Category Archives: Writing

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?
    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.

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!