Posted in Conversation Classes, Exam Preparation Class, Games

Game: Just a Minute/Blockbusters Mash-up

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This is a game that can be adapted for a range of levels. I thought it up specifically for students to practice for the FCE/CAE/CPE speaking part 1, in which candidates must give complete answers to a series of interview style questions.

You will need Adam Simpson’s amazing blockbusters powerpoint game which you can download here. You will also need a list of typical Cambridge exam questions which you can download below. Alternatively, for non-exam classes, you can play the game with the “Just a minute” topic cards also included below with the class procedure and rules.

Class procedure and rules

Typical Cambridge Exam Questions

just a minute

Class Procedure and Rules

Divide the class into two teams, orange and green, show the blockbusters power point. The green team’s objective is to make a line of tiles from left-to-right across the board, while the orange team has to do the same but from top-to-bottom.

Teams claim a tile by speaking about a topic for a minute with no hesitation, repetition or deviation. For lower levels you could change the time limit to 30 seconds and be more lenient with hesitation repetition and deviation. Students nominate one member of their team to go first.

The team decides which tile they want to try to claim. The teacher chooses a question from the list or a topic from the “Just a Minute” topic cards. The student must then speak for a minute about the topic, if they hesitate, repeat themselves or deviate from the topic the teacher stops the stop-watch and a member of the opposing team can try to talk for the rest of the minute to claim the tile for their team.

Useful language

Time buyers

Well, let me see…

That’s an interesting question…


What I’m trying to say is…

What I want to say is…

I mean…

Discourse markers




Probably the (most important)…


Topic nomination

Speaking of…, … (Speaking of living abroad, my sister is currently living in…

That reminds me…

Before I forget…


What’s more…


On top of that…

Besides that…

… as well.

Just a Minute Topic Cards

The best advice my parents ever gave me. The best day of my life. Being an only child Albert Einstein
My favourite dessert Falling in love The most annoying thing in the world


My favourite toys as a child.
The worst thing about living in Barcelona My most embarrassing moment My favourite hobby How to cook the perfect paella



Making a cup of tea Learning to drive Chocolate
Things that make me angry Weddings What I was like as a child. cheating
Don Quixote


Breakfast The best way to propose to your boyfriend / girlfriend Red wine
Beer English tourists Real Madrid Crocodiles



Ghosts and the supernatural


The pope Going to the dentists Buying a new car.
Posted in Conversation Classes, Vocabulary Classes

Politics: Idioms and Discussion

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This is a lesson plan for adult higher-level students (high B2+) in which students learn some political idioms and put them into practice in a discussion. Download the hand out and key below:

Politics student handout

Note: I found most of the political idioms on the site below, but designed the matching task, sentence matching activity and discussion myself:

Politics – Idioms and Discussion

Match the idioms to their definitions:

the hand-out has pretty pictures but they didn’t come out here 🙁

1.       A two/three/four-horse race 2.       A political football 3.       Hot air
4.       Toe the party line


5.       A political hot potato 6.       A hung parliament
7.       Press the flesh


8.       Get on/off your soapbox 9.       Throw in the towel
10.   Bent/crooked 11.   Live/be in an ivory tower


12.   Have the common touch


a.       Be corrupt

b.      When there’s no clear winner in an election

c.       Empty words

d.      To speak passionately about something you believe in

e.      A problem that doesn’t get solved because of political reasons

f.        To give up

g.       A competition/election only a few people can win

h.      To shake hands with the public

i.         To be able to relate to the public

j.        To be detached from reality

k.       A potentially controversial  topic

l.         Conform to and express the same views as the leaders of your party.


Put the expressions in the sentences:

  1. After the speeches the politicians went into the crowd to __________________ with members of the public.
  2. What the chancellor said about trickle-down economics is a load of ________________, I don’t believe it for a second.
  3. The problem with most politicians is that they __________________________ and have no idea how their policies affect people.
  4. I reckon half the politicians in this country are _____________________, you just have to follow the money.
  5. The opposition have decided to __________________________ and accept that they lost the election.
  6. Normally, if a cabinet minister doesn’t ________________________ they’ll soon be out of a job.
  7. Early polls suggest the result will be a _____________________ with no clear winner.
  8. It looks like the election will be a ___________________ between Labour and the Conservatives.
  9. Prison reform has been a ______________________ for years because prisoners don’t vote!
  10. The subject of MPs’ expenses is a ______________________, nobody wants to touch it but I’m sure it’s going to blow up soon.
  11. The new leader of the Liberals _______________________, you can see it in the way he talks to his constituents.
  12. ______________________ Tony, you’re always banging on about conspiracy theories but we’ve heard it all before.


  1. How much of a politician’s time should they spend on local issues relevant to their constituency?
  2. How much of a politician’s time should they spend on national issues?
  3. Should all politicians have to toe the party line? When should they be allowed to speak out against their leader/policy in their party?
  4. If a politician doesn’t toe the party line, what should the leader do?
  5. Which politicians are always spouting hot air? Can you trust anything a politician says? Are there any politicians in your country that you believe in?
  6. Who should get the first opportunity to form a government in a hung parliament, the party that got the most votes? Or the party most likely to be able to form a stable coalition?
  7. What have been the biggest political hot potatoes in your country in the last few years?
  8. Are there any issues that are treated like political footballs in your country?
  9. What do you think when you see a politician pressing the flesh? Why do you think they do it? Have you ever pressed the flesh with a politician?
  10. What do you get on your soap box about?
  11. Which politicians in your country have the common touch? And which don’t?
  12. Are elections in your country normally a two-horse race?
  13. If you could change one thing about the political system in your country, what would it be?
  14. How much do politicians earn in your country? Is it enough? Why do people get into politics?


Definition match

  1. G
  2. E
  3. C
  4. L (l)
  5. K
  6. B
  7. H
  8. D
  9. F
  10. A
  11. J
  12. I (i)

Sentence match

  1. Press the flesh
  2. Hot air
  3. Live/are in an ivory tower
  4. Crooked/bent
  5. Throw in the towel
  6. Toe the party line
  7. Hung parliament
  8. Two-horse race
  9. Political football
  10. Political hot potato
  11. Has the common touch
  12. Get off your soap box – used to tell someone to stop talking about something

Follow up

Students could write a CAE/CPE style report on the state of politics in their country, the report could then suggest ways in which politicians could get young people to take and interest in politics.

Posted in Conversation Classes, Vocabulary Classes

Conversation Skills: Topic Nomination

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This is a conversation skills lesson for B2+ students. Students will learn ways to nominate topics and develop their turn-taking skills. First they will listen to native speakers having a conversation the analyse it for the language of topic nomination. Download the handouts and audio file below:

Topic Nomination Student’s handout

Topic Nomination Teacher’s version

Audio File


Students listen to two people having a conversation 3 times, they should answer the following questions:

1st listen (without transcript)

What topics do they talk about?


2nd listen (without transcript)

How do they nominate topic?


3rd listen (with transcript)


·         Phrases to nominate topic (Using the expressions in bold in the transcript)


Look for:

A phrase for agreeing – you can say that again

A phrase that means “I can’t go” – I’m not going to make it.

A phrasal verb that means “increase” put up

Another way of saying “why” how come

A phrasal verb that means “contribute some money” chip in

Another way of saying “it’s ok” now worries


A: Bit chilly today. Isn’t it?

B: You can say that again. It’s freezing in my house, I have to keep my jacket on inside!

A: I know, our place is the same. Our heating doesn’t work and the landlord won’t fix it!

B: That’s rubbish, speaking of landlords, ours is threatening to put the rent up again!

A: What a bastard! Why don’t you just move out?

B: We’re thinking about it, we could have a massive leaving party and trash the place!

A: Haha, go for it! I’ll come. Ooo that reminds me, are you going to Tony and Dave’s tonight?

B: Nah, I’m not going to make it, I have to work tomorrow.

A: On Saturday! How come?

B: We have to get everything ready for the big conference on Monday.

A: Rubbish.

B: I know. I’m free next weekend though.

A: Oh, before I forget, do you want to chip in for Fiona’s birthday present.

B: Yeah sure, how much do you need?

A: A tenner?

B: No problem. Hang on, while we’re on the subject of money, you owe me a tenner from the cinema last weekend.

A: Oh yeah, shit I forgot, sorry.

B: No worries, just put it towards Fiona’s present.

A: OK, no problem.

Students Practice Dialogue

Students use the transcript to practice the dialogue. Play close attention to word stress on some of the phrases “You can say THAT aGAIN”. First they practice with the script, then without, when they practice without, tell them not to worry about being word perfect, the focus should be more on the changes in topic.

Controlled Practice:

Put students in groups of 3-4 cut up and give out the topic cards below and distribute them evenly among the students. Then tell students that they are a group of friends meeting in a bar, they are going to have a conversation starting with the following sentence:

Bit chilly today, isn’t it?

Each member of the group must then try to steer the conversation towards one of the topics on their cards, every time they do this successfully they can place the corresponding card on the table in front of them, the winner is the first person to get rid of all their cards. Note, their topic changes must makes sense!

For example:

A: My son hurt his foot playing football.

B: Speaking of football, did you see the match last night?

Allow students a couple of false starts, feel free to mix groups up and play again.

The weather A recent football match A concert you’re going to


A dinner party you’re having An accident someone you know had A film you want to see
A TV program you’ve seen A story in the newspapers


A problem you have at home
Something you need to buy A friend who’s coming to visit


A favour you need to ask
Some romantic gossip you want to tell Something you want to complain about Your holiday future holiday plans


Students have a freer conversation about their weekend/holiday plans/current affairs and try to use the expressions to nominate topic.


Posted in Reading Classes

Reading List for Post Proficiency

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One of my post-proficiency students asked me for a list of books he could read. He’s going to Glasgow on Erasmus so the list I wrote him has a Scottish flavour to it. I thought it might also be useful for other high-level students.

Here are some books to read, most of them are just ones I like so maybe we have a different taste in books but try them out and se what you think:
My favourite author is Cormac McCarthy so read anything by him:
The Road (Post apocalyptic horror)
The Border Triology
Blood Meridian
No Country for Old Men (they made it into an excellent film)
Child of God
They’re all pretty dark but very well written.
Another favourite of mine is Graham Greene, here are some of his books that I recommend:
Brighton Rock
The Quiet American
Our Man in Havana
The Third Man
The Power and the Glory
The Heart of the Matter
Another of my favourite books is:
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Seeing as you’re going to Scotland you should read some Irvine Welsh, although it might be tough because he uses a lot of Scottish slang, but you can always ask the locals if you need something translated into “English”. Here are some of his books:
The Acid House
Another book by a Scottish author that I liked was:
How late it was, how late by James Kelman
Another great author is Roddy Doyle, he’s Irish and he has written lots of great ones:
A Star called Henry
The Commitments
Paddy Clarke ha ha ha
The Woman who walked into doors
Or you could try some Ian Banks, he’s also Scottish, he writes science fiction as Ian. M. Banks and dark dramatic fiction as just Ian Banks. I haven’t read any of his sci-fi but I’ve heard it is good. Here are some of his dramatic fiction books, as I said, most of them are quite dark.
The Wasp Factory
The Crow Road
Espedair Street
Dead Air
That should be plenty for you to be going on with,
Let me know how it goes!
What other books would you recommend to high-level learners?
Posted in Conversation Classes, Vocabulary Classes

Where I live – Prepositions of place

my map

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This is a vocabulary lesson for pre-intermediate – intermediate students. Students will describe the area they live in and learn some prepositions of place.

Download the students’ hand out and teacher’s lesson plan below:

Where I live teachers handout

Where I live student handout


Write the two questions on the board and have students complete them in open class.


  1. What area of the city ____ _____ live _____?
  2. What street ___ ____ live ____?

What area of the city do you live in?

What street do you live on?

Students ask and answer the questions in pairs.

Reading Comprehension

Introduce me as a character using the picture below:

Tim is an English teacher who lives in Barcelona.

Students read the text and answer the questions. Then check in open class.

Read the text and look at the map. Then answer the questions (1-9)

I live in Raval on Carrer de la Cera. When I want to go out for dinner I have a lot of options. There is a Burger King opposite my house. If I want pizza, there is a pizza restaurant next to my house. There is an excellent tapas restaurant under my house, and if I feel like a kebab there are 3 kebab shops around the corner!

Kebabs, hamburgers and pizzas aren’t very healthy so I need to exercise. Fortunately, there are two sports centres close to my house. One problem is that the academy where I work is far from my house, but I can catch the bus there from the bus stop in front of Pia School.

  1. What area of the city do I live in?
  2. What street do I live on?
  3. What is opposite my house?
  4. What is next to my house?
  5. What is under my house?
  6. What is around the corner from my house?
  7. What is close to my house?
  8. What is the problem about where I live?
  9. Where do I catch the bus to work?

Concept Checking

Use the positions of the students in the class or a pen and bottle to check students’ understanding of the prepositions. For example, hold the pen next to the bottle and ask “Where is the bottle?” elicit the prepositions from students. Sts do the same in pairs.

Memory gap-fill

Have this printed on the back of the handout, students flip the sheet over and try to remember the prepositions, they can refer to the map to help them, encourage them to work in pairs.

Can you remember the prepositions?

I live __ Raval __ Carrer de la Cera. When I want to go out for dinner I have a lot of options. There is a Burger King _______ my house. If I want pizza, there is a pizza restaurant _______ my house. There is an excellent tapas restaurant _______ my house, and if I feel like a kebab there are 3 kebab shops __________________!

Kebabs, hamburgers and pizzas aren’t very healthy so I need to exercise. Fortunately, there are two sports centres __________ my house. One problem is that the academy where I work is __________ my house, but I can catch the bus there from the bus stop ___________ Pia School.

Draw a map and describe your area

Using the map of the area around your school that you drew on the board earlier, elicit a description using the prepositions in open class, for example: There is a bakery opposite the school, there is a bus stop in front of the school. Draw in the features as the students describe them. Then tell students to draw a map of the area around their house on a piece of paper and describe it to their partner, help with vocab for shops etc, students then change partners and describe their area to someone new.

Follow up/Homework

Students write a paragraph describing their area for homework for the next day using as many of the prepositions as they can.

Posted in Advanced C1, Conversation Classes, Proficiency, Vocabulary Classes

Travelling: Expressions and Discussion – My Ideal Holiday

A brief history of backpacking | Backpacking holidays | The Guardian

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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.

Or listen on Spotify:

This is a vocabulary and conversation activity for higher levels (high B2+) on the subject of travelling. Download the student handout and powerpoint below:

Holiday Destinations – Powerpoint

UPDATE: I’ve combined this lesson plan with the “My Ideal Holiday” lesson.


In pairs students discuss the following questions

  1. What’s the best place you’ve ever visited?
  2. How often do you travel?
  3. Do you have any trips planned for the near future?

Travel Expressions

Gist task

Give out the handout. Have students read the texts and decide who they are most similar to. Let them share their ideas in pairs or small groups and give reasons for their answers.

Meaning Match

Have students match the expressions in bold with the definitions at the bottom.


  1. get the travel bug.
  2. live it up
  3. catch some rays
  4. travel light
  5. at the crack of dawn
  6. savour local delicacies
  7. sit and watch the world go by
  8. feel right at home
  9. experience a culture shock
  10. watch one’s back
  11. a culture vulture
  12. have everything planned out
  13. travel on a shoestring
  14. see how the mood takes one
  15. off the beaten track


Students complete the sentences with the correct expressions:


  1. F
  2. L
  3. B
  4. C
  5. G
  6. M
  7. J
  8. H
  9. K
  10. I
  11. E
  12. A
  13. D
  14. O
  15. N


Students discuss the following questions in groups of 3.

  1. Do you travel light? If so, how do you decide what to pack?
  2. You have to watch your back when you’re travelling alone; there are a lot of dangerous people out there. Do you agree?
  3. Which place that you’ve visited was the biggest culture shock? Where did you feel right at home? Why?
  4. Do you normally travel on a shoestring or live it up? How can you save money while travelling? Would you consider hitchhiking or couchsurfing?
  5. Have you got the travel bug? Have you got itchy feet? If so, where’s next on the list?
  6. Do you like to pack a lot in/have a full plate or see how the mood takes you when you’re travelling?
  7. What’s the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by for you?
  8. How important is it for you to catch some rays when you’re on holiday?
  9. How do you choose a holiday destination? Are you a culture vulture?

Holiday Destinations Discussion

Project the powerpoint, tell students that they are going to choose a holiday destination in their groups from a number of popular places around the world.

Show them the second slide and have them copy down the different expressions:

I’d like to goI wouldn’t like to goI wouldn’t mind
Right up my street


My dream destination

It’s on my list

… really floats my boat

Not my cup of tea


I don’t see the appeal of…

It just doesn’t do it for me.

…isn’t really my thing

… don’t/doesn’t really float my boat

… are a big no-no for me.

Why not?


Go on then, I’ll give it a go.

I’ll try anything once!

Then have students discuss the different holiday destinations in groups and decide on one which the whole group would like to visit.

Follow up

Students could write a CAE/CPE style Proposal composition about the process of deciding on a holiday destination for the group. They could evaluate the different merits and drawbacks of three of the destinations from the powerpoint and recommend one as the destination for an end of year trip.

Alternatively they could write a review of a holiday to one of the places.

Posted in Conversation Classes

What’s the best/worst thing about…?


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This is a conversation activity designed to get teenagers and adults talking and practice the phrases:

The best/worst thing about… is…

Download the powerpoint below, project it and have students discuss their ideas in groups then share them in open class, board any emergent language and exploit any opportunities for debate and exponents of agreeing, disagreeing and expressing opinion.

Best Worst thing

Posted in Conversation Classes, Vocabulary Classes

Music Idioms and Conversation Topic

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This is a conversation and vocabulary lesson plan for advanced students based around the topic of music. Students talk about their tastes in music and learn some music based idioms. Download the plan below:

Music LP



  1. What is music to you?
  2. Define “good” music.
  3. What music do you listen to when you’re stressed/angry/happy/sad?
  4. Are you a musician? Can you sing?
  5. What’s more important to you, a good melody or good lyrics?

Music Idioms – match the idioms (1-12) to the definitions (a-m)

  1. There’s no point denying it or putting it off it’s time to face the music and admit you did it.
  2. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but I think I dealt with that situation rather well.
  3. For our honeymoon we went on a whistle stop tour of 5 European capital cities.
  4. Paul is like a broken record, he’s always banging on about vegan food.
  5. Change the record Janet, we’ve heard it all before!
  6. The lyrics in the second verse really struck a chord with me when I was a teenager.
  7. She’s the one who calls the tune/shots in that office.
  8. My granddad is amazing, 90 years old and still fit as a fiddle.
  9. When they told me the school would have to close early it was music to my ears.
  10. I’m fed up of playing second fiddle to that moron, he messes everything up.
  11. The article’s ok, a bit boring though, why don’t you jazz it up with some raunchy photos?
  12. My students are the worst, I’ve been drumming it into their heads that they have exams today but they still all looked surprised when I told them.
a.       To be in perfect health

b.      To teach someone something repeatedly

c.       To boast/praise yourself

d.      Make something more colourful/interesting

e.      To make the decisions

f.        Someone who keeps saying the same thing over and over

g.       Exactly what one wants to hear

h.      Accept the negative consequences of your actions

i.         Constantly talking about something

j.        To be moved/remind of something when hearing something

k.       Visit the key things in a places very quickly

l.         Talk about something else, we’ve heard this before

m.    Take a subordinate role to someone else


  1. Who do you have to play second fiddle to?
  2. What is music to your ears?
  3. Who calls the tune/shots in your house/workplace/relationship?
  4. How can you be sure that you’re fit as a fiddle when you reach old age?
  5. How do you jazz up your meals?
  6. Did any particular songs/books/poems strike a chord with you when you were growing up?
  7. Are you like a broken record? If so, what are you always banging on about?
  8. What’s the best way to face the music?
  9. Are you known to blow your own trumpet?
  10. What’s the best way to drum something into someone’s head?

Key – Music Idioms

  1. H
  2. C
  3. K
  4. F+i
  5. L
  6. J
  7. E
  8. A
  9. G
  10. M
  11. D
  12. B
Posted in Uncategorized

Bowie’s Barcelona Half-Marathon

fuck off cancer

In the past few years cancer has reared it’s ugly head on several occasions, affecting loved ones of good friends and work colleagues. Last week we lost two heroes, David Bowie and Alan Rickman, to this horrible disease and quite frankly cancer can do one. For this reason I’m going to run the Barcelona Half Marathon in full Ziggy Stardust gear (Spandex, make-up, maybe a wig) on the 14th of February to raise money for Cancer Research. I’ve set a target of 500 quid, might be a bit ambitious with less than a month to raise it so please give generously! You’ll find the link to my justgiving page below:

Please donate and share!!!

Posted in Uncategorized

RIP David Bowie


Today we lost a hero. What terrible news to wake up to on any day, let alone the first day back at work after the Christmas holidays. I found out in a break between classes at 9am when I checked my phone and found a stream of hearts and one sad face from my girlfriend. The news had broken about half an hour before.

I just want to say a massive thank you to you, David Robert Jones. You were my hero and you inspired me in many ways, but more than that you were just ever present during the highest and lowest points of my life, and I’m sure you will continue to be. The joy I feel leaping about like an idiot, belting out “Let’s Dance” with my closest friends is indescribable and I just never imagined you’d be gone so soon. My thoughts are with your family.

I’ve been in a blue daze all day listening to your songs and willing myself to get my head around it and assuming that this song or the next would be the one that made me burst into tears. But it didn’t happen, I just kept feeling the same joy and exhilaration as ever, the hairs on the back of my neck oblivious to your passing. Only now, trying to put it into words are the tears coming.

Thanks to all my friends who have reached out today, they know what an obsessive Bowie geek I am and I really appreciate it. Reading everyone’s heartfelt tributes has been a great comfort and I can only hope that his family can also draw comfort from the outpouring of love and respect.

My friend Andrew Seymour but an amazingly positive spin on the whole thing: “Everything makes a lot more sense when you realise he knew this was his last single/album. I’m actually so happy that he finished it; released 3 days before his death. It gives the whole affair a more positive twist. This wasn’t a man who went to the grave with his last words unsaid. I’m so happy for him that he was able to lie back in those final days and know that he had finished his work. How many people die full of regret and unfinished business and wasted potential? I take a lot of positivity from that. He kept us all in the dark and surprised everyone one last time. He made mortality the theme of his last piece of art; I couldn’t imagine a more contented way to be in your last days, making theatre of it all and getting all your ideas out just in time. RIP”

Thank you for the gift of sound and vision.