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.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

ESL Video: Brian Tracy's Communication Skills

Here is the final video in our series of ESL videos for upper int/advanced level classes:

Brian Tracy gives three tips on improving your communication skills. Brian uses relatively simple languages and sentence structures in his speech. He provides a good model for students to follow.

This would be great to project on the board as a class activity (I do this all the time with my classes). There is an intro, a video, vocab, a quiz, a discussion and some learning points.

The page works on mobile devices.