Friday, January 23, 2015

Look Up!

I have 422 friends, yet I am lonely.
I speak to all of them every day, yet none of them really know me.
The problem I have sits in the spaces between
Looking into their eyes, or at a name on a screen.

I took a step back and opened my eyes,
I looked around and realised
That this media we call social is anything but.
When we open our computers and it's our doors we shut

All this technology we have, it's just an illusion
Community companionship, a sense of inclusion
Yet when you step away from this device of delusion
You awaken to see a world of confusion.

A world where we're slaves to the technology we mastered
Where information gets sold by some rich greedy bastard
A world of self interestself image, self promotion
Where we all share our best bits but, leave out the emotion.

We're at our most happy with an experience we share,
But is it the same if no-one is there?
Be there for your friends and they'll be there too,
But no-one will be if a group message will do.

We edit and exaggerate, crave adulation
We pretend not to notice the social isolation
We put our words into order and tint our lives a-glistening
We don't even know if anyone is listening

Being alone isn't a problem, let me just emphasize
If you read a book, paint a picture, or do some exercise
You're being productive and present, not reserved and recluse
You're being awake and attentive and putting your time to good use

So when you're in public, and you start to feel alone
Put your hands behind your head, step away from the phone
You don't need to stare at the menu, or at your contact list
Just talk to one another, learn to co-exist.

I can't stand to hear the silence of a busy commuter train
When no one wants to talk for the fear of looking insane.
We're becoming unsocial, it no longer satisfies
To engage with one another, and look into someone's eyes.

We're surrounded by children, who since they were born,
Have watched us living like robots, who now think it's the norm.
It's not very likely you'll make world's greatest dad,
If you can't entertain a child without using an iPad

When I was a child, I'd never be home
Be out with my friends, on our bikes we'd roam
I'd wear holes on my trainers, and graze up my knees
We'd build our own clubhouse, high up in the trees

Now the park's so quiet, it gives me a chill
See no children outside and the swings hanging still.
There's no skipping, no hopscotchno church and no steeple
We're a generation of idiots, smart phones and dumb people.

So look up from your phone, shut down the display
Take in your surroundingsmake the most of today
Just one real connection is all it can take
To show you the difference that being there can make.

Be there, in the moment that she gives you the look
That you remember forever as when love overtook
The time she first held your hand, or first kissed your lips
The time you first disagreed but you still love her to bits

The time you don't have to tell hundreds of what you've just done
Because you want to share this moment with just this one
The time you sell your computer, so you can buy a ring
For the girl of your dreams, who is now the real thing.

The time you want to start a family, and the moment when
You first hold your little girl, and get to fall in love again.
The time she keeps you up at night, and all you want is rest
And the time you wipe away the tears as your baby flees the nest.

The time your baby girl returns, with a boy for you to hold
And the time he calls you granddad and makes you feel real old.

The time you've taken all you've made, just by giving life attention.
And how you're glad you didn't waste it, by looking down at some invention.

The time you hold your wife's hand, sit down beside her bed,
You tell her that you love her and lay a kiss upon her head.
She then whispers to you quietly as her heart gives a final beat
That she's lucky she got stopped by that lost boy in the street.

But none of these times ever happened, you never had any of this.
When you're too busy looking down, you don't see the chances you miss.

So look up from your phone, shut down those displays
We have a finite existence, a set number of days
Don't waste your life getting caught in the net,
As when the end comes nothing's worse than regret.

I'm guilty too of being part of this machine,
This digital world, we are heard but not seen.
Where we type as we talk, and we read as we chat
Where we spend hours together without making eye contact
So don't give into a life where you follow the hype
Give people your love, don't give them your 'like'
Disconnect from the need to be heard and defined
Go out into the world, leave distractions behind.

Look up from your phone. Shut down that display. Stop watching this video. Live life the real way.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

50 Group Discussion Questions

Here is a set of 50 group discussion questions:

You can project a random question on your smartboard or you can create a customized question list.

The questions are designed for critical thinking classes, but would be good for Intermediate - Advanced ESL classes too. Remember that thinking about and discussing problems analytically really helps to strengthen students' English.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Updates to Road to Grammar Jr

Road to Grammar Jr - the Road to Grammar site for younger learners - has finally been updated:

  • works on mobile
  • more modern layout
  • activities are updated


Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Have you ever noticed the grammar of newspaper headlines?

Have you ever noticed that newspaper headlines have a grammar all of their own?

Consider these two examples:

In the first one, it is proclaimed that a great earthquake kills 1000 people, while in the story below, we can read that a fearful earthquake killed 1000 people.

The second newspaper announces 'Hitler Dead'. Shouldn't it be 'Hitler is dead.'?

In fact, newspaper headlines follow their own particular set of rules. Let's try to decipher some of them:

1 The Present Tense is used for something that happened in the past:


Newborns die after paramedic delay

In a paragraph, we would say the newborns died or the newborns have died.

2 We omit the BE verb:


Sun's P3 girl ad banned for sexism

In a paragraph, we would say that the Sun's ad was banned for sexism.

Samaritans Twitter app investigated

Again, we could say that the Twitter app is being investigated.

3 We use TO to designate a future event.


Catalonia to hold independence vote

In a paragraph, we would say that Catalonia is going to hold an independence vote or that Catalonia will hold an independence vote.


It's a confusing world for learners of English. Newspaper headlines are just one more thing that doesn't seem to make sense when you are trying to master your grammar. As a teacher, a little knowledge of how they work can help you to clear up the confusion.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Manly Language

Let's look at some 'manly' language! In fact, we can start with the word 'manly'. Don't let the -ly fool you; manly is an adjective.
Chuck is a manly man.
So we know that Chuck is a pretty tough guy.

For a more formal and sophisticated phrase, we could use 'masculine'.
The blue and charcoal colors give the room a masculine feel.

We also have a phrase imported (according to Google) from Mexican Spanish. This word is macho and we use it in a slightly negative way. Think of a guy with a hairy chest and a moustache.
Jake probably thinks he looks so macho riding around on his Harley.

Very occasionally, people use the word machismo too. It means 'masculine pride'.

Lastly, we have a phrasal verb to examine: man up.

We generally use this as a piece of advice. Telling someone to man up is telling them that they need to be tougher, more macho... less of a wimp.
Timothy, if you're serious about joining the marines, you'd better man up!

You'd better man up if you want to be a macho man like Chuck Norris.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Spoken Punctuation

"We don't need punctuation when we speak, so why do we need punctuation when we write?"

This is what someone asked me the other day. Actually, we do have punctuation when we speak - in a way.

The basic unit of spoken punctuation is the pause. Where we would insert a comma in written English, we insert a tiny pause when we speak:

   When I reached home, I made a cup of tea.

Where, in written English, we would add a full stop, we add a slightly longer pause when speaking.

In a formal situation, such as a speech or presentation, we add an even longer pause as a 'paragraph break' or to signify the beginning of a new point.

Interestingly, there is not a good way to signify inverted commas in spoken English, which has given rise to the air quote:

Another interesting crossover from written to spoken punctuation is when people say 'period' out loud to punctuate a particularly strong point, one which is the last word on the matter.

   I don't care what she said to you. It's wrong to hit girls, period!

Monday, October 13, 2014

X-Word Grammar

Here is an interesting site:

The site covers an alternative way of examining grammatical structures, which was developed by Dr Robert Livingstone Allen in the 70s. (

What I found most interesting was not the methods for examining grammar, but the simple way that X-Word Grammar approaches sentence structures.

The site uses the terminology trunks, shifters, linkers and inserts to describe the way sentences are constructed.

A trunk is the main segment of any sentence, usually with the Subject-Verb-Object pattern:

Danny ate some cheese.

A shifter is a part of a sentence that can move about without affecting the meaning:

Before lunch, Danny ate some cheese.
Danny ate some cheese before lunch.

A linker connects two trunks together or two sentences:

Danny was eating lunch. Meanwhile, Penny was doing laundry.

Finally, an insert is used to insert extra information:

Danny, a big fan of brie, decided to buy some more cheese.

The basic concepts could be taught reasonably easily to an intermediate level class and would encourage them to think about the way they put sentences together.