Friday, October 21, 2016

Vocabulary: Describing Feelings

Here is an activity for learning and practising words used to describe feelings.

It is a picture activity and it features 25 words. 

Teachers, you can use it on your smartboard or ask your students to access it on their mobile devices. The language is kid-friendly.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Road to Grammar English Test - Find Your CEFR Level

The Road to Grammar English Test is now available.

It is free to take at


  • the test takes around 20 minutes to complete
  • it tests vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening
  • feedback is given in the form of a CEFR level
  • a short, but very detailed report is provided at the end of each test, you will find out your strengths and weaknesses and the description of your level
  • you can take the test on a smartphone or tablet although a laptop is recommended as there is some typing 
  • the test is free to take

Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Final Straw

The final straw
‘The final straw’ or ‘the last straw’ is an interesting idiom. It means the last in a series of negative incidents that leads to disaster. Okay, maybe that is a little difficult to imagine. How about the following:
Imagine a man has a camel and he uses the camel to carry straw (straw as in hay, not drinking straws!). He places pieces of straw on the camel’s back one by one until slowly the camel is hopelessly overburdened. Eventually, the man will place one final straw on the camels back and the camel’s back will break! This is what we call ‘the final straw’. And, yes, another version of the idiom is ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’.
Now imagine Bob’s boss is really mean to him. He shouts at him every day and insults him, but Bob perseveres. One day, Bob wants to take the afternoon off to visit his sick mother in hospital. His boss says no and Bob resigns. This is ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ or, as we said earlier, means the last in a series of negative incidents that leads to disaster.

Poor camels!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Expressive and Receptive Vocabulary in ESL

A useful concept for ESL teachers (and learners) is the concept of expressive and receptive vocabulary.
If you have ever learned and used a foreign language, you may have noticed that it is much easier to take in information (listening and reading) than to produce it (speaking and writing). The language that you understand is receptive language and the language that you produce is expressive language.

There may be a lot of words that you recognise, but when it comes to speaking, the words just don’t come to mind. Alternatively, you may get stuck because you lack the repertoire of sentence structures to say what you want to say.

Native speakers, too, use a smaller range of language than they recognise. For example, someone might tend to use the word ‘maybe’ and never use the word ‘perhaps’. Of course, they recognise the word ‘perhaps’ when they hear it.

Native speakers tend to have a smaller difference in the ratio of expressive to receptive vocabulary. ESL speakers tend to have a larger difference. Hence, one goal of a language learner is to become more expressive.

How can you become more expressive? Writing a lot helps, because when you write, you have time to think and you have time to research synonyms for what you wish to say. Another way is to try to use easy synonyms for words that you commonly use. Use ‘perhaps’ instead of ‘maybe’ and ‘for instance’ instead of ‘for example’. Expand your range of emphatic adjectives, so that you say ‘fantastic’ instead of ‘very good’ or ‘awful’ instead of ‘very bad’. (See here for practice on this topic.) Employ active reading and listening techniques so that you are more likely to use what you hear or read.

Finally, this is not too difficult a topic to explain to an ESL class of pre-intermediate and upwards. If they can understand the concept of receptive and expressive vocabulary, it might be a good tool to assist them in their future learning endeavours.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The CEFR Levels

The CEFR Levels are a way of describing a person’s level of English. They are getting more and more popular all the time.

There are six CEFR levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. A1 is the lowest and C2 is the highest.

See a summary of the levels here:

Or click on the image below to enlarge it:

Monday, June 13, 2016

Switching Sentence Parts Around to Improve Your Writing Style

One of the keys to good writing is sentence variety and one easy way to achieve greater variety in your writing is to switch sentence parts around.

English sentences, as you may have noticed, are made up of blocks.

Or we could say: English sentences are made up of blocks, as you may have noticed.

Or we could say: As you may have noticed, English sentences are made up of blocks.

Let’s look at this sentence structure:

                Pete went to Japan to learn Judo.

The clause ‘to learn Judo’ explains why Pete went to Japan. We can move it to the front of the sentence:

                To learn Judo, Pete went to Japan.

Now we have a more sophisticated sentence structure! Let’s see a couple more examples:

                I need more eggs to make this cake.
                To make this cake, I need more eggs.

                They offered discounts to attract customers.
                To attract customers, they offered discounts.

We can use the same trick with ‘in order to’:

                They offered discounts in order to attract more customers.
                In order to attract more customers, they offered discounts.

We can also use this technique with certain sentences with FOR:

                Pete went to the Bahamas for a break from his work.
                For a break from his work, Pete went to the Bahamas.

                Jennifer bought some mackerel for her fish pie.
                For her fish pie, Jennifer bought some mackerel.

Finally, we can do this with prepositional phrases:

The birds were singing in the trees.
In the trees, the birds were singing.

There was a fight at the stadium.
At the stadium, there was a fight. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Exercise: Avoiding repetition

In English writing, repetition is considered to be a bad style. Look at the following example:

Bad:  We look forward to your participation when you participate in the event.
Good:   We look forward to having you participate in the event.

Can you improve on these sentences?

1 Janice went to the beach, but the beach was cold and windy.
2 I like my job because it is an easy job.
3 Fish is not only tasty, but fish also helps your brain.
4 The dust made the air really dusty.
5 I like chocolate because the taste is really tasty.
6 The teacher teaches us many things.
7 On my travels I traveled to Rome, Milan and Palermo.
8 I have not yet decided on my decision.
9 I spent my holiday in Timbuktu. Timbuktu is a city in Mali.
10 I signed up for a Spanish course. The Spanish course lasts three weeks.