H is for Holidays

And summer has finally come and once again it’s this time of the year when me and my blog go on holiday.

I started blogging like eight years ago and you might think that after spending all these years writing an average of two posts weekly, I might be dry for ideas. I am not. I promise  I’ll be back some time in September with new ideas.

This blog is always growing and changing, and hopefully it’s becoming better and a more useful place for you to visit. I hope that when you click away from my blog you feel inspired encouraged and even challenged. This year the blog has reached an amazing number of visits, 300,000 visits/month and I can only thank you for your support  and your kind encouraging messages.

These are the most popular posts this year and also some of my favourite ones.

My favourite posts have been

The most popular posts have been

Quizzes

Writing

Reading:

Listening

Using Technology in the Classroom

Grammar and Vocabulary

The 8 Best Audio/Video News and Current Affairs Websites to Learn English.

I’m currently really tied up with checking exams, so I’m going to make the introduction to this blog post really brief.  I’m sure you have enough on your plate, too. June is usually a hectic month for almost everybody, isn’t it?

So, how do you keep up with the latest news? Or maybe, are you one of those who, sick and tired of reading bad news, have decided to completely isolate yourself from the world? I wouldn’t blame you!

If you are one of those, I kindly suggest you make an exception for the sake of learning and improving your English. You won’t regret it! Reading is one of the best ways of acquiring vocabulary and learning grammar without studying.If you read and listen to one article every day, or two if you feel overzealous, your reading and listening skills will improve very quickly. Trust me on this!

This is my selection of the best audio/video news and current affairs websites to learn English.

I have looked at the following features in all the websites:

  • If the news is written in levels
  • If the same news is written/read at different levels
  • If it is audio news or video news
  • If the transcript is provided
  • If the site provides a ready-to-use lesson plan for the news
  • Any other relevant additional content

The image below is interactive. Click on the icon and read what each website has to offer.

How else can I use these sites in the classroom?
• Choose one news website from above and ask students, as homework, to read a piece of news they find interesting. Ask them to read the news several times until they feel confident they can retell it. In the next class, ask students to work in threes and share their news.

• The news. Same procedure as above but this time, at home, students will need to rewrite the piece of news in their own words. In class, and again working in threes, students will be asked to assume the role of newsreaders and present the news to the rest of the class.

The interactive image has been created with Genial.ly,a free online tool for creating visual interactive content.

Did you know… What’s the weather like? or How is the weather?

Officially it’s still spring, but here in the north of Spain it seems the summer has arrived. So, while some people are already kind of brown and wearing colourful garments, I am still hidden under layers of dark clothes looking like a stuffed sausage and crazy busy 🙂 checking exams.

Talking about the weather seems to be a favourite topic of conversation,but not only for British people. Every foreigner I’ve met, no matter the nationality, eventually talks about the weather.

Do you talk about the weather?  Isn’t it true that when talking to people you have just met to simply start a conversation and avoid the I-don’t-know-what-to-say embarrassing moment, we talk about the weather?

So, how do you ask about the weather? Choose the correct answer

  1. What’s the weather like?
  2. How’s the weather?
  3. Both

The correct answer is c.

There is not much difference between these two questions when talking about the weather. Either of these is used in every day English. Some people might argue that “What’s the weather like in Spain?” asks for a more detailed description of the usual  weather in Spain, whereas “How’s the weather in Spain?” would be more casual and  would get “Good/Bad/Rainy” as an answer .

The truth is that asking these two questions will almost always get you the same answer.

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Tips and Links to Prepare for the Oral Exam at Home

I love trying new tools and today I’m trying Wideo, which is a tool which lets you create beautiful animated video content in a very easy way. Although I’ll write about some of  its pros and cons below, the reason why I’ve chosen Wideo today is because I needed a tool that allowed me to insert interactive buttons in an easy way and Wideo is perfect for this.

So, here’s the video: Tips and Links to Prepare for the Oral Exam at Home

Play the video. It will stop where interactive buttons are provided (last two slides). Click to resume the video.

What I like about this tool:

  • it’s free, easy to use and very intuitive.
  • It provides free video hosting
  • Lots of professionally-designed templates to choose from
  • You can upload your own picture, music and background images
  • You can add interactive elements (clickable buttons and contact forms)
  • It provided a unique url and an embed code
  • You can switch from video mode to presentation mode for slide-by-slide presentation.

 What I don’t like:
    • Time limit: on a free plan, the length of the videos is restricted to 3o seconds.
    • You have to pay to download your video

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Quiz: Fixing Most Common Mistakes Seen in Intermediate Written Exams

I must be doing something wrong. On second thought, perhaps my students are doing something wrong.

Do you know when your mum tells you off over and over again for not tidying your room and you just nod your head, promise it will never happen again and then, for some unknown reason, you seem unable to keep your promise? My students do it all the time. It’s called being nice. They are very nice, but being nice won’t help them pass exams.

So, you highlight the mistake, explain why it is a mistake, ask students if they have understood, they nod their head and  say they do, you elicit some examples and  give them exercises to consolidate and when you think you have seen the last of this mistake, here it is again, sticking its tongue out at you.

Below you’ll find a quiz with some of these very persistent mistakes students at intermediate level, and probably above, make.

This is how I suggest you do this quiz

  1. Do the quiz. Obviously 🙂
  2. Read the grammar and do the exercises when provided.
  3. For spelling mistakes: try to remember the words commonly misspelt featured in the quiz and write them down with the correct spelling.
  4. Grammar mistakes: Do you remember the mistakes? Can you remember why they were wrong? Write a sentence for each of the mistakes you can remember.
  5. Do the quiz again and correct your own sentences and the spelling of the words now.
  6. Were there any grammar or spelling mistakes you could not remember? Repeat numbers 3, 4 and 5.

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Quiz: Fixing Most Common Mistakes Seen in Intermediate Written Exams

Ready to start the quiz? Here we go! Which of these sentences is correct?

I am interested in participate in a seminar

I am interested in participating in a seminar

Which of these sentences is correct? Don’t forget to read the grammar and do the exercises

There are a lot of meals that they are easy to cook

There are a lot of meals that are easy to cook

There are a lot of meals they are easy to cook

Another very frequent mistake. Which is correct?

From my point of view is very difficult to be the boss.

From my point of view, it is very difficult to be the boss.

Let’s try spelling now! Which is correct?

possible

posible

accommodationaccomodation
helpfulhelpfull

Ready for the next grammar mistake? Which is correct?

I don’t mind sharing it with other family

I don’t mind sharing it with another family

Think hard! Which is correct? Choose and then read the grammar and do the exercises

I would like to know how much does it cost

I would like to know how much it costs

Let’s see vocabulary now. Which is correct?

My mother is a great cook

My mother is a great cooker

Concentrate! Which is correct?

I prefer stay in a hotel

I prefer to stay in a hotel

And now, what do you say?

I couldn’t find the information on your website

I couldn’t find the information in your website

Let’s go for spelling again. Which one is correct?

comfortable

confortable

definitelydefinetely

Which is correct?

business

bussines

What’s the plural of “life”

lifes

lives

Let’s focus on articles now. Which is correct?

I strongly believe that the fast food is not healthy

I strongly believe that fast food is not healthy

Which is correct?

The dates of the seminar are not enough clear

The dates of the seminar are not clear enough

What do you say?

I am completely agree wih you

I completely agree with you

Think hard! What do you say?

Fast food is becoming very popular

Fast food it is becoming very popular

What’s the opposite of the adjective “polite”?

Impolite

Unpolite

Which is correct?

Everybody loves you

Everybody love you

What’s the correct spelling?

greatful

grateful

And now?

successful

sucessful

Which is correct?

neccesary

necessary

What do you say? At or in?

They arrived in London yesterday

They arrived at London yesterday

Which is correct in this context? Don’t forget to read the grammar and do the exercises.

In the end we decided to cancel the trip

At the end we decided to cancel the trip

Which preposition collocates with “depend”?

It depends on her

It depends from her

It depends of her

What do you say? Choose the correct answer and then read the grammar and do the exercises

The mountains were covered with snow

The mountains were covered by snow

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You might be interested in doing these other quizzes

Featured Blog of the Month

I am thrilled to share with you that the popular website Dreamreader.net has featured Blog de Cristina as “Blog of the Month”

Find out more in their newsletter,  http://eepurl.com/b1CRlH

What’s dreamreader.net?

It’s a site that freely provides graduated reading material for English language learners and teachers. It has more than 500 reading lessons. Every lesson comes with free audio, a free printable worksheet and a free multiple choice quiz.

The site offers 5 categories, but the most interesting ones to help enhance your reading comprehension ability are “Fun English” and “Academic English”. This last category is full of lessons and quiz questions for beginner, low intermediate, intermediate, upper intermediate and advanced students.

The site is run by Neil Millington, a university EFL lecturer in Japan.

I blogged about dreamreader.net here

6 Excellent Free Sites to Practise Reading Comprehension

15 Ways a Screen Recorder can Help you in your English Classes

Today I want to share with you an amazing screen recording tool Screencast-o-matic, which has a lot of potential to teach and learn English.

Hey! Wait! I know, you are not tech-savvy. You don’t need to be. Trust me. When you finish reading this post, I’m sure you will be willing to give it a go . The reasons?

  • It’s super easy to use! Do you know how to press a button? Then, you know how to use this tool.
  • You don’t even need to register.
  • It has a lot of potential to teach/learn English.

Let’s start:

What is Screen-o-matic?

Screencast-o-matic is a free (you don’t even need to register) easy-to-use screen recording. You can use your webcam or both. Screen-o-matic will capture everything on your screen and then, if you wish, share it.

How can I use it in the classroom?

As a teacher

1. For correcting your students’ written assignments. We all have been in this situation: a student is ill or away on a business trip, but he still needs to have some feedback on his written assignment. With this tool, it’s very easy to offer visual constructive feedback by giving audio and visual cues.

Have your students send you their essays by email. Record yourself correcting and explaining their mistakes. Then, send them the video. Thanks to Russell Stannard for this awesome idea. Here’s an example uploaded to screen-o-matic. Sorry, I don’t sound very energetic. It was very late and I was dead tired!

 2.  For assessing students’ speaking skill, especially when describing pictures or talking about slides. Ask them to choose one or several pictures and ask them to record themselves. Here’s an example of one of my students uploaded to youtube. Thank you Elsa! 🙂

3. For a variety of speaking activities:

  • To explain a recipe
  • To talk about your favourite group, hobby, family…etc
  • To describe, for example,  traditional games, unusual customs…etc.
  • For first-day presentations
  • For book/film reviews

The only limit is your imagination.

4. For recorded contests:

  • It’s St Valentine’s day, ask them to invent a romantic story
  • It’s Halloween, time for a horror story!
  • Give them a set of pictures and ask them to create a story
  • Give them some words and expressions and ask them to create a story
  • For recorded minisagas (maximum of 50 words)

5. For asessing students’ reading fluency and pronunciation. Ask students to read a given text online and ask them to send their recording.

6. For flipping your classroom. Not every student learns in the same way so it would be a good idea to record some of the most difficult grammar points for weak students to revise at home.

7.  Doing exams at home. You can even make things easier for students who, for personal reasons, cannot sit exams in the classroom. Send them the test and ask them to record themselves answering the questions either in written or oral form. It might be a good idea to give them a time limit to send back the video with the answers. You can ask them to use the webcam, too (for obvious reasons).

8.  To make tutorial videos to explain a task they need to do online or how an online tool works, for example this one. The yellow pointer makes it easy for students to follow your explanations. Example here

9. Help your substitute teacher. You can even make a video to help your substitute teacher if you’re going to miss class.

As a student

10. Using your webcam, for collaborative projects.

11. As an alternative to a Power Point presentation individually or in groups.

12. To do any oral assignment with one or several slides.

13. To state your opinion on any given topic.

14. To record yourself when practising for oral tests.

Why do I like it?

  • You don’t have to register or give your email address unless you want to upload it to their server.
  • You can record up to 15 minutes
  • You can create different folders for your different classes. If you create an account and share the email address and password with your students they can upload their own assignments and have everything neatly organised in folders.
  • You can choose to record only your computer screen, you can use your webcam or both
  • You can resize your recording window.
  • You can choose the microphone you want to use and adjust the volume. For laptops you can use the built-in microphone.

Is it easy to use? Very easy.

  • Go to screen-o-matic .
  • Click the “Start Recording” button and the recording button will be launched.

  • Click the red button Rec and everything inside the frame will be recorded.
  • You can pause or restart or click Done when you finish.
  • Now, a new window will open offering you the possibilities of downloading your video, or uploading it to youtube or to Screen-o-matic.com (to use this last option you will need to register). Uploading to Screen-o-matic.com is free and it has some advantages:

  1. It gives you a unique url or an embed code to use on your website or blog
  2.  You can create different channels and upload your recordings in an organised way. This is particularly interesting if you want to create a channel for your students to upload their recordings.

There is an online version, which works pretty well with Windows but not so well with Mac, and a downloadable version which works with both PC and Mac.There is a free and a pro version, but I should say that the free version works just fine.

Thanks for reading!

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Practice Makes Perfect: Two End-of-Course Revision Activities.

Time to revise!

It’s almost too late to revise. Almost. Key word being almost.

The school year is wrapping up and it’s time to revise, prepare, practise and administer end-of-course assessments. Not that I like the last part the slightest bit.

Revision activities are a great help to students. It helps them see where they are and what areas they need to study harder.

These are two revision activities I did with my intermediate and upper-Intermediate students that could easily be adapted to any level to suit your needs.

  • revising grammar and vocabulary
  • revising topics for the oral exam

 

REVISING GRAMMAR AND VOCABULARY

I got this idea from a lecture given by Roy Norris, although I have slightly modified it to adjust it to my students’ needs and I have also invented the rules, which can be altered in any way you choose.

Materials: a dice and a set of coloured strips of paper for each group. (an alternative to colour coding below)

Procedure:

  1. Decide six areas you want to revise and find a different coloured paper for each one. Alternatively, you can use a standard sheet of white paper giving each area the same number, up to six. I revised I wish/if only, conditional sentences, passive, phrasal verbs, word building, and miscellaneous. The type of exercise in my revision game was mainly “rewriting exercises”, except for the “word building” area. I would suggest a minimum of 5 sentences for each area you want to revise.

Don’t panic! There are plenty of these exercises online, so you don’t really need to type the sentences, just copy/paste.

  1. Print the six areas – as shown in the pictures- and at the back write the answer to the exercises in a way that the typed sentence and your written answer coincide. This is an important step as you are later going to cut strips of paper containing the typed sentences on one side, and on the other the answer. (see pictures).
  2.  At the beginning of the game, divide the class into groups of four. Give a dice and a set of coloured strips of paper to each group.
  3. Once in groups of four, tell them they will be working in pairs and competing against the other pair in their group.
  4. Ask them to place the strips of paper on a pile, sorted out by number or colour, with the typed part facing up. Give each group a dice. If you have opted for the colour-coded option, on the whiteboard assign numbers 1-6 to the  different colour. (For ex: number 1-orange, number 2-pink…etc).

Rules:

  1. Pair A throws the dice. Depending on the number they take a strip of paper from one pile or another. There is no time limit. Both pairs need to write down the answer. When one pair finishes they say so, and the other pair has 20 seconds to finish. When time’s up, Pair A is first to give the answer. They check being careful not to show the answer to the other pair. If it’s wrong, then it’s Pair B’s turn to try. They score one point for every correct answer.

This kind of activity allows the students to work on their own without much teacher supervision, which is both empowering and motivating.

If you are a student, studying on your own, you can write your own exercises and revise in the same way.

REVISING TOPICS FOR THE ORAL EXAM

This is a simple exercise I did with my students to revise the topics they needed to study for the oral exam. I normally give them a set of questions to discuss about a given topic, so this time I thought it might be a good idea if, for a change, they provided the questions.

Procedure

  1. On the walls of the class, stick the topics to be revised. Write them big enough for the students to see from a distance.If you have a large class, ask students to work in threes and if you have a smaller class, ask them to work in pairs or even individually.
  2. Tell them they will need to come up with a question for each of the topics displayed on the walls. Walk around the class, offering help and correcting mistakes.
  3. Once they have their question about a topic, give them a sticky note and ask them to write their question on it and put it next to the topic the question relates to. (see picture). Allow 10-15 minutes for this step.
  4. Ask students in pairs to stand up and choose the topic(s) they want to revise. In pairs they take it in turns asking and answering the questions. Encourage students to use a variety of structures and a wide range of vocabulary.

Hope you liked the activities!

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Four Excellent Sites for Online Dictations

Oh boy. Does it bring back memories!
Dictations! To be completely honest with you, I have mixed feeling as regards dictations. I remember back in primary school when the language teacher gave us lots of dictations like a well- deserved break after a tough grammar lesson; and then, this feeling of “I don’t want to ever hear the word dictation again” that I got from my classes at university where the teacher gave us one-page-long dictations so quickly that when he finished, he was panting for breath and we were seeing red.

Although doing dictations is somewhat regarded as an old-fashioned technique, it is undeniable that a lot of benefits can be derived from doing this exercise. In fact, it is an integrative activity requiring the use of various skills like listening, writing and reading -when you read the passage you have written, looking for grammar or spelling mistakes. You might even add speaking if the dictation is used as a prompt to encourage discussion of the passage.

In case you are not fully convinced that dictations also have their place in the twenty-first century classroom, here are some more benefits you might want to consider:
• It improves spelling.
• It improves recognition of grammatically correct sentences.
• It helps students distinguish sounds in continuous speech.
• It improves students’ awareness of punctuation.
• It gives students practice in comprehending and helps them gain fluency in writing.

If I have managed to convince you, here are some links to online dictations you might want to try or if you are a teacher, heartily recommend to your students.

Dictations  Online.

This site specializes in dictations and although it is free, you can sign in to do more dictations or keep track of your score  and view your score history. They are graded from elementary to advanced.

The students hear the dictation four times

  • The first time, the whole passage is read at normal speed to listen for gist.
  • The  second time, each phrase is read slowly twice, with punctuation.
  • Then the whole passage is read again to check your work.
  • And finally, the written text is shown  for you to see  your mistakes.

Englishclub.

I like the site. It is very user-friendly. The dictations are graded going from Elementary, with short recordings of one or two phrases, to Advanced with recordings of one or two paragraphs.

Learn English free

This site features two levels: elementary and intermediate. It has a very clean interface where you’ll see two recording of the same dictation. One recorded at a normal speed and the other one at a slow speed with pauses to give you time to write down what you hear. You only need to follow the instructions.

ESL: English as a Second Language

Aimed at Intermediate and Upper-intermediate students, this site offers an amazing numbers of dictations

Do you like these sites or would you rather create your own dictations? Here are two online free tools to convert text to speech.

VOKI

SLIDETALK

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