Category Archives: General

The Writing Process and 13 Tips to Raise your Essay Score

Writing is a process. For some students it might seem like a daunting task, but if you look at it as a succession of small steps to follow instead of looking at it as the big final product, writing can be fun and easy.

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Part 1. The Writing Process


Brainstorm for ideas

  • Write down all the ideas you can think of. You can try mind mapping your ideas. It is a good technique to generate ideas and expand on them. You can begin by writing a big bubble in the middle of the page with the topic and then use arrows to draw new bubbles with ideas and again arrows with more specific points or observations about this idea.
  • At this stage, don’t worry about spelling or grammar mistakes.

Organise your ideas

  • Decide which ideas to keep.
  • Group similar ideas together.
  • Organise your ideas according to the writing task.

Focus on language 

  • Think of words and expressions you will need in your work.

Write a draft

  • Write quickly. Don’t worry about things such as accuracy or neatness.
  • Use a pencil so that it is easier to make corrections and erase things.
  • If you are writing your draft by hand, leave a wide margin for notes and space between the lines for additions and corrections.
  • If you can’t think of a word in English, write it in your own language. You can look it up in a dictionary later.
  • If you don’t know the spelling of a word, write it anyway you can. You can look it up in a dictionary later.

Improve your draft

  • Do it slowly and conscientiously.
  • Check spellings in the dictionary and look up any word you felt unsure of. Here’s a very useful post Six Amazing Websites that Make your Writing Stronger.
  • Use a checklist to improve your work. See the one my students use here.
  • Read your draft aloud. Circle the things that need to be improved, reworded or clarified.
  • Take a break from writing and reread your draft after 30 minutes. Does everything sound right?

Write a final draft

  • Copy your corrected work neatly on a clean sheet of paper.
  • Make sure your paragraphs are clearly indicated.

Adapted from Burlington Books


 Part 2. Writing an Essay


An essay consists of several paragraphs about a topic. Although there are many different kinds of essays, they all have the same basic structure.

Opening

It is the general presentation of the topic. Try to get the reader interested in your essay. How can you do that? For example, by beginning

  • With a surprising fact.

Humans usually imitate the speech of someone with a strong accent due to empathy and to create a bond and assimilate with them.

  • With a short anecdote.

If you could interview anybody in the world, who would you choose?” asked the teacher. “Nelson Mandela”, I replied.

  • With a question.

Did you know that there is an island in Japan that has more than 450 people living above the age of 100?

 The Body.

The body can have one or more paragraphs which develop the topic. The first paragraph should contain the strongest argument or example. The second paragraph the second strongest argument and the third the weakest.

A paragraph consists of several sentences about a certain topic. It has the following parts:

  • A topic sentence, i.e. an idea.
  • One or several supporting sentences to expand on the idea.
  • A concluding sentence.

The parts should flow logically and the ideas should be easy to understand.

  • Go from general to specific. Give a general idea and then expand it.
  • Avoid unnecessary repetition by using pronouns to refer back to nouns already mentioned.
  • Use connector to join sentences and show the connection between ideas.

 The Closing

It is the paragraph that summarizes the main idea or presents a conclusion, depending on the kind of essay you need to write. Some things to bear in mind:

  • It should not bring new ideas.
  • It shouldn’t be very long.
  • It can be similar to the opening, but presented in different words.

 


13 Tips to Raise your Essay Score


  1. Read the assignment thoroughly, several times if necessary and underline anything relevant. Sometimes there is a question or several. Make sure you cover all of them. Focus on the purpose of the composition, on the tone and the style required and also on the length requirements.
  1. Plan your writing. You need to dedicate several minutes to planning what you are going to say and how you are going to say. It makes a big difference.
  1. Write a first draft. Use pencil, if possible, to erase or correct errors.
  1. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence and then write some supporting sentences about this topic sentence. 1 idea= 1 paragraph.
  1. Use a variety of vocabulary and grammar structures. Avoid repeating the same words over and over again. Use synonyms or paraphrase. A thesaurus or a lexicon is useful as a source of alternative words. Use a range of grammar, sentence structure should be varied and clear.
  1. Use connectors to join ideas. They also play an important part in stringing together sentences and paragraphs.
  1. Time management. Organize the time you are given to write the essay. If you have one hour to complete the task, dedicate 10 minutes to planning and organizing your ideas and allow about 10 minutes at the end to proofread your essay before giving it to the teacher. You will still have 40 minutes left to write and develop your ideas.
  1. Keep to the topic. Don’t write about things that have nothing to do with the assignment.
  1. Sound natural. Just because you know lots of connectors, it doesn’t mean you have to use all of them.
  1. Punctuation. Pay attention to punctuation, especially to the correct use of commas and periods. Your text can be confusing if you don’t use them adequately.
  1. Style. Think about the purpose of the assignment and the audience it addresses and use the correct style and tone. If it’s informal, you can use colloquial language, simple and shorter sentences, contractions, abbreviations and emotional language. On the contrary if it’s a formal assignment, you will need to use more complex sentences, avoid contractions and abbreviations and you should definitely avoid emotional language or colloquial expressions.
  1. Proofread your essay. Have a coffee or go for a walk. Come back, take your essay and reread it aloud. Does it sound “right”? Then, it’s ready!
  1. Read a lot and try to write about anything for 30 minutes every day. You’ll soon get better.

Thanks for reading!

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Lesson Plan: US Elections Explained

On November 8,  Americans will cast their ballots and decide who is going to be their new president. I don’t know about your country but, in Spain, the “war” between H. Clinton and D. Trump is every day in the news and the “poisonous” debates are thoroughly discussed ad nauseam on TV current affairs programmes.

Being this an issue of so much interest, I thought my students would welcome a brief explanation of what the presidential election in the US entails.

Level: suitable for upper intermediate (B2) and advanced (C1) level English students.

Time: About 60 minutes

Materials: lesson plan pdf here

In this lesson students will get listening practice, learn new vocabulary, improve their communicative skills by discussing some interesting quotes and also, their writing skills by choosing one of the quotes to write an opinion essay.

The lesson starts off with some questions about politics which will be discussed in pairs or small groups, followed by some vocabulary exercises extracted from the video in preparation for the listening task that follows. The video for the listening activity is from “The Telegraph” and lasts 2.16.  It will be followed by group discussion of two controversial quotes.

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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

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

Make yourself at Home

This lesson is aimed at students with a language level of B2  (upper-intermediate) and focuses on revising, learning  and using vocabulary  related to homes, houses and rooms through a variety of engaging activities.

Topic: Houses, homes and rooms

Level: Upper Intermediate and above

Time:  60/90 minutes

Materials: handout 1

Task 1. Revising, introducing and using vocabulary.

Part 1. Mind mapping.

Ask students to work in pairs. Write on the board a mind map as the one below to help them revise vocabulary related to this thematic area. Allow them some minutes to complete their mind maps and get feedback from the whole class, completing the mind map on the board with their suggestions. Then, give them handout 1, explain difficult vocabulary and ask students to talk about the kind of house they live in and their favourite room in the house.

♥ Part 2. A Game

This part requires some preparation. In advance, you need to find two rooms in a house belonging to two famous people.( see mine below)

Ask students to work in pairs. Student A faces the board and Student B sits with his back to it. Display the picture of a room with the OHP (if you do not have one, stick the picture on the board) and ask student A to describe it in as much detail as possible to his partner. Student B, using a clean standard A4, needs to draw the room. It would suggest beginning the description of the room by saying where the big things in the room are: windows, doors, sofas/beds etc….

Once they have finished, they compare with the original and have a good laugh.

Elicit some adjectives of personality and start a class discussion about how a room can reflect the owner’s personality. Ask students to try to guess what kind of person the room belongs to.

After the discussion, surprise your students by telling them it belongs to a very famous person in their country and ask them to guess who this person might be. Show them.

Repeat procedure for student B.
Conjunto de Fichas creado con GoConqr por cristina.cabal

Task  2. Listening and speaking

In this part, students in small groups will talk about some home-related issues. Questions will be introduced by  short videos, which will hopefully encourage discussion.

House of the future  (I’ll use the first 3 minutes)

After watching, students discuss the video and these questions:

  • What will the house of the future be like?
  • Will we have robots to help with household chores?
  • Do you think houses will be more environmentally friendly in the future?
  • Houses use a lot of energy. What things could be done to make houses more energy efficient? What sort of energy do you think will be used to heat our houses?

♥ Renting out your house  (I’ll just use the first two minutes of the video)

After watching, students discuss the video and these questions:

  • Have you ever used an accommodation sharing site?
  • Have you ever rented out a property to tourists? Would you do it? What are the pros and the cons?
  • Would you rent out a room in your house to a lodger? Why (not)?
  • If you had a property to rent out, what kind of lodger would you prefer and why?

♥ Pallet House Project

The inspiration for the Pallet House Project came from the fact that 84% of the world’s refugees could be housed with a year’s supply of recycled American pallets. With one and a half year of pallet production in the US alone, 33 million refugees can live in a Pallet House.

After watching, students discuss the video and these questions:

  • What strange materials do you know of that have been used to make houses?
  • Is homelessness a problem in your country?
  • How difficult do you think is for homeless people to find a job, or get a house?
  • What does your government do for the homeless?
  • What can you do to help them?
  • Why do you think people become homeless?

I hope you enjoyed the lesson!

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Two Handy Tools that Save the Day

There are about 10 ideas for posts on my to-write list, but this is definitely a post I have meaning to write for a long time and that for some reason or another I never got around to writing it.

This post is not about English; it has nothing to do with vocabulary or grammar. It is just a post featuring two tools that might come in handy.

♥ KeepVid  might prevent you from having a nervous breakdown when after spending Sunday afternoon preparing activities with content from You Tube or any other video site for the coming week, you find that Internet is not working. Sounds familiar? Of course, as well-seasoned teachers we can always resort to plan B  or plan C, but isn’t it terribly frustrating?

Keep Vid is a handy tool for downloading video. As they advertise on their site:

Keep Video Downloader is a free web application that allows you to download videos from sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitch.Tv, Vimeo, Dailymotion and many more. All you need is the URL of the page that has the video you want to download. Enter it in the textbox and simply click ‘Download’. KeepVid will then fetch download links in all possible formats that the particular site provides.

Remember that if you want to download videos from Facebook, you will need the url. You can get it by right-clicking on the video to get its hidden url.

Downsub.As for the second useful tool, how handy could it be to have a tool that downloads subtitles from YouTube? Very!

Well, this is what http://downsub.com/ does for you. The only thing you need to do is enter the url and choose the language.

Hope this blog post has been helpful! Keep posted!

The Sore Thumb: A Subject-Verb Agreement Quiz

Yes, I am doing this. I am publishing this post. And I am publishing this post even when I am well aware that it is going to stir up controversy.

How does she dare, I can almost hear you say, create a quiz about subject-verb agreement when she is not even a native speaker?

I might regret it, but the truth is that I sort of needed to clarify in my mind one of the most obscure points of grammar in the English language- namely that of subject-verb agreement-,  because contrary to what one might think a singular subject in English does not always demand a singular verb, and what looks like a plural subject might not be so and take a singular verb instead. To top it all, when there is disagreement among grammarians, both singular and plural forms can be used.

To create this quiz, I have done a lot of research on the Internet and read what some noted grammarians have to say about this issue and  I have found that they don’t always agree. For this reason, I have tried to avoid the most controversial subject-verb agreement issues.

Hope you find it useful!

 

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An Engaging Activity to Work with Modals in the Past

Dear readers,

Let me start thanking you for all your comments, likes and shares on my posts. That’s really encouraging!

In today’s post I want to share with you an activity I did with my B2 students that worked really well. It’s the kind of activity that I like because it includes movement and it encourages interaction between students. The focus is on grammar but, at the same time this activity gets them out of their seats and moving. They  will need to interact with other classmates and use English to discuss English grammar while having fun at the same time. So, what else could one wish for?

Aim: The focus of this lesson is on students integrating grammar, speaking and writing using modals of certainty and possibility in the past.

Level: B2 (upper intermediate)

Time: 20-30 minutes

Materials: post-it notes and pictures to display (see mine here)

Although this is an activity to reinforce learning and the grammar should have been explained beforehand, it might be a good idea to revise orally or on the board the targeted grammar.

Warming-up

Remind students of the use of the structure modal+have+past participle to make suppositions about actions that did or did not take place in the past.

Explain that for this activity they will be working with the modal “must” to speculate about the past and with the modals could/may/ might in the past to discuss different possibilities. Drill pronunciation of must/might…+have+past participle

  • Must have been | ‘ mʌstəv ‘biːn |
  • might have gone | ‘maɪtəv ‘ɡɒn |

The Task

On the walls of the class display the pictures you want to use. See the ones I used here. Ask students to try to guess the answers to the questions in the pictures and then, write them down on the post-it notes provided using the modal must in the past to speculate about what must have happened. Tell them that on the back of each picture you have written the answer to the question. They’ll win one point if their answer is the same as the one written on the back of the picture.

Procedure

  • On the walls of the class display the pictures you want to use.
  • Ask students to work in threes.
  • Give each group a different number and some post-it notes. You will need to give them as many post-it notes as pictures on the walls. They will need a post-it note for each picture.
  • Now, ask students to stand up and have a look at the different pictures.
  • In their groups they will have to discuss the different possibilities using the structure may/might/could +have+ past participle.
  • Then when they reach an agreement, they will need to write their suggestion on the post-it note using the modal “must” in the past. Ask students to write their assigned number on the post-it note. Ex. He must have saved someone or he must have discovered a bomb
  • Ask students to sit down. Take the first picture and it turn it around. Read the sentence explaining the picture. Read the post-it notes to see which group guessed correctly. Award them one point. Needless to say, the winner is the group that gets more points.

Thanks for reading!

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