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CAE Online Resource Directory

4 Jun

For those involved with CAE exam classes – I’ve just put up a directory of online resources which you can access here:

CAE Online Resource Directory

There’s a mix of exam information, online practice exercises and teaching advice, so take a look and see what you think!

Predictably, a lot of what’s out there for “CAE” – or “Cambridge English: Advanced” as we should more properly call it – is just details for various courses run by schools and language training centres.  There isn’t as much out there as there is for FCE.

So – if you know of anything that I haven’t included – please do let me know – you can do this by leaving a comment here, or via the feedback form on the about page.


Opposition debates for CPE Summary tasks

12 Apr

This was something that popped into my head the other day as a way to change the dynamic of a CPE lesson based around summary tasks – and which will also be useful for the 2013 revised exam (writing part one).

Frame the summary question (the last question on the exam paper, usually question 44) in more contentious, combative terms and write it on the board.

Set the class up in two groups and give each group one of the texts from the CPE part 5 task – so group a gets text a and group b gets text b.  Give the learners some time to process the input and to prepare their arguments, discussing what they found in the texts, developing any elaborations and predicting and preparing ripostes to any counter-arguments.

Usually with an opposition debate, I like to seat the learners in two lines down the middle of the room, so that learners are (a) facing each other and (b) up close and personal.

Begin the debate!

At the end of the debate, and before focusing on any language feedback, do some content feedback.  In particular ask the learners what the main areas of discussion were and get these listed on the board.  Point out that these are the (probably – obviously you’ll need to check with the task key) content points they need to identify for the summary task.

Make sure learners have a copy of both texts (a and b) and then with their debate partner, they can formulate a written answer to the summary task.

Using Haiku for Summary Tasks

12 Jan

Summary task woes
Unfound ideas from the texts
Lacking clarity
What is a Haiku?
Distillation of ideas
Concisely worded 
This could go quite wrong
Haiku for summary tasks?
Might be worth a try 

Learners at CPE (Proficiency) level frequently have issues with the comprehension and summary task on the Use of English paper (click here for Cambridge ESOL’s candidate guide).

Answering the comprehension questions can be difficult enough, but the summary task is enough to turn teachers and students into gibbering wrecks, sobbing in the corner of the classroom and wailing at their own percieved inadequacy.  The truth is that they aren’t inadequate in any way – they just need some training!  Using Haiku is an approach I’ve used to try and help learners access the core ideas of the texts in a simple and succinct way.

Continue reading

The Twelve Days of Geekmas: Five Favourite Things

12 Dec

On the fifth day of Geekmas, some blogger gave to me:  FIVE FAVOURITE THINGS

Welcome to the teflgeek Christmas celebration!  Themed around the classic Christmas carol – but going backwards, mostly because it’s more like a countdown that way:

12 blogs worth clutching

11 tips for writing

10 tricks for reading

9 pretty pictures

8 talks worth watching

7 simple statements

6 games worth playing

and five of my favourite things.  No brown paper parcels tied up with string here – just five simple activities that I use all the time and can help break up the monotony of the lesson.  I don’t claim authorship of any of these – in fact most of these can be found in the one extent copy of ” diht aet álaeran englisc to aelfolc” – a primer that was in wide use after the 1066 invasion of England after which none of the Norman lords and masters could talk to their Anglo Saxon serfs and had to arrange hasty lessons.  “diht aet álaeran englisc to aelfolc” can be found on the shelves at the Bodleian Library, next to a copy of what appears to be the publisher proofs for the very first edition of Headway Elementary (or héafodaerneweg folcsóp).

(1)  Backs to the Board.  

I’ve mentioned previously, how this activity was demonstrated to me on the CELTA and how I use it with virtually every class (though sometimes I give it a rest to avoid overkill!).  The following description is from the teflgeek “Activity Reference

Essentially a vocabulary review game / activity.  Divide the class into two teams (they can choose a team name?).

Take two chairs and turn them round so that anyone sitting in them will have their backs to the board.  One person from each team comes up and sits in the chair.  The teacher writes a word on the board and the other members of the team try to explain the word, without actually saying the target word.  The first person (sitting in the chairs) to say the correct word wins one point for their team.  Change the person sitting in the chair after each word, so that all team members get a chance to be the guessers.  You can use this with single vocabulary items or with collocations, phrasal verbs, or even full sentences!

Rules:  People sitting in the chairs may not look at the board.  Explainers may not say the word OR ANY FORM of the word – for example if the target word is “teacher”, teams cannot say “teaching” / “teach” / “taught” and so forth.  The only language allowed is English (or your target language).  No mime or gesticulation is allowed.  No writing things down.  no saying the first letter of the word or spelling the words.  Points can be taken off for infractions!

Obviously, these rules can be relaxed for lower levels.  Fun for all ages and abilities!

(2)  Running Dictation

I have a suspicion this one might have come from Nick Kiley, almost ten years ago in China.  A running dictation is a great way to get your classes up and moving – especially if they’ve been sat there for a while.  It practices all four skills and because there’s a focus on accuracy (i.e. correct transfer of information) can be a nice way to introduce a language point.

What you do – take a target text, not too big, probably about 75-100 words (this will depend on class age and ability – I’ve done this with a list of ten words, or with ten short sentences, or with a short letter).  Stick a copy of the text somewhere nearby, ideally outside your classroom – the door to the DoS office is a favourite location – but out of immediate communication range.

The learners work in pairs – person A runs to the text, tries to remember as much of the text as they can, returns to their partner and tells them what they can remember.  Person B listens and writes it down.  When person B has finished writing, they run to the paper and read the next bit before returning to tell person A who writes it down and so on.  At the end of the activity, you can ask pairs of learners to compare their texts for accuracy, or if you’ve extracted the text from the coursebook, they can check it against the original.

Generally, I use these as a means of providing the target language, so I tend to follow the activity with some kind of language mining task – for example if the text had been an anecdote designed to highlight narrative tenses, the task might be to sequence the events in chronological order.

(3)  The Domination Game

It sounds worse than it is….   And it’s another one I’ve mentioned before, but seeing as that was two days after this blog first started I don’t think anyone noticed.  So I feel no guilt about reproducing it here!  This one is, I think a teflgeek original:  I originally cooked it up as a comparatively fun way of doing revision / practice of an entire FCE Use of English paper without melting the learners’ brains or causing everyone in the room to lose the will to live….

The term “comparatively fun” is used advisedly – this one can easily run past it’s “use by date” if you let it – if you feel that learners are beginning to shift uncomfortably around, then just cut the whole thing short and declare a winner!

As mentioned, it was originally designed for an FCE Use of English, but it can be used with absolutely any Grammar / Vocabulary revision task – basically all you need is 42 questions.  In the past I’ve used it with three separate “revision” pages of a course book – as long as the question references are clear, it’s all good!

Basically, the game is a combination of “blockbusters” and “reversi”.  Teams have to try and get the greatest number of connected squares they can.  Teams win a square by answering a question correctly.  The strategy element is introduced as teams can obviously block each other, cut each other off – and steal squares from each other by surrounding a square on two separate sides.

A full procedure, game grid and question reference sheet are attached and available to download as a pdf file here:

teflgeek – The Domination Game

(4) The Never-Ending Mingle

We’ve all done those “Find Someone Who” tasks, where learners walk around the classroom with a bit of paper, asking the same question to ten different people – and usually getting the same short and effective answer – “No!”  The never-ending mingle avoids some of this by imposing two simple rules on the activity  (1)  learners aren’t allowed to ask a question to the same person twice  (2)  Learners swap cards after each Q& A encounter.  This way, learners will ask as many questions are there are people in the classroom, quite possibly talking to each person as many times as there are people!

Variations: (1)  let the learners think up the questions.  (2)  learners think of more than one question (three seems like a nice number)  (3)  learners include a follow up question (to avoid short Yes / No type encounters)

Feedback:  “John, what was the most interesting thing somebody told you?”

(5)  Reason to believe

This is one of my ultimate cover lessons – particularly useful at short notice.  I do it at least once with every class I teach, in one form or another.  It’s one of those that works better at higher levels, but I think could work anywhere from Intermediate upwards, as it relies on learner ideas rather than language per se.  There are opportunities for language input built in, and these could be developed further if necessary.

Essentially it’s an opposition debate, where learners debate the things they believe in – or not as the case may be!

Downloadable pdf version of the plan is attached here:  teflgeek – Reason to believe.

On another note:  Reason to Believe was my very first post on this blog!

So these were a few of my favourite things – what’s your favourite five?

(NB  Apologies to all students and teachers of “Old English” for the very dodgy book titles at the top of the post….  You can blame my general ignorance of old English grammatical structure and inappropriate use of the Old English Translator for any and all mistakes contained within!)

Say that again? avoiding repetition & developing paraphrase

25 Nov

Trying to come up with new and interesting ways of saying the same old thing is a skill that taxes most of us on a daily basis:  “I like your hair.”  “Your hair looks nice.”  “Wow!  Have you had your hair done?”  “That new style really suits you!”

For language learners, it’s obviously even more difficult.  For learners preparing for exam classes, where displaying a wide ranging linguistic resource helps garner improved scores – it’s an essential skill.  It’s useful for all those writing tasks (avoid using words or phrases from the questions) and particularly useful for CPE comprehension and summary tasks where the questions state “in your own words”.  But it’s also a handy skill to have for those speaking tasks, where demonstrating “range” is almost as important as actually having range.  After all, there’s no point learning all those different words and structures if you don’t actually use them?  Right?

So here’s an activity which needs no (only a very small amount) of preparation, but which helps extend and develop the paraphrase skill.  I call it “Say that again?”

Materials:  As much scrap A4 paper as you can find chopped down into either A6 or A7 sized slips – ideally it’d be about six bits of paper per student.

Students write a single (short) sentence on each bit of paper – ideally something they might say in everyday life.  You can model this with “I like your hair.”  or “Local football team played well/badly at the weekend.”  Students can work together in pairs during the sentence creation phase.

Collect all the slips of paper up and ask the learners to form small groups (three or four people per group).  re-distribute the slips of paper with the sentences on evenly between the groups, placed face down (i.e. sentences not visible) in a pile in the middle.

One learner takes a slip and turns it face up and reads the sentence.  They then have to produce a paraphrase of the sentence, as does the next person and the next etc, until someone can’t come up with something that hasn’t already been said.  So if we go back to our example:  Learner A turns over the slip of paper and reads out “I like your hair.”  Learner A paraphrases thusly:  “Your hair looks nice.”   Learner B comes up with “Wow!  Have you had your hair done?”  and Learner C with “That new style really suits you!”.  Learner D however can’t think of anything new, so gets to keep the slip of paper.

The winner is the person in each group with the fewest slips of paper at the end of the activity.

Feedback can be given on any errors that were overheard during the game, but also content feedback on any sentences they found particularly difficult to paraphrase.

As an extension, for those classes preparing for an exam, the teacher could take the input from one of the writing paper questions and divide it up into sentences on separate bits of paper and ask learners to come up with alternative phrasings.

“The candidate demonstrated an impressive range.”

(Bonus points for anyone who can identify the “impressive range” featured!  Post your answers below!)

Online Teaching Resource: Idioms Videos

29 Sep

I just came across, during a further exploration of the Pearson ELT Community site, their idioms discussions space.

There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of discussion, but they have posted a set of mini-videos which purport to explain English idioms and expressions.  The videos are very short (about a minute) and are followed with a dictionary definition.  One of the tasks they give is “Can you guess the idiom before the definition comes up?”  If you had learners in teams with different coloured board pens, and they raced to write the expression on the board before it came up, it could work….

The videos are also available via the Pearson You Tube channel (I’ve tried to embed one of them below, but don’t think it’s worked – so click the link instead).

Here’s the original page again: Space: Idioms Discussions.

Exam Classes: Gapless

27 May

Another really simple idea for all those use of english papers….  just remove the gaps.

For exam classes this works with the following areas:


  • Use of English Part One – multiple choice cloze

  • Use of English Part Two – open cloze

  • Use of English Part Three – word formation


  • Reading Part One: multiple choice cloze

  • Use of English Part One: open cloze

  • Use of English Part Two: word formation

Simply take the target text and re-type it but without the gaps given in the original.

The idea is that first of all the learners work together to figure out where the gaps are.  Having done that, they can then work out what is possibly missing, before comparing their ideas with answer options (for multiple choice cloze) or the root words (word formation).

You can then give full feedback.

Multiple Choice Cloze

23 May

A relatively simple way of dealing with multiple choice cloze tasks in the classroom:

Take one multiple choice cloze task, possibly one like this FCE style task found via a google image search, or just one from your coursebook.

Before the class, you’ll need to type out the multiple choice possible answers onto A4, print a single copy and then chop them up so that each word is on a separate bit of paper.  These can then be stuck up around the classroom, under the learners’ chairs, or even one the backs of learners.  Maybe even all three?

In class:  Tell learners you’ll read them a text with (12?) gaps in it and when you get to a gap, you’ll say the word banana.  They should write down the word they think should be in the gap.  (See also “Activity Reference” – Banana Dictation).  For stronger classes, read it once only.  For classes that need more support, read it twice.  You might also want to read it through beforehand so that you can identify and if necessary underline key content words that will require additional emphasis in order to signpost key information.

Learners can then check their ideas with each other in pairs or small groups.

Once they’ve decided on the words they think should go into the gaps, they can wander round the room writing down all the possibilities that have similar meanings / might also fit the gaps, from the words you previously distributed.

As a consolidation stage, you can refer learners to the relevant page of the coursebook / test book / copy of the handout to check and confirm their ideas against the options given.

Online Teaching Resource: Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus

12 May

The visual thesaurus was pointed out to me some time ago as a great alternative to the standard online dictionary search, and also as a great way to help learners broaden their vocabulary, particularly with higher level students who have a tendency to rely on a more limited than necessary lexical resource.

But….  I’ve tended not to use it because of their policy of only giving users a limited set of “tries” on the online version before shutting you down.  There is of course a way round that, which involves deleting all the cookies on your computer and clearing down your browser’s history and such like (check out this nifty and free download, if you want to know more about how to do that), but the hassle is a little too much to bother with….

However, the other day I went back and discovered the visual thesaurus has evolved into something more…

There is a growing collection of lesson plans related to use of the visual thesaurus, 53 and counting thus far, and while many seem more intended for native speaker language lessons, there are those that are aimed and EFL / ESL, and those that are adaptable to it (like the one on prefixes – word formation anyone?).

Other things on the site that I think are worth a mention include:

  • Michele Dunaway’s “Teachers at Work” blog, whose most recent post encourages us to think differently about the way we teach creative writing to our students.
  • the “wordshop” collection of vocabulary activities (same caveat about target market applies…)
  • and finally, the vocabgrabber, which you paste text into and which generates word lists of “the most useful vocabulary words” from the text.  I’m not so sure about this one, but it might be useful in deciding which items you want to pre-teach to allow learners to access a text more effectively.  Though that would require you to type the target text into the website….  like I said, not quite sure about how best t0 use this tool.


FCE CAE CPE: Open Cloze Battleships

20 Apr

An alternative to the work through it together option…

Basically, you need two different open cloze tasks from a test book (or you can use the examples given in the exam handbooks available from Cambridge ESOL’s teacher support site).

You then need to make two different sets of handouts.  Handouts should contain both tasks, but different answer sets.  So for example – handout #01 would contain Open Cloze A and Open Cloze B and answer set B.  handout #02 would contain Open Cloze A and Open Cloze B and answer set A.  Alternatives – you could just write the answers in to one of the gapfills (but NOT on your master copy!).  or you could leave both cloze tasks blank (see variations on the task as below).

Split the class into two groups and give Group A one of the sample tasks and give Group B the other.   If possible seat them facing each other but on other sides of the room (to make sure they can’t see / show each other their tasks).  If not, try to seat them back to back, again so that they can’t see each others’ papers.

Each learner then circles five gaps on the task they have the answers for.

Learners are then paired with a compatriot from the opposing team.  Learner A nominates a gap and an answer (i.e. (3) “unless”) and learner B responds either with “wrong answer / Right answer but a miss / right answer and a hit”.  Then it’s Learner B’s turn…  and so on, until someone “sinks” their partners’ battleships.


(1) Don’t give out any of the answers.  Teams can then work collaboratively to figure out what the answers to their task are, before playing the battleship component of the activity.  in that scenario, I’d maybe not give out both tasks until learners have figured out the answers to their own, or a certain amount of cheating might ensue!

(2)  Not so much with an open cloze…  But I’ve done this with two short texts set into large grids with one word in each square.  Learners shouted words at each other, were given grid references for any correct guesses, filled in the words on a blank copy of the template and attempted to sink battleships.  It took ages…  but the aim was more to raise awareness that function words (like those generally tested in FCE CAE Open cloze tasks) are the easiest ones to guess, and also to develop awareness of text and sentence structure.

I think all that makes sense….  any questions?  Let me know!