Posted in Advanced C1, C1 Reading, Guest Posts, Proficiency

Guest Post: C1/C2 – Collin’s Word of the Year 2023 by Suzy Ratcliff

It’s that time of year again! No, not Thanksgiving or Christmas, time for Collins Dictionary to choose its word of the year for 2023! And time for Suzy Ratcliff to write another great guest post on the topic! Download the student handout and teacher’s notes below:

While you’re here, check out Suzy’s company English Boost and follow her on Linkedin for more teaching materials.

Blog post

The acceleration of AI and other 2023 trends

1st Nov 2023

Did you worry quite so much about a robot takeover before the advent of ChatGPT?

The revolutionary AI-powered language model burst into the public consciousness in late 2022, wowing us with its ability to mimic natural human speech.  It could do much more than that, actually – need copy for a presentation tomorrow morning? No problem. A recipe for dinner using only what you’ve got left in the cupboard? Done. And while people were understandably fascinated, they also started to get a bit anxious. If computers were suddenly experts in that most human of domains, language, what next? Cue an explosion of debate, scrutiny, and prediction, and more than enough justification for Collins’ 2023 Word of the Year: AI.

Collins defines artificial intelligence, for which AI is the now-familiar abbreviation, as “the modelling of human mental functions by computer programs”. This rather captures the profound nature of challenge facing us. Can machines really become human-like? And how will that pan out for our species?

Until we find out the answer to that question, though, life carries on. And, as the Collins shortlisted words show, it carries on in often peculiar and fascinating ways. Take digital culture. We’re all familiar with the influencer: a person who leverages their popularity on social media to spark new trends and earn money from endorsements. The word has its own family of variants: mega-influencer, micro-influencer, even nano-influencer. To which we can now add de-influencing – when one of these oracles uses their power “to warn followers to avoid certain commercial products, lifestyle choices, etc”, as the dictionary definition puts it.

One recent attempt at de-influencing concerns another of the shortlist’s highlights, the deliciously waspish nepo baby, a label applied to someone “whose career is believed to have been advanced by having famous parents”. The would-be de-influencer in this case was film star Gwyneth Paltrow, who last month judged the phrase an “ugly moniker”. Paltrow’s mum and dad? Actress Blythe Danner and producer Bruce Paltrow. We can only assume that seeing her parents make their way in the industry was something of a canon event for the young Paltrow – an experience “essential to the formation of an individual’s character or identity”.

As well as obsessing over the lifestyles of the rich and famous, we’ve been increasingly focused on our own health and wellbeing. Scientists and public health experts have warned of the dangers of ultra-processed foods, which are “prepared using complex industrial methods” and frequently made up of “ingredients with little or no nutritional value”. These empty calories can lead to multiple problems, including diabetes and obesity. One potential treatment for both of those conditions is the apparent “wonderdrug” semaglutide, also known by its tradename, Ozempic. Semaglutide seems to be effective at suppressing people’s appetites, allowing them to lose weight – but it simply hasn’t been around long enough for us to know quite what the long-term effects might be. Incidentally, the prefix “ultra” – Latin for “beyond” – forms part of another shortlisted word. ULEZ, the acronym for ultra-low emission zone, will be familiar to Londoners, who have to pay a charge if they drive a polluting vehicle into the city.

ULEZ became particularly contentious in 2023 as a result of the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, in which voters seemed to reject plans for its expansion. It isn’t the only political hot potato in the shortlist, though. The UK’s cost of living crisis has been driven by inflation – rising prices – with some convinced that businesses are making excessive hikes in order to boost their profits, so-called greedflation.

A different type of financial problem, debanking, also makes the list, after populist politician Nigel Farage claimed his bank, Coutts, tried to close his account because of his political views. The issue was thrust into the spotlight and many others subsequently came forward to complain of having been debanked without explanation.

After all that heavy stuff you might like to sit back and enjoy watching a sedate game of cricket. Except that Bazball – the newly energetic (some say aggressive) form of the game named for England Test coach Brendon “Baz” McCullum – is currently in vogue. Perhaps 2024 will prove more relaxing? We can only hope.

Written by David Shariatmadari, author of Don’t Believe A Word: From Myths to Misunderstandings – How Language Really Works

Ex 1. Complete the sentences with your own ideas, then compare and discuss with your partner.

  1. ….. really wowed me in 2023.
  2. This year, …. was thrust into the spotlight.
  3. …. was a canon event in my life because …

Ex 2. Discuss these questions:

  1. Can machines really become human-like? How do you think that will pan out for our species?
  2. What is it exactly that sparks our obsession over the lives of the rich and the famous?
  3. What were the top political hot potatoes this year? Why were they so contentious?
  4. Are there any ULEZs where you live? Do you think they are a good idea? Why (not)?
  5. What potential problems could arise from semaglutide and other new drugs and medicine which burst into the market?
  6. In what ways have you noticed greedflation where you live? How have the hikes in prices impacted you?
  7. Have you ever had to deal with someone waspish? Have you ever felt waspish yourself?

Ex 3. Can we learn from AI?

  1. Work in pairs. Type this prompt into ChatGPT (edit it to include the language you want to use):

Write a short dialogue using the phrases ‘a hot potato’, ‘to pan out’, and ‘to burst into’.

  • Read the dialogue out loud and look up any new vocab.
  • Now ask it to change the dialogue in some way and read it again.

(Make it more formal/informal/jokey/fun…)

  • Compare both texts. What changes did ChatGPT make? What do you notice is different and why?
  • Reflect on this activity. What did you learn?
Posted in Advanced C1, C1 Reading, Exam Preparation Class, Reading Classes

C1 Advanced Reading Part 7: Gapped Text – Exam Technique

It’s nobody’s favourite exam reading exercise! This is a slightly tweaked version of a very old lesson plan I use to help C1 students tackle the part 7 gapped reading task. Apologies for the rather ugly PowerPoint template! Download the PowerPoint and handout below:

Posted in Advanced C1, Exam Preparation Class

C1 Advanced: Key Word Transformation Ladder

This is my version of a great activity I’ve seen on some other blogs. It’s a great way of giving exam prep students an engaging way to do some practice for the use of English part 4 task.

  1. Students work in pairs or groups of 4.
  2. Each group gets 5 cards with 5 key word transformations on them.
  3. They place their cards on the table to form a “ladder”
  4. Student A goes first and attempts to complete the bottom “rung”
  5. They flip the card over to check their answer.
  6. If they’re right they go up the ladder one rung and continue until they make a mistake.
  7. When/if they make a mistake they must flip over all the cards and go back to the bottom.
  8. Student B then has a go.
  9. First to reach the top of the ladder wins.
  10. The answer they give must be the exact words on the back of the card; no “más o menos”
  11. They then swap cards and start again.

Download the cards below:

Posted in Advanced C1, Exam Preparation Class, Grammar Classes

C1 Advanced: Grammar Range Test

A quick, simple worksheet I’ve created for my C1 Advanced class. They’re in their second year of preparation for the exam and I just want to get an idea of their grasp of some of the typical advanced grammar points that come up in the syllabus so that I know where to focus our efforts in the coming weeks.

I’m tying it into chatting about travelling and holidays and getting them to complete an informal letter writing task. I’ve used this old worksheet that I made years ago for the homework task.

It also serves as some exam practice for part 4 of the reading and use of English paper. You could have students complete it in pairs or individually then check the answers in open class. Tell students not to worry too much if any of the structures are unfamiliar as future lessons will look at them in detail where necessary.

Download the worksheet below:

Complete the second sentence so that it has a similar meaning to the first using the word given. You must use between 3 and 6 words, you must not change the word given.

  1. It took us 6 hours to walk up the mountain.


When we arrived at the top of the mountain _____________________ 6 hours.

  1. It was the first time I had seen such a beautiful sunset.


Never _____________________ a beautiful sunset.

  1. You mustn’t leave the vehicle while you’re on safari.


Under ______________________ of the vehicle while you’re on safari.

  1. If I went there again, I’d definitely pack warmer clothes.


Were ______________, I’d definitely pack warmer clothes.

  1. The water was so clear that we could see all the fish at the bottom.


So _______________ could see all the fish at the bottom.

  1. I enjoyed going on the roller coasters the most.


What ____________________ on the roller coasters. 

  1. We had no idea that there were man-eating sharks in the water!


Little _____________________ there were man-eating sharks in the water!

  1. I didn’t pack enough warm clothes because I didn’t know the weather would be so cold.


Had _____________________ be so cold, I would have packed more warm clothes.

Posted in Advanced C1, Exam Preparation Class, Proficiency, Writing Classes

C1/C2 Review Writing Task: A Life of Crime

This is a writing task for C1/C2 students who are preparing to take the C1 Advanced or C2 Proficiency exams and need to practise writing film/TV reviews. You could set it for homework after having used my vocabulary/use of English training activity The Heist. You may also find my lesson plan on incorporating engaging hooks into this type of writing task useful.

Download the handout below:


Your university’s film club is asking for reviews of films or TV shows on the topic of crime. Maybe you’ve seen a thrilling heist movie, a dark film noir or a TV show about the nefarious adventures of a mafia family. Your review should comment on the plot of the film/show, the quality of the script and acting and recommend the film/show to a specific demographic or warn a specific group against watching it. C1: 220-260 words C2: 280-320 words

Posted in Advanced C1, Exam Preparation Class, Grammar Classes, Proficiency

C1/C2: Advanced Conditionals Revision

While correcting a mock exam with my C2 group, it came to my attention that they needed a refresher on advanced conditionals. Things like inverted conditionals and also alternatives conditional phrases such as “on condition that”, “supposing…?” and “provided that”. So I put together a little PowerPoint as a refresher. It’s not the most inspired of formats, but I dotted in a few fun speaking activities along the way. Download the PowerPoint below:

You’ll need to prep by coming up with 3 sentences, one with each inverted conditional, here are my examples:

  1. Should I have time tonight, I’ll watch another episode of Ted Lasso. (inverted 1st conditional)
  2. Were I to win the lottery, I’d quit my job. (inverted 2nd conditional)
  3. Had I been born in the 1400s, I would have been an explorer. (inverted 3rd conditional)

The three sentences should be a mixture of true or false bits of information about you.

Read the sentences to your class one by one, students should take no notes, just listen. They should then debate with their partner whether or not the sentence is true. Reveal the truth, then move onto the next sentence.

Once you’ve finished, show the first slide of the PowerPoint (you’ll need to edit the first few slides so that they show your 3 sentences, or just do it on the board). Students have the basic information from the 3 sentences, but none of the grammar, they have to work together to recall what you said. Maybe they’ll remember the “basic” conditional structures (if….), or perhaps the sharper students will remember some of the inverted forms.

Once you’ve revealed and discussed the different forms, lead students through the rest of the PowerPoint, they will get more complete revision of each inverted conditional plus all the other alternative forms already mentioned.

I’m interested to see what hypothetical questions your students come up with for the “suppose”/”supposing” section, let me know in the comments!

Posted in Advanced C1, Exam Preparation Class, Phrase of the Day, Proficiency

Proficiency Phrase of the Day #13: Bury One’s Head in the Sand

Today’s phrase is…

To bury one’s head in the sand

Introduce the expression to your students with some examples.

When it comes to climate change, most governments are burying their heads in the sand and just going on as normal.

You can’t just bury your head in the sand, your symptoms are bad, you should see a doctor.

The expression means: to avoid or ignore unpleasant facts even though they might have a bad effect on you in the future.

Put students in small groups and have them ask and answer these questions. Encourage them to use the phrase of the day:

  1. Apart from climate change, are there any other major issues that you think governments are refusing to face up to?
  2. How do you normally deal with potentially scary news or information? Do you face up to it? Or try to avoid thinking about it or discussing it?
  3. How do you normally deal with strange symptoms or other health problems? Do you get them checked out? Or ignore them and hope they go away?

Here’s the Quizlet set of all the previous phrases of the day.

Posted in Advanced C1, Exam Preparation Class, Phrase of the Day, Proficiency, Vocabulary Classes

Proficiency Phrase of the Day #12: To prey on your mind

Worried bride” by spaceodissey is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Today’s phrase is…

To prey on one’s mind

Introduce it with some examples:

The problem has been preying on my mind for over a week now.

You mustn’t let past failures prey on your mind when making big decisions.

The expression is often used with “let” in imperatives: Don’t let it prey on your mind.

Lead students to the meaning: if a problem is preying on your mind it is worrying you or causing you anxiety.

Have students take part in a little therapy session in pairs or small groups:

  • Is anything bothering you at the moment?
  • Do you have any big deadlines or events looming on the horizon?
  • Do you have any big decisions to make coming up?
  • Do you have any regrets about recent things that have happened that you need to open up about?

Here’s the Quizlet set of all the previous phrases of the day.

Posted in Advanced C1, Exam Preparation Class, Phrase of the Day, Proficiency

Proficiency Phrase of the Day #11: There’s no telling/knowing

Today’s phrase is….

There’s no telling/knowing….

Introduce it with a few examples:

There’s no telling who’s going to win the next elections.

There’s no knowing how the situation in Ukraine is going to develop.

Lead students to the meaning: “nobody knows/it’s impossible to know”, point out that the expression is typically followed by a question word. Challenge them to work in pairs to complete the sentences below while covering a range of topics:

  • There’s no knowing/telling who…
  • There’s no knowing/telling what…
  • There’s no knowing/telling where…
  • There’s no knowing/telling how long….
  • There’s no knowing/telling how much….
  • There’s no knowing/telling which…
  • There’s no knowing/telling when…

Topics: politics, pop culture (music, films, video games, etc.), school/class/exams, class gossip, celebrity gossip, science and technology, finance and business, etc.

Here’s the Quizlet set of all the previous phrases of the day.