Posted in Advanced C1, Conversation Classes, Exam Preparation Class, Proficiency, Vocabulary Classes

C1/C2: Animal Idioms

How the Cat Gets Its Stripes: It's Genetics, Not a Folk Tale - The New York  Times

This is a vocabulary and conversation lesson for C1/C2 students. Students look at 18 animal idioms and put them into practice in conversation and an optional writing exercise. Download the handouts below:

Students first recall the names of some animals, then have a chance to share animal idioms they already know.

Then they must use the 16 animals from exercise 1 to complete the different animal expressions.

Keep the conversation questions hidden from students until after they’ve completed the first gap-fill.

Then have them recall the expressions by filling in the gaps in the questions. They can then ask and answer the questions in pairs or small groups.

I designed this task for use with a C2 Proficiency preparation group so I added on a writing task, an article, for them to do as homework.

Posted in Exam Preparation Class, Proficiency, Vocabulary Classes

C2 Proficiency/CPE: 99 Key Word Transformation Expressions

I found this document with 99 expressions from CPE key word transformations lost in the depths of my onedrive account, I could have sworn I’d already posted it but couldn’t find it anywhere, so here goes. Download it below:

CPE Key Word Transformation Expressions

  1. John needs to step up to the plate and start doing his share of the work.
  2. There’s nothing I’d like more than to spend the rest of the day on the beach.
  3. The kids took absolutely no notice of what the teacher was saying.
  4. Only as a last resort will the company employ inexperienced workers.
  5. When darkness falls the animals come out to hunt.
  6. A great deal of care and effort went into preparing the wedding.
  7. There was a lack of clarity in the teacher’s explanation.
  8. The wind and rain made it difficult to see where we were going.
  9. But for the GPS on my iPhone, we would have got completely lost.
  10. Prompt action in putting out the fire saved hundreds of lives.
  11. There’s every likelihood/chance/possibility that it will rain tomorrow. (it’s likely)
  12. We were left with no choice but to pitch our tent and wait for the storm to pass.
  13. When I lived in England I got into/developed/acquired the habit of drinking tea.
  14. Hundreds of people were taken in by the email scam.
  15. The last thing I want is for her to feel uncomfortable when she comes to visit.
  16. The company has sustained heavy losses this month.
  17. Maybe it would have been better if I hadn’t invited him.
  18. My friend lives in Australia but we keep in touch/contact via Skype and Whatsapp.
  19. There’s no change to/in his condition so he’ll have to stay in hospital for now.
  20. She’s very reliable; I’ve no reason to suppose that she will let me down.
  21. At no time were there fewer than 3 teachers looking after the children.
  22. On no account are passengers to stand up during take-off.
  23. We were at a loss to understand/know how the burglars got into the house.
  24. She has no intention of giving up her independence.
  25. I will do everything in my power to ensure that everyone is safe and happy.
  26. It’s nothing short of a miracle that nobody was hurt in the bus crash.
  27. I don’t think you were justified in speaking to the boss in that way.
  28. The kids made such a fuss when we told them we couldn’t go to Disneyland.
  29. We have a lot of problems to contend with at the moment.
  30. All of a sudden, a band appeared and started singing happy birthday to me.
  31. Messi was instrumental in Barça winning the match.
  32. As long as we stick to a plan/agreement, everything will work out fine.
  33. Had I known it was going to take this long, I would have gone a different way.
  34. Spare a thought for people who are less fortunate than you.
  35. After trying to open the jar for ages he admitted defeat and asked his Dad for help.
  36. My spirits rose/were lifted when I saw my parents waiting for me at the school gate.
  37. The ship’s crew finally caught sight of land after 10 weeks at sea.
  38. The fans waited outside the concert hoping to catch a glimpse of the band.
  39. A week’s holiday would do wonders for your health.
  40. The project is going really smoothly.
  41. Someone should take a note of everyone’s feedback so the same mistakes are not repeated.
  42. The company was deluged with calls the day after their advert was broadcast.
  43. The way he conducted himself in the meeting was very unprofessional.
  44. Failure to pay on time will result in your booking being cancelled.
  45. You must conform to the standards laid out in the course handbook.
  46. Such was the confusion caused by the accident that no one knew what to do.
  47. Little did he know what lay in store for him just around the corner.
  48. The problem with my girlfriend has been preying on my mind all week.
  49. Michael Jackson rose to fame/stardom in the early 1980s.
  50. The pursuit of profits often comes at the expense of the environment.
  51. Could you do me a favour?
  52. John kept me waiting for over two hours.
  53. I was waiting for the best part of an hour.
  54. She didn’t agree immediately as she wanted to keep her options open.
  55. He’s so indecisive and finds it hard to make his mind up.
  56. What sets our hotel apart are the breath-taking views.
  57. The crisis had serious repercussions for people’s quality of life.
  58. He was determined to succeed and let nothing stand in his way.
  59. The meeting was meant to finish at 15.00 but to all intents and purposes it was over by 14.00.
  60. To my mind the biggest threat to the planet is global warming.
  61. He regretted treating her badly and went to great lengths to make it up to her.
  62. She was on the point of going to bed when the phone rang
  63. His reaction came as no surprise to me
  64. It makes no difference whether we go out to dinner or stay in
  65. His interview was a success and he made an impression on the interviewer.
  66. After thinking about it we came to the conclusion that it was best to cancel the meeting.
  67. He found her impossible to put up with
  68. His son is a source of great pride for him
  69. It took him a long time to come to terms with the reality of his illness
  70. Had it not been for his behaviour, they wouldn’t have been asked to leave.
  71. It was bought to my attention that some of the employees were not happy.
  72. Provided that nobody has any objections, the meeting is postponed until Monday.
  73. There was no reoccurrence of the phenomenon, to everyone’s relief.
  74. How can we account for the drop in sales?
  75. There has been a marked rise in violence since last year.
  76. They decided not to say anything for fear of insulting him.
  77. It was raining so we had no choice but to cancel the picnic.
  78. He didn’t want to but we talked him into coming with us.
  79. It never crossed my mind to ask for help.
  80. He was on the verge of giving up when suddenly help arrived.
  81. It’s up to you to decide what we have for dinner tonight.
  82. The chances of Jane succeeding are slim
  83. The lecturer drew a clear distinction between external and internal motivation.
  84. George wasn’t alone in thinking that her excuse didn’t sound plausible.
  85. It’s high time we went home.
  86. Entrance to the VIP area is restricted to those is possession of a bracelet.
  87. George never tires of hearing the story of how his parents met.
  88. The company is rumoured to be bankrupt.
  89. Sara looked everywhere but the keys were nowhere to be seen
  90. He’s quite tolerant but he draws the line at letting his children go out during the week.
  91. The couple put their success down to hard work
  92. He bought her flowers to make up for forgetting her birthday
  93. Contrary to popular belief pigeons are quite intelligent.
  94. There’s little prospect of Greece recovering from the financial crisis.
  95. The museum is well worth a visit
  96. Customers are under no obligation to make a purchase
  97. It goes without saying that you can stay as long as you want
  98. Complaints are taken seriously at our company.
  99. Entrance is restricted to visitors with special authorisation.
Posted in Advanced C1

C1 Advanced: Key Word Transformation Mega Test

Key word transformations interactive worksheet

This is a loooong worksheet for students preparing to take the C1 Advanced exam, it has 82 key word transformation questions. I’ve basically just taken this great quizlet set and copy pasted it into a Google Doc, but it took a while so hopefully it’ll save you some time. Download the handout and answer key below:

Here are the PDFs:

I’ve also started work on a quizziz game based on the mega test.

I have a group who are taking the exam in 3 weeks so they want lots of practice, so I gave them this sheet with 78 expressions on it to study on Monday and told them to study it. Now I’m going to have them do the first 1/3 of the test in class today (Wednesday).

I’ll then send them the quizlet link so they can do spaced repetition at home.

Posted in Exam Preparation Class, Reviews

Review – IELTS Reading Practice: Academic | Student Book, by Peter Clements and Paul Murphy

Knowing how much I love engaging and effective exam preparation materials, Peter Clements kindly asked me to review his latest book, which he co-authored with Paul Murphy, so here goes!


IELTS Reading Practice: Academic, published by Prosperity Education, is aimed at students preparing to take, you guessed it, the IELTS Academic exam. While it specifically focuses on the reading tasks found in the exam, that’s not to say that it scrimps on opportunities for practicing other skills and exam tasks. You can buy the book through the link below and also check out their other exam preparation materials:

Structure & Content

The book is divided into 14 units, each of which examines a specific task type from the exam, ranging from tasks such as matching headings and true, false, not mentioned through to other IELTS staples like the table/flow chart/diagram completion tasks.

Each unit is divided into three two-page sections which follow a logical sequence with appropriate levels of scaffolding:

Think and prepare

The first part aims to activate students knowledge of the topic of the upcoming reading texts and also develop their understanding of some key lexis that will both be required later and also prove useful to students’ general communicative competence.

Here is an example of the “think” section:

You’ll notice that students are also directed to the bank of extra activities at the back of the book, where, in this case, they will find a topic card based on IELTS speaking part 2 covering the same topic as the unit. This is just one example of how the book offers teachers scope for planning varied, engaging, topic-based lessons, something that can be difficult to find in published exam preparation materials.

Students then move onto the “prepare” phase, which comprises short activities focusing on key topical lexis:

Students are led through a definition match activity followed by some controlled practice:

And finally some discussion questions:

While the structure may get repetitive – the same series of activities is repeated in each unit – it’s hard to argue with the logic of the stages and it’s one I use myself all the time so, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The lexis chosen is extremely relevant to the topic and pitched at the perfect register. Aside from aiding students’ comprehension of the upcoming texts, they are exactly the kinds of expressions candidates will be expected to produce in the writing and speaking parts of the exam.

There are also extra activities for this section which act as nice learner training exercises to nudge students towards good habits such as effective note-taking:

I was particularly drawn to this example of a graphic organiser. Students are encouraged to make notes on specific lexis and also associate it with an image, something I’ve been experimenting with in my own exam preparation classes.

I feel like activities like this can be extremely valuable for students who haven’t developed good study skills or learning habits; the examples in the book are clear, simple and can be easily replicated.


In the next section of each unit students are presented with a shorter version of the given reading task, along with an action plan and strategies. They are then encouraged to reflect on the efficacy of the plan and their own performance.

Students first do an introductory skimming task, for example:

They are then walked through an action plan for the task stage by stage:

Put it to the test

Finally, students are let loose on a full-length example exam task in order to put their newfound strategies into practice. The book contains 14 full-length texts, one for each task type. However, it doesn’t end there, in the extra activities section you will find one additional task for each of the 14 texts. These extra activities focus on a different task type, so for example, students could work on a true/false/not mentioned task in class and then complete a headings match task based on the same text for homework. In the back of the book there are also additional post-reading vocabulary tasks for each of the full length texts. This means that each of the texts is fully exploited.

Task information & tips

The book also contains a detailed analysis of each of the tasks and specific, detailed tips for approaching each one. I was particularly impressed by the rationales given for each tip:

I particularly liked the example of drawing students’ attention to topic sentences in paragraphs for the heading match task.


As you can probably already tell, I was really impressed by the book for a number of reasons:

Ease of use

Flicking through the pages as a teacher, I can immediately form a lesson plan in my head for a 90 minute class on each unit plus at least one homework task. I know it’s all there and I can pick and choose the order based on my students. I know they’re going to get lots of valuable exam practice and I can spin off into speaking tasks or vocab recall games when their motivation starts to wane towards the end of the class.

Topic-based exam prep

I know I’ve already mentioned it but it bears repeating, in exam prep classes it can be difficult to stick to the themed/topic-based classes we know we should be teaching, especially when there’s a big scary official exam looming. I know that IELTS and the Cambridge main suite exams are different beasts, but in my experience, intensive exam technique-focused prep classes for the Advanced and Proficiency can end up feeling like a poorly assembled patchwork quilt of different themes and topics due to the range of different texts students have to tackle. However, in this book the topics hold equal billing with the task type, which surely helps make for more cohesive classes and also aids students’ assimilation of the lexis.

Fully exploited texts

With the time constraint associated with exam preparation classes, it can sometimes feel overindulgent to linger for too long on a reading text to really drill down into it and exploit it for all its worth. The way this book manages to combine that impulse with further exam practice and vocab activities is really ingenious, hats off!

Clear strategies with clear rationale

It can be difficult to get students to take exam techniques and strategies on board, some can be stuck in their ways or view them as waste of time. The detail and rationale behind each strategy presented here make them easy to follow with plenty of opportunities to put them into practice straightaway.

In short, if you’re teaching IELTS Academic, get yourself a copy! Here are the details:

IELTS Reading Practice: Academic
 | Student Book, by Peter Clements and Paul Murphy

ISBN: 978-1-913825-31-7

Publication: October 2021

You can also find it on Amazon, simply search for the title!