Young, Foreign and Over Here

I’ve just finished watching the BBC Three programme ‘Young, Foreign and Over Here‘. If you can access it, it is available on BBC iPlayer until Wednesday 2nd November 2011. This is the description from the BBC Three webpage:

Five young Eastern Europeans reveal the harsh realities and culture shocks of life as an immigrant coming to Britain and hoping to stay. They think they know what to expect, but have they got it all wrong?

These people in their mid 20s have left their countries with no idea what to expect when they arrive in the UK. When they get here, they face a real drop in their standard of living. Many of them come from well-off families in their own countries, then end up sharing houses and flats with many other people, often in very poor conditions. They have to do everything in a foreign language that they have worked hard to learn. They have been led to believe that the UK is a form of paradise, which will mean good jobs, good money and a better life.

One part of the programme shows interviews with British people saying that they should have been kept out of the country, with statements like:

We don’t see other countries, like Australia, you don’t see them turning up in boats with 200 fucking weird people.

England is England, right. It should just be English.

One of the depressing things about that segment was the fact that many of the students I have met could express themselves in a much better way than these two people. It also showcases the ignorance of other cultures which some Brits suffer from.

Quoting from one of the subjects of the programme (Norbert):

I wanted to be a German speaker. Show me any British person who can speak another language. I speak English, German and Hungarian. I can’t even get a job as a street cleaner.

And from Anthony:

I don’t think the guys here would be able to go abroad, learn a different language, communicate in it freely. It’s not easy, so I think that most British people have an idea how difficult it is for immigrants.

Norbert and Anthony have really made my point for me. As many of you already know, I think it should be obligatory for people in our country to study a foreign language, at least until the age of 16. The three years between 11 and 14 when it is currently obligatory is nowhere near enough, not only for cultural awareness, but the future of our economy. People all over the world are learning English. They speak their own language too, so automatically have an advantage over the monolinguals of the Anglo-Saxon world. Even a low level of another language can open doors and offer an insight into how difficult language learning is.

Another thing which should be in some way compulsory is spending at least a week abroad alone. That way Brits might begin to appreciate how much effort all of these people have put in and how difficult it is for them to come to the UK and ‘steal our jobs’. The jobs that they are stealing: working in warehouse on a minumum wage, driving a dangerous rickshaw in London.

When British people stop being so introverted and start to look at the world around them as an opportunity instead of a threat, I will be much prouder of my country. As it is, I prefer to be abroad, where multilingualism is the norm, not rare, where other cultures are more appreciated (I write this knowing that there is still racism in some of the places where I have worked) or at least tolerated, and where if the jobs are available, you can get work which reflects your experience.

Throughout the programme, all I could think was how lucky I am to have a British passport and to be able to be an English teacher, with the ability to travel and work around the world. I have lived in a few countries now, and I have been lucky enough to always have a job and a place to stay when I arrive. I have always been made to feel welcome, and I have always had enough money to live comfortably, even if I’ve had some jobs I’ve hated (factory work, cleaning caravans).

I love my job, and I think one of my responsibilities as a teacher is to show my students the realities of life in the UK. I know that I come from a comfortable working/middle-class background, but then so do almost all of my students. If they only see the ‘best’ parts of my country, it is no wonder that they have this image of life here.

I wish all of those in the programme luck and the fulfillment of their dreams.

Essay writing checklist

I wrote this worksheet based on problems my students have been having with the FCE Writing Part 2 essay-writing task. Feel free to download it, use it with your own students and let me know what I need to change / improve. It fit onto five pages on my computer, but has expanded to six on slideshare. If you adjust the margins once you’ve downloaded, you’ll save a bit of paper! 🙂

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

Here are the answers:

Essay writing checklist answers


And now, it’s time for the news

This post has been a very long time coming. Back in July, my students spend a week on a news project. Every afternoon they worked in groups with the aim of producing a news bulletin to ‘broadcast’ on Friday afternoon. We did some brainstorming based on what was in the news on Monday, and after that they went their own ways. These were the results, and I think you’ll agree, they’re excellent!

I particularly like the weather at the end of this one.

I don’t know how they kept a straight face!

After a five minute tutorial on how to use iMovie, this was the result.

Well done guys, and sorry it took me so long to publish them!

Key Word Transformations with Modals of Speculation/Deduction

We’ve been studying modals of speculation and deduction in class today. They are very often included in FCE Part 4 (Key Word Transformations). I couldn’t find any examples of this exercise which only tested these modals, so I made my own. If you have a link to a similar exercise, please let me know. Also, please feel free to add your own sentences. I wrote these ones quickly during a break, so was a bit short on inspiration! (I added a few after class using sentences my students gave me as a jumping-off point)

I’m sure he’s not Michael Jackson. He died a few years ago!


He _______________________ because he died a few years ago.

It’s possible that in the sales cameras will be cheap enough for me to afford one.


I __________________________ a camera in the sales if they are cheap enough.

I think Sarah isn’t very ill, because I saw her shopping this morning.


Sarah ____________________ because I saw her shopping this morning.

Perhaps Filip is from the Czech Republic – he speaks Czech very well.


Filip ________________________ the Czech Republic because his Czech is very good.

He is so rich that I am sure he is always happy.


He is so rich that ________________ happy.

He looks so pale that I’m sure he has seen a ghost.


He _________________ ghost because now he looks very pale.

I think Alice worked at a hotel last summer, but I’m not sure.


Alice ________________ at a hotel last summer.

Jana speaks excellent Finnish so I’m sure she’s lived in Finland at some point.


Jana ______________________ Finland at some point because she speaks excellent Finnish.

Adam is so loud now that I’m sure he wasn’t a quiet child!


Adam ____________________ a quiet child because he’s so loud now.

She is so scared of dogs, that maybe a dog bit her when she was little.


She is so scared of dogs that she _____________________ a dog when she was little.

I know he wasn’t in London on Saturday because I saw him in Newcastle.


He _______________________ in London on Saturday because I saw him in Newcastle.

She was so happy on Monday morning that I’m sure she had a good weekend.


She was so happy on Monday morning that _______________________ a good weekend.

I think Will’s tired because he didn’t sleep much yesterday.


Will ______________________ because he didn’t sleep much yesterday.

She was probably in a hurry because she forgot to buy a birthday present for her friend,


She forgot to buy a birthday present for her friend and that ___________________ she was in a hurry.


  1. can’t be Michael Jackson
  2. might/may be able to buy
  3. can’t be very ill
  4. could be from
  5. he must always be
  6. must have seen a
  7. might/may have worked
  8. must have lived in
  9. can’t have been
  10. must have been bitten by
  11. can’t have been
  12. she must have had
  13. could be tired
  14. might/may have been why

Please feel free to correct my answers if you notice a mistake too!


The Vicar of Dibley meets Johnny Depp

The Vicar of Dibley is one of my all-time favourite comedies. I prepared this vocabulary worksheet for a short episode made for Red Nose Day featuring Johnny Depp. I’m just using it as a bit of Friday afternoon fun, since the students have been working hard all week. If anyone wants to write comprehension questions, I’m happy to add them to the post 🙂

Warning: do not watch/read if you are easily offended. There are some rude words included in the sheet as the double entendres they create are the key to many of the jokes.

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

The answers are here (click to enlarge):


Here’s a page of notes I made after the lesson. At the top are some extra idioms to teach the students. At the bottom are some possible discussion questions.

VIcar of Dibley extension

I’m going to fail

One of my students left the room this morning, then called me a couple of minutes later. She was in the toilets crying her eyes out because she believes she is going to fail the FCE exam. She is one of eleven students who I currently teach full-time (25 hours a week) ready for the exam on December 10th. They have had three weeks of classes so far. Before coming to Newcastle she had already spent six months working in a hotel on the Isle of Wight.

Last week we did a mock exam and she didn’t pass any of the sections, although she came  close in a few of them. As a whole, the class didn’t do that well, but it was to give them a feel for the format of the exam and to motivate some of the lazier ones to do more work outside class. She is doing well and has already improved a lot, but feels depressed because the other students are doing a bit better than she is. She keeps comparing herself to them.

I’ve told her that she’s improving, that if I thought she would fail the exam I would have asked her to change classes, that she should stop comparing herself to other students because she is not them, that she is a good speaker and that I know she is working hard at home, so she will pass.

Any suggestions on what else I can do?


Update – January 2012

In the end, this student passed her exam and was actually only one mark off getting a B grade . She worked very hard and it paid off in the end!

FCE Speaking Part 3: our version

On Thursday I introduced my students to Speaking Part 3 of the FCE paper. In this section of the exam, two students have about three minutes to discuss a set of 5-7 pictures and answer two questions. The first question involves some kind of scenario where they have to refer to every picture, and the second involves making a decision. The examiners are looking for whether the candidates can have a discussion (interactive communication) rather than monologue, among other things.

We were focussing on holidays all week, so in a similar way to the Present Simple / Present Continuous activity I shared a couple of weeks ago, I asked my students to draw a picture of themselves on holiday.

Since there were 11 students, plus me, we had twelve pictures in total (I’ll leave you to work out which one was mine!) That created two convenient groups, like so:

Speaking part 3The notes at the top show two language points which came up during the discussions. We ended up doing the task four times, using each set of pictures twice. The questions I asked were:

  • Imagine you are taking your family on holiday. What are the benefits of each kind of holiday when travelling with a family? Which is the best place to take a family too?
  • Imagine you are organising a holiday with your friends at the end of your exams. What could you do with your friends on each of these holidays? Which place will you go to?
  • Imagine you are going to have a week’s holiday by yourself. What are the advantages and disadvantages of travelling along to these places? Which is the best place to travel alone?
  • Imagine you are organising your next holiday. Why do people go on these kinds of excursions when on holiday? Which one would you go on as a one-day excursion?

We had done an example of the activity from Complete First Certificate, and I used their excellent speaking guide (at the back of the book) to give the students tips on how to approach the task. The general idea for this lesson was to familiarise the students with the format and to encourage them to converse, rather than monologue. In the end, that wasn’t really a problem as they’re very good at interacting with each other. They definitely improved as they did the task more times, although I think after doing it five times they never wanted to see it again! 🙂

(We used the class timer from the Triptico suite to keep the students in line!)

FCE Use of English Part 2 Open Cloze: creating your own

Last week we looked at the FCE Use of English Part 2 Open Cloze for the first time. I wanted to help the students become aware of the kind of words that are usually missing from the texts in this part of the exam.

We had been looking at housework vocabulary, so I went on the internet and found this article about one woman’s attitude to housework. I chose a section of it and pasted it into a word document, which I printed for the students:

[To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.]

Using flo-joe’s excellent Spotlight Paper 3 section, the students worked in pairs to highlight each of the things listed below, using a different colour each time. We chose a few examples of each on the board before we started.

  • Pronouns/relative pronouns
  • Articles/quantifiers
  • Modal/auxiliary verbs
  • Conjunctions
  • Prepositions

I also highlighted that there are a few words which don’t fit into these categories, but that this was enough to start us of. It’s important that the students realise that this part of the exam is largely testing grammar, rather than content. You can see all of the words highlighted in the second page of the document above (please feel free to correct me if you think I’ve missed any – I did it quite quickly!)

Finally, they chose 13 of the highlighted words to circle, evenly spaced throughout the text.

At home, I plugged the text into the OUP cloze maker (you need to log in, but it’s free), then created five versions of the cloze task based on the words students had circled. You can see them here:

It only took about 10 minutes to make all of them once I’d worked out how to use the cloze maker! You can also use texts from the FCE Result coursebook to create your own cloze tasks.

I think I got this idea from Phil Warwick, at a conference in either Brno or Bratislava, so thanks to him for inspiring me 🙂


This is my 100th blog post 🙂

Buenos Aires art fair
One of my #eltpics

I started my blog back in October last year, but I only wrote a couple of posts before it got forgotten. At the end of December I took part in my first #eltchat on Twiiter, then preceded to have ten days off work with no voice and a bad cough. The combination of the high from #eltchat and an almost complete lack of face-to-face contact with the world was just the motivation I needed to get both my blog and my Twitter participation off the ground. Since then, the two have been intertwined, and have changed my teaching and my life.
Through Twitter I have met an amazing international group of educators from around the world who constantly motivate and inspire me to be a better teacher. They have opened up a world of technology which have helped to shape my contact with students and extended it to outside the classroom through sites such as Edmodo. I have learnt hundreds of activities through #eltchat, a weekly conversation which I take part in as often as I can and have many times written summaries for. I am now one of the curators for #eltpics, a resource which I am hugely proud to be a part of (with Victoria, Fiona and Carol). I have got work as a follow-up to entering a competition I heard about on Twitter. I have also received a scholarship for the IATEFL conference in 2012, when my presentation will bring many of these strands together by being based on research about how to encourage students to use online materials. I am greatly looking forward to the TESOL France conference in Paris at the beginning of November when I will finally get to meet many of these fascinating people, a conference which I didn’t even know existed before joining Twitter. Lizzie Pinard has visited me in Newcastle, and I’ve Skyped with Naomi Epstein, Barbara Sakamoto, Eduardo Siemens and Ceri Jones. I’ve also written a joint post with Ceri and blogged for Barbara. Twitter has also become my staple seminar -so far I’ve introduced five groups to the site, and hopefully they won’t be the last!
On the blog front, I feel like it’s been going from strength to strengh as my confidence has built up. I particularly enjoy sharing materials and hearing how others have used them. I would like to thank everyone who has commented and retweeted my posts – this helped me to overcome the common fear that I have nothing to add to the blogosphere. Now I feel like my blog has become a place to experiment and share my experiences so that others can build on them.
To end with, here are a few facts and figures:

Thank you for all of your support, and here’s to another hundred!

Compare and contrast: two cities

This is my contribution to Brad Patterson‘s Compare and Contrast Photo Challenge.

I chose to share with you pictures of two of my favourite cities. The first is Durham, UK.

DurhamThis view was taken from the railway station, where many people get their first view of the city. This includes Bill Bryson, who became Chancellor of Durham University while I was there, and who I was lucky enough to get my degree from. The weather is fairly typical! It shows the cathedral and castle, which together form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Durham Cathedral is my favourite building in the world 🙂

The second is Brno, Czech Republic.

BrnoThis view was from the balcony of the second flat I lived in there. You’ll understand why it was difficult to get any work done, with my desk positioned so that I was looking out onto this! This was an early morning shot, one of probably about 100 shots at various times of day and in various weather conditions which I took while I was living there. If you want to see more about Brno, you can watch a video I made about it here.

My questions for students are:

  • What do you think it’s like living in these two cities?
  • What might be the advantages and disadvantages of living in a city like this?
  • What tourist attractions do you think each city has?

Thanks for setting the challenge Brad!


A Twitter activity

When I did my Twitter seminar on Friday last week (blog post here) I started with a new activity, and it seemed to work really well. It was something I’d heard about before, but couldn’t find an appropriate time to use.

We started off with a big pile of scrap paper (A4 divided into four were the perfect size), plus a writing implement each. I took a piece of paper and wrote:


As a teacher, one of my biggest problems is giving instructions. What should I do?

To prove this (!) I then told the group that they could either offer me advice or add their own problems. There were a few rules though:

  • no talking throughout the activity – the only communication could be on paper
  • write your name at the top of each piece of paper so that we can see who the message is on
  • one piece of paper per message, and don’t write too small (this is to simulate the ‘soundbite’ nature of Twitter)
  • you must place your paper at the end of the line (we had them all arranged on a row of tables), regardless of whether the previous piece of paper was what you were replying to (to simulate the Twitter stream)

The resulting ‘discussion’ was about ten minutes long and went really well. Here are a selection of our ‘tweets’ in no particular order to give you a taste of what we were talking about:

Tweets 1Tweet 2Tweet 3

After we’d finished the chat I asked the DELTees how they felt during the chat. This is what they came up with:

Twitter adjectives

The ‘chat’ was stimulating and made the rest of the seminar more interesting (at least, that’s how it felt) as they could really feel how Twitter works. I compared the amount of ‘tweets’ nine of us produced in ten minutes to the amount fifty or sixty of us produce in an hour on #eltchat and that got them really interested.

Two of them have already told me that they’ve signed up, and one more said she would sign up next weekend. This is much higher than my normal 1/12-15 hit rate! I really think this activity made all the difference, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone doing a Twitter for PD seminar, or to try out in class.


The £100 challenge

This was something I did a few weeks back with a group of Elementary students. It could probably be adapted for your students without too much trouble.

We spent a couple of days talking about types of shop and what you could buy from them. I then gave them a time limit and sent them off into the local shopping centre in pairs. They had to decide what they would spend their £100 on and take photos of each item. The pair who got closest to £100 and had the best reasons for their purchases were the winners, as decided by the other students in the group. They really enjoyed it and I hope your students do too 🙂

To download, click ‘view on slideshare’. You may have to log in (not sure), but it’s completely free. You should then be able to click on ‘download’ above the document.