Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Teaching English Radio

Today I wanted to mention a section of the Teaching English website.  (Another of the sites I'm subscribed to and visit regularly.

Teaching English Radio

There are 15 minute radio programmes on a particular theme.

9 themes have been covered so far:

1  Planning your lessons
2  Teachers supporting each other
3  Finding and creating worksheets
4  Using group work in larger classes
5  Pair and group work in practice
6  Developing teachers' language
7  Using English in the classroom
8  Teaching new language
9  Teaching reading

Then, they can download a worksheet which summarises the ideas discussed in the radio programme and also contains some ideas for thinking about/discussing.  For example, this is the Programme Summary from  Finding and creating worksheets:

Programme Summary: Using real-life materials is motivating for students. It provides a very real context for practising English. Our students are also a rich resource as we found out in this programme.
Teachers can use songs, humour, real objects and simple drawings and if we need to find colourful images for posters or flash cards we can cut them out of magazines. Newspapers are a very cheap resource and provide material for craft, as well as a variety of written texts. We hope you’ve heard some ideas to adapt for your teaching situation                                                                                                    .

These programmes would provide great material and stimulus for teacher training and development.  They would also provide useful language input for trainees.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Learn and play!

As I write this post, my computer is playing some jazzy music to me.  Why? Because I've just been trying out Academy Island!  What exactly is that, you may ask?  It's a game!  I'll paste the description provided by Cambridge ESOL (I couldn't describe it better myself!)

What is the game about?
An unknown alien life form who landed on earth today has had to learn the English language to get by in a range of social situations... Don't panic, it's just the plot of Academy Island – a new social media game from Cambridge experts designed to help learners improve their English language ability.
Where can I find the game?
Academy Island is a free educational game aimed at English language learners. It’s available from the University of Cambridge ESOL Examination’s (Cambridge ESOL) official Facebook page – which currently has over 120,000 fans.
What do players have to do?
Players of Academy Island have to progress through different difficulty levels by helping the alien use English in a range of situations such as shopping in a bakery and visiting places such as an art gallery and library.
Who wrote the game?
A team of language experts from Cambridge ESOL who work on the actual exam papers came up with the questions and tasks to ensure they were pitched at an appropriate level for learners of English. They worked closely with TAMBA – an award-winning digital marketing agency who specialise in social media games. Players who take on the Academy Island challenge can post their scores on a global leader board through their Facebook profile.
From what I have seen (I haven't had time - yet! - to visit all the places on the Island - the language level is quite high - I would say that for students preparing for Cambridge English: First and above.

Try it out and post your results!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Olympic sports

If like me, you like interesting facts that you can share with your students, then I think you will also like the Olympic Sports page of the London 2012 website.

You can click on any of the sports listed on the left or on the blue icon for it.  This will take you to a new page where you can read about the dates the event will take place in London, the venue.  There is a video illustrating figures about the number of players taking part, etc.

For example, for Table Tennis:

Key facts

Venue: ExCeL

Dates: Saturday 28 July – Wednesday 8 August
Medal events: 4
Athletes: 172 (86 men, 86 women)

I particularly liked the 'Did you know?' box on the page.

Other names for Table Tennis include ‘Ping Pong’, ‘Whiff Waff’ and ‘Flim Flam’, reflecting the sound of the ball being struck and bouncing off the table.
There is lots of material here for all levels, including lower level classes.  And as sport usually features in most coursebooks and on most syllabuses, it should fit in - especially this year of the Olympics.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Freelance Writers - Do You Know What Services to Offer?

If you want to get writing assignments right now, one way to do that is to write letters of introduction and send them to at least a dozen small local businesses. Along with these letters you should include a list of your writing services. But do you even know what services you want to offer?

Maybe you've only thought about writing for magazines or other commercial print publications and you've never considered writing for businesses or individuals. You can still write for magazines. But you'll make more money FASTER if you also go after some regular business clients.

Here are a few writing services most any good writer can offer small businesses and individuals right away:

Article Writing - Businesses need articles for their websites and for blog posts on a regular basis. If you've built a blog for your writing business, you know how to write short articles that can be used on websites or blogs. Turn this skill into a package to offer small businesses.

Press Releases - Most companies know they need regular press releases. But most of them don't have anyone inhouse who can write them. If you offer this service at a reasonable price, you can probably get some contracts to do this on an ongoing basis. Perhaps you contract to write a press release for a business every 6 weeks or so, for example. Do this for several businesses and you're on your way to making a regular income as a writer.

Resume Writing - You could build an entire freelance writing business just writing resumes if you do a good job of promoting this service. And, if you stick to just one service like this, you'll have time to get really, really good at it, so people will be willing to pay a premium for your services.

Product Descriptions - Find the websites for a few small businesses in your area that offer products you've used. Read the product descriptions on these websites. Could you do a better job of describing these products? Then send a short letter of introduction to each company owner, along with a sample description of one of their products you've used (so you have enough first hand knowledge to write accurately about the product). Who knows? At least a few of these business owners might hire you to rewrite all the product descriptions or will want to hire you to write descriptions of upcoming products.

Beginning to get ideas for some writing services you can offer?

As you reflect on your own unique writing skills and interests, I'm sure you'll be able to come up with many services you can provide other businesses and individuals. And it shouldn't be long before you're making a nice regular income as a writer.

Funny consular requests

In the past here in Cantabria, teachers at the school where I used to work and myself too were often asked to help out tourists in difficulty.

Incidents included putting up a couple who had missed their ferry till the next one because they had spent all their money and could not pay for a hotel room.

I was asked to interpret for a poor woman who had been involved in a tragic motorbike accident and she and her partner (and the doctor treating her) needed someone who could help them communicate and also help make the arrangements to get her back to the UK.

At the time, we had a British Consulate in Santander (no longer though), yet for some reason or another, people in need of help were directed towards us.  And none of us felt we could refuse to help in such situations of need.

I was reminded of all this when I watched William Hague talking about bizarre requests received by consulate staff around the world.

A fun video to use in class to introduce the theme of helping others or problems that can occur when on holiday?

Do you have any similar stories to share?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

PET Speaking materials on Writefix

While I was looking at Writefix, a website designed generally to work on the area of argument and opinion essays and describing graphs, I came across a section of the site that focuses on the Cambridge English: Preliminary speaking test.

If you move your mouse over the photo, you can see tabs of text with suggestions for things you could say about this photo.

There are also some Part 2 materials for you to use with students.

I think this could be VERY useful for class and for self-study for Preliminary students.

Hope you're finding my suggestions useful!!!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Respected Reference Manuals Aren't Always Accurate or Pertinent

Sometimes the Most Respected Reference Manuals Don't Provide Pertinent Advice

Most often the reason for the error is the time that has passed since some rule was written. An example of this is a reference in THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE that allows for placing thoughts in quotations. This has been eschewed for decades, but in my writing workshops not long ago I had a participant cite section 10.42 from TCMOS and the following text: "I don't care if we have offended Morgenstern," thought Vera.

Fortunately, TCMOF illustrates four other ways to handle thoughts, and I believe any contemporary writer will be well advised to choose either of the last two, which is either straight interior monologue without any quotation marks or the use of italics.

THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE Also Approves of Dual Punctuation Ending a Sentence

Every so often I'll receive a draft from a client with both a question mark and an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. Never write like this. If a question is exclaimed with such force that an exclamation point is deemed necessary too, use it as the only punctuation to end that sentence and allow it to supersede the question mark. Again, never both--no matter how tempting it might be.

Strunk and White Are at the Top of the List of Style Enemies

I believe it's fair to state that almost every college student who has ever taken a 101 English course was informed via the syllabus to latch on to a copy of THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by Strunk and White. A while ago I was sent a very clever article about all that was wrong with this manual from the perspective of grammar, and while I could credit the author and replicate what I was provided, it would consume pages. So let me instead offer one example that stood out for me from my first reading of THE ELEMENTS eons ago. It dealt with avoiding unnecessary adjectives and reads as follows: "The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place." The sentence contains three adjectives.

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE is rife with misstatements about grammar that are evident to anyone who studies English. A great many of the problems are related to pompous drivel from Mr. Strunk (and later never corrected by Mr. White when he lent his magic to the text) and have nothing to do with style or grammar. This involves questionable advice about when not to apply commas in a series (hence fomenting the "running comma" debate) to their absurd rationale for eschewing passive voice except in extreme circumstances, exacerbated by the inaccuracy of three of their four examples of passive voice that are in fact active! No wonder so many people who took an English 101 course became confused--and stayed that way forever.

It's Important to Recognize Words That Don't Convey Their Intended Meaning

"Moot" means debatable, yet many people think it refers to the opposite. And sentences designed as aids to illustrate the word's correct usage serve to advance this misconception. Here are two sentences taken directly from "If you cannot repay your friend right now, the question is moot." And: "Which factor is the more important and which is the least remains a moot question." With examples like these, what is someone supposed to think is the definition of "moot"? After reading either of these sentences, it's easy to see how a person might assume that either issue is no longer open for discussion, when in fact the opposite is true. The best way I know to keep this straight is to think of "moot" in relationship to a "moot court," which refers to a debate court.

I've mentioned "mundane" before in articles, but the word fosters repeating my contention. It originally meant "worldly" and "elegant." Now it means "commonplace" and "ordinary," and is generally used in a disparaging way. Yet when we read a Victorian-era novel in college, "mundane" was meant in its original context.

Understand the Time Frame of a Work's Publication

Reference manuals that pertain to rhetoric--as well as the words that compose the English language--must all be viewed in a contemporary context. This is no different from reading a work such as Kafka's METAMORPHOSIS, which was published in the '20s, and assume in 2012 that any of us can mimic that style and place our protagonist's thoughts in quotations.

Read Current Bestseller Debut Material to Develop a Comfort Zone

This isn't sure-fire, but a writer can generally get a feel for what's acceptable by reading a debut novel that has become a success--and was originally published by a major imprint. Most first-time published authors have had to follow current convention quite closely, and this will often give an aspiring writer a decent idea of what will pass muster, as this book has had to run the publishing gantlet or it wouldn't be on the bookshelf.

Robert L. Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

Free Critique Service! The Perfect Write® is now providing a Free Opening-Chapter Critique and Line-Edit. Paste the first chapter of your manuscript (up to 5000 words) to (no attachments). In addition to the critique, The Perfect Write® will line-edit, if applicable, a section of your double-spaced material also at no charge.

British Council Seminar on choosing and using resources

Yesterday, I received my weekly newsletter from British Council Teaching English.  (Another site I'm subscribed to).

If I have time, I look through the areas mentioned in the newsletter as soon as it arrives and click on the links to find out more about them.  (If not, the email gets transferred to my 'subscriptions' folder

and stays there till I have time to look at it properly!)

I decided to have a look at the email this morning when I switched on my computer and clicked on the link to

Dot Powell, manager of the British Council's project to create a portal for ESOL teachers and learners, looks at criteria we use to make judgements about ESOL materials.

This took me to the Seminars section of the Teaching English website.  I clicked on:

I then watched Dot Powell, Project Manager for ESOL Nexus in a seminar with teachers discussing the criteria we need to apply when we are choosing and/or preparing resources for students.

Dot then provided examples of resources and applied the criteria with the teachers at the seminar.

The seminar lasts just under 20 minutes, but I found it so interesting and well-presented, that the time just flew by.

I then paid a quick visit to the ESOL Nexus website.

The site is targeted at a particular group of ESOL learners:

ESOL Nexus

Welcome to the ESOL Nexus page for learners. The materials here have been specially designed and identified for learners who are working and making their home in the UK.
We are sure you will find lots of interesting and motivating activities here which will help you to improve your English in lots of different ways, understand more about UK culture and learn more about UK society and work.

But I have just tried out a couple of activities from the site and I think that many of them would be useful and relevant to our students.
There are many listening activities and the Magazine articles seem interesting.
I liked the several of the poems in the Poems and Stories section.  I hadn't come across the No poem before!

I hope you will visit the Nexus site too and find it useful.  (Most of the stuff there is for higher level learners.

In a few minutes, I will look at the teachers section of the site - maybe for a future post......?

The British Council has lots more seminars on its website.  Here is the direct link to the start up page.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Ghost Writing

Book ghost writing is a term that has been around for a long time. As a matter of fact, book ghost writing began shorty after people started writing and selling books.

You might have good ideas for books but just do not have the time or writing expertise to write the book. These are some of the reasons why people hire book ghost writing services.

Whatever idea you have for the book, there is a qualified ghost writing service that can turn the idea into a completed book. Book ghost writers are available to work with you all throughout the writing process -- from the idea, planning, researching, writing, and revising. When writing textbooks, it is essential to properly cite and document the sources used in the book. Writers must follow specific guidelines for citing sources. Otherwise, publishers will reject the book.

If you have a good idea for a book but do not have the time to write a book, you can hire writers to bring your book to life. You can even put your name as the author on the cover of the book. You may wonder why someone would go through the trouble of writing an entire book if you will be credited as the author. The writer is paid for the ghost writing services. Ghost writing is usually accomplished by writers who like to write but are not concerned about being credited. In exchange book ghost writers do not take credit for the work they do. They are happy to exchange their specialized services for a fee.

You might be thinking that book ghost writing is only for rich people, but this is simply not the case. The service can be very reasonable. If you are interested at all in having some work done on a project that you have an idea for, you too can hire ghost writers. Professional book ghost writers are highly-qualified, educated writers who understand writing in the book industry.

If you call or email writers, you may learn that their rates can be very reasonable. In fact this is why many people hire ghost writers. Hiring book ghost writers is an investment. Since the ghost writer typically charges a comparatively nominal rate, the client can publish the book and recoup the initial costs many times over. If you are someone who has a good idea, hiring ghost writing services can help.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Then Vs Than and That Vs Which

So, I'm reading some articles that just made the muscles in my neck strain and shake in my growing annoyance at seeing multiple grammar mistakes. The writer kept writing "then" when he/she meant "than." Being that the articles were published online, I couldn't click on the mistakes and fix them. It drove me nuts. And like all things that drive me crazy, I thought, "Hey! Why not complain about it in an article and teach people how to do it right?"

So, here we are. Again. Learning to write right. I'm so pithy.

Then vs. Than

"Then" refers to a period of time. "Than" refers to a comparison.

    I will meet you then [at the time afreed upon].

    My cooking is better than my husband's.

    Not: I'd rather go to work then clean the house. [THAN!]

See? Simple. It irks me that I have to write an article about this.

Which vs. That

Okay, this mistake is a little more understandable. In fact, until I went to grad school, I had no clue. Turns out my teachers had let me confuse the two circumstances over and over instead of schooling me in the difference. So, here we go. Let's look at two similar sentences:

    I like the yellow one that she wore.

    I like the yellow one, which she wore.

In the first sentence, you are talking about a dress, perhaps. You like the yellow one you saw on Debbie that day. In the second sentence, you know Debbie has a closet full of dresses to choose from, and you like the yellow one. Debbie happened to choose it to wear that day. It's a subtle difference, I admit.

That same grad school professor also happened to be a "that" Nazi. He claimed [that] we could eliminate almost all instances of "that" in our writing, because it was a useless and unnecessary word. I agree to some extent. For instance, in the first sentence, you could eliminate "that" from the sentence and it still reads correctly: I like the yellow one she wore. This is instructive when it comes to eliminating extraneous words from your writing. You can probably find a way to eliminate almost all "thats" from your writing. Anyway.

Another thing to notice is the punctuation used with "which." There should be a big red arrow pointing to that comma. Almost any time you use "which," there should be a comma preceding it.

Now let me really mess you up:

    I listened to that which the teacher told me.

Not only did I use them together, there was no comma before "which." To make it worse, I could have replaced it with "what": I listened to what the teacher told me.

One thing to keep in mind is the necessary [that] versus extra [which] information test. Take a look below:

    Children that are good are a blessing.

    Children, which are good, are a blessing.

    Cars that are fuel efficient create less pollution.

    Cars, which are fuel efficient, create less pollution.

You'll notice the word "that" in both sets of comparisons points to a descriptive phrase that is necessary. In the first case, "that" narrows the possible field of all children down to only those that are good. So, only "good children" are a blessing. In the "which" example, all children are a blessing, and children happen to be good for you, too. You can take out the phrase between the commas and it means the same thing. The second example points out how a sentence can sound ridiculous if you mess up the rules. Sentence one says that fuel-efficient cars create less pollution. The second sentence says that [all] cars are fuel efficient and create less pollution.

Last example:

    Which one do you want? That one?

"Which" is used to indicate that there are a range of items to choose from. "That" points to a specific one in the bunch.


Oay, I'm sort of shoving this in here because I didn't want to write an entire article dedicated to this itty bitty word. It doesn't deserve it. That's my opinion and I'll stand by it to the death.

It jangles my nerves when people substitute a possessive for a prepositional phrase. Translation:

    her books; my mother's books

    the books of my mother

It requires a lot of extra words to use "of." Wasted ink. It's not "stylish"; it doesn't sound more "literary." It just sounds awkward. Don't do it. I will correct it. And I will charge you more per word if you do it too much.

Thursday, April 5, 2012 and Toptenzphotos

As you know from previous posts like Camera Obscura, Camara Obscura 1, Life on the Edge, Compare and congrast challenge , I love sites with great photos for use in class.

A little earlier, I was looking at various bits and pieces on a site I like to browse from time to time (  The name says what it is - a wide and varied collection of 10 things on a theme.

To give you an example, here are four photos taken from their list of the top ten Strangest Hobbies.  What do you think the strange hobbies are?

Extreme ironing, soap carving, milk bottle collecting and mooing!!!  Never tried any of these myself!!!

I ended up at the sister site:

When I clicked on one of the categories (Top 10 Live Moving Cinemagraph Pictures), I loved what I saw!  Here's one of the photos from the collection:

The term cinemagraph was invented by Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg.  They used the technique in their fashion photography.  Check out their photos here:

Hope you enjoy and!

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Big Egg Hunt

Some of you have already started your Easter holidays.  In Cantabria, we start on Wednesday :·)

I was preparing a few suggestions for some friends who will be visiting London next weekend, when I came across the Big Egg Hunt.

Next weekend (Easter weekend), 209 giant Easter eggs will be on display in Covent Garden. Up until yesterday, they were 'hidden' around London and people went round hunting them.

Want to see more of these beauties?   Visit the FabergĂ© Big Hunt webpage.

Unfortunately (?) my favourite - the Egg Letter Box has already been sold!!!

And for a very usable video to use in class or to ask your students to watch at home, I suggest this one from  SightseerTV:

It has an interactive transcript so that students can choose to read and listen at the same time - or you could use it to design a listening/viewing task.

Happy Easter!!!!

Three Grammar Myths

I'm here today to de-mythify the rules of grammar. Yep, that's right. There are real grammar myths embedded into what most people think are hard and fast rules. I'm going to tackle three of the most popular right this minute, take them head on, throw them to the ground and beat them to a pulp.

Grammar Myth #1: You can't end a sentence with a preposition.
This is by far the most pervasive myth in grammar. It's absolute bunk. If you're writing an academic or scholarly article, you should try to avoid placing the preposition at the end whenever possible, but saying this is a "rule" is tantamount to grammar dictatorship. Just one ridiculous example would be: Down floats the leaf. Even better: Up I think I'm going to throw. In those cases, the rule makes no sense whatsoever. In other circumstances, it has a profound impact on tone and style:

The resume is for the job for which I'm applying.

The resume is for the job I'm applying for.

We could almost say that the first example sounds a little hoity toity. The fact is, we regularly end sentences with prepositions in common speech. There's nothing wrong with it, and as we've seen, it makes a whole lot of difference in some cases.

Grammar Myth #2: You shouldn't start a sentence with a conjunction.
When I was in fifth grade, Mrs. Heron taught us that we should not start sentences with a conjunction (and, but, or - especially and). She would even put ugly red marks on our writing when we ignored her and did it anyway. Well, Mrs. Heron, I'm sorry to say you were wrong. There is nothing that states that this is a rock-solid, go-to-prison-if-you-break-it rule. Again, if you are writing an academic or business piece, it's better if you don't. Conjunctions by their very definition link things. If you have a period followed by a conjunction, you aren't really joining anything. But I do this all the time. And I do it without apology.

What is important from my point of view as an editor is that you don't overdo it. If I see a manuscript with too many sentences starting with "and," I tend to get frustrated. While there may not be a rule per se, excess is not recommended.

Grammar Myth #3: Never, ever split an infinitive.
First, it's often helpful to define "infinhtive" before we talk about splitting the darn thing. An infinitive is simply the base form of a verb, and in English, it is often preceded by the word "to": to be, to run, to think, to be able to. If you put a word - usually an adverb - between the "to" and its verb, this is known as splitting the infinitive. Examples: to quickly run, to slowly fall, to immediately flee. In fact, the prohibition against splitting infinitives only came about in the late 19th century. All modern style books (that I'm aware of), have eliminated all traces of discrimination against split infinitives. Even the voluminous Chicago Manual of Style freed writers to split infinitives in its 13th edition (1983). Split away, writers, split away!

When I look at a split infinitive, I might move the adverb around when it's possible. In some instances, you just can't say it any other way. Take the following, for example:

To boldly go where no man has gone before.

In order to really succeed...

On the other hand, here are some examples I'm likely to glue back together:

I want to slowly remove the Band-Aid. (I want to remove the Band-Aid slowly.)

To quickly get to town, he had to take a short cut. (To get to town quickly, he had to take a short cut.)

These types of issues are really issues of style. You can tell that following the rules sets a different tone than ignoring them. Use whatever makes you comfortable, whatever fits your style.