Category Archives: Grammar and Exercises

A Word on Grammar: Relative Adverbs: Where, When and Why. use and Omission

I have to say that I have an incredibly complicated relationship with grammar. I don’t like it and that’s my problem. I wouldn’t go as far as Michel de Montaigne and say “The greater part of the world’s troubles are due to questions of grammar”, that’s probably going too far but, for me,  “Grammar is a piano I play by ear” as Joan Didion said,.

Obviously, this is something that, as a teacher, I cannot share with my students.

So, in order to make teaching grammar more palatable, I am forever trying to present it in a more appealing way. Not only to my students, but also to me.

Embedded below is a more visual explanation of the use and omission of the relative adverbs: where, when and why.

I have used one of my fav free tools, PlayBuzz, which is not specifically designed to be used as a teaching tool but it really has a lot of potential for language teaching.


Introducing Reported Speech Statements,Questions and Orders in a Different Way

This week’s post was not supposed to be a grammar post, it just so happened to turn out like that. Come to think of it, I have been teaching lots of grammar lately so I shouldn’t be surprised if my brain is filled with ideas for grammar teaching.

If I want my classes to be different from the ones I had when I was studying English at school (teacher-centred and book-centred), I cannot introduce all those digital tools I’m so keen on using and then go and spoil it all by asking students to read straight from a photocopy when it comes to grammar. I’m not saying it’s the wrong way to go about it, I’m just saying it’s not the way I teach or the way I’d like to be taught.

Admittedly, grammar is grammar, but can we make it a bit more appealing to our students?

Reported speech is probably one of my favourite grammar points and this is how I have introduced reported speech statements, questions and orders in my classes this week.


To introduce statements I often use quotes from famous people. The presentation you’ll see below is one I often use as my students, for the most part, are adults. But if you’re teaching teenagers, you can easily change the people in the slides and use celebrities they can relate to.

So the idea is to play the presentation, read the quote and then ask: “What did Marilyn say?” Guide students through the changes in reported speech and then show the second slide where the reported sentence is displayed.


I’ve been introducing reported speech questions in this way all my teaching career. The reason? Students collaborate from minute one and this is something I treasure.

I tell the students my son Daniel is 4 years old and he’s always asking questions. With all the drama I can muster I tell them that yesterday I got home really tired and wanted to rest a bit but my son Daniel had other plans for me and could not stop asking questions.

I draw on the board a boy and I call him Daniel and a woman and I call her Cristina- my name. I draw a big bubble next to Daniel and I ask students to guess what sort of questions he might have asked me. As they provide the questions I write them inside the speech bubble making sure there is a variety of wh- and yes/no questions and a variety of tenses. Once the questions have been written, I go on telling them that when my husband got home I was lying on the sofa with an ice pack on my forehead and looking dead tired  -remember drama is important- and when he enquired why I was so tired I told him all about my day and how I couldn’t rest because Daniel had asked all those questions.

  • He asked me why I was smiling
  • He wanted to know if he could watch cartoons.


To introduce request and orders I write inside a circle on the board

First day instructions

and ask students to try to remember some of the instructions I gave them on the very first day in class.  Encourage them to tell you the exact words I used. They will probably say:

  • Use English
  • Put your mobiles on silent mode
  • Don’t be late.
  • Change partners regularly.
  • Don’t forget to bring your workbook

Write them on the board and choose a student who couldn’t attend that first day.

Tell students they now need to inform this student of the instructions I gave this very first day.

  • The teacher told us to use English in class
  • Cristina told us not to forget to bring our workbook

Hope it’s helpful! You might also be interested in this other post

Some nice activities to practise Reported Speech

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The Article in English: Explanation, Exercises and a Challenging Quiz

Although the use of the article in English seems a priori an easy subject to teach, the truth is that some students struggle with the use and omission of it.

What can you find in this post?

  • Intermediate level:
  1. Animated video with some rules on the use and omission of the articles “the, a/an”
  2. Some links to exercises from around the web to consolidate knowledge.
  • Advanced Level:
  1. An engaging quiz with feedback notes featuring some difficult cases related to the use and omission of articles.


Grammar. Watch the presentation. Pause it as often as necessary to understand and assimilate the rules.

Exercises: Links to interactive exercises  from around the web to consolidate knowledge.


The quiz


Teaching Both, Neither and Either with

Several times I have been on the verge of almost writing a post exclusively to share with you this beautiful presentation tool without any reference whatsoever to English teaching.

But I didn’t. I don’t know why, but I’m glad I didn’t.

Normally posts about tools and apps you can use in the classroom go unnoticed, unless you’re clearly into incorporating technology into your classes.

So, next week I’ll be teaching the grammar for both, neither and either and I thought it would be nice to use this tool to present and teach these pronouns as, among other things, helps you build beautiful presentations, add text and links.

Now, if you’re not interested in incorporating into your classes, you can skip all about below and go straight for the grammar. 🙂 although I hope you don’t.


What is

Basically it’s a tool for creating and curating lists. With you can

  • Curate content
  • Create original post content
  • Get feedback from your students

Other features

  • You can add items with or without links, photos, text, video, audio…etc
  • Also, it’s a highly collaborative tool. Students can participate:

-by voting individual lists items up or down

-by adding to the lists

-by writing comments

  • It’s free ( you can create 3 free lists) and you can easily share it and embed it on your blog.
  • You can choose from 6 formats: list, gallery, magazine, slideshow, minimal and badge.
  • You can make it private. You can obtain the link and share it privately.
  • You can moderate the list to approve any comments or contributions to the list.
  • You can decide the order in your list: curated order (great for collaborative storytelling), crowdrank (great for voting), alphabetical or newest.
  • Below you can see some of the things you can add to your list

 Tutorial: here

   How can I use it in the classroom?

Given that you can allow students to collaborate, there are endless possibilities. To mention just a few:

  • Create a list of tips. For example: for scoring high in the oral exam and have students vote the most helpful.
  • Choose a topic, for ex. stereotypes and let students add their own ideas to the list.
  • Create a list linking to specific content they need to see or study: videos, grammar exercises, topic-related lessons, …etc.
  • As you can also upload audio, give them a topic for discussion and ask them to add to the discussion by uploading a recording with their own view on the issue.
  • Create beautiful presentations with links to extra content.
  • Writing contest: share their writing and ask students to vote on the best.
  • Start a list with the songs they would like to work with, ask them to add their favourites and then vote on the best.
  • Collaborative Speaking activity: brainstorming of ideas.

Any other ideas?



  1. Traditional? Pdf with exercises here. 
  2.   A bit less traditional? Down here!

I have embedded the presentation using two formats:

  • slideshow format
  •  List format

Creating visual content for my classes with two awesome free online tools

Let’s go visual!

If you have been following my blog for a while you probably know how much I like exploring new tools to spice up my lessons. We all know students prefer looking at a screen than at a book so, for this lesson I have decided to explore two new free online tools, which have a lot of potential for language teaching.


Perhaps  you have never considered creating your own content because you think you aren’t tech-savvy and you don’t really know how to go about  these  modern things, but I can assure you that creating these two videos has been as easy as falling off a log.

In class, we are studying how to express preference with the structure would rather and (would)pefer  and this is just the perfect excuse to “play” with these two little tools.

1. For a revision of the grammar for Would Rather and Prefer, I have used This is how this tool works:

  • Login for free.
  • Click “create a new video”.
  • Choose your scenes one by one and enter the text. You can choose between animation scenes, footage scenes and image scenes where you can upload your own pictures. Click + to add a new scene.
  • Choose the colours for your presentation and then the music track or upload your own.
  • Click Preview and the video will be sent to your email address once it’s created.
  • At this point, you can download it, share it on facebook and twitter, or post to youtube.

(presentation created with biteable)

2. For a speaking activity using Would Rather, I have used This is how this amazing free online tool works:

  • Log in for free.
  • You can create a new presentation form scratch or upload a power point presentation.
  • Choose a template.
  • Share it or embed it on your blog.

(presentation created with emaze)

Powered by emaze

Give them a go! You won’t regret it!

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An Engaging Combination: First-Day Introductions+Indirect Questions + Concentric Circles Technique

Last week was crazy. No lessons yet but lots of tests to be marked and tons of red tape to go through. So, I am shockingly super excited about beginning a new course; yes, excited about getting up early and teaching non-stop for six hours and   no…  I did not trip and fall  into a bucket full of cider   😉 (typical drink where I live).

First days are for introductions and little more, but  this year I think I am going to kill two birds with one stone  and combine introductions and some grammar that needs to be reviewed. So, I have got this idea in mind of asking students to introduce themselves to each other using indirect questions. I hope most of my new students will have, at some point over the years, studied  with me and for the rest, I will have to find a way to deal with the OMG- shocked looks I am sure I am going to get. But let’s cross that bridge when I come to it!

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Level: Intermediate and Above

Time Required: 30-45 minutes

Description of the Activity .This engaging activity has been designed as a  first-day oral introduction activity and to teach/help students revise how to make indirect questions . I will use the concentric circles  technique,  which is a mingle activity .The technique is explained below and I have also published a picture of my students doing the task.

STEP 1.Revision of Indirect Questions.

Indirect questions were studied last year, so we will just do a quick revision with this video I have  created using the free tool

If necessary, we will spend some minutes brushing up in two different ways

  1. Doing some online exercises you can find here  or , here  or if you do not have a computer, you might want to photocopy this worksheet here
  1. Orally producing some questions and asking students to provide the indirect question.

 STEP 2. Writing .

Ask students to write a question they would like to ask their classmates. For example: ” Do you speak any other languages?”, “Where do you live?” or “How long have you been studying English?”.

Give students slips of paper containing the beginning of an indirect question and ask them to make sure they know how to ask their question beginning with the phrase on their card. Cards here. (template downloaded from Teknologic). For example : “Can I ask  you where you live?” or “Would you mind telling me how long you have been studying English?”. 

STEP 3. Explaining the concentric circle technique.

This technique is a kind of mingle. Although mingles can be a bit noisy  and a bit disorganised, most students love it.The distinctive feature of a mingle activity is that all the students work simultaneously and switch from one classmate to another while speaking. Mingles allow constant repetition and this raises students’ confidence in their use of English.

Students arrange themselves so that they are facing each other in two circles. The inner circle faces out, the outer circle faces in, so that each participant has a partner that they are facing (Note: If the group has an uneven number of people, the teacher should participate in the circles). Each student from the outside circle, after speaking with the person facing him or her, moves one step clockwise to speak with a new classmate from the inside circle. I would suggest asking students to switch partners every four minutes for this activity. This concentric circle technique can very well be adapted to talk about any given topic of discussion. Encourage students to elaborate on their answers and use targeted language structure.

STEP 5. Speaking.

Students introduce themselves to the person they are facing and then ask their indirect questions making conversation with their partner. After four minutes, call time and rotate for the next question, forming a new partnership.

The conversation might go something like this:

Student A: Hi, I’m (student’s name)

Student B: Hello, my name’s  (student’s name)

Student A: Can you tell me how long you have been studying English?

Student B : (answers the question giving as many details as possible)

Student B : Can I ask you a question now? Would you mind telling me why you are studying English?

Student A: Answers

Teacher  says :”  Rotate” and students from the outside circle move one step clockwise to speak with a new classmate from the inside circle.

Model an example of a conversation with a student.

Stop the activity when they have had a chance to speak to most students.




A Nice Way to Introduce Orders in Reported Speech

Sometimes I spend an awful lot of time writing the draft for an article which will never see the light of day. That happens mainly on those days when I begin to wonder  whether a certain article I am about to publish will interest any of my readers and also on those days when I run out of inspiration and words don’t seem to flow. More often than not, these wannabe posts end up being deleted while some other times I save them in  a folder and then forget about them until, like  with my wardrobe, spring cleaning frenzy strikes and I decide to do some computer  spring cleaning and bump into them. This is what happened with this article you are about to read.


Step 1. Draw some circles on the white board containing the following sentences or any others you fancy

Step 2. Ask students to choose one circle. They now need to write on a separate sheet of paper some orders/instructions they were given in these situations. (Encourage them to write positive and negative orders/instructions). Demonstrate, if necessary, by choosing one circle and writing down some examples. Allow 5 minutes for this step.

Step 3 and Step 4. Students in small groups. Now students need to swap situations with their partners and their partners need to report within their group some of the orders and instructions their partners were given.

For example:

When Carlos got his driving licence ,he was told to keep both hands on the steering wheel.

On the first day at school, Cecilia was told not to stand up without permission.

Step 4 and Step 3. Before students  start, demonstrate  with your own situation (hopefully still on the whiteboard), making sure they understand the task and asking them to infer the rule.

Step 5. Call out a situation and ask students to volunteer orders or instructions given to their classmates in the chosen  context.

Hope you find it useful!


Moving Up from ” I Made Tea” to” I made myself a nice, hot sandwich of low-fat blue cheese because I was starving”


Improving Writing Skills:  how to move up from the Elementary  to the Intermediate Level using Adjectives.

If you are a teacher you would  agree with me that helping students move from an Elementary Level to an Intermediate one takes time and practice. One does not acquire the level in one day, you need to go step by step and you’ll need to climb all the stairs to be successful, there is no lift here.

When I mark their compositions some students find it difficult to understand why a composition with almost no mistakes deserves a Pass whereas another one with more “red” ink  gets a better mark. Although I explain to them that you’re not only marked for grammatical mistakes and they seem to understand I thought it might be a good idea to do  an experiment so that they could clearly see my point.

The little experiment was carried out during  the last 20 minutes of the lesson after having dedicated most of the lesson to working with adjectives. The aim was letting student see for themselves the difference, in terms of adequacy, between two or three grammatically correct sentences by voting on the best one. By letting them be the judges of the best sentence, they also become aware of why essays  with no mistakes might score significantly higher or lower .

Before starting with the activities dedicated to Adjectives, I told my students that my aim on that day was to improve their writing skills to help them move from an Elementary Level to an Intermediate one. In my opinion, this bit of information before starting  is essential to get  their full attention!

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Although not all grammarians agree on the order of the adjectives and the rules for adjective order are quite complicated, it is necessary to give them some kind  of order they can stick to. I always use this sentence to help them remember

Important points:

1. Don’t  overuse adjectives. While having two adjectives before a noun sounds natural, more than three would have the opposite effect.

2. Purpose adjectives go just before the noun: riding boots ( boots for riding), sleeping bags (bags for sleeping).

3. Numbers go before adjectives: three huge houses.


Isn’t it true that  when you cross out things like very furious, students invariably ask … but ,”why can’t you say very furious??”

1. I find it  important to see the before and the after. So, prior to beginning with step 1, show them an example of what they normally write, well, a bit exaggerated maybe 🙂 .

Last week I went to a  very big beach. It was very hot and and I was very angry because I couldn’t find a place to put my towel as  it was very crowded. Finally I saw one of my best friends and I managed to squeeze in next to her. We went for a walk but after half an hour I was very tired and very hungry so I bought a sandwich, but it tasted very bad. Oh My God !!!

1. Brainstorm extreme adjectives like angry-furious, small-tiny, big-enormous, dirty-filthy, happy-delighted, sure-positive…etc.

2. Point out you cannot use very with these adjectives, but “absolutely” or “really” -among others.

3. Practising intonation with extreme adjectives in dialogues is always an enjoyable activity! Even more fun  if you give them the card and get them moving around the class and talking to different people. For this activity I always use this handout from

4. That might be a good time to display the text above again, so that they improve it using extreme adjectives.


Before the game: Write down on slips of papers, verbs that they have recently studied. For this exercise I chose verbs with dependent prepositions. Put them in a bag or envelope.

Explain that this writing exercise  is going to be a competition, where only sentences without grammatical mistakes are going to be shortlisted. These  sentences will be read  aloud and students will vote for the best one taking into account the length of the sentence, the use of adjectives before the noun and also the use of extreme adjectives

1. Students work in pairs  competing  for points against the other students in the class.

2. From the bag, ask a student -the innocent hand-to pull out a slip of paper containing a verb in the infinitive form.

3. Students have 2 minutes to write a good sentence containing the verb.

4. Quickly correct mistakes and put a tick to the ones being shortlisted.

5. Sentences are read aloud for students to choose the best one, which is awarded one point. The pair with the highest number of points wins.

At some point during the game, I make a point of telling students once again to reflect on why they feel some sentences are intuitively better.

Hope you find it useful!

Making Suggestions

Once again I have used some online free tools to spice up my lessons; believe me, something vey much needed at this time of year when students, and shall I say teachers too? begin to feel the necessity of giving English a break. Good weather and a sun-oriented classroom doesn’t help much either.
So this time the structures I need to teach are those to Make Suggestions. Very useful structures to learn, don’t you agree?

To revise the structures I have worked with  a tool I have  already used several times. I like it and I highly recommended.It’s called Goconqr
por cristina.cabal

Fancy a bit of practice?

Both, None, Either and Neither and a New Presentation Tool

You know how it is. Once I start surfing the net I need to remind myself that I need to get some sleep. So, just last night I was about to call it a night when blog hopping, I “bumped into” this new tool which, though still in their beta version, has a lot of potential. Slidebean is a cloud based platform that lets you create presentations for free, you only need to register and explore a bit.

And as I was preparing a lesson for the Intermediate level about Conjunctions I decided to give it a go and  I don’t regret it. I think it has created a beautiful presentation out of a boring point of grammar. What do you think?

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