wish (12) ... .

4’39” Katharine McPhee
It’s about dreams and about how no dream is too big.

4’45” Jack Davenport
Who doesn’t enjoy watching extraordinarily talented young people do something difficult really well?

5’03” Jack Davenport
Hell Yeah.

1 battling 2 newcomer 3 spotlight 4 piece by piece 5 appreciate 6 plot 7 bottomless 8 killer 9 conduit 10 inside show 11 ER 12 fulfillment

miércoles, 15 de agosto de 2012

Talking point: The end of a frienship

This week's talking point is once again taken from The New York Times Learning Network blog and deals with the topic of friends, or rather with the end of a friendship.

Sometimes good friends simply distance themselves from one another because interests change, social circles shift, a family moves away –these are just a few reasons a friendship might fall apart. Can you think of any other?

Who are your closest friends?
When and where did you meet them?
What makes a friend?
What do you expect from them?
Tell the people in the conversation group about one or more friends you once had but who you are no longer in touch with.
Why did the friendship(s) end?
What's the best way to "dump" a friend?
What is the best way to handle a friendship’s end?
What have you learned from your experiences or from witnessing other friends grow apart?

In preparation for your talking session you can read Alex Williams article in The New York Times It’s Not Me, It’s You, where he explores the topic of friendships coming to an end in the adult world.

Hadley Hooper

martes, 14 de agosto de 2012

CNN Student News is back

CNN Student News is back after the summer break. English students at an intermediate and advanced level will be able to greatly benefit from this CNN programme.

Each programme lasts 8 to 10 minutes and is aired from Monday to Friday. There you will be able to get acquainted with both US and world news.

A regular feature of CNN Student News is the Shout-out segment, a general knowledge question asked half-way through the news bulletin.

On top of that, a transcript of the programme is provided and so is a Newsquiz, which means that those learners who are working on their own have a way of checking their understanding at their disposal.

Finally, an extensive Archive is also provided.

At a fancy dress shop

In a new installment of The Big Picture vodcast series, from Richmond Publishers, Tom and Alex try on various outfits for a fancy dress party they have been invited to.

The activity is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermedio 1 students.

Self-study activity:
Watch the introduction to the episode, where the presenter gives us the guidelines for today's episode. Complete the blanks in the transcript with the missing words:

Have you ever wanted to change your (1) ... ? Maybe grow a (2) ... or change your hairstyle. A fancy dress party is the perfect excuse to try a new (3) ... . Just for one evening you could wear an unusual (4) ... and be someone completely different, a famous person maybe or a historical (5) ... . Today, Tom and Alexandra are in a fancy dress shop trying to (6) ... their appearance. With over (7) ...  costumes to choose from, who will they be?

Now watch from 0.30 to 2.46. Which famous people and historical characters do Tom and Alexandra mention?

In the last part of the video clip (from 2.46 to the end) Tom and Alexandra play a yes/no game to try and guess who the other comes as. Listen to them and note down the questions they ask.

appearance 2 beard 3 look 4 costume 5 figure 6 reinvent 7 35,000

Chaplin, Batman, Henry VIII, Elvis, John Lennon, Tina Turner, Tony Branson

I think you might have chosen Tina Turner because you were singing that song earlier.
Have you come as Robin?
Has your person been in many films?
Are they alive?
Is it a woman?
Is it  Charlie Chaplin?

Are you a man or a woman?
Are you alive?
Are you from this century?
Are you Robin Hood?
Clue: I was a very jealous husband

lunes, 13 de agosto de 2012

The use of the present perfect in English

In early July Tanya Trusler published an entry on the ESL Library blog about the use of the present perfect in English.

She talks about the two main uses of the present perfect, the difference between present perfect and past simple, and the difference between present perfect simple and continuous.

It is a simple, straightforward explanation, but one of the best I have read about a difficult grammar point for many English learners.

domingo, 12 de agosto de 2012


Have you heard of Streetlife? Listen to Stephen Fry describe what Streetlife is and how you can benefit from it.

This video activity is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermediate 1 students.

Self-study activity:
Complete the blanks in the transcript with the missing words.

Should you have any problems visualising the embedded YouTube video, click on the picture below or the links above to watch it.

Streetlife makes it easy to connect and share with people who live (1) ... . We're on a mission to unite (2) ... across the nation and build a trusty source of local (3) ... . But it all depends on people like you getting involved.

Social networking has changed the world. But to be honest, it can be a little frivolous, which is (4) ... now and again. Trying to find someone local to talk about something meaningful can be frustrating. Say you want to meet like-minded people nearby or (5) ... skills and possessions. What if you’ve got important news to tell your neighbours or if you want to (6) ... in your local community. Knocking on doors is (7) ... . You never have time to talk over the garden (8) ... , and your social network is no use because it only connects you with people you already know, and they could live anywhere.

If only there was an easy way to find people nearby who care about the place you call home. Well now there is, on Here’s how it works.

Sign up for free and join in the local conversations that (9) ... to you. Now you’ve got an easy way to break the (10) ... on your own time and find people nearby with common interests. You get all the news, (11) ... and recommendations you’d expect from a local network, but there’s way more to it than that.

You can save money by (12) ... or swapping stuff, get great (13) ... from local businesses, and you can make a real difference by sharing information or getting together with neighbours to improve your community.

There’s no (14) ... in talking rubbish now and again, but to make the most of where you live, and may be get a little back, (15) ... the conversation on

nearby 2 neighbourhoods 3 knowledge 4 fun 5 share 6 volunteer 7 awkward 8 fence 9 matter 10 ice 11 events 12 borrowing 13 deals 14 harm 15 join 

sábado, 11 de agosto de 2012

Fire ban

Now that authentic materials are so much in fashion in the English class and exams, this poster about fire restrictions in the American West may come in handy to practise our reading skills at all levels.

I came across the poster through the MacMillan Dictionary blog, and you can read Orin Hargraves entry here, where he explains the grammar behind the information on the poster.

viernes, 10 de agosto de 2012

Happiness and Mr Happy Man

Self-study activity:
This is a listening and speaking activity for strong intermediate students. To be honest, I think that it is more suitable for advanced students, but I did want it to let you know about this beautiful film about 88-year-old Bermudian Johnny Barnes, who devotes six hours a day to an endearing traffic ritual that has made him one of the island’s most cherished citizens.

Get together with an English speaking friend or relative and discuss these questions:

What makes you happy?
How could you be happier than you are now?
What might help people in general to feel happier?
How closely is money related to happiness?
What problems may prevent people from feeling happy?
Have you heard of any famous rich people who do a lot for the needy?
What can people do to help others apart from giving money?
Have you ever made a sacrifice for another person? If so, what happened?
Has anyone ever helped you at a difficult moment in your life? If so, what happened?
In what practical ways can we be kind to other people in our everyday life?

Now watch Matt Morris film on Johnny Barnes, Mr Happy Man. It is longish, around 10 minutes. Note down any information you understand, be it Johnny's routine, Johnny's life story, his neighbours' reactions and feelings, encounters different people have had with him, whatever.

Compare your notes with those of the person you are working with.

Mr. Happy Man from Matt Morris Films on Vimeo.

You can read the transcript here.

jueves, 9 de agosto de 2012

Oscar Pistorius video activity

In the last few days Larry Ferlazzo has been publishing a number of posts on South-African athlete Oscar Pistorius. As a matter of fact, Larry has compiled a list where you can find photos, videos, articles, interactives from several media about this astounding sportsman.

The two videos here are taken from Larry's list.

Self-study activity:
Watch this short ABC video on Oscar Pistorius and answer the questions below about it.

1 What's Oscar Pistorius' nickname?
2 In what sense is Oscar a pioneer?
3 What has been Oscar's life-long ambition?
4 How long has Oscar lived without legs?
5 Why didn't he run in the 2008 Olympics?
6 Why do some people feel Oscar will be at an advantage in the race?
7 What did Oscar tweet today?

To check your answers, you can read the transcript below.

To complete the information on Oscar Pistorius you can watch this Nike ad on him.


They told me that I'd never walk. That I'd never compete with other kids. It wasn't in me to play water polo. They told me I'd never make the team. They told me the choir was trying out next Tuesday, that motocross wasn't for people like me. And the man with no legs, can't run. Anything else you want to tell me?

Now to history in the sports world tonight. The South African sprinter known as the blade runner has shattered another barrier. He’s the double amputee who’s been proving doubters wrong his entire life running and winning races using blades for feet. Today he learnt he will be the first amputee to race in the Olympics.
Today Oscar Pistorius moved one carbon-fibre step  closer to his Olympic dream. The twenty-five-year-old South-African known as the fastest man with no legs has spent years struggling to be accepted as a runner without a handicap. That’s despite being a double amputee who rockets round the track on cheetah-flex speed.
The legs are not giving me an unfair advantage. If they can prove they give me an advantage, I won't run anymore.
Pistorius was born without cap bone. Before he was one both legs were amputated below the knee. He was told he would never walk. But he’s done that and so much more, shattering expectations and records. In 2008 he wasn’t allowed to run in the Beijing Olympics. When that decision was reversed, he failed to qualify. This summer here in London he will finally get two shots at gold, running in the individual 400 metre race and the 4x400 metre relay.
It’s certain that the argument is there that this is unfair because he’s the bionic man. If this were that unfair, he would be winning gold medals in world record time. This is about inclusion for an athlete who deserves it, who has been shunned in the past because of his disability.
Pistorius tweeted today saying this is one of the happiest days of my life. He will face ferocious competition on the track here, he  may not win, but he will have the entire world watching in awe as he tries.

miércoles, 8 de agosto de 2012

Talking point: Are you a good listener?

Good listeners focus on what they are hearing and they think about what they’ve heard before responding. They ask questions because they want to know the answers, not just to keep the conversation going. 

Do you often find yourself in the company of good listeners?
Are you a good listener? Why or why not?
Do you feel pressure to respond more quickly than you’d like or to always have to say something in a conversation?
Do you find silence frustrating? 
Have you noticed that you have to repeat things in talking to others, or that you easily forget what they tell you? 
What about the African proverb that says we have one mouth and two ears so that we talk half as much as we listen–is that good advice, wishful thinking or something else?
How often do you find yourself in a situation where you find it difficult to get a word in edgeways?
Do you know any compulsive talkers? How do you deal with them?
Do you know really quiet people?

The art of listening is this week's talking point and it is taken from The New York Times Learning Network. Get together with the members of your conversation group and discuss the questions above.

To gain some insight into the topic, you can read Henning Mankell's article in The New York Times The Art of Listening.

Joe Villion

martes, 7 de agosto de 2012

At a Mexican restaurant

Tom and Alex, from the The Big Picture Richmond team, go on another mission in London.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and answer the questions below. The activity is suitable for Básico 2 and Intermedio 1 students.

1 Play the video and freeze it at 00.32. What's Tom and Alex's mission today?
2 What time of the day is it? Freeze the clip at 00.35 to answer this question.
3 Watch the video through to the end. What dishes did Tom and Alex order?
4 Watch the video again. Note down the adjectives Tom and Alex use to describe the dishes they are eating.
5 Watch the video one more time. Note down the different foods that are mentioned on the clip.

You can download the menu at Wahaca chain of restaurants from here.

1 They have to do some research about food in a Mexican restaurant (Wahaca) where they are going to try lots of different dishes, both typical and unusual.
2 It's lunchtime.
black bean tostada; guacamole; ceviche tostada; chicken quesadia; steak taco with cheese
4 spicy, hot, fantastic, nice, delicious, colourful, fresh, beautiful, creamier (because of the cheese), messy (I made a big mess).
prawns, scallops, lime, avocado, cream, cucumber, salad, cheese.

lunes, 6 de agosto de 2012

London calling: Hampstead

Everything you come across on the BBC website is fine. Not long ago I bumped into a series of video clips called London Calling, from the  BBC World Service, which show some of the quirkier areas of the Olympic city.

In this episode, Seva Novgorodsev  visits Hampstead, a prosperous area in north London with strong literary connections.

Self-study activity:
Watch the clip by clicking on the picture below and answer the questions about it.

1. What other name is Hampstead referred to as?
2. Hampstead has always been a favourite place for...
3 How long has Keith Fawkes owned his shop?
4 What did Dick Turpin do in The Spaniards Inn?
5 What does Heather do?
6 What's the reason why she goes to the Heath?
7 How often do swimmers swim in the Heath?
8 What four professions does Chris Roucco mention?
9 What do the West Hampstead mounted police force use the Heath for?
10 What does Seva Novgorodsev compare the Heath to at the end of the clip?

You can read the transcript below.

1 Hampstead Village 2 Artists, intellectuals and writers 3 Forty-two years 4 To rob people (the gentry) 5 She is a professional dog walker 6 To walk dogs 7 All year round 8 Celebrities, judges, painters, road sweepers 9 As a training ground 10 An island of countryside

Welcome to Hampstead, an affluent and elegant part of North West London that it is often referred to as Hampstead Village due to its quaint atmosphere and expensive surrounding parklands. It is the area’s natural beauty and stunning architecture that has made it one of the most exclusive and expensive parts of London to live in.

Hampstead has always been a haven for artists, intellectuals and writers. Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie and George Orwell all lived and worked in the area. Today famous residents include Tim Burton, Ricky Gervais, and Sting.

Hiding among the many independent shops and boutiques it’s this enchanting antique bookstore, one of Hampstead’s oldest businesses. The inside is piled from floor to ceiling with books and oddities. Owner Keith Fawkes is a passionate and proud Hampstead resident.

I’ve had the bookshop here for forty-two years. We’ve had many famous people coming into the shop, of course, Peter O’Toole, Emma Thompson. We’re very lucky in Hampstead to still have some extremely important houses, we’ve got Keat’s house, Offenshinly Road, we have the Freud Museum, where Freud lived when he came to England. Another great local character, of course, was Dick Turpin, probably the leading highway man of his time, and of course the Spaniards Inn, which was one of his great places to rob the gentry.

Set on 320 hectares of sprawling fields and ancient woodland, Hampstead Heath is one of London’s most popular open spaces and maintains an atmosphere quite unlike any other of the city’s parks. Heather is just one of the many professional dog walkers that can be seen walking on the heath.

I have come walking on the heath for thirty years. Fourteen to sixteen dogs a day. What’s the point of going for a walk without a dog with you? It’s not much fun. If it wasn’t for the Heath, I probably would live in London. You can go sort of in the open fields, bump into people, hang out, or you can just come into the woods and listen to the birds, and just get away from it all.

Some of the Heath braver characters are the all-year-round pond’s swimmers who take to the water come rain or shine, and in the colder months often have to break the ice in order to swim.

My name’s Chris Roucco. I swim over, I get ponds every day. I’ve been swimming there for sixty years. The people who swim over the ponds, they come from everywhere. There are celebrities, judges, painters, road sweepers, all sorts of people. Three years ago they asked me to find fifteen people for the film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy swimming with Gary Oldman, which I thought was really good. The best time of the year to swim, I would say every time is lovely, I mean you’ve got summer, you’ve got spring, everything is quiet, you go over there, it’s beautiful.

But the Heath so vast in size it offers the West Hampstead mounted police force a valuable training ground, particularly now during their vital preparations for the Olympic Games.

For the Olympic Games, the horses are probably one of the most visible police presences you get. They’re great security patrols, high visibility, you work with an animal day in day out, you put your trust in the animal, ‘cause ultimately your life is in each other’s hands. Now definitely I’ve got a big partnership with this one. I hope I still go on for years to come.

Hampstead has a rare and quaint essentially English charm to it. But it is the Heath that makes this part of London so special. Like a beautiful island of countryside, it offers protection and relaxation, and it’s important not just for the residents of Hampstead but of whole of London.

domingo, 5 de agosto de 2012

What type of learner are you?

It is well-known that people learn in different ways. Identifying and understanding the way we learn best can help us make the most of the time and effort we invest and, consequently, help us get better results.

There are three main types of learning styles:
Visual learners
Auditory learners
Kinesthetic learners

Read the infographic below from Online College, a blog devoted to keeping students informed about the latest higher education and online learning issues in US, to find out more details about learning styles.

What Type of Learner Are You?
Compiled By:

H/T Educational Technology and Mobile Learning 

sábado, 4 de agosto de 2012

The power of introverts

This is the way The power of introverts is described in TED:
"In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.
Our world prizes extroverts, but Susan Cain makes a case for the quiet and contemplative."

And this is the bio of Susan Cain that TED features:
"Susan Cain is a former corporate lawyer and negotiations consultant, and a self-described introvert. At least one-third of the people we know are introverts, notes Cain in her new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingAlthough our culture undervalues them dramatically, introverts have made some of the great contributions to society – from Chopin's nocturnes to the invention of the personal computer to Gandhi’s transformative leadership. 

Cain argues that we design our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions for extroverts, and that this bias creates a waste of talent, energy, and happiness. Based on intensive research in psychology and neurobiology and on prolific interviews, she also explains why introverts are capable of great love and great achievement, not in spite of their temperaments, but because of them."

Remember you can activate subtitles for most TED talks by choosing the language on the lower side of the TED screen.

For some other TED talks on this blog, just write TED in the search box on the left-hand side.

viernes, 3 de agosto de 2012


Grammar sounds like a different site for learning and revising grammar, punctuation and spelling.

It seems really easy to use: Copy or paste the text you want to check in the text box and then click the button .

If there is a problem with the sentence you wrote, will underline in green the incorrect part. You just have to click on the underlined phrase for to tell you what the problem is.

Remember the other grammar sites that this blog features.

Grammar Speaks (Azar Grammar)

H/T to Technology Tidbits

jueves, 2 de agosto de 2012

Olympic Park

Jonathan Edwards gives us an update of the progress of all of the venues on the Olympic Park on a video which first appeared in the Learning English Teens section of The British Council.

If you drop by the Learning English Teens section of the British Council you will find a worksheet on the video, with step by step activities which focus on both vocabulary and listening comprehension.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and say what the following figures and phrases refer to in the video.

half a million

You can read the transcript here or download it from The British Council, and you can find dozens of videos related to the Olympics together with daily summaries and updates of the competitions and events, some of which allow a CC option, on the  official Olympic Games webpage.

2005 is the year when it was announced that London would host the 2012 Olympics.
80,000 people -capacity of Olympic stadium.
The Olympic torch will be travelling for 10 weeks around the UK.
The stadium is surrounded by water on 3 sides.
The stadium can be accessed by 5 new bridges.
The Copper Box will seat 6,000 people for sport and concerts after the games.
The International Broadcast Center will house 20,000 of the world's media.
The two hockey pitches have a blue surface.
There are 4,000 new trees and half a million new plants in the north parklands.
23,000 athletes and officials will live in the Olympic village.
There are 11 blocks in the Olympic village
There are 18 other venues for the games where events will be held.
London 2012 will be the 30th Olympiad.

miércoles, 1 de agosto de 2012

Talking point: Talent or hard work

In late November last year The Learning Network of  The New York Times posed a question in the Student Opinion section: Which Is More Important: Talent or Hard Work?

These are some of the questions they wrote about the topic to jog their readers' mind, which you can also use as a springboard to discuss the topic with the members of your talking group.

Have you experienced the power of talent over hard work? 
Or have you found that success comes from putting in the most time and effort to achieve it?
How have you seen the talent/dedication equation play out in studies, sports, work or any other field in which individuals are compared?

Did the person with the most real or perceived “natural talent” also work the hardest?
How did a person of average ability improve over time?
Did the improvement make him or her “the best” or did those most naturally gifted still prevail?
What do you think of the idea that “practice makes perfect”?

To gain further insight into the topic, you can also read The New York Times article by David Z. Hambrick and Elizabeth J. Meinz Sorry, Strivers: Talent Matters,

David Plunkert