Posted in Exam Preparation Class, Proficiency, Writing Classes

CPE Writing Phrases

Saw this on twitter shared by  could be useful for CPE students for Proficiency writing part 1.


Posted in Exam Preparation Class, Writing Classes

CAE/CPE Writing: Formal Letter of Complaint – Task + Phrase Sheet

Resultat d'imatges de complaint

Image credit: Durham Constabulary

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 😉

This is a phrase sheet and writing task for CAE/CPE students designed to help them tackle formal letter of complaint tasks. Download the handout below:

Letter of complaint phrase sheet

CAE/CPE – Letter of Complaint

Task – CPE Testbuilder pg 91

You recently stayed at one of a chain of large hotels and encountered a number of problems during your stay. Write a letter to the company’s head office detailing the problems you had, describing what happened when you complained to the hotel staff and suggesting ways the company could improve its service. (CAE 220-260 words – CPE 280-320 words)


  • Dear Sir or Madam, / To whom it may concern,
  • I am writing to express my disappointment with/dissatisfaction with the service I received in…
  • I would like to lodge a formal complaint against your company for the reasons outlined below:
  • I feel compelled to write to you in order to describe the

Listing Problems

  • First of all,
  • Not only was there a hair in my wife’s soup, but the main course also arrived cold.
  • On top of that…
  • As if that was not enough…
  • To top it all off…
  • The straw that broke the camel’s back was…

Complaining Expressions

  • The standard of the… was not up to scratch.
  • The… was not up to the expected standard.
  • The… left a lot to be desired.
  • The… failed to live up to our expectations.
  • We were left bitterly disappointed by…
  • The quality of the customer service we received was woefully inadequate.
  • The… was an absolute disgrace. (v.strong)
  • Overall, our visit to your (restaurant) was an unmitigated disaster from start to finish.

Requesting Action

  • It seems only fair that you should… (offer a full refund)
  • I would appreciate it if you…
  • I would be grateful if you…
  • Should these demands not be met, you will be hearing from my lawyers.
  • I expect to receive compensation to the tune of (€2000) for the…

Making Recommendations

  • I strongly recommend that your organisation…
  • It would be advisable to…
  • I suggest re-evaluating your procedures regarding…

Sign off

  • I look forward to receiving your reply.
  • I expect to receive a prompt reply to this letter.
  • Yours faithfully,
Posted in Exam Preparation Class, Uncategorized, Writing Classes

CPE/Proficiency Writing Part 1: Phrase Sheet

Imatge relacionada

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Follow me on twitter @RobbioDobbio

I’ve recently started teaching CPE again so I decided to make a phrase sheet for my students to help them tackle part 1 of the writing paper, the formal essay. Download it below:

CPE Writing Part 1 Phrase Sheet

Summarising Texts

  • The first text/passage/extract outlines the benefits/drawbacks of…
  • The second text argues/claims that…
  • The first text advocates… +…ing (supports)
  • The second text puts forward the idea that…
  • It then goes on to espouse the viewpoint that… (say)
  • The text sheds light on the issue/topic of…
  • The text brings the topic of… to light.
  • The writer of the first text is a firm believer in…
  • The writer/author of the second text is highly critical of…
  • Both writers seem to agree that…, where their ideas deviate however is on the topic of…
  • The second text makes bold statements in support of…
  • Not only does the first text state that…, but it also claims that…
  • In addition to the aforementioned point, it also claims that…

Critical Examination

  • One thing the writer fails to mention is…
  • A glaring omission from the first text is…
  • While the writer makes some valid arguments in favour of…, she ignores the fact that…
  • One area which the writer seems to have overlooked is…
  • While I am generally in agreement with the majority of the first writer’s points the obvious hole in their argument is…
  • Were I to pick holes in the writer’s arguments, I would start by pointing out that…
  • I feel it must also be pointed out that…
  • When it comes to the topic of…, the text seems to be lacking somewhat
  • One major weakness in the writer’s argument is that…
  • The text neglects to mention that fact that…
  • The writer seems to have gone overboard in their praise/criticism of…

Expressing Opinion

  • I am of the opinion that…
  • In my humble opinion…
  • My thoughts on the matter are that…
  • As far as I am concerned,
  • As far as my opinions on the matter are concerned,…
  • My initial reaction to the opinions outlined in the text was…
  • I am a firm believer in…
  • On the whole, I tend to agree with… due to the fact that…
Posted in Games, Uncategorized

Game: Alphabet Quiz CPE Idioms Version

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Follow me on twitter @RobbioDobbio

This is a new version of my Alphabet Quiz game designed for very high levels (high C1) in which students have to guess different idioms which begin with each letter of the alphabet. Credit to my colleague Peter Rassa for the idea. The game is similar to the gameshow “Pasaparabla” on Spanish television. You will need the lesson plan with the question sheet:

Alphabet Quiz CPE Idioms Version


Write the alphabet on the board, if you’re feeling really creative you can do it in a circle as shown in the picture above. Quickly recap the letters that often cause your students problems. It varies from place to place but in Spain they struggle with J, G, E, I, Q, W, and Y.

Quickly recap the letters that often cause your students problems. It varies from place to place but in Spain they struggle with J, G, E, I, Q, W, and Y.

Write all your students’ names on the board in a list.

Choose a player to go first, explain to them that you are going to ask them a question, the answer to the question begins with the letter A. They have two options: they can attempt to answer the question or they can say “pass”. If they choose to answer and they get it right, they get 1 point but if they get it wrong they lose 1 point. If they choose to pass, then it is the next student’s turn but the next student is asked the “B” question. You continue like this through the list of questions, every time a question is answered correctly you cross that letter out from the list on the board. When you reach the end of the list (the “Z” question) you then return to the top of the list and work your way through any questions which were not answered the first time around.

NOTE: It is important that students don’t shout out the answers to the questions if it’s not their turn as that question could be revisited later.

The winner is the student with the most points when all the questions have been answered or at the end of a set time limit.


  1. A person’s weak spot. Achilles heel.
  2. A person who is bad and makes other bad. Bad Apple
  3. A relaxed, quiet time immediately before period of violent activity or argument .Calm before the storm.
  4. If you are overcharged or underpaid, open, unfair and hard to prevent. Rip-off has a similar meaning. daylight robbery.
  5. If someone has egg on their face, they are made to look foolish or embarrassed.
  6. If you have to face the music, you have to accept the negative consequences of something you have done wrong.
  7. If you get something off your chest, you confess to something that has been troubling you.
  8. If someone is happy-go-lucky, they don’t worry or plan and accept things as they happen.
  9. This expression is used to refer to something good that happens on top of an already good thing or situation. Icing on the cake
  10. If people are joined at the hip, they are very closely connected and think the same way.
  11. When someone kicks the bucket, they die.
  12. The last straw is the final problem that makes someone lose their temper or the problem that finally brought about the collapse of something. It comes from an Arabic story, where a camel was loaded with straw until a single straw placed on the rest of the load broke its back.
  13. If you make a killing, you do something that makes you a lot of money.
  14. If two competitors or candidates, etc, are neck and neck, then they are very close and neither is clearly winning.
  15. If you’re on a roll, you’re moving from success to success.
  16. If you go out for a night out with lots of fun and drinking, you paint the town red.
  17. If someone’s as quiet as a mouse, they make absolutely no noise.
  18. Someone who starts life very poor and becomes rich goes from rags to riches.
  19. When all the best people, things or ideas and so on are used up and people try to make do with what they have left, they are scraping the barrel.
  20. If you take a leaf out of someone’s book, you copy something they do because it will help you.
  21. If you are feeling a bit ill, sad or lack energy, you are under the weather.
  22. A vicious circle is a sequence of events that make each other worse- someone drinks because they are unhappy at work, then loses their job… ‘Vicious cycle’ is also used.
  23. If something belongs to the past and isn’t important or troubling any more, it is water under the bridge.
  24. If something is x-rated, it is not suitable for children.
  25. This idiom means that if you do something for me, I’ll return the favour. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
  26. This is used to tell someone to be quiet. Zip it.
Posted in Vocabulary Classes, Writing Classes

CAE/CPE Report Phrase Sheet 2.0

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This is an updated version of my CAE/CPE report phrase list. Download it below:

Report Phrase Sheet



Formal, impersonal, cold and factual.


·         Contractions

·         Colourful language (gorgeous/stunning/awesome etc.)

·         Informal phrasal verbs (meet up/break down/check out etc.)

·         “I/we think….” (too personal)

Forms and Conventions:

Title: Report into …….

Paragraph Titles: Introduction, Strengths, Weaknesses, Conclusion.


Fixed introduction: The aim of this report is to evaluate/put forward ideas for/examine etc.


Word limit: CAE: 220-260 CPE: 280-320


The purpose/aim of this report is to….

This report sets out to…

The report will comment on…

Below is an explanation of…

The focus of this report is…

This report will offer an in depth critique of…

Fake survey/questionnaire:

It can be a good idea to base the report on a survey/questionnaire.

This report will present the findings of/This report is based on the findings/results of an extensive survey completed by…

Ending Introduction:

1.        It will go on to give recommendations regarding…

Expressing general opinions/info:

….is considered/thought/said to be

…is highly regarded in (place)…(good reputation)

There is widespread agreement that…

Opinions are divided regarding…

It is common knowledge that…

Recent research indicates that…

Interviewees who had first-hand knowledge of the situation stated…

There is considerable disagreement regarding

Survey Results:

Virtually everyone who completed the survey stated that..

Over (60%) of those interviewed stated that…

The vast majority of people interviewed believe that…

A small percentage of those surveyed agree/disagree with…


The (school system) in this country undoubtedly has many strengths such as …. And…

… is particularly effective due to the fact that…

… has achieved impressive results owing to …

Another clear strong point is…

… is something the country can be proud of due to…


Despite the strengths mentioned above, there are also some areas that require attention.

… is failing to live up to expectations because…

Another clear weakness is…

… leaves a lot to be desired

… is not up to the required standard


…’s advantages clearly outweigh its disadvantages.





Giving Recommendations:

In light of the above, we believe the following measures should be adopted…

My recommendations are as follows:…

Urgent improvement is needed in the field of…

I highly recommend + bring about change in the area of…

To improve the situation, we recommend…

It is recommended that…


-To sum up,…To conclude,…

-I hope that the plan outlined/presented in this

report meets with your approval…

-I hope that the recommendations outlined/

presented in this report will receive your serious


Should the recommendations outlined in this report be carried out, I have no doubt that …. Will be a resounding success.


Grammar check list

Have you included?

·         An inversion (not only/no sooner/seldom)

·         An inverted conditional (Were we to…)

·         A participle clause (Being…/Having gone…)

·         A double comparative (The more we… the more)

·         A cleft sentence (What is most crucial is…)

·         Linkers (Nevertheless/despite/due to/consequently)

·         Impressive verbs (bring about change/undergo development)

Example Introduction

The aim of this report is to evaluate the current state of….. This report is based on the results of an extensive survey completed by (students at … school). It will present the results of the survey and go on to give recommendations regarding…

Posted in Uncategorized

30 topic cards for IELTS / CPE Speaking

Great resource for CPE/IELTS speaking practice.


I don’t think this needs much in the way of explanation!  If you click the pdf link below, I’ve put together 30 different topic cards for IELTS speaking part 2 / CPE speaking part 3.

I wrote most of these over seven years ago when I was teaching IELTS on a more regular basis (though it looks like I might be again soon – looking forward to it!).  So I’m not sure how up to date the topic cards are and they might also be a little “low” for CPE learners – though if that turns out to be the case, think how much fun your CPE learners can have “upgrading” the vocabulary, question types and topic areas!

Also, they were written with a view to not only giving learners a chance to practice a two-minute-talk, but also to develop topic awareness and general knowledge a little bit.  Some of…

View original post 115 more words

Posted in Conversation Classes, Reading Classes

Ageism and Retirement: CAE/CPE Lesson Plan

Student Onno Selbach does activities with two of our inhabitants. Photo courtesy of Humanitas.

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This is a conversation activity for adults (B2+) based around an article about a Dutch retirement home where university students can live rent free in exchange for spending time with the senior residents. It also includes  Cambridge exam style open cloze and word formation exercises.

Lesson Plan:Dutch nursing home lesson plan

Article:Dutch nursing home offers rent

Open Cloze: Dutch nursing home open cloze

Word Formation: Dutch nursing home word formation


You can either split the class into groups to discuss the questions or conduct the discussion as a class. Warmer questions:

  • What is ageism?
  • Have you ever experienced it or seen an example of it?
  • In what ways/situations are people discriminated against because of their age?
  • Do you think older people are treated well in your society?
  • What type of problems do elderly people face in modern society?
  • How could this be improved?
  • Do you think the way in which older people are treated has got better or worse in your lifetime?
  • Are young and elderly people well integrated in modern society? If not how can we improve this?

Give out article and have students read it, clear up any vocabulary issues. Then give out the open cloze and word formation exercises.

Discussion questions:

  • What do you think of the program?
  • What are the potential advantages and disadvantages?
  • Why would this program appeal to the students?
  • Why would this program appeal to the elderly people?
  • What would the students get out of the program?
  • What would the elderly people get out of the program?
  • Would you have liked/like to spend your university years living in a retirement home?
  • Would you like to live in a home like this when you retire?

Follow up activity: Students write a CAE style essay, report or proposal on the topic of ageism and the retirement home program outlining pros and cons or highlighting advantages and disadvantages for the students and the elderly people.

Posted in Exam Preparation Class

CPE Study Guide

Here are some materials to help students prepare for the Cambridge CPE exam.

Cambridge CPE Handbook

Download the latest version of the CPE handbook here:

Click to access 168194-cambridge-english-proficiency-teachers-handbook.pdf

It contains explanations of each part of the exam and practice tests with answers.

Quizlet sets:

Here are loads of different quizlet sets on different parts of the exam:

Join this class for more:

Recommended websites:

These websites have great materials for self-study: – old exam format but still useful.

Writing Handouts

Here are a selection of documents to help prepare students for the writing paper:

CPE Writing part 1 (2)

CAE CPE Writing part 2 plan handout


CPE Report

CPE Review

CPE speaking writing phrases

CPE writing essay 2nd plan

CPE Writing Part 1 walkthrough

Letter of Complaint tim

Narrative Letter

Paragraph Structure

Writing Expressions


Here are links to various prezis on types of writing and grammar points:

Relative clauses:


Inversion 2:


Academic Writing:


Planning Writing:

Narrative/Descriptive writing:

Letter of Complaint:

Book review:



Letter of application:

Speaking Materials:

Agreeingand disagreeing

CPE Speaking part 1

CPE long turn examples

Speaking Long Turn (1)

CAE Speaking Part 2 speculation

CAE Speaking Part 2

Posted in Exam Preparation Class, Grammar Classes

Inversion Revision Worksheet CAE/CPE

This is a worksheet to revise 3 different inversion phrases for CAE/CPE students:

Download the worksheet here:

Inversion Revision

Inversion Revision.

  1. No sooner + had + subject + past part….. + than + sub +verb.

No sooner had I walked in the door, than the phone rang.

Invert these sentences:

As soon as the ball hit the back of the net, all the fans started cheering.


As soon as I saw her I fell in love.


As soon as the teacher entered the class the students fell silent.


  1. Hardly/scarcely/barely + had + subject + past part…. + when + sub + verb

Scarcely had he left the house when it started to rain.

Invert these sentences:

As soon as the concert started his phone rang.


As soon as his head hit the pillow he fell asleep.


As soon as I saw her face I knew something was wrong.


  1. Under no circumstances/On no account + should/must + sub + verb. (prohibitions)

Under no circumstances/On no account + to be + sub + infinitive

Under no circumstance is this door to be left open.

On no account should you eat on the bus.

On no account are you to speak during the exam.

Invert these sentences:

You mustn’t leave your bags on the table.


You mustn’t smoke in the school.


You mustn’t disturb the sleeping babies.


Posted in Conversation Classes, Exam Preparation Class

CAE/CPE Speaking Part 1: Talking About Yourself

This is a sheet of phrases for the CAE/CPE speaking part 1. In speaking part 1 you are required to answer some questions about yourself. These questions could be about a number of subjects. On the sheet there are nice phrases to use divided by category. Put students in pairs to go over the vocabulary, encourage them to choose their favourite expressions and then test each other on them. Tell students to come up with 1 question related to each category and ask them to their partner, then switch partners and repeat.

Download the handout here.

Phrase list:

Where you live

On the outskirts of the city

Just round the corner from…

A stone’s throw from…

Just off calle…

A ten-minute walk from…

A sleepy/peaceful neighbourhood…

An old apartment block where everyone knows everyone else.

A leafy street/avenue

Bang splat in the middle of…

It’s not much to write home about.

Our place can be a bit chaotic

Your aims for the future

I’ve got a burning ambition to…

It might sound silly but I’ve always wanted to…

I’ll probably follow in my Mum/Dad’s footsteps and become a…

Working in… kind of runs in our family.

With any luck/hopefully, in … year’s time I’ll be…

I haven’t got it all mapped out but I’d like to…

I have absolutely no clue what I wanna do, something to do with…

… is a field which interests me.

Provided I get the grades I’d like to be/study…

If all goes to plan I’m gonna…

… is on my bucket list.

Places you’ve travelled to

I’ve definitely got the travelling bug.

…(The Taj Mahal) blew me away.

I’ve never seen anything like it.



I couldn’t believe my eyes/ears.

The first place that springs to mind is…

I had the time of my life/a whale of a time.

I’ll never get bored of…

Soaking up the culture/atmosphere/sun

Catching some rays

Going for a dip in the pool/sea

Towering skyscrapers

Mind-blowing skyline

Snowy peaks

Rolling hills

Scorching heat

Miles of golden sands

Little secluded coves

Crystal clear water

Golden sands as far as the eye can see

Sleepy villages

Bustling towns/cities/marketplaces

Your occupation

I’m in the middle of my (2nd) year of batxillerat.

I’m in the (2nd) year of a 3-year (psychology) degree.

I’m juggling my studies at… with working at…

I’m completely snowed under with coursework.

I’m up to my eyeballs in assignments.

It’s nonstop at the moment.

It’s a steep learning curve.

I’m getting a lot out of the course.

It’s not really living up to my expectations.

I’m gonna take the selectividad in… I’m hoping to get into… to study..

I’m finding it pretty challenging but definitely worthwhile.

I take several extra-curricular subjects such as… and.. on top of my studies.

At the start it was tough but I’m getting the hang of it now.

I’m working every hour of the day.

Learning languages

I’ve been studying English for as long as I can remember.

I’ve always had a knack for learning languages.

I try to really immerse myself in the language.

Learning languages comes quite easily to me.

I’ve always had a curiosity for other cultures and languages.

I spent (a year) living in (England)

Preference in the arts

I’m squeamish so I don’t like horror films.

I’m easily (scared) so I don’t like…

I make an effort to see …’s films as soon as they come out.

I’m into big blockbusters/more obscure art-house films.

One artist I really look up to is…

I do my best to see (art/films) by … whenever I get the chance.

Spare time activities

I’m a keen/avid + personal noun (skier/surfer/skater/reader/swimmer etc.)

I dabble in…

I’m an amateur + personal noun

I like nothing more than to…

I’m really in to…

I’ve hardly got a spare minute these days but when I get the time I like to…

I can be a bit of a party animal…

I sometimes burn the candle at both ends.

I live for the weekend.

I like to go for a stroll around…

I hang out with friends.

My guilty pleasure is…

I’m a little ashamed to admit it but I’m a big fan of…

I’m doing evening classes in…

I’m a bit of a

·         film buff

·         geek

·         bookworm

·         foody

·         tech-head

·         rocker/metal head

·         culture vulture

Your Personality

I’m not the (superlative most sociable/tidiest) person in the world.

I’m easy-going/happy-go-lucky

I can be a bit (negative adjective)

My friends/family would probably say I was…

At times I can be the typical moody teenager.

Were you to ask my Mum, she’s probably say I was…

I’ve got a short attention span.

I procrastinate a lot.

I’m a bit of perfectionist/motor mouth

I’m a bit of a daydreamer.

I sometimes drift off into my own little world.

I tend to (worry about things)


























Chalk and cheese

Two peas in a pod

… runs in my family

I take after my Mum/Dad

We’re a close-knit family

We’re always having family get-togethers/gatherings

I’m the baby of the family/the middle child.

I’m the eldest so I get to boss my siblings around.

I’m the eldest so I was the guinea pig.

I’ve got a sprawling extended family.

I’ve got a kid brother/sister who really gets on my nerves/drives me up the wall at times.

I don’t know how my parents with us.

I really look up to my…

My family’s originally from… but my great-granddad settled her in …

We’re (Catalan) through and through.

My siblings are pretty competitive; we’re always trying to outdo each other.

My sister’s the brainy one, I’m the artistic one, my little brother is the sporty one.

Friends and social life

I prefer to keep myself to myself.

I’ve got a really close circle of friends.

I’ve got a great support network.

My social life is non-existent at the moment; I’m up to my eyeballs/here in coursework.

Me and my best friend are real kindred spirits.

I can really count on my friends; they’re always there for me.

If I’m feeling blue/down, they always know how to cheer me up/lift my spirits

We’ve been through a lot together.

We met in (primary school/kindergarten) and we’ve been inseparable ever since.

I confide in my best friend.

We hangout all the time.

We’re always taking the mickey out of each other.

Sometimes people drift apart.

I do my best to stay in touch with old friends.

If I’m not with them, I’m glued to my phone texting them most of the time.

I know he/she/they have got my back.


I’m completely hooked on (series name) at the moment.

I can watch a whole boxed set in a weekend.

I don’t watch a lot of tele, I stream everything online nowadays.

I like to keep up-to-date with the news.

I have to admit I watch a lot of trashy tele, shows like… and… are my guilty pleasures.

I’m completely hooked on/addicted to facebook/twitter/instagram.

I can’t do anything without tweeting/posting it.

I’m trying to get into (video) blogging/photography.

I can waste hours bingeing on funny cat videos on you-tube.