Category Archives: Writing

A Project-Based Learning Activity: Unusual Traditions

These past few days have been hectic with lots of exams to be written and then marked, plus all that red tape I can’t stand involving end-of-term exams. To top it all, my old friend the flu decided to pay me a visit. Very timely.  Right now, thank goodness, deadlines have been met and everybody seems to be winding down for the holiday season. Me, too. So, that’s probably going to be the last blog post of the year.

 

  • Organisation: Group work
  • Level: B2 and upwards
  • Materials: tackk tutorial here (optional)
  • Aims: to encourage collaborative work by giving students the challenge of researching, selecting and presenting a project about unusual traditions around the world.
  • Online tools: Padlet and Tackk

Project Based Learning- What is it?

It is a student –centred teaching method in which students acquire knowledge and skills by investigating and responding to a complex question, problem or challenge.

PBL is an active learning style which inspires and motivates students because they take an active role in their learning process and experience success in their own learning. The role of the teacher here is of mere facilitator and coach.

In PBL students are encouraged to work in pairs or in groups, which is also good because it creates a friendly atmosphere which is a boost to their motivation and creativity.


Project-based learning structure

  1. Choosing the problem or challenge
  2. Organisation
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Coordinating
  5. Sharing learning and refining
  6. Presenting and sharing

1.Choosing the problem or challenge.

For this project, students will be rising to the challenge of presenting information about unusual customs in the world.

2. Organisation.

My classes are quite large so students will work in groups of 4 or 5.

On the board the class as a whole decide on 4 or 5 areas, they want to talk about. There should be the same number of areas as groups you have. Each of these areas is assigned to a group to research.

In this project

  • Relationships
  • Festivals
  • Law
  • House and Home
3. Brainstorming

This step is done entirely at home with the help of an online collaborative free tool. My students are adults, some as old as 70,  and they only see each other in class  twice a week, so it was important to provide them with some kind of free online tool  they could use to brainstorm ideas, share them with the members of the group and organize their project (timing, visuals, specific assignments..etc). I used a Padlet, a well-known collaborative tool, which is very easy to use, something really important as some adults are reluctant to use new technologies. Each group was assigned a different Padlet and given a week to do research on the internet and post on Padlet their ideas.

Below is the Padlet the group”House and Home” used.

Hecho con Padlet

 

4. Coordinating.

This stage might take the first or last 10 minutes of your lesson. Once they have shared their ideas on Padlet, in class they decide on the number of traditions they are going to present, who is going to do what, the order in which they are going to present the information and the visuals or videos they are going to use.

5. Sharing learning and refining

In the next class, allow students time to get together in their groups and share their drafts. Offer help and guidance but ask students to help each other by swapping their drafts within their group  to improve and proofread their written work.

6. Presenting and sharing

Agree with the students on the order of the groups and let the show begin. Below is a picture of one of the groups on stage.

Sharing it with the world is also important. Here’s how we did it. Again, we used a free online digital tool called Tackk.com, which allows  you to beautifully showcase your projects. I gave my students this simple tutorial to help them get familiar with the tool.

Here’s the tackk my students have created.

 

Collaborative Writing Activity: Writing an Article

Do we really dedicate enough time to writing activities? Or is it something we keep putting off because it consumes precious time we feel we can’t afford to lose?

Most of my students think that writing is boring. I haven’t asked them. But do I need to?

Let’s face it! It can be boring. Ok. I might agree.  But most of my students, at the end of the course,  will have to sit external exams containing writing tasks. So yes, writing might be boring, but necessary.

Lately, I have been designing activities to make my students change their minds about the whole process of writing . My far-fetched aim when shaping these activities is that my students leave the class with a smile on their face, even after spending a whole session writing.

With this in mind I have created this activity, which can easily be adapted to any kind of essay, where students will need to follow several steps to create a final product: an article for the school newspaper.

Level: B2 and upward.
Aim: to collaboratively write an article in class.
Materials: the writing process handout, checklist, a model article, PDF of the activity
Time: 50 minutes
Note: this task is to be done after explaining the Writing Process, the parts of an essay and the tips to raise their essay score (handout above).Students will need to refer to this handout. Students will also have read a model article, which can be found in most textbooks.

 


INTRODUCTION. What’s an article?


An article is usually written for a magazine or newspaper. The main purpose is to engage the reader, so the opening paragraph should catch your reader’s interest. Attracting the reader’s attention can be done in a number of ways (refer to handout “The writing process “Part 2).

An article is usually factual and includes some comment, recommendation or opinion. It can be formal or informal depending on the target audience. Remind them, this is academic writing, so they cannot use contractions, abbreviations, or colloquial language.

An article consists of the following parts:
• Opening. It is the general presentation of the topic.

• Body (two or more paragraphs). 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:
o A topic sentence, i.e. an idea.
o One or several supporting sentences to expand on the idea.
o A concluding sentence.

Conclusion. 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:

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

PROCEDURE


Step 1. Getting Started


• Ideally students work in groups of three. If necessary, ask them to work in pairs trying not to pair two weak students together.

• Suggest the following topics to write about and ask groups to choose one. Topics can be repeated.

1. Family reunions
2. Life lessons learned
3. Moving to another city


Step 2. Writing a Draft


Organisation:

1. Writing the Opening.

In this part, students introduce the subject.
The whole group works on the opening paragraph. Remind them of the three ways to catch the reader’s attention. Refer to Part 2 of “The Writing Process” handout.
Useful language:
Can you imagine…? Have you ever…? Would you like to…? Did you know that…?

2. Writing the Body

In this part, students give facts and details about the subject.
1. The whole group brainstorms for ideas. Refer back to handout the Writing Process to see how to do it effectively.

2. Students choose an idea to use in their paragraphs, and expand it, as explained in the Writing Process handout. One idea= one paragraph= one student. If you have a group of three students, they’ll need to write a body with three paragraphs. If there are only two students, two paragraphs.

3. Students, individually, write their paragraph developing their idea. Remind them to go from “general to specific”.


Step 3. Proofread your draft.


The whole group proofreads and improves their essays making sure the ideas flow naturally and the right connectors are used. Ask them to use the checklist provided.


Step 4. Writing the Conclusion


In this part, students sum up the main points and possibly give an opinion or recommendation.
1. The whole group works on the Concluding paragraph.
Useful language: In my opinion…, in conclusion…. As I see it…, Why not give t a chance..? Why not try it…?

2. The whole group proofreads the essay. Ask them to read it aloud, circling anything that needs to be improved, corrected or clarified. Does it sound “right”? Then, it’s ready.


Step 5. Writing your final essay.


Ask students to write their essays neatly on a clean sheet of paper (I used a different coloured paper for each group.) Display them on the walls of the class and ask students to stand up and read their partners’ articles.

And, of course, you’ll need to take them home to correct errors and offer advice.


On the other hand, I’ve been experimenting with Tackk, and embedded below is an example of some of the things you can do with this tool. But what I found more interesting, and will need to explore further, is the possibility of using this tool as a collaborative tool.  I’ll try to use it soon and tell you how it works.

Thanks for reading!

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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.

Useful Links:


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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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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Stars in their Eyes

When I was a kid in my hometown, a little village in the north of Spain, there used to be a cinema. Not any more and not for a long time. In fact, it seems to me there are very few towns or even cities which still have a cinema and I’m not talking about the outdoor cinemas, which are so popular in summer, I am talking about the real thing. Cinemas with endless rows of seats smelling oldish and where the usher always told you off before you even got to your seat and started cracking up. I remember we didn’t get to see the latest films until they were 4 or 5 years old and then, they were not new any more as our friends from the capital city kindly reminded us rolling their eyes in disbelief when they came on holiday, but all the same it brings back very good memories. I must be getting old!

So today I’m sharing with you an engaging lesson with lots of activities around the theme of films and the cinema. Hope you enjoy it!

This lesson is aimed at students with a language level of B2  (upper-intermediate) and focuses on revising, learning  and using vocabulary  related to films and the cinema  through a variety of engaging  activities which will help them improve listening, writing and speaking.

Activity 1. Warming-up. Learning and using vocabulary.

Step 1.Wordcloud.
Display the word cloud and ask students to guess the topic. Click on the words you want to highlight and ask students to guess meanings and try to use them in a sentence. Alternatively, you can choose the latest box-office hit and ask students to give you a sentence about this film containing the targeted word.

 

Step 2. Mind mapping.  Handout with vocabulary here

Ask students to work in pairs. Write on the board a mind map as the one below (give them only the words inside the circles) 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.

  • Exercise on types of films here
  • A crossword with film words here

Activity 2. A game.

The class is divided into two groups. In turns, one member from each group sits on the Hot Chair facing  away from the whiteboard. The members of their group have  one minute to describe the film being displayed  without mentioning the title ( that goes without saying, but just in case, I’m saying it). The aim is to guess as many films as possible in one minute. Then, it’s the other team’s turn.

They will need to talk about:

Kind of film/ Nationality of the film/ director/ plot/

Some hints:

♥The film ‘_______’ is a(n) _______ film which takes place in _______.
♥The film is set in __(ancient Greece)__.
♥The story is based on __(a popular novel)__.
♥The film is directed by _______.
♥The main character(s) in the film is/are _______.
♥_______ is a character who _______.
♥__(Johnny Depp)__ stars as __(Captain Sparks)__.
♥In the film, __(Jack Black)__ plays __(a rock guitarist). The story is about _______
♥The best scene of the film is_____

Activity 3. A listening : interview with Hitchcock talking about his film Psycho.

Ask students: What kind of films do you like? Do you have a favourite director?

Write on the board Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho and ask students if they know who he is and if they know any of his films. Students most probably will have heard about Hitchcock and seen some of his films, but in case they haven’t, tell them Hitchcock is considered “the master of suspense” and “Psycho”(1960) s is arguably Hitchcock’s best-known film.

Play the video and ask students to answer the questions. (Find the answers at the end of this post).

  1.  What’s Hitchcock’s opinion of films such as Frankenstein
  2.  What’s his idea of a horror film?
  3. When he made Psycho, did he have a mind a horror film or an amusing film?
  4. Was the film “Psycho” a very violent film? If not, why did it make people scream? Explain in your own words.

Activity 4. Speaking.

Ask students to work in pairs or in small groups and answer the following questions.

Activity 5. Writing a film review.

Handout with the task and useful vocabulary and expressions to use in your review.

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Answers to the listening

  1. What’s Hitchcock’s opinion of films such as Frankenstein?He thinks they are very easy to make and that they are props
  2.  What’s his idea of a horror film?
    He believes in putting the horror in the mind of the audience and not necessarily on the screen.
  3.  When he made Psycho, did he have a mind a horror film or an amusing film?</li>
    An amusing film
  4. Was the film “Psycho” a very violent film? If not, why did it make people scream? Explain in your own words.
  5. There is only one violent scene in the film, which is at the beginning when the girl is violently murdered in the shower. As the film developed, there is less and less violence. The horror and the tension are transferred to the mind of the viewers, which are the end of the film are screaming.

Tools used
Tagul, Hot Potatoes, Picture Trail, Thematic

Six Steps to Writing a Good Book Review

Here are some considerations and tips about writing book reviews. I hope you find them useful.

  1. Difference between a book report and a book review.
  2. Getting started.
  3. Some tips.
  4. Useful language.
  5. Revising your review.
  6. The task.

1. DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BOOK REPORT AND A BOOK REVIEW.

A book report contains facts. It includes information about the author, title, place and year of publication as well as a summary of the content of the book.

A book review, on the other hand, is much more personal. It contains the reader’s opinion and specific aspects of the book. The review will probably include factual information, but it is the reader’s personal opinion that is most important.

2. GETTING STARTED

How can I start? You have read your book. Your next step will be to organize what you are going to say about it. Writing the basic elements down in an outline format will help you to organize your thoughts.

How shall I organize the information? Normally a book review is divided into four parts: introduction, summary, opinion and conclusion.

  • Introduction: In the introduction you give facts and background information about the book and its author. It should contain the book title, and the name of the author. Don’t forget to mention the book’s genre (such as mystery, fantasy, biography, essay, comedy or adventure).
  •  A main body: usually made up of two paragraphs.

In the first paragraph, give a concise outline of the plot and introduce the main characters, mentioning the setting (where and when the story takes place) and the overall theme of the book. Be careful not to re-tell the whole story in detail.

In the second paragraph you can give your opinion, including sentences about how you liked the book, which characters you liked and disliked and how the ending made you feel. You can also express what you felt was the best part of the story. Don’t be afraid to include negative points.

  • Conclusion: It consists of the overall feelings and opinions on the story and whether or not you would encourage others to read it and why. No new information or ideas should be introduced in the conclusion.

3. SOME TIPS.

  • Before you begin writing, make a few notes about the points you want to get across.
  • Try to get the main theme of the book across in the beginning of your review. Your reader should know right away what he or she is getting into should they choose to read the book.
  • Mention the name of the author and the book title in the first paragraph – there’s nothing more frustrating than reading a review of a great book but not knowing who wrote it and what the title is!
  • Think about whether the book is part of a genre. Does the book fit into a type like mystery, adventure, or romance?    What aspects of the genre does it use?
  • When mentioning a character for the first time, don’t forget to use his/her full name.
  • Make sure your review explains how you feel about the book and why, not just what the book is about. A good review should express the reviewer’s opinion and persuade the reader to share it, to read the book, or to avoid reading and make sure that someone who has not read the book will understand it after reading your review. Don’t be afraid to express your opinion openly, even if it is a negative one.
  • Use adjectives and adverbs in order to strengthen your opinion about the book or its plot. For ex. extremely disturbing.
  • The style depends upon the intended reader, so it can be either formal or semi-formal, but not colloquial.

Some of these tips are from Rodman Philbrick.

4. REVISING YOUR REVIEW

  • Write your draft and then allow some time to pass, at least a few hours, before you start your revision.
  • Check the layout and that the information is arranged in paragraphs. Look for unity, organisation and logical development.
  • Correct all mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation as you find them. You can use this checklist.
  • Use a range of present tenses, including the Present Perfect, to outline the plot as well as a variety of adjectives to make the review more interesting to the reader.
  • Don’t use informal language, slang or contractions. Make sure that your language is formal or semiformal and academically correct.
  • Don’t use long quotations from the book.
  • Read your paper through again looking for unity, organisation and logical development. If a sentence looks awkward, don’t hesitate to rewrite it.

5. USEFUL LANGUAGE

Introduction:

  • The book/novel was written by…
  • This well-written/informative/fascinating book…
  • This original first novel…
  • This novel is based on…
  • “ __” is a powerful first novel by…

Main body

  • The story is set in …. (rural Spain at the beginning of the XV century)
  • The story takes place…
  • The book tells the story of…
  • The story begins/ is about…
  • The story is told by…
  • The plot focuses on….
  • “___” is rich and detailed in plot.
  • The plot has an unexpected twist…
  • The plot is absolutely thrilling/ boring/clever/ exciting…
  • A plot with well-developed believable characters.
  • The character I like best is

General comments and opinion

  • The characters are very well drawn and readers can identify with them easily.
  • The story is totally convincing.
  • It has a tragic/dramatic /surprising end.
  • There was an unexpected twist to the story.
  • What we don’t learn until the end is…
  • What I liked best was (the way)…
  • What I didn’t like was…
  • My only reservation about this book…

Recommendations

  • Don’t miss it.
  • I would/wouldn’t recommend it because…
  • It is at the top of my list.
  • It’s a highly entertaining read.
  • Don’t bother with this one.
  • It’s well-worth reading.
  • It will change the way you see…
  • It’s a bore to read.
  • I definitely recommend that you add this book to your collection.
  • The book was so good that I couldn’t put it down..
  • The book certainly lived up to my expectations.

Adjectives to describe a book

  • Positive: gripping, best-selling, intriguing, thrilling, fascinating, enthralling, evocative, heart-warming, sensitive, memorable, powerful, beautifully written, engaging, fascinating.
  • Negative: disturbing, unconvincing, preposterous, predictable, dull, unimaginative, poorly-written, confusing.
  • Neutral: fast-paced (most of them collocate with the adjectives above).

Adverbs (most of them collocate with the adjectives above)

  • Amazingly, considerably, exceedingly, extraordinarily, extremely, highly, immensely, noticeably, radically, remarkably, significantly, totally, truly, utterly.

6. THE TASK

(adapted from Advanced Masterclass)

You have seen this announcement in a magazine.

Pdf here. Hope you find it useful!

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Activities for correcting writing in the language classroom

Here’s my latest contribution to the British Council magazine Voices: “Activities for correcting writing in the language classroom. The article encourages students to correct their own writing and it contains  6 error-correction activities which are a lot of fun.Who said learning English was boring?

You might also be interested in reading  Nine ways to revise English vocabulary using slips of paper” published in December where I suggest  nine activities for revising English vocabulary using simple slips of paper.

Thanks for reading!

Five Steps to Writing a Good For and Against Essay

An essay is a formal piece of writing which describes, analyses or discusses a particular issue.

The most common types are:

  • Opinion essays. They present the writer’s personal opinion of the topic, supported with examples and reasons.
  • For and against essays. They   present both sides of an issue in a balanced way. In the concluding paragraph you can say why you find one side more convincing than the other.

In this post, I’ll guide you step by step to help you write a good for and against essay.

  • Step 1. Tips and Guidelines +sample essay (pdf)
  • Step 2. Presentation + sample essay (reinforcing)
  • Step 3. Using connectors of contrast
  • Step 4. Using connectors of purpose
  • Step 5. Write: 53 topics to write about. (pdf)

Step 1. Tips and guidelines+sample essay 

Download pdf

1. The first stage in writing is producing ideas. It’s important to dedicate two or three minutes to carefully planning what you are going to say. Make a list of the points for and against. Remember that the key to writing a good balanced essay is to include as many arguments you disagree with as those you agree with. They should be noted impartially although in your conclusion you can say why you find one side more convincing than the other.

2. Producing and organising ideas is one thing. Shaping ideas and the organisation of your writing is another. But often the most difficult part is starting a first draft.

Once you have your first draft pay attention to how you have organised the information into paragraphs and grouped ideas.

Once this is done you can focus on expression. This means looking at sentence structure, tense usage and vocabulary. It’s important to write clearly and economically. This can mean either rephrasing ideas in two sentences instead of one, or rewriting two longer sentences as one shorter sentence. So, go over your first draft, looking for ways of improving sentence structure, tense usage and vocabulary.

3. Organise your essay into three parts:

  • Introduction- Paragraph 1- Introduce the topic. The opening should engage the reader’s interest and give a hint of what is to follow.
  • Main Body- Normally you have two paragraphs. In Paragraph 2, you state your arguments for and in Paragraph 3, your arguments against.
  • Conclusion– In paragraph 4 you refer back to the topic and summarize. Here you can say why you find one side more convincing than the other.

4. It’s important that you begin each paragraph with a main idea and then develop this idea. For a new idea, begin a new paragraph.

5. This is academic writing, so don’t use informal style ( no contractions, colloquial words, or emotional language).

6. Remember to use a variety of structures and vocabulary adequate to your level.

Step 2. Presentation + sample essay (reinforcing ).

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Step 3. Using connectors of contrast.

Using connectors is important to express different relationships between ideas. Here, you’ll learn how to use connectors of contrast.

Read the flyer below to learn how to use: despite/in spite of, nevertheless, however, on the other hand, although, even though, though, yet, still, but and while/whereas. 

At the end of the flyer there are some interactive exercises to test your knowledge.

Step 3. Using connectors of purpose.

Now we learn how to express purpose with the following words: to, in order to, so as to, for, so that and in case.

Test your knowledge

Step 5. Write: 53 topics to write about.  Pdf here

Are you ready to write now? Here’s a compilation of 53 for and against topics to write about from different sites and course books. Take your pick, follow all the tips and guidelines and good luck!

EDUCATION

  1. Should schools start later in the morning?
  2. Benefits of teaching children second languages early on.
  3. The pros and cons of single gender classrooms.
  4. Is sex education the job of parents or of the school?
  5. The pros and cons of reduction of physical education hours in our current school system.
  6. The pros and cons of security cameras in schools.
  7. Pros and cons of a 4-day school week.
  8. Should parents pay students for good grades?
  9. The pros and cons of bilingual or dual language education.
  10. The pros and cons of wearing a uniform.
  11. The pros and cons of banning junk food in schools.
  12. Should sexual education be taught in high schools?
  13. The education a child receives at home from having parents who are positive role models is more important than the academic education a child receives at school. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

 

HEALTHY ISSUES

  1. Plastic surgery- vanity or need?
  2. Is vegetarianism a healthy diet?
  3. One of the largest parts of government expenditure is health. Some people argue that this money would be better spent on health education on the principle that prevention is better than cure. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

MORAL ISSUES

  1. Should parents be allowed to choose their child’s gender?
  2. Pros and cons of having exotic animals as home pets?
  3. Should advertising for plastic surgery be illegal?
  4. Should priests be celibate?
  5. What does everyone think about zoo animals? Is it a good or a bad thing?
  6. Does legal prostitution reduce crime?
  7. To what extent is the use of animals in scientific research acceptable? Discuss the pros and cons.
  8. Some people argue that the amount of violence shown in films and on television has led to an increase in violent crimes in society. Do you agree with this argument? Should the government control what is shown on television and in the cinema?
  9. Should rich countries forgive all debts for poor countries?

TECHNOLOGY

  1. The pros and cons of children under the age of 10 playing video games.
  2. The pros and cons of film, television, and music piracy.
  3. Should kids under the age of 13 have a phone?
  4. Advantages and disadvantages of digital spying on kids and teens.
  5. The pros and cons of owning an electric car.
  6. Have we become too dependent on technology? Discuss the pros and cons.
  7. Should students be allowed to have cell phones in elementary and high schools?
  8. Should we ban the sale of violent video games?
  9. Some people say that the Internet is making the world smaller by bringing people together. To what extent do you agree that the Internet is making it easier for people to communicate with one another?

SPORTS

  1. Should pro wrestling be considered a sport?
  2. Should sport hunting be banned?
  3. Many people want their country to hold the Olympics. Others believe that international sporting events bring more problems than benefits. Discuss both views and state your opinion.

FREE TIME

  1. In the future, we will have more and more leisure time as machines replace many of the tasks we do at home and work. Discuss the benefits this will bring and also the problem it will cause.
  2. It is said that travel broadens the mind. What can we learn by travelling to other countries? Should we first explore our own countries? Discuss.
  3. In many countries tourism is a major part of the economy, but it also causes environmental damage and ruins the places it exploits. It is argued that tourists should pay an additional tax to compensate for this damage. Do you agree?
  4. Should museums and art galleries be free of charge for the general public, or should a charge, even a voluntary charge, be levied for admittance? Discuss this issue, and give your opinion.

EMPLOYMENT

  1. Unemployment is one of the most serious problems facing developed nations today. What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of reducing the working week to thirty five hours?
  2. Most high level jobs are done by men. Should the government encourage a certain percentage of these jobs to be reserved for women?
  3. Should retirement be compulsory at 65 years of age?

 GLOBALISATION:

  1. Differences between countries become less evident each year. Nowadays, all over the world people share the same fashions, advertising, brands, eating habits and TV channels. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this?
  2. Television has had a significant influence on the culture of many societies. To what extent would you say that television has positively or negatively affected the cultural development of your society?

HOUSING

  1. Some people like living in a house, while others prefer an apartment. Are there more advantages than disadvantages to living in a house rather than in an apartment?

FAMILY AND RELATIONSHIPS

  1. The pros and cons of gay marriage.
  2. Some parents choose not to have a television at home because of the influence on their children. Is this a good or a bad thing?
  3. Some people believe in the traditional idea that the woman’s place is in the home, while others say that idea is outdated and that women should play an increasingly important role in the workplace of the future. What is your opinion?
  4. People are now living longer than ever before and many old people are unable to look after themselves. Some people believe that it is the responsibility of families to look after the elderly, while others say governments should provide retirement homes for them where they can be looked after properly. Discuss.
  5. Are women better parents than men?
  6. If children behave badly, should their parents accept responsibility and also be punished?

Have you visited my writing section yet?

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Activating Passive Vocabulary

One of the things that worries me most when teaching vocabulary is that students tend to store the newly acquired knowledge as passive vocabulary. Agreed that most of us have more passive  than active vocabulary, agreed  that we use a larger variety of words when we write than when we speak, but still I think that as teachers we need to go the extra mile and help our students see the importance of incorporating new vocabulary into their communicative tasks.

Designing activities to convert passive vocabulary into active vocabulary is one of the things that occupies most of my planning.

This is a very simple activity I have designed to” force” my students to use new vocabulary and connectors to express contrast.

Level : Intermediate and above

Aim:

  • To use newly acquired vocabulary
  • To improve students’ writing abilities by using connectors of contrast
  • To encourage collaborative writing

Step 1.  Selecting vocabulary.  Ask students to work in pairs. Explain that they’ll need to write on a clean sheet of paper ten words or expressions recently studied. (You can also be more specific here and tell them the unit or the pages of the book you want them to get the vocabulary from).

Step 2.  Explaining the task .Ask students now to pass their list of 1o words to the pair sitting behind them or next to them.

Tell students they are going to write a story in pairs. In this story they’ll need to use at least 7 of the words on their list and three out of the five connectors of contrast you are going to write on the board (see below an interactive flyer explaining Clauses of Contrast)

Give them the beginning of a story, for example “When Fiona entered the room, she couldn’t believe her eyes” or use a story starter generator here.

Step 3. Writing and editing. Encourage students to dedicate some time to planning their story. Set a time limit of 30 minutes, but I suggest not limiting the number of words in their stories to encourage fluency and boost their imagination.

Once they have written their draft (20 minutes), ask students to carefully edit their stories. Display the following checklist on the board  (click here to download it) or alternatively print it and give one to every student.

Give each pair a different coloured paper or if you have more stories than colours, use different pen colours or assign a number to every story.

Ask students to write their story and underline the targeted vocabulary and the connectors of contrast used.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Clauses of Contrast Flyer

Photo credit: Deb Stgo via Visual hunt / CC BY

Error Correction in Writing: Grammar and Vocabulary Checklist

Do you think you can correct some of your own writing errors? Yes. You just need this checklist! 🙂

If you have read my last posts, you may have noticed that lately,  I’m kind of obsessed with writing.

  • I wrote about connectors of contrast here
  • I did a collaborative writing activity here
  • Students wrote about unusual traditions here
  • And here, I recommended some amazing websites to make your writing stronger

And you may think that enough is enough. Well, it is not. It might only be my impression, but I feel students are making the same writing mistakes over and over again. It seems to me that no matter how many times I correct their errors, they still make them.

So, I think I need a change of tactics and I have decided to surprise my students by asking them to correct their own errors. I firmly believe that most of their errors are silly mistakes they make just because they don’t pay enough attention.

The idea is

  • Set a writing activity to do as homework and to be handed in to be marked.
  • Set a deadline and on this day, when students have their neat and tidy essays ready to be handed in, give them the “grammar and vocabulary checklist” (the star in this post) and ask them to correct their own writings, using pencil, and the grammar and vocabulary checklist.
  • Allow 10 or 15 minutes for this step.
  • Tell students that their mark in their writing will be lower if you find any of the  errors written on the checklist.
  • Collect the edited essays and take them home to correct. Unavoidable, sorry!

Download pdf here

checklist
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