Posted in Conversation Classes, Video Classes, Writing Classes, Young Learners

Christmas Video: Buster the Boxer

Image result for buster the boxer john lewis

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This is another Christmas themed lesson based around the latest John Lewis Christmas advert about Buster the boxer. Download the lesson plan and powerpoint below:

buster-the-boxer – Powerpoint

buster-the-boxer – Lesson Plan


Put students in pairs, depending on their level show them either the first slide with 4 photos or the second slide with the word cloud. Give them 10 minutes to invent a Christmas story using all of the words or pictures, monitor while they work and feed in any language that is needed.

Students then read out their stories to the class, discuss any language issues that come up. Students can then vote on which story they liked best.

Then show students the John Lewis advert:

Ask students the following questions:

  • Whose story was the most similar to the advert?
  • How different was your story?
  • Did you like the video? If so, what did you like about it?

Show the word cloud again, have students write out the story of the advert again from memory using the words as prompts. Students then read out their different versions.

Follow up

For homework, students write the next part of the story, what did the girl do next? How did the foxes and the badger spend Christmas day?

Posted in Exam Preparation Class, Writing Classes

CAE Informal Letter of Recommendation


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This is phrase sheet for CAE students to help them tackle informal letters of recommendation, which sometimes come up in part 2 of the writing paper. Download the handout below:

Informal Recommendation Letter


A possible letter task in the CAE is an informal letter to a friend recommending (or not) a course/activity/holiday you have been on. Below is an example:

You have recently been on a two week adventure holiday in a foreign country. A good friend writes to you because they are thinking about booking a holiday with the same company. You should describe the highlights of the holiday and any problems you encountered and state if you would recommend the experience to your friend.

Informal greetings

Hello mate! How’s it going?
What’re you up to nowadays? Lovely to hear from you.
It’s been ages since we last saw each other. I hope all’s well.

Mixing good with bad

In the task you have to tell your friend about both the positive and negative sides of the activity. What I don’t want you to do is write one paragraph of good points and one of bad because who writes a letter like that? I want you to mix the good with the bad.

Despite/In spite of + noun Despite/In spite of + the fact that + clause
In spite of the dreadful weather (bad), we had a wonderful time. (good) Despite the fact that it poured with rain all week (bad), we had a wonderful time. (good)
Although/Even though + clause Apart from + noun + relative clause
Even though the instructor didn’t speak English (bad), we still managed to pick up the basics. (good) Apart from the first day when it poured, we had clear blue skies every day.


Apart from the taxi driver who tried to rip us off, all the people were lovely.

2nd Conditionals

If you did decide to go, I could lend you…../I might come with you. If I were you, I’d………..
If I were in your shoes, I’d………………  

3rd Conditionals

It would have been better if there had been………… I would have been better if I had/hadn’t………………
If I had/hadn’t……………., we could have………….  

Not only

Not only did we ….(do 1 activity), but also …….(another activity) Not only did we learn how to ……….., but also ……………
Not only did we see lions and elephants, but also giraffes and monkeys.  


Phrasal verbs

To take up a hobby – to start doing a hobby

I have just taken up snowboarding.

To make up for – to compensate

The excellent food more than made up for the awful weather.

To pick up new skills – to acquire

I picked up some useful skills, such as……..

To get a lot out of something – to take benefit from something. (enjoyment, knowledge, etc.)

I got a lot out of the training sessions.

To catch up with someone – to share the latest news about your life with someone.

We should meet for a coffee and catch up.

To come across – to find unexpectedly (not people)

We were walking through the jungle when we came across some old ruined buildings.

To get on/along with someone – to like and be friendly with someone.

We got along with everyone in our group.

To keep/carry on doing something – to continue

We kept on walking all night.

Look/watch out for – be vigilant for

Look out for pickpockets on the metro system.

Sort out a problem – resolve a problem

The manager came and sorted out the problem.

Posted in Games, Writing Classes

Circle Stories

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This is a lesson plan designed for lower-level (A2-B1) teenagers. It is designed to help students write short stories using different narrative tenses, sequences and discourse markers.


All you need is plenty of paper and a pen for each student.


Sit students in a circle and give them each a pen and piece of paper. Tell them that they are going to write stories together; if you have 8 student, at the end of the class they will have written 8 stories.

Write on the board:

Once, there was a man/woman called ……. who….

Tell students to copy the sentence onto their piece of paper, decide if the character is a man or a woman and give them a name.

Students then pass the piece of paper to the left; they must then complete the first sentence, for example:

Once, there was a man called Jimmy who lived under a bridge.

Students then pass the paper again, and copy down and complete the following:

One day ….. was …….

For example:

One day Jimmy was walking down the street

Students pass again and complete the following:

when…+ past simple

One day Jimmy was walking down the street when he saw a police car driving towards him.

Continue the process but now start to introduce different words to begin the sentences, the whole writing process will look like this:


  1. Once there was a man/woman called …who…
  2. Complete sentence 1.
  3. One day …. was….ing
  4. Complete sentence 3: when…..
  5. Suddenly….
  6. Fortunately….
  7. Unfortunately….
  8. And in the end….
  9. And the moral of the story is….

While students are writing try to monitor and help them with vocab and narrative tenses. When they have all finished have them read out their stories one by one and then vote on their favourite one.

Follow up

Students write another story using the same basic structure for homework.

Posted in Conversation Classes, Games, Writing Classes

Tall Tales

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This is an activity that can be used with all levels in which students have to invent tall tales and try to convince their classmates that they’re true. It is similar to two truths and a lie but the stories have to be at least 5 sentences long and must contain a range of narrative tenses as well as language of cohesion appropriate to the level. Credit to my colleague Peter Rassa for the idea. Download my stories below:

Tall Tales


Write three short stories (5 sentences long) about your life or the lives of your family members, one of the stories must be true, the others should be made up but believable. For example:

  1. My Dad used to work as a doctor in the emergency department of a hospital. One day he was working the night shift when suddenly the police came into the hospital and told the staff that someone very important was about to come in. The police secured the hospital and then Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, arrived. He had broken his arm when he fell off his horse playing polo. My Dad did an x-ray on his arm and helped to cure him. Two weeks later he received a thank you card and an autographed photo from the prince.
  2. My Granddad was a war hero. In the second world war he was a paratrooper, this meant that he had to jump out of a plane and parachute into enemy territory. In 1944 when the allies landed on the beach in northern France my Granddad parachuted in behind enemy lines and sabotaged Nazi fortifications. He was almost captured several times. He was shot in a big battle in the winter of 1944 and got sent home to recover. He was given a medal of honour after the war.
  3.  When I was at university I used to work as a waiter at the weekends and in the evening to earn extra money. One weekend I was sent to work on a big battleship. We didn’t know what the event was but we had to wear special white suits. We were given silver trays with glasses of champagne. We had to stand on the deck of the ship and serve drinks to the guests. Suddenly everyone stood up and Princess Anne, the queen’s sister walked in. She stopped to speak to some of the workers, I spoke to her and offered her a glass of champagne, when she took it I almost dropped the tray! It was almost a complete disaster!


Split the class into groups of 3, it works best if you have 3 or more groups. Project or print out your three stories, tell students that one of them is true and two are false. Give them a few minutes to read the stories and decide which one is true. Students then guess, award points for correct guesses.

Then tell students that they must write 3 short stories, 1 true and 2 false. Give them 10 minutes to do so. Monitor and help them while they do this, make sure the groups are well separated so that they don’t overhear each other, maybe play some music to mask the sound or consider sending one group to another room.

Students then read their stories out, the other students must guess which story is true. Award points for correct guesses and points to any team whose story convinces another team that it is true. The winning team is the one with the most points at the end.

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 Writing Classes

CAE Informal Letter Task: An Exotic Holiday

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This is a writing task for CAE students in which they write an informal narrative letter describing an exotic holiday. It is a follow up lesson to my Travelling: Expressions and Discussions lesson as it gives students the opportunity to use the expressions in context. It was designed with students in the latter stages of their studies for the exam in mind as it contains revision of advanced grammar structures such as inversions, participle clauses and cleft sentences. Download the students’ handout, worksheet and teacher’s notes below you will also need the two quizlet sets to revise the vocab:

Informal narrative letter update – students’ handout

Informal Letter Worksheet – students’ worksheet

Narrative Informal Letter Teachers notes

Quizlet sets: Travelling expressions + Travelling collocations

Narrative Informal Letter – Exotic Holiday Teacher’s Notes

Lead in

Write on the board:

  1. What’s the most exotic place you’ve ever been to?
  2. What did you do there?
  3. Would you recommend it? Why? Why not?
  4. What advice would you give to someone who was going there for the first time?

Students discuss in pairs. Go to open class, students share exotic destinations, activities and advice.

Task Analysis

Give out student handout. Students read task and underline the 4 things they must include in their letter


You have recently been travelling in an exotic country. Your friend has written to you because they are thinking about visiting the same place. Write them a letter describing the highlights of your trip, you should also mention any problems you encountered, say whether or not you would recommend the place and give your friend advice for their trip.

Students complete paragraph plan

Paragraph Plan

  1. Standard informal email opening
  2. Describe highlights
  3. Mention problems
  4. Recommend or not + give advice
  5. Sign off

Brainstorm – Informal letter opening + sign off

As a class brainstorm standard opening and closing expressions for informal letters:

Opening Closing
It’s wonderful to hear from you again.

It’s been ages since we last saw each other.

How have you been?

What have you been up to?

Sorry for not writing back sooner, I’ve been snowed under with schoolwork/exams/work.

So you wanted to know about…. Well…

Anyway, I’d better get going as I have an early start in the morning.

Well, it’s getting late and I’ve gotta get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow.

Hugs and kisses

Lots of love

Send my love to ….

Briefly run through the language on the handout for sequencing etc. Students read and field any questions or doubts they might have. We will look at the advanced grammar next.

Worksheet – Collocations and Advanced Grammar


Give out the worksheet. Students match the collocations. Use the quizlet set to drill/reinforce with games.

Key: 1-h, 2-b, 3-d, 4-a, 5-e, 6-f, 7-g, 8-c

Advanced Grammar

This section is revision of several advanced grammar structures that can be used in compositions with a narrative element.


Just as we had got on the helicopter it took off.

No sooner had we got on the helicopter than it took off.

As soon as we had left the jeep we were surrounded by different types of monkeys!

Hardly had we left the jeep when we were surrounded by different types of monkeys.

We went scuba diving and spear fishing.

Not only did we go scuba diving but also spear fishing.

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

Little did we know that there were man-eating sharks in the water.

I enjoyed the safari the most.

What I enjoyed most was the safari.

It was the safari that I enjoyed most.

I had never seen such a spectacular sunset before.

Never before had I seen such a spectacular sunset.

The road was so wet that we had to turn back and go a different way.

So wet was the road that we had to turn back and go a different way.

The gorilla was so strong that he broke the window of the jeep!

So strong was the gorilla that he broke the window of the jeep!

Revision – Travelling expressions

Use the quizlet sets to recap the travelling expressions using the scatter game.


Students’ Handout


You have recently been travelling in an exotic country. Your friend has written to you because they are thinking about visiting the same place. Write them a letter describing the highlights of your trip, you should also mention any problems you encountered, say whether or not you would recommend the place and give your friend advice for their trip.

Paragraph Plan

  1. Standard informal email opening
  2. __________________________
  3. __________________________
  4. __________________________
  5. Sign off

Past narrative tenses

Past simple – finished actions in the past, actions in sequence.

I breathed in deeply and stepped out of the plane into the air.

Past continuous – descriptions/actions in progress interrupted by past simple actions.

The pale winter sun was shining through the leaves of the trees, the birds were singing happily and the wind was whistling past.

As the balloon was rising into the sky I looked down at the people below me.

Past perfect – actions that happened before a specific moment in the past.

I looked out over the landscape, I had never seen such a beautiful sight before.

I took the map out and checked our location. I had marked all the most important places on it the night before.

Past perfect cont. – duration of time for an action that happened before a specific moment in the past.

When we finally reached the summit of the mountain we had been walking for over 6 hours.

I had been dreaming about taking to the skies in a hot air balloon since I was a child.


At first/To start with/In the beginning…………..

Then/next/after that/…………………

The next thing that happened was…………….

The next thing I knew was………………

Seconds/Minutes later………………

Later on/Some time later……………..

It wasn’t until much later that…………..

After some time/what seemed like years…………

Finally/In the end……………..

At last,…………..

I was just about to (infinitive) when……….

I was on the point of (gerund) when………..


Sudden/unexpected events.

Out of the blue……………

Like a bolt from the blue………

Completely unexpectedly……………

Just as I was least expecting it…………..

Looking back

In retrospect……………

When I think back to that day………..

Looking back on that day………….


Rapid events

In the blink of an eye………….

As quick as a flash…………..

Simultaneous events

Meanwhile, In the meantime……….

While all this was going on…………

Ways to say exciting/excited:


adrenalin rush







on edge

I had butterflies in my stomach

nerve-racking/nail-biting (to describe the activity)





Phrasal verbs:

take up a challenge (accept)

set off on a journey/adventure (start)

freak out (get very scared and nervous)

Describing the weather:

A scorching summer day

A freezing winter day

A crisp winter day

A howling wind was blowing

A light breeze was blowing

The sun was beating down on us

It was pouring with rain

The heavens opened (it started to rain very hard)


Grammatical Range – SHOW WHAT YOU KNOW!


No sooner had I got on the board, than I fell off.

Hardly had the plane left the ground when I started to feel sick.

Only when/Not until two days later did I appreciate how much danger I had been in.

On no account must you leave the car during the safari.

Little did I know that there were man-eating sharks in the water.

At no time did I stop screaming with fear and delight.

Never before had I seen such breath-taking views.

Never before had I felt so alive.


So + adjective/adverb + verb + subject

So clear was the water that you could see right to the bottom.

So delicious was the dessert that we went back for seconds.

Participle clauses:

Being a strong swimmer, I had no problem in the strong currents.

Having studied French at school, I was able to get by speaking to the locals.

Seeing the Lion running towards me, I panicked and got back in the jeep.


Cleft Sentences

I liked the rollercoasters the most.

What I liked most was the rollercoasters.

It was the rollercoasters that I liked the most.


Inverted conditionals

Were I to go again, I’d pack more warm clothes.

Had I known it was going to be so cold, I would have packed warmer clothes.

Had I not seen the warning sign, I would have jumped into the crocodile lake.

Had it not been for + noun

Had it not been for the guide, we would have got completely lost!


Students’ Worksheet

Impressive Vocabulary

Match to make impressive collocations

1.       Breath-taking /Jaw-dropping/mind-blowing

2.       Mouth-watering

3.       Mile upon mile of

4.       Death-defying

5.       Baffling/bewildering

6.       Crystal clear/ice-cold

7.       Densely-populated/Bustling

8.       World-famous/internationally-renowned

a.       Activities/sports

b.      Local delicacies

c.       Monuments/attractions

d.      Golden sands/rolling hills

e.      Local traditions/customs

f.        Water

g.       City/metropolis

h.      Views/landscape

Impressive Grammar

Transform the sentences to use impressive grammar structures

Just as we had got on the helicopter it took off.

No sooner _________________________________________________________

As soon as we had left the jeep we were surrounded by different types of monkeys!


We went scuba diving and spear fishing.

Not only _____________________________________________________________

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


I enjoyed the safari the most.



I had never seen such a spectacular sunset before.

Never before _______________________________________________________.

The road was so wet that we had to turn back and go a different way.


The gorilla was so strong that he broke the window of the jeep!