Tag Archives: tips

The Two-Corner Technique. How I Train my Students to Pass the Standardized Speaking Exam.Part 2

It’s Monday. I swear it was Friday when I last blinked. Exam time is inching closer and closer and I figure it’s about time I share part 2 of how I prepare my students to take oral exams. Please, note that attending classes and piling up dozens of photocopies helps, but this alone does not guarantee you are going to pass the exam. Practice. Keyword here.

In Part 2, you are going to read about the two-corner technique and the websites  I use to help my students gather ideas.

The anecdote.

What I am going to relate here is one of the reasons why I try to offer my students not only vocabulary and structures but also ideas. Yes, I present them with different ideas, but  I don’t ask them to study and use them as if they were theirs, I ask them to discuss them. Why? Mainly because by discussing ideas they can develop their own, acquire some others and also learn to challenge opinions they do not agree with.

You have probably heard students, or experience if you are one, talk about this fear of not knowing what to say.

Only last week I set a writing activity to be done in class. I asked students to write for about 20 minutes giving their opinion about a topic we had already discussed in class.

I observed one of my students was not writing but staring into space. After 5 minutes, I approached him and asked why he wasn’t writing. He said he could not come up with any ideas, said he wasn’t inspired and that he was afraid this would happen on the day of the exam.

And I worry. Even though my students study hard, sometimes they find it hard to think on their feet and start talking or writing.

It’s with this in mind that I try to provide my students not only with grammar and vocabulary but also with other people’s points of view on a given topic so that they can discuss these ideas and develop their own arguments. Speaking is not only talking about what you would do but also about what you wouldn’t do.

Topic:  Ebooks versus paper Books

Level: B2 (upper-intermediate)

Time: about 30 minutes

  • Step 1.  Brainstorming vocabulary.  As usual, we brainstorm vocabulary on the board. This is a necessary step as you don’t want students to get stuck because they can’t come up with a term.
  • Step 2. Posing the question.  I write on the board ht e big question. In this case: What do you prefer? Ebooks or paper books?
  • Step 3. Using the two-corner teaching technique.  This technique is actually called the four- corner technique, but I find a two-corner approach suits my classes better. With this technique, you get your students out of their seats and thinking about the topic they are going to discuss. In one corner of the classroom, I put up a notice saying paper books and in another corner a notice with ebooks written on it.

I ask students, still in their seats, to think which corner of the room they would choose and think of the reasons why they prefer one choice to another. After a bit of thinking time, I ask them to stand up and go to their corner of the room. Once there, they talk to the members of their group sharing ideas and talking about why they favour one choice and not the other.

  • Step 4.  Getting ideas from other sources.

Time to see how others express your same idea and maybe get some others. Give students in favour of ebooks handout A and give handout B to students who prefer paper books. Let them read it and comment it in their groups.

  • Step 5. Persuading and Convincing

This is the part I like best. Pair up students from both corners. Their aim will be to campaign on behalf of their choice and try to convince a student from the opposite corner to flip sides.

For this activity, I have used the website https://netivist.org/ , which is a platform where users can debate and engage in thoughtful discussion sharing different points of view.

Other  similar websites  are:



Going the extra mile?

  1. Students practise talking about what these two sets of pictures suggest to them

2. Students listen to what other people have to say on the subject.

If you have missed Part 1 of how I prepare my students to take oral exams, you can read it here

Step by Step: How I train my students to pass Part 2 (the pictures) of the standardized speaking exams. Part 1.

Alright, alright!

I know this is the third time I’ve posted this week. It seems I’m full of energy after the Christmas break. I really needed that break, didn’t you? Anyway, happy to go back to teaching, but hanging ominously over my head like a black cloud about to burst is the pressing necessity to start training my students to take their standardized speaking exams which will allow them to promote to the C1 (advanced level).

For those of you who are not familiar with the exam, let me explain how it goes. You might find you can apply it to your own classes, even though it’s not exactly the same kind of exam.

There are two tasks in the speaking exam.

  • Part 1: examiner-led conversation. The examiner asks questions about a topic and the students give full answers.
  • Part 2: the monologue, where the students are given a set of pictures (normally two or three).

About Part 2

In this second part, the one this whole post is built upon, the student is offered two or three colour photographs. Normally, the photos are in contrast or represent different options of the same issue.  Also, there is a title or a statement which suggests the topic of the monologue. After some thinking time, normally a couple of minutes, the student is given the opportunity to speak for about 4-5 minutes without interruption.

At this level, students are expected to talk about the topic using a wide range of vocabulary and grammar structures and they will have to compare and contrast the pictures talking about the most important issues related to the topic.

Students face different fears when preparing for the oral exams. Some of them are:

  • Do I know enough specific vocabulary?
  • Will I be able to use a variety of structures or will I stick to the simple subj+verb+complement structure?
  • Now,  the topic is “food”?  3 or 4 minutes talking about food? Seriously?  For heaven’s sake, I cannot even talk for one minute, let alone three or four!

Vocabulary and ideas. Keywords here.

How I train my students. Topic: Food

This is how I help them step by step. Bear in mind this is the first post of a series of posts dedicated to training students to pass the oral exam. As students gain confidence, guidance will be less necessary and some of these steps will be either unnecessary or done by students as part of their learning process.

1. Brainstorming vocabulary. Learning progresses through prior knowledge, so tapping into students’ prior knowledge is an essential part of learning.

On the board, we brainstorm the vocabulary they already know. This is an important step because it helps students reinforce and bring to life the vocabulary studied in previous courses.

Then, I ask them some very simple questions where they can activate this vocabulary: What’s your favourite food? What is the most expensive restaurant that you have ever been to? What did you eat there?

2.Acquiring new vocabulary. We work on new vocabulary using a number of written and oral exercises. (Any good course book provides enough vocabulary input, at least to get started). It’s important to emphasize here the importance of learning words in chunks. Surely, you can teach the word “ obesity” on its own, but there some other words you really want to teach in collocations like, for example, “eating disorders” or to “be obsessed with”. Also important, essential I should say, is pronunciation.

3.  Getting Ideas. Reading and Speaking. More often than not students find it hard to think on their feet. They find it difficult to come up with ideas that will fill in the 3 or 4 minutes allowed for this part.

You might disagree with me here, but I always tell them that oral exams are like the rest of the exams they might take. They need to prepare. They need to study.

Lack of preparation might result in something I’ve seen very often when assessing oral exams; students might talk for one minute and then, suddenly, stop. Now, you might wait patiently for them to come up with something else but the truth is that very often, when prompted to continue, they just repeat the same ideas they have already used. Why? most of the times due to lack of preparation. They mistakenly think that they don’t need to study for oral exams. They do.

So, listen up dear students! You need to study for oral exams.


Reading about different issues related to the topic not only reinforces the vocabulary they have learnt and gives them a chance to see it used in context but also gives them ideas of what they can talk about when doing the real task.

I normally use short extracts from The Pais in EnglishHere’s my choice of extracts for the topic of food. This how we do it:

  • We read the extracts in class or set the reading task as homework.
  • We underline relevant vocabulary.
  • Students discuss the questions in pairs, followed by class discussion.


4. The pictures. I am lucky to have a computer and an overhead projector in my class, so I normally display a collage with two or three related pictures on the board. You can see the ones I have used for this topic here and here.

Together we read the title and brainstorm ideas to fill in these 3 or 4 minutes. This step should be easy now as we have previously discussed some ideas in the previous task. Some ideas could be:

Together, we brainstorm vocabulary

  • Pesticides
  • Label
  • To be obsessed with
  • Bulimia
  • Fats
  • Proteins
  • Carbs
  • …etc

  1. Tips.
  • Look at the pictures and the title if there is one. It will hint at what you need to talk about.
  • If you are given some thinking time, use it.
  • Remember that you are not asked to describe in detail what you can see in the pictures. You are asked to compare and contrast the pictures talking about the topic.
  • Focus on three or four ideas and develop them as much as you can without repeating yourself. Start with a short introduction about the topic, talk about the first idea, develop it; start with the second idea and repeat procedure.
  • Don’t forget to use specific vocabulary and a variety of structures.
  • Essential: practise a lot and record yourself taking the exam.

6. Homework. Further practice. Collaboratively writing on a Padlet.

This follow-up task has two main aims:

  • to reinforce acquired knowledge and strategies
  • to share ideas. By asking students to write on a  collaborative Padlet, they benefit from each other and see other ideas which might help them improve their own performance.

All the Padlets created for this purpose will then be shared in a single one where students, at a glance, can decide what topic to revise.

In the next post, we will move from writing to speaking on a Padlet.

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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.


  • 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.


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.



  • 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)


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).

Tips and Links to Prepare for the Oral Exam at Home

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

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

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

What I like about this tool:

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

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

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Five Different Ways to Practise your Listening Skills.

I won’t spend much time introducing this post, mainly because today is one of these days when the muse has decided to leave me.

Perhaps you’re wondering what else you can do to pass your listening test with  flying colours apart from doing every single listening comprehension exercise in your student’s book and all the ones in the workbook. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, but here are a few things you might want to try.

1.Read a few tips and put them into practice. Students often complain that despite grasping the main information content of the recorded material, they sometimes seem to be unable to provide the right answer and this leads to frustration.

Getting a high mark in a listening comprehension exercise requires practice, lots, and also knowing a few tips. The most common types of listening exercises are Blank Filling and Multiple Choice and there are a few handy hints on how best to deal with them that you might want to read. The tips below aim at teaching students to listen effectively to enable them to select the information they require from what they hear.

 2.The obvious. Find a good listening site with plenty of listening exercises to choose from.

One of the sites I have been recommending my students lately to practise Listening is Ingles en Aviles, a fantastic blog aimed at B2 (upper-intermediate) and C1 (advanced students) where you’ll find lots of listening comprehension exercises to choose from.

Can I also suggest my own Listening section? 

3. Listening to Vaughan radio

Vaughan Radio is a live radio station broadcasting from Madrid, Spain that provides listeners the chance to improve English language skills. So while you’re at home, maybe cleaning or ironing and bored to death, you might want to give it a try. From time to time you’ll hear some Spanish words to help Spanish listeners, but most of the time the show is in English and really worth listening to.

Here’s the link to listen on the computer. Alternatively, you can download the app on your smart phone. Type Radio Vaughan in the search box to download the app. My favourite programme? “The show with no name”.

4. Watching series.

Here, I would recommend ororo.tv. What can ororo.tv do to help you improve your English? What will you find on this website? An amazing number of TV shows and films in their original versions and with subtitles in English. Right now, I am hooked on the Big Bang Theory, an American sitcom about four young scientists, but surely you’ll find attractive alternatives here to suit every taste and mood.

5. A new web tool: Youglish.

A very interesting tool to help you with your pronunciation and your listening is Youglish.  In the search box, type the word or expression you want to hear in context. Youglish provides you with videos, from You Tube, where the word/expression is spoken by real people and in context.

In case you’re wondering, this is not a sponsored post. It’s just a few recommendations from a humble teacher trying to help students by sharing some useful links.

Thanks for reading!

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What Type of Learner are you?

Have you ever asked yourself how you revise for an exam or how you learned English irregular verbs? Read through the traits and identify the kind of learner you are and  the kind of activities that will help you best in your learning process.

Every learner has one primary learning mode. Your learning mode or learning style is just the way you learn best. People learn using a variety of these modes depending on the task, but there is one  that is normally predominant. Therefore, identifying it as soon as possible is important to help you learn better and faster.

There are three main learning modes and there are traits for each type of learner.

  • The visual learner prefers learning by seeing and watching
  • The auditory learner prefers learning by hearing
  • The kinaesthetic learner prefers learning by doing, touching and interacting

Which type of learner are you? Read through the traits and identify the kind of learner you are and the kind of activities that will help you best in your learning process.

Auditory learners:

  • You like traditional teaching techniques
  • You like to learn things by hearing them or saying them.
  • You prefer listening to a book on tape to reading it
  • You prefer telling stories to writing or acting them out
  • You like drilling and pronunciation practice
  • You like listening tasks
  • You like music
  • You love discussions
  • You talk better than you write
  • You like giving speeches and oral reports

If you fall into this category, then doing the following will help you learn more easily

  • Pay attention in class
  • Make recordings of learning material
  • Repeat facts with your eyes closed
  • Ask questions
  • Explain the subject matter to another student
  • Record lectures
  • Participate in group discussions
  • Study in a quiet place

Visual learners:

  • You learn by seeing and watching
  • You like infographics, pictures, diagrams, films
  • You are well organised
  • You are quiet and observant
  • You need an overall view and purpose
  • You may have some difficulties with verbal instructions
  • You like to read and  write stories more than telling them or acting them out.

If you fall into this category, then doing the following will help you learn more easily

  • Copying from the board
  • Writing down everything the teacher says
  • Highlighting key information in the textbook
  • Keeping a lexical notebook
  • Making mind maps
  • Using flashcards
  • Watching videos
  • You can also learn easily from infographics, posters, charts, maps, and photographs.
  • The best way for you to study is by looking at flash cards or some sort of paper that has the information written on it

Kinaesthetic learners:

  • You learn things by doing, touching, feeling, experimenting, moving
  • You learn by trial and error
  • You like to memorize things by acting them out or doing them
  • You prefer playing some kind of game to reading or listening to a book
  • You like sequencing tasks
  • You respond to physical rewards
  • You point when reading
  • You make gestures when you are learning
  • You like action-oriented books

If you fall into this category, then doing the following will help you learn more easily

  • Direct involvement
  • Hands-on activities
  • Demonstrations
  • Using realia
  • Doing pair/group work
  • Doing role-plays
  • Team games and competitions
  • Working with Cuisenaire rods
  • Mimicking to guess  vocabulary
  • Standing up and moving around

As teachers, we need to bear in mind that in our classes there are different kinds of learners. Therefore, we need to incorporate different teaching strategies to reach every one of them.

What I hear, I forget.

What I hear and see, I remember a little.

What I hear, see, and ask questions about or discuss with someone else, I begin to understand.

What I hear, see, discuss, and do, I acquire knowledge and skill.

What I teach to another, I master. (Silberman, 1996)

The more actively engaged a learner is with the content, the better she learns and the more she remembers.

Thanks for reading!


  • Schunk, D. H. & Zimmerman, B. J.. Self-Regulated Learning: From Teaching to Self-Reflective Practice. Guilford Press.
  • Silberman, M. Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.


Hints on Blank Filling Listening Comprehensions+ 2 Listening Activities

In this kind of listenings  you don’t need to write  a full sentence to give the correct answer.
Normally there is a maximum of three  words to complete notes, statements or questions.

In these exercises it is very helpful to:

And don’t forget to read the completed sentences to make sure the words fit grammatically  🙂



Source: Cambridge FC Practice Tests
Source: Cambridge Complete First Certificate

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Preparing for Listening: Focus on Distractors.

In a Multiple Choice Listening  you need a bit of attention. In this kind of listening exercises there are always words and expressions which are designed to distract students from the correct answer. If you don’t know about these distractors, you are likely to be misled by them and choose the wrong answer.

The most important thing in this kind of listening exercises is to read the questions carefully. You are always given some time to read  through questions and answers, use that time. Listen very carefully to the details and make sure the answer you choose really matches what the question has asked you. It’s important to concentrate on understanding in detail .

♥Let’s look at an example

How long has Liz been snowboarding?

a. One year          b. five years            c. every year since she was a child.

The underlined words in the transcript  all appear in the possible answers a, b or c, but only one answer is correct. The other words are distractors.

♥Read the transcript, choose the right answer and say why the other are not correct

I first did it when I was on holiday with my parents- When I was younger I used to go skiing every year with them and then one year I tried snowboarding and I haven’t skied since then. That was 5 years ago.

These extracts have been taken from Listening Comprehensions. The distractors are in bold. Read them and then answer the questions

A. My brother was so scared he couldn’t watch the film whereas I didn’t find it at all frightening. ♥Is the speaker frightened by the film?

B. Although most critics agreed that the film was her best ever , I was rather disappointed by her performance.  ♥ Did the speaker love the film?

C. Although snow is now unlikely, we can expect a certain amount of rain later on.   ♥ Does the speaker think it will rain or snow?

D. My daughter wanted me to help her with her homework but I told her to ask her mother.   ♥ Did the speaker help his daughter?

E. Whereas in most of her other film she plays the “baddie”  in this one he’s definitely the good guy. ♥ Does the speaker say the actor is the villain or the hero in the film?

Answers: A. no   B. no   C. rain   D.no   E. the hero

Now, let’s do some practice.

You will hear  people talking in 8 different situations. For each question, choose the best answer.



Source: Ready for First Certificate and Cambridge FC Practice Tests 1
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