Tag Archives: B1

Six Low-Preparation Vocabulary Activities for the English Classroom

When I teach something new, I’m always worried about one simple thing. Will my students internalise any time soon the new “whatever it is”? How can I help them? How long does it take for them to feel confident using the new structure/expression/word? How many times do they have to be exposed to the new term? How many different examples/contexts do you have to give them? How long does it take before a word becomes familiar and therefore usable?

This is an article I wrote for Voices, the British Council magazine, where I suggest  Six Low-Preparation Vocabulary Activities for the English Classroom, which can help.

Do you Think Translation Exercises are Boring? Just the Opposite!

Believe me, they don’t have to be boring. In fact, just the opposite.

I know some teachers consider translation activities a thing of the past and that, arguably, they should be banned from our classes. I don’t completely agree.
If I am honest with you, I can’t say that I like giving students a whole paragraph to translate, but a one-sentence translation exercise can help consolidate and reinforce grammar and vocabulary.
And it doesn’t need to be boring. In fact, it can be a lot of fun. How?

Easy. Let’s combine a seemingly boring traditional exercise with an online fun tool and let’s turn it into a competition.

Preparation:

• Decide on few sentences you want students to translate. I’d suggest 6-8 sentences. If you like exploring tools, my favourite for this kind of activities is Playbuzz flip cards.
• Slips of paper

How to go about it:

1. Pair learners and give them as many slips of paper as sentences you want them to translate.
2. Write the first sentence on the board and ask students to translate into English. If you use the online tool I mentioned above, just show the first card. (See mine below)
3. Depending on the length or difficulty of the sentence to be translated, set a time limit.
4. Once the pair have their sentence, ask them to write it on the slip of paper big enough for you to see from a distance.
5. When the time is up, ask the pair to hold it up and quickly go through all the translated sentences awarding 1 point to the pair who has the correct translation.
6. The winner is the pair who get the most points.

Note: Be strict with spelling mistakes or any other tiny mistakes. Students love it when you are strict and don’t give away the points easily.

Follow-up: Revise again all the sentences, but this time orally.

Oh! English Pronunciation! Let’s pronounce words ending in -ture!

On this blog post, we are going to address a very common pronunciation mistake among my students, and maybe among yours too.



Let’s start

Write on the board the word CULTURE and ask your students to try to pronounce it. It could be tried in pairs or just shouted. You’ll be surprised at the variety of different pronunciations your students will come up with.


Time to explain a bit of phonetics.

Your students might not be familiar with the international phonetic alphabet, but don’t let this discourage you.

Let’s break the sound up:

Write the symbol /tʃ/ on the board and model pronunciation. It should be quite easy as this sound exists in many languages. If it helps, ask them to find words in their language that have the same sound.

Got it? Now, write the vowel /ə/. You’ll probably want to explain this is the famous schwa, resist the temptation, or maybe not but, really, there is no need to add to their burden.

To get the sound right, just ask your students to relax and punch (slightly, you don’t want them to pass out) their stomachs. Ask: What sound did you get?  Exactly, this is the schwa.

Now that we have the two sounds, put them together and there you have it. Tada!!! /tʃə/


Competition Game

Let’s go back now to our word CULTURE. Again, write it down on the board and, again, ask students to pronounce it. Better? Much better, I’m sure!

Competition: Ask students to work in pairs and tell them they have one minute to write down words ending in –ture. Needless to say, the winner is the pair with more correct –ture ending words.

Write their words on the board. If you feel there are some important ones left, write them on the board. Drill pronunciation.This is my selection of words:


Writing. More fun coming

Once all the words ending in -ture are on the board, ask students to work in pairs and write a sentence containing at least three words ending in- ture.  Give students slips of paper ( I normally fold a regular sheet of paper in two, horizontally) and ask them to write (nice and legible) their small tongue twister there. Ask them to pass it to the pair sitting next to them. In pairs, they practise reading the sentence. Repeat procedure as many times as you deem appropriate.

Example:

The texture of the creature in the picture in the literature classroom was just amazing.


Spoiling the fun

This is English. One of the most unpredictable languages as regards pronunciation.

You might want to point out that in some cases, the ending -ture is not always pronounced /tʃə/, as in the word “mature”. Fortunately, this happens in only very few cases.

 

Quiz: Persistent Spelling Mistakes and some Orthodox and Unorthodox Techniques to Get Rid of them

The course is almost finished.

Admittedly, I’m in sore need of a respite from the pressure of end-of-the-course classes, but it’s also true that I have a lot of ideas to try and share sitting on the drafts shelf of my mind. Little by little they will see the light.

My students struggle with English spelling. Who doesn’t? Little by little I can see they’re making progress, but unfortunately there are some spelling mistakes that I keep finding in my student’s exams. A quick search on the Internet reveals that the occurrence of these spelling mistakes has little to do with your mother tongue though, admittedly, the quiz is based on my students’ spelling mistakes who are, for the most part, Spanish.

What about you? Do you also make these mistakes? Let’s find out!


Some orthodox and unorthodox techniques to get rid of these spelling mistakes


  1. Write them down. This is the dull, traditional but effective way of correcting spelling mistakes. Start with one mistake and write it down, at least 10 times. This was my mother’s favourite method. I guess it served two purposes: to help us learn the correct spelling and also to keep us quiet for a while. I can’t blame her. I have 4 siblings and there are 6 years between the youngest and the oldest.
  2. Do the quiz. Do it once and write down all the targeted words you can remember. Take the quiz again. Correct the ones you misspelled. Repeat procedure.
  3. Ask someone to help you. Write a list of the words you have trouble spelling. Write the translation in your own language next to each one. Ask someone in your family to call any of these words at random. Write them down and ask this person to correct them. Once you have mastered the spelling of the words, you might want to buy your helper a drink. He deserves it.
  4. Write a short story. Write the words you seem unable to spell correctly. Make sure you write them down properly. Read them several times. Write a short story containing them and give yourself a high five if you got most of them right. Warning: don’t ask anybody to read it. The story will probably not make any sense at all.
  5. Stick on the walls of your house flashcards with the correct spelling. I used to do it with phrasal verbs when I was at uni. It worked but my flatmates were not very happy.
  6. Use Quizlet or any other app to create flashcards. This app is great to work with spelling as it offers a variety of games to practise the correct spelling. I’ve made a short video tutorial. See it below.

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Photo via Visual hunt

A little Experiment: Hitting the Intermediate Plateau? No, you’re not.

Do your students sometimes feel as if they are not making enough progress? Do they sometimes have the impression their language learning has slowed? Do they feel they are stuck in the intermediate plateau?

While this feeling is completely normal, it can sometimes be very frustrating for our students. You might try to explain to them that this is just part of the natural process of learning a language, but the truth is that in their eyes, they are just not progressing as fast as they think they should, no matter how hard they try. It’s true that this perception is not real, but it never hurts to show them how unreal it is.

Today I want to share with you a little experiment I did with my students. Very simple, but very effective too. I did with my intermediate students, but you can easily try it with students of any level.

What’s the aim of the experiment?

to make students aware of how much they have learned at the end of a topic-based lesson. The idea is to brainstorm vocabulary related to the topic twice: at the very beginning and at the very end of the lesson(s) to make them realize how much they learn in the course of a single lesson. Making students aware of how much they are learning can dramatically improve teaching effectiveness as it is a powerful way to boost their motivation.

How long does it take?

5 minutes at the very beginning of the lesson and five more at the end of it. If you dedicate two or more sessions, 5 minutes at the beginning of the first session and 5 minutes at the end  of the last one.

Do you need to use technology?

I am afraid you do. For this experiment, students need to use their mobile phones with internet connection or any other device with internet connection. The good news is that you just need one device every three or four students. I have also used  Answergarden, which is a very simple free tool used for getting real time feedback from a group. It’s really very easy to use, but if you think you need extra help, you can watch a video tutorial in Teachertrainingvideos.com or read a brief tutorial here.


THE EXPERIMENT


  • Go to Answergarden and create a New Answergarden (it literally takes less than one minute). In my case, I created an Answergarden with the title City Life vs Country Life as this was the topic we were about to study in class.
  • Ask students to work in pairs or in groups of three and use just one mobile phone.
  • Share the link with your students and ask them to type the url in their devices (as I have mentioned, my students used their mobile phones) You can use Google shortener to shorten the link.
  • Ask students to brainstorm vocabulary related to “living in the city and living in the countryside”, enter the  vocabulary in the box and carefully check the spelling before submitting their answers. Allow 2 or 3 minutes.
  • Display on the overhead projector the answergarden. As students submit answers, click the Refresh tab on the bottom menu to update the answer display.

(below you can see the first wordcloud)

  • Go through the vocabulary they have submitted and make sure you save this first word cloud.
  • Teach vocabulary as any other ordinary day
  • Repeat procedure at the end of the lesson or the sessions dedicated to this topic.

  • Display both clouds and ask students to compare them and reflect on how much they have learned on the course of a single lesson. Contrasting both word clouds will undoubtedly not only motivate your students, but also will reinforce the idea of progress that is sometimes lost especially at the intermediate level.

Another idea with the same aim would be to ask students, at the end of a unit, to write everything they have learned in this unir. They’ll be just amazed at how much progres they have made.

 

 

2 Superb Activities with Posters to Review Topics before Oral Exams

I love working with posters and these two activities combine some of the elements that guarantee a successful lesson: movement, interaction, visuals and fun.

It is great if you need to revise a number of topics before an oral exam.

 

ACTIVITY ONE: 

Aim:  to revise several conversation topics integrating grammar, speaking and writing.

Level: B1 (intermediate and above)

Time: 50 minutes or more

Materials: post-it notes (alternatively, you can use pieces of paper+ Sellotape/blu-tack). I have used the free website Canva to create my posters. You can see them here. I have used the free website wheeldecide to create a wheel for the wh-words. (short video tutorial here)

Task. In this engaging activity students will need to work in pairs or small groups and provide the questions which will be later answered in groups about a certain topic.

Preparation:

  • Create as many posters as topics you want to revise and display them on the walls on the class. See mine above. You can also do this activity without posters by writing the different topics on pieces of paper, although obviously this is less appealing. Ideally, the topics should be written big enough to be seen from the back of the class.
  • Create a wheel containing wh- words and a yes/no question option. See mine below. If you don’t want to use a wheel, you can write the wh- words on pieces of paper and put them in a box.

In class

This activity is divided into two stages

Stage 1.

  • Direct students’ attention to the walls of the class and read the different topics to be revised.
  • Ask students to work in pairs or small groups.
  • Spin the wheel. Students in their groups choose a topic  from the ones displayed on the walls and write a question about it beginning with the wh- displayed on the wheel. Give students sticky notes and ask them to write their question there, and then stick it next to the poster it refers to.

For example: the wheel displays How?. Group A decides to write a question about City life and Country Life. They might write something like: How are city people and country people different?

  • Spin the wheel again and repeat procedure as many times as you want. Each time students will need to choose a different topic.

Stage 2

  • Ask the groups to stand up and stand next to a topic. Students read the questions on the sticky notes and discuss them. Encourage the use of specific vocabulary.
  • After five minutes, ask the groups to rotate to the next topic.

 


ACTIVITY TWO: 

Aim:  to revise several conversation topics .

Level: B1 (intermediate and above)

Time: 30 minutes or more

Materials:  I have used the free website Canva to create my posters. You can see them here

Task. In this fun activity students will alternate playing the roles of interviewer and interviewee while reviewing different topics before taking an oral exam.

Preparation:

For this review activity you’ll need to create posters on different topics and write two or three topic-related questions to be used in the interview.

In class

Ask as many students as posters you have displayed on the walls of the class to stand up and stand next to a poster. One student, one poster. Let’s call them Student A. They are now the interviewees. There should be, at least, the same number of students sitting down. Let’s call them Student B. They are the interviewers.

Ask Student B to stand up and choose a student A to interview using the questions on the poster. Encourage Student A to elaborate on the answers. Allow 3-4 minutes.

Ask student B, i.e. the interviewer, to exchange places with Student A and become the interviewee and ask student A to rotate to the next topic and become the interviewer.

In this way, students alternate being the interviewer and interviewee while revising a variety of topics in a dynamic way.

Repeat procedure until all the topics have been covered.

(Note: this activity can also be done if you need to have two Students B in one station. They’ll just have to take the role of interviewer twice before becoming an interviewee.

Hope you enjoy the activities!

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HiNative: Ask Questions, Get Answers

Wouldn’t it be just awesome to have native speakers almost at your beck and call to answer any of your questions and for free?

That’s HiNative, a free question/answer platform where you can ask questions and get answers about language and culture from native speakers all around the world.

I came across this extremely useful website by chance and decided to check it out. It was Saturday, 9.30 in the evening and thought it was probably not the best time to post a question and get an answer. I was wrong. Within 5 minutes of posting my question, I had 4 answers from native speakers so imagine how fast it would be any other day of the week.  Hinative is a give-and-take platform and though you don’t necessarily have to do it, the thing is that I also liked the idea of helping others with questions about my own native language and so the site got me entertained for a long while.

 

You can also download their free app on your mobile phone.

How does it work?

  1. Sign up. You’ll be sent an email to confirm your account.
  2. The interface is very simple and easy to use.

  • Home: Here you can find questions other users ask about your own native language. Remember that it’s a give-and-take platform and you’re also expected to help other users
  • Notifications:  this is where you’ll be notified about new answers to your questions.
  • Profile: Here you can modify your profile and your settings
  • Ask: where you can pose your questions. Below you’ll see some of the templates you can use to make it easier for you to ask.

3. Ask your question. What kind of questions can you ask?

You can ask questions such as “what’s the difference between “scholarship” and “grant”? or How do you say “___” in English? or Please show me examples with the expression ” take it for granted”

So, I decided to use one of the templates and ask  Please show me examples with the expression ” take it for granted”. This is what I got.

So, quite easy really, just register, ask your question and sit back while waiting for someone to get back to you. You won’t have to wait long.

10 Best Free Listening Websites with Quizzes to Practise for Listening Exams

So what do you do to practise listening for exams?

Growing up, I never had the opportunity to do any extra practice to improve my listening skills. We didn’t have the Internet and the thousand possibilities it offers to learners of any language nowadays. The teachers had an old tape player that sometimes stopped and started on its own and old tapes that ended up sounding distorted and most of the times unlistenable so if you wanted to get better at listening, you just listened to the radio and struggled to understand the lyrics and sing along. Not that I ever complained. That was the perfect excuse to listen to music while claiming to be working hard. I have to say that my father never bought it!

So, exams are just around the corner and I know you’re beginning to freak out. Don’t worry! Here I am, coming to the rescue!

These are, in my opinion, the best sites with quizzes to practise listening comprehension. In no particular order.


TALK ENGLISH


  • url: http://www.talkenglish.com/listening/real.aspx
  • Levels: three main levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: no
  • Transcript: yes
  • Audio Download: no
  • What I like best: it has some other listening activities like dictations or listening based on pictures for lower levels. It also has a section dedicated to advanced students with a story and some comprehension questions. See here
  • What I don’t like: In my opinion, the “listening” categorised under “advanced level” is far too easy.

 ELLLO


  • url: http://www.elllo.org/
  • Levels: six levels (beginners-advanced)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: grammar or vocabulary activities
  • Transcript: yes
  • Audio Download: only audio for vocabulary
  • What I like best: there are seven activity types (see them here) and a variety of accents.
  • What I don’t like: a bit disorganised.

ESL LOUNGE


  • url: http://www.esl-lounge.com/student/listening.php
  • Levels: four  (elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate and advanced)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: no
  • Transcript: yes
  • Audio Download: yes
  • What I like best: it offers different kinds of comprehension exercises (multiple choice, cloze, true/false…etc)

BRITISH COUNCIL


  • url: http://learnenglishteens.britishcouncil.org/skills/listening-skills-practice
  • Levels: five levels ( A1, A2, B1, B2, C1)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: both
  • Transcript: yes
  • Audio Download: yes
  • What I like best: very user-friendly for both students and teachers. PDF available for exercises, answers and transcript.
  • Extra: The British Council also runs some other sections to improve and practise your listening skills and learn about Britain, its culture, its language and its people. See here

 EDTED LESSONS WORTH SHARING


  • url: http://ed.ted.com/lessons
  • Levels: advanced
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: all the lessons have three parts : watch, think (where you can do the comprehension exercise) and discuss (post-listening questions)
  • Transcript: no, although most lessons are on youtube, and you can watch them with subtitles
  • Audio Download: the videos are on youtube, so they can be easily downloaded
  • What I don’t like: the audio is not sorted by level and although most of videos are for advanced students, some of them are much easier than others so I would say that they are suitable for B2 students and higher. You need to register although it’s free.
  • Extra: you can also create your own lessons

ESOL COURSES


  • url: http://www.esolcourses.com/content/topicsmenu/listening.html
  • Levels: four main levels (upper elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper-intermediate)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: most of the times
  • Transcript: no
  • Audio Download: the videos are on youtube, so they can be easily downloaded
  • What I like best: carefully designed  user-friendly lessons plans

ESL VIDEO


  • url: http://www.eslvideo.com/index.php
  • Levels: five ( from beginner to advanced)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: no
  • Transcript: not always
  • Audio Download: the videos are on youtube, so they can be easily downloaded
  • What I don’t like: anybody can create a listening quiz so it might contain mistakes
  • Extra: You can create your own quiz

 


BREAKING NEWS ENGLISH


  • url: http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com/index.html
  • Levels: seven levels
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: both
  • Transcript: yes
  • Audio Download: yes
  • What I like best: you can listen to the same piece of news at different levels and the news can be read at different speeds.
  • Extra: Sean Banville’s also runs eight other sites, check them out here

 


RANDALL’S ESL CYBER LISTENING LAB


  • url : http://www.esl-lab.com/
  • Levels: three levels ( easy, medium and difficult)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: Both
  • Transcript: yes
  • Audio Download: No
  • What I like best: the post-listening activities and the vocabulary section ( see here) where you can learn how to pronounce words associated to different topics.

LYRICS TRAINING


  • url: https://lyricstraining.com/
  • Levels: four ( from beginner to expert)
  • Pre-listening /Post-listening activities: no
  • Transcript: any lyrics site will have the lyrics for the song
  • Audio Download: the videos are on youtube, so they can be easily downloaded
  • What I like: it’s fun and a different way to approach listening exercises.
  • Extra: You can create your own exercises (beta).

Check also:

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Oral Exam: Monologue Based on One or More Pictures. Some Tips and Ideas to Get Started

In the intermediate and more advanced exam you will be presented with one, two or more pictures about the same topic but in clear contrast. It’s important to remember that you are not supposed to give a detailed description of everything that is happening in the picture(s). On the contrary, what is important is that you talk about the topic or idea suggested in the picture(s). If you are given  for example 3 minutes to talk, use just one minute of this time to describe in general, using appropriate language and structures; the rest of the time should be dedicated to talking about the topic and giving your opinion.

BEFORE THE EXAM

  • Make a list of the most common topics asked in the exam.
  • Brainstorm vocabulary you can use related to this topic. Mind mapping works perfect here. I use the free site Goconqr.

Mapa Mental creado con GoConqr por Cristina Cabal

  • Practise using sets of pictures in contrast. You can use my own selection here. (Scroll down)
  • If your problem is that you never know what to say, I suggest you have a look at some conversation questions you might be asked about the given topic. It will probably help you get started. Have a look at some common topics with questions here.
  • Listen to other students taking the exam (for example here) or read some examples here (fashion, global warming, jobs, new technologies and food)
  • Time yourself to control the time it takes you to develop your ideas.
  • Record yourself and then listen to the recording and see how you can improve it. You can use the app Soundcloud, which allows you to stop the recording and write comments.

(You can write a comment on a track through the text box below the waveform that says ‘Write a comment…’ and press your return or enter key to send. The comment will appear at the point on the waveform where you first started typing. Alternatively, you can click any free space in the comment section to leave a comment at that specific point)

  • The day before the exam, revise all the topics and the vocabulary you can use.
  • Half an hour before the exam, don’t speak your mother tongue. Spend the time listening, doing some silent reading or pronunciation exercises in English.

DURING THE EXAM

Before you start speaking:

  • If you are allowed 1 minute to organise your ideas, use that minute. I have often seen candidates not taking this minute and making a mess of the exam just because they didn’t take the time to organise their ideas.
  • Scan the pictures and identify the topic. Sometimes there is a title or a heading that helps you.
  • Try to come up with three ideas about the topic suggested by the pictures. Expand on these ideas.

Taking the exam:

  • Begin by giving an overall idea of what the pictures are about, using a variety of structures, modals to indicate possibility and the useful “look” or “seem”.
  • Talk about the topic. It’s easier if you relate it to yourself, but if you don’t have this experience, talk about a friend’s or just lie. This is an English exam, not a lie detector.

via GIPHY

 

  • Develop your ideas. Try to use linkers to connect your ideas.
  • Don’t give too complicated explanations. I’m sorry to say, you’ll probably make mistakes.
  • Give your opinion. Say which one you prefer and why.

Some expressions you can use:

Remember it’s better if you start by giving a general idea of what the pictures are about.  Don’t start like this:

In the first picture I can see

Start like this:

  • In this worksheet there are two photos. They both show different ways of (shopping).
  • These photos are clearly both connected to the topic of (science)… but in two quite different contexts. In the first one… In contrast, the second picture shows…
  • The photo/picture shows …
  • The first thing that strikes me about this picture is…

 

Remember that you are describing a picture, so you cannot be 100% sure of what is happening. Use language that suggests this:

  •  I think…
  • Maybe / Perhaps…
  • I guess they are…
  •  Modal verbs of deduction: she must / can’t /
  • Modal verbs of possibility: could, may, might
  •  She looks/seems… (tired)/ She looks like … (a teacher). It looks/seems as if (it’s raining)

PRACTICE.

Go to http://www.cristinacabal.com/?page_id=4906  and scroll down to the section SET OF PICTURES FOR PRACTICE and just “practise”. “A  lot!” 🙂

 

Five Steps to Writing an Excellent Opinion Essay

Doesn’t the title itself already encourage you to start writing straight away? Just kidding! I guess you need a  stronger push than just a title.  Well, I can provide this little push in the form of real examples of my students’ essays after following all these 5 steps. Just skip to Step 4 if you don’t believe me and bear in mind when you read their essays, they are B1 (intermediate) students.


Step 1. The difference between an opinion essay and a persuasive essay.

Opinion essay: in an opinion essay the writer states his opinion and supports it with facts, evidence and examples but he doesn’t try to convince the reader.

Persuasive essay: in a persuasive essay the writer tries to convince the reader to agree with his opinion. The author uses logic and facts, definitions and examples in order to persuade the reader to share his point of view.


Step 2. Top tips for writing an opinion essay

1 Basic do’s when writing an opinion essay

  • Introduce each paragraph with a topic sentence, outlining the main ideas.
  • Do not write about advantages or disadvantages or points for or against.
  • Write in formal style.

2. Basic don’ts when writing an opinion essay

  • Don’t use colloquial expressions.
  • Don’t use short forms.
  • Don’t use emotive vocabulary.

3. Decide whether you agree or disagree with the title. Try to think of at least two or three good reasons to support your opinion, including examples of why you think the alternative point of view is wrong.

4. Organise your essay into clear paragraphs.

  • Introduction: Introduce the topic and give your opinion. Say whether you agree or disagree with the statement.
  • Body: 2 or 3 paragraphs. For each paragraph give a reason to support your opinion.
  • Conclusion: Summarize your ideas and repeat your opinion using different words.

5.  There is a process to writing. Try to follow it. It will help you a lot


Step 3. Useful expressions and linkers

 

Download the pdf here


Step 4. Examples of opinion essays written by B1 students

Three essays written by B1 students to help you get started.


Step 5.  22 opinion essays to choose from

Your turn!  Choose from one of the options and write an opinion essay.

Plan your content and organise it in four or five paragraphs (introduction, reasons and conclusion).

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