Posted in Recommended Websites

Cool teaching website I’ve just discovered

A great website using short movie clips to introduce and reinforce specific grammar points.

Posted in Conversation Classes, Reading Classes

Persepolis Journal: Chapter 1

persepolis pic

This is the first of a series of posts based around the graphic novel “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi. They are suitable for a wide range of levels (A2 – C2). You will need a copy of the book (or a cheeky pdf).

Each week you set the students a chapter of the book as homework. Each chapter consists of approximately 9 pages and the graphic style makes them easy and quick to read. In graphic novels students are presented with direct speech rather than prose, this helps them to pick up more natural language of expression. Also graphic novels are easier to follow than more traditional stories as much of the story is conveyed by the pictures. This means students are less likely to get lost and give up.

The first 15-20 minutes of the following class will be dedicated to vocabulary issues from the chapter and group discussions based on the themes that arise therein.

First ask students for clarification of any new vocabulary and encourage them to share new vocabulary they have learned at home relating to the chapter.

Chapter 1 discussion questions:

  1. What happened in chapter one?
  2. How did the chapter make you feel?
  3. How would you describe Marji? (Head-strong? Precocious? imaginative?
  4. What themes and issues are introduced?
  5. What are your views on single sex schools?
  6. What are you views on compulsory uniforms of any kind?
  7. Have you ever taken part in a demonstration? When? Where? What was it for / against?
  8. Do you think that public demonstrations and protests work?
Posted in Conversation Classes, Grammar Classes, Pronunciation Classes

Parallel Universe: 3rd Conditional Conversation Practice


Just a quick note…

Before you use these materials… We’ve created a new podcast aimed at B2+ level English students and teachers alike. You can listen for free at our SoundCloud page below. You can download teacher’s notes to accompany them from our Facebook page or from this blog. All comments and feedback welcome! Give us a like and a share 😉

Parallel Universe: 3rd Conditional Conversation Practice


This is a class for higher levels (B2+) to help students feel more comfortable and stumble less over complex past conditionals.

Here is a link to the printable handout:!313&authkey=!ADsjHXyBVtx-H1Y

As the title suggests the focus is on using the conditionals in conversation so start out by telling the class that you don’t want them to write anything down except the bare conditional structure for reference.

Tell them they are going to explore parallel universes in which they made different choices in their lives.

The exercise presents the students with different topics designed to generate past conditional sentences but also conversation. Explain that you don’t just want them to form 1 past conditional sentence from each point, they should explore each point fully in small groups and try to use the structure in a variety of ways: affirmative /negative / interrogative.


“If I hadn’t gone to the party, I wouldn’t have met my girlfriend because she was only in town for one night.”

“Do you think you would have had the chance to meet her again?”

“It’s possible, but maybe I would have met someone else.”

Note on pronunciation

For higher levels depending on how well they use the structure you can encourage them to use the weak forms:

Woulda / would’ve / wouldn’t ‘ve

If they have trouble with this start out with the contracted “had” in the if clause and slowly introduce the other forms.

 Establishing grammar

If I hadn’t gone to the party, I wouldn’t have met my girlfriend. (past result)

Maybe we wouldn’t be together now. (present result)

If I hadn’t studied drama, I probably would have studied literature.

If I had studied business, I would have got a job in an insurance company

I could have

Explain difference between would have and could have

would have = what definitely happened in this parallel universe

could have = what possibilities were available in the parallel universe

If + had/n’t + past participle + would / could + have + past participle.

Conversation Questions

What did you study at school / university? What other options did you have? Explain them to your group.

Do you remember the interview for your job? What would have happened if you hadn’t got it?

If you have a partner how did you meet? How could things have happened differently?

Think of an important exam you passed or failed in the past, how could things have happened differently?

What would you have done this week if you’d had more time? Why?

What would you have done last year if you’d had more money?

Think of a time when someone helped you with something, what would you have done without their help?

Think of a time when you helped someone, what would they have done without your help?

Think of a time when you had an accident, how could things have happened differently?

Think of a time when you or someone you know was in danger, how could things have happened differently?

Think of big decisions you have made in your life related to work / studying / family, how could things have happened differently? How could things be different now?

Posted in Conversation Classes, Reading Classes

Proficiency book club, lesson 2: Solid Objects by Virginia Woolf


This is the second part of a series of posts based around stories from “The Oxford Book of English Short Stories” edited by A.S Byatt. This particular class is based on “Solid Objects” by Virginia Woolf, pages 205-209.

As before set the story as reading homework for the week before.

If you don’t have a copy of the book someone has helpfully uploaded it in pdf here:

Click to access SOLID%20OBJECTS,%20Virginia%20Woolf.pdf

This analytical essay by Sam Mitchell about the works of Virginia Woolf may prove useful. It’s a little heavy as it’s an honours thesis but has some useful insights into the story.

Lesson Plan:

Start by asking the students for vocabulary problems. Woolf’s style can be confusing so some sections could require a little explanation. Some vocabulary that might cause problems is listed below:

lunging – to lunge, to move towards in a swift movement

tweed – woven material used to make clothes

to fling – to throw without care

to be to hand – to be within reach

to slash – to cut or mark something

to skim – to touch the surface of something lightly

slate – material used to make rooves

to hitch up a sleeve – to roll up or move higher to protect

moat – water around a castle

mantelpiece – surface above a fireplace where objects are kept

on the brink – on the edge

trifling – unimportant

to be cast down – to be depressed

matted – tangled into a lump

Lots of the vocabulary in the story can be used in various contexts, be sure to explore these fully. For example: fling – to have a fling (short sexual relationship)

Once you have cleared up any vocab issues hand out the following discussion questions:

1. Can you describe the characters?

2. What happens in the story?

3. What was your initial reaction to the story?

4. Did you feel sorry for John? Or bemused?

5. What strikes you about the introduction?

6. How can you explain John’s behaviour?

7. What do the objects represent?

8. Do you have any lucky charms? Did you have any when you were a child?

9. Do you collect anything?

10. Did you collect things when you were a child?

Either put the students into small groups to discuss the questionsand then feedback or have an open class discussion.

Here are some ideas and themes that could help fuel discussion:

Story written in 1918 towards the end of World War one. The idea of objects lasting longer than men, so many people died in the war and all that came back were objects: letters, belongings, clothes etc.

The idea of the permanance of objects and the transcience of people. The desire for permanance, ever lasting life.

The simplicity of the objects as pure pieces of different materials and also the mystery surrounding what they used to be.

Posted in Conversation Classes

Lance Armstrong: Cheating conversation plan


This is a conversation lesson plan for B1 upwards based around disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong and the topic of cheating.

Download the powerpoint here:!303&authkey=!ALG8a95Emk_-Qk4

Lesson plan:

Show slide 2, put the students in groups and have them tell Lance’s story, encourage them to use all the vocabulary on the screen.

Show slide 3, here you have lots of different quotes on the subject of cheating, have the students discuss each one in pairs. Here are the quotes:

•“If everyone else is cheating, it’s stupid not to.”
•“When you cheat, the only person you’re cheating is yourself.”
•“Winning is all that matters.”
•“It’s the taking part that counts.”
•“All cheats deserve lifetime bans.”
•“If there were no controls or punishments, everyone would cheat.”
•“You aren’t sorry you cheated, you’re sorry you got caught.”
•“Cheats never prosper.”
•“All performance enhancing drugs should be legalised, then we could see what the human body is really capable of.”
•“Being a good cheat is a positive quality in today’s society.”
•“ If you cheat in an exam you should receive a zero.”
•“Cheating is human nature.”
•“Some of the most influential people in today’s society cheated and robbed their way to the top.”
•“Cheating is a growing problem in sport.”
Encourage them to use different language of agreement and disagreement. Download my handout on this language here:
Show slide 3. This slide conatins a series of “what if” situations, have the students discuss them in groups saying what they would do.
1.You are playing football. It is the 90th minute of the match. Your team win a corner, the ball comes in, you try to head it but it hits your head and then your hand and flies into the goal. Nobody sees that it hit your hand, your teammates run over to congratulate you.
2.2 days before your final exam a classmate comes to you with a copy of the exam paper. He offers it to you for €50. He says that all of your other classmates have bought a copy except one.
3.You go to a charity event to raise money for food for hungry children in Africa. At the event they have a raffle. You bump into someone by accident and you both drop your tickets on the floor. The tickets are accidently swapped. You win a 5 star Caribbean holiday in the raffle but on your way to collect your prize you realise that it is not your ticket.
4.You are a professional cyclist. Last year you finished 10th in the tour de France, the year before 11th and the year before that 15th. A doctor comes to your gym one day saying that he has developed a new performance enhancing drug that cannot be detected by any type of doping test. He wants 50% of any future prize money you make in exchange for the drug.
5.You are a tennis player. 2 weeks before a big match at the US open you get a call from an umpire. He says that he is going to be the umpire for your match, he insinuates that if you pay him a bribe he will “help” you during the match.
Feedback session with whole class based on their responses to the situations.
Wrap up:
Who was the most honest / dishonest in your group?
Who was the biggest cheat?
Posted in Writing Classes

Follow up: Homework composition about travelling


This is a homework activity written to follow my previous lesson plan about holidays and traveling here is the link to the original lesson plan:

Here is a link to download the handout for homework:!300&authkey=!AMJLj8z2NbQgFFI

A travel magazine is running a competition for travel articles about different types of holidays / ways to travel for young people.

Choose 1 type of holiday / way to travel from the class handout and write an article about why it’s good for young people. Include:

  • An interesting introduction to catch the reader’s attention. Include direct questions.
  • Pros and cons of your chosen subject.
  • Reasons why you recommend it to other young people.
  • You can include (invented) anecdotes.


Posted in Conversation Classes

Ice breaking activity: My life star


Thanks to my Spanish teacher Montse for this activity.

This is a good activity for the first class of a course to break the ice. The students learn a bit about their teacher and then about each other.

It is suitable for levels A2 – C2.

You will need this handout:!297&authkey=!AOyUfMWbXMGz2Uw


Draw or project the star from the handout on to the board. Write a different word or phrase related to your life at each point of the star. For example, you could write your partner’s name, your pet’s name, your favourite band etc.

Lesson plan:

Tell the students that each point represents something important from your life. Put them in small groups, they then have to discuss what each word or phrase represents. Encourage them to use modal verbs of deduction:

“Fido” could / might be his dog’s name. It can’t be his wife’s name.

When they have finish have them put forward their ideas, tell them if they are right or wrong and explain a little about each subject.

Put the students in pairs or threes and give out the handout. Give them 5 minutes to write something at each point. Students then ask and answer questions about each others lives and share information to get to know each other. Tell them to try and remember as much information as possible.

Students change partners or groups. They must then tell their new group as much information about their old groups as the can remember. This is a good way for the students (and the teacher) to use and remember all the other students names.

Wrap up:

At the end of the class have the students recall as much of the information they learned about you as possible. Put them in groups, give them a star they have to remember all your points.

Posted in Exam Preparation Class

CAE Study Guide


This post will give students who are about to sit the CAE exam a rough guide of what to study and links to helpful online tools.

Vocabulary sets for CIC 607 CAE students:

Here you have a link to sets of flashcards I have made on the website There are 39 different sets focusing on various different parts of the use of English section:

Here are individual links to different quizlet sets that will help you prepare for the use of English paper, use the flashcards to study then try clicking on “learn” or “test” at the top, you can also play the games “scatter” and “gravity”: – verbs with prepositions. – Inversions – Letter of complaint – Gerund or infinitive – 82 different key word transformations – more key word transformations – even more key word transformations – use of English revision – word formation – reporting verb patterns – phrasal verbs – more phrasal verbs – word formation


Other useful websites include:

You can also download the CAE handbook here, it contains 2 test papers with the answers.

Where there are online tests and loads of other useful features.

Use of English

There are Use of English papers you can use to practice here:

There are 3 different papers, do 1 a day, make notes on your mistakes and redo the same paper, it helps to make the information stick.

Part 1: Multiple choice cloze

Study Quizlet sets on Collocations, verbs / adjectives with prepositions etc. Then try a practice paper from flo-joe.

Part 2: Open Cloze

Past papers on flo-joe or go back over your notes. Quizlet sets on verbs / adjectives with prepositions and collocations also help.

Part 3: Word formation

There are lots of sets on quizlet for word formation. Also you can download a word formation list here:!190&authkey=!ACS0L7Fi2v-suyo

Then do past papers on flo-joe.

Part 4: Key word transformations

There are lots of key word transformation sets and phrasal verb sets on quizlet and past papers on flo-joe.

Also check flo-joe’s daily word bank for new vocabulary:

Here is a link to quizlet set of 82 Key Word Transformations:

Extra resources:

Collocations practice:!194&authkey=!AIDza1OWzb6yBCc

Or lexical phrase list from here:!197&authkey=!AH-GLrI0X_c_wGs

Exam practice collocations:


Here is an exhaustive collection of useful phrases for writing tasks:

CAE Writing (useful language) (1)

Download the examples of each different writing task and check out the page on the my wiki called CAE writing text types explained.

Examples of each task type:

Explanation of task types:

Remember part 1 is compulsory and it will be a formal essay. In part 2 you can choose from 3 different options. The possible options are: a letter (formal or informal), a report, a proposal and a review.

Also check out flo-joe’s writing class:

There are lots of activities for linking words and expressions, formal / informal language etc.


There’s only 1 Reading paper on flo-joe but it’s better than nothing.


If you want to practice listening you can use this website:

There are a lot of different listening exercises with comprehension questions and vocabulary questions. Try some.

Posted in Exam Preparation Class, Vocabulary Classes

CAE Gapped sentences practice

confused student

The gapped sentences exercise appears in the use of English section of the CAE, and is a part that many students tend to struggle with. Each correct answer in this section is worth 2 points so they make up a considerable part of the final mark. This class will try to present ways to practice and prepare for this exercise.

Here is a link to quizlet set of flashcards for this exercise:

In the gapped sentences exercise students are presented with 3 sentences with a word missing in each. The same word completes all three sentences.


Gillian decided it was time to turn over a new _______ and forget her past mistakes.

Why don’t you take a _______ out of Simon’s book and start helping.

Autumn came suddenly and the first _______ had fallen before August had even ended.

Answer: leaf

The exercise tests the students vocabulary: their knowledge of collocations, phrasal verbs and expressions. As you can see from the example above the uses of the word can be very different.

Lesson plan:

Put the above example on the board, or print it out and hand it out to the students to complete in pairs. If needed explain the two expressions with leaf:

to turn over a new leaf – to make a resolution to change for the better.

to take a leaf out of someone’s book – to copy someone or try to be more like someone.

Load up and ask students to volunteer words to look for. Alternatively you can search for a typical words that often come up in this exercise. These are often words that require no transformation from verb to noun. For example “mark” or “place”. The idea is to give the students an idea as to the number or different uses each word has.

Class Exercise:

Put students in pairs and give each pair a word from the following list:

A: couple
B: place
C: stood
D: show
E: care
F: left
G: fell
H: mark
I: right

Give each pair a dictionary or allow them to use word reference on their smartphones. Tell them that they have to make a gapped sentence set for the rest of the class to complete. Encourage them to use more difficult meanings of the word. While they work go around and aid with sentence construction. Collect in the gapped sentences and put them on the board. The whole class then completes all the exercises.


Students create another set of gapped sentences at home. Encourage them to use word reference or a good dictionary to find more obscure uses of different words. Tell them to make them as difficult as possible.

The following class you can take them in, correct them and then print them out for class or homework, or post them online for the students to complete.

Here are some examples made by my CAE exam class:

1. He can usually be contacted at his……………….. of work.
2. Excuse me I seem to have lost my……………………… on the course.
3. I’ve saved you a ……………………., come and sit here.

1. We all………………….. around in the corridor waiting.
2. We …………………..up in order to get a better view.
3. The house …………………….. empty for a long time.

1. She wants to ………………… her friends her new pair of heels.
2. He will ……………………… off during the football match.
3. The play will be on …………………….. at 10pm tonight.

1. The girl knows more than she would ………………….. to admit.
2. You don’t mean anything to me, I don’t …………………… what you think.
3. He doesn’t take ……………………. of Jack.

1. My eyes ………………………. before his steady gaze.
2. The city ………………………… to the enemy.
3. After 3 years his shoes ………………………….. apart.

1.The cup left a ………………….. on the table.
2. The temperature hit the forty degree ……………………..
3. They shook hands as a ………………………. of respect.

Here is a link to a set of gapped sentence examples on

9/3/13 Title was amended as gapped sentences is no long part of the CPE exam.

Posted in Writing Classes

Composition: Short story, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper


This is a homework exercise to practice past narrative tenses for intermediate to advanced students (B1-C1) based on the picture above. Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.

Download the handout here:!294&authkey=!AJdNI7pP–88YxQ

Composition short story

Write a short story (120-150 words) based on this picture.

  • Who are these people?
  • Where is the story set? When is it set?
  • What are they doing?
  • What has happened before this moment?
  • What happens next? (think of an exciting ending)

Generally stories are written in the past so use a selection of past tenses:

  • Past continuous to describe the scene, “The couple were sat at the bar talking and drinking.”
  • Past simple to describe actions in sequence: “The man paid his bill, put on his jacket and left the bar.”
  • Past perfect to describe actions that happened before this moment: “The man had been drinking in another bar before”
  • Mixture of past tenses to describe different actions: “As the man was putting on his jacket, the phone rang…..”


Open to teachers or students. If you are a teacher send your best student’s story, or if you are a student your story to me at: and I’ll post it to my page for all to see!