Grammar Guru

Originally posted on Idioma Extra:

I used to vs. I am used to…

used to

Take a look at the following two sentences. what’s the difference in meaning?

“I used to drink green tea.”

“I am used to drinking tea.”

I used to + base

“I used to drink green tea.”

“I used to drink green tea”, means that, in the past I drank green tea, but now I don’t. Used to describes an action that did happen, but doesn’t happen now. Check out these great examples:

“When I was young I used to play with dolls, but I don’t anymore.”
“Before I passed my driving test, I used to ride my bicycle everywhere.”

I am used to + noun or gerund

“I am used to drinking green tea.”

“I am used to drinking green tea”, means that, at first drinking green tea was strange and unusual, but now it has become familiar. Be used to describes an action that…

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7 habits of a highly effective teacher

this seems a highly attractive nsme for a webinar! i might try to attend if everything goes as planned

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How to ask questions to encourage more fluency in class?

How to ask the right questions to provoke more speaking&discussion in class?

You might have heard that to be good at (Business) English teaching, you don’t have to know all the specifics of our students’ business, you have to ask the right questions. to a certain point, sounds quite fair to me, but which questions are right?

I love asking these questions because they let me tap into the real feelings and attitudes of my students, instead of just getting the standard expected answers we often get.

here is my top-list, and I’ll be happy if you add more.

“Is it good or bad?” (or “is it good news?”)

Works best when discussing some news, be it politics or the coming changes in the company. The student would typically share what has actually happened or is about to happen, but it’s usually a goldmine to turn their attention to the implications and outcomes for themselves, the company, the country, etc.

Why is it a good question? the student will often have to stop and think in order to assess the change properly, then he/ she will have to formulate their opinion, which will bring a lot of highly useful and emotional vocabualry into the class. And as we all know, emotional content tends to be better remembered.

“is it the way it’s done in your company?” (or “how is it different in your company?”/ “would it work in your company?/ in our country”)

Why is it a good question?It’s an opportunity to personalise what’s being discussed and still to keep the discussion focused on the topic, and an opportunity to go through a topic for the second time – from a different angle. it also helps to get the students’ own perspective of a problem or issue, which is always interesting and can be used as a foundation for further work

What advice would you offer? (or “what would you recommend?”)

Why is it a good question? It lets our professional students (and that’s mostly who we teach BE to) be asked a natural question, the question that treats them as experts and encourages them to turn to their professional expertise and experience. works well with different case studies.

note: this question can be asked only when more or less realistic situation is being discussed (e.g. a candidate choosing the most appopriate job, with a number of detailed job descriptions provided; a company facing a crisis, when the background and the current situation details are given)

“Can you prioritise… (e.g. the actions to be taken, the ways of solving a problem, etc) / or“what is the best….., and why?”

Why is it a good question? Different kinds of ranking usually activates the memory. Moreover, it makes our students evaluate all the options on offer, explain why something goes to a higher or a lower end and sometimes even refer to their own experience and insights, which (again!) brings more speaking opportunities into class!


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how much personalisation is enough?

That’s the question that has been constantly nagging  me laltely. Don’t get me wrong, I am a true advocate of personalising materials for our students, basing the whole activities on their experience and expertise, and asking them for their professional opinions on the matters described in the materials, but recently I’ve been having some doubts: was I overdoing it?

I teach HR English to one of my students. We follow the “English for Human Resources” Express Series Book, which is fine to refer to as a course structure, but not in all parts appropriate for an active professional like my student, unlike for the pre-service trainees. usually a part of a unit would be quite appropriate and good to base a lesson on, and part of it would be OK, but actually just stating the obvious (especially in case of a professional and experienced HR person). In the latter case I would always try to find some alternative ways to teach what’s being taught by that “obvious” text or exercise, to adapt it to make it work for us, or in some difficult (=irrelevan) case I’d just omit that part.

The last time such fit of remaking all the activities, exercises and questions caught me, we were asked to do a whole bunch of activities (including listening, reading, writing and speaking)  based on job descriptions and person specifications. I was having serious doubts if we had to start discussing a topic at all, because I remember her telling me they didn’t use any person specifications as a particular document at all because all the stakeholders were in a position to judge if a candidate was right or wrong for their organisation.

First I decided to skip the person specification part – because why would we discuss it if they didn’t use them?  Then I had second thoughts, because even if they didn’t have an official document, they would still discuss their applicants and use the personality adjectives, which was one of the reasons the person specifications topic appeared in the book. the other reservation I had was that one day she could change her job and start working for a company where they did use person specification, so I didn’t have a right to deprive her of that material. We did the task, with my apologizing warning that as it was a standart thing in many HR departments, and that it was full of useful adjectives and why wouldn’t we take a look at it just in case.

I know such a policy (of following the book? No, it couldn’t be me!)  could sound very boring and not progressive at all. I’ve always chosen personalisation and student’s choice over the book’s contents, but I still feel there could be some benefit of doubt to it. Especially because my student is usually quite willing to discuss the matters far from her own HR situation.

I would even say that the more polarised the things are from each other (like the standard practice to write a rejection letter after an unsuccessful interview and the company’s policy not to write such letters), the more discussion points they offer (there is an opportunity for a student to explain why that’s now used in their company, why it would work for some other companies, comment on the advantages and disadvantes, as well as to tell about the alternative they choose)

Because if something is very far from our student’s circumstances, it’s even better – it’s a fantastic opportunity to see the contrast, to compare the text’s situation against the student’s reality, and possibly to give some advice to the “book people” from the other side. (which, to speak in practical terms, could be arranged as a discussion, a talk show, a writing task, etc).

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May holidays and an emotional worksheet

Рисунок1 In my country the first 2 weeks of May are not really very busy: first there is the Labour day (1.05), then the is the Victory Day (09.05), and in between a lot of people take some days off. As a result, I’ve almost never taught at this period. This year I spent this holiday period in the country too, so it feels like a real mini-vacation.

I suppose it feels like that to my students too, that’s why I decided to create a light worksheet, which is basically a framework nudging the students to remember their time off work (be it in May or in any other month) and to talk about it. I tried to use a lot of adjectives to make the talk emotional.

Hope you’ll like it too!

holiday memories

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It’s All Semantics

Originally posted on So, You Think You Can Teach ESL?:

I found this on Reddit. It is a good way to practice remembering changing the stress on a word can also change the meaning.


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The pyramid of lies

Svetlana Urisman (Englishteachingnotes):

the pyramid looking familiar..Although reading has always worked well for me – much better than the 10%…

Originally posted on Evidence into practice:

In my NQT year I found myself contesting the use of brain gym in my school (I even got sent on a course to ‘convert me’). The experience set me up nicely – as it reminded me to doubt everything I was told about education! Pseudo-psychological claims are like sharp nails on a blackboard for me. One of my earliest blogs was about the nonsense of VAK and it’s depressing to see that it’s still such a persistent idea despite its thorough debunking.

There’s something about education – it seems vulnerable to pseudoscientific ideas like no other professional field. It’s a genuine embarrassment for the profession, that there persists such credulity with regard to educational claims.

I was recently reminded of another piece of egregious pseudoscience that, like a virus laying dormant, seems to pop up every so often to infect teaching materials. It’s the idea that we remember only 5% of a lecture…

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getting our students to focus on success

next time I get a new student, I’ll add one more point to my long-established 1st class procedures. it will be the GROW model suggested in “from English teacher to learner coach”.

GROW stands for:

goal -the end point where the student wants to arrive

reality -how far the student is from their goal, what they can and can’t do

obstacles -reasons why the student hasn’t reached their goal yet (it can be about lack of time ir motivation, limited access to resources, etc)

options -once the obstacles have been identified, what are the options to overcome them and to reach the goal?  how can the motivation be increased, what can be done under the conditions of limited time, etc?

way forward: options being converted into concrete, measurable steps. (a plan to spend 15 mins a day reading/ listening to podcasts, etc)

this GROW model seems to me a great tool to get students concentrated on their future progress and to let them see their progress broken down into smaller steps. And this is a great way to make all these “I want to improve my English” and “I want my English to become better” much closer to reality…



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end-of-unit experiment (with a lot of information in brackets)

I’ve experimented with it a couple of times already, but not always has it been very successful – due to the lack of time, apparently.

As this experiment is somehow in line with the ideas and attitudes proposed by “from English teacher to learner coach” by Daniel Barber and Duncan Foord , I decided to share it here.

Every time my student(s) and me are about to finish a really useful unit in the book (and to be honest it doesn’t happen very often as, with all the things we add to accompany each unitl, it normally takes A LOT of time: ), I have an urge to create an opportunity for more (independent) practice for my students – in other words, not to let them simply turn over the next page and forget all the great vocabulary, grammar and other things (even if it’s just several pictures to be remembered) about it, but to encourage them to look through the unit again, re-assess it, prioritise and take something away with them. As much as I want my students to do all these things with the unit, I can’t get involved wih the process too much – otherwise it will be not their, but “my” thing, so I have to let my students act.

The idea is just to ask the learners to decide which things are the most useful and worth taking away and remembering for future use, and then possibly sharing this knowledge with the trainer (and the group of there is the group). I thought it would be a great hometask – some quiet time to reflect on the unit, to look up some forgotten vocab, to remember what that text was about…

Well, I still think it’s a great task and an intention which should work just fine for highly motivated students. Let me confess though: out of 3 times that I assigned it as a hometask for my students, only once was it done. In all the other cases I listened to a long and captivating tale of how important the task was and how much they had intended to do it, and how reality prevented them from doing it – well, you all know the lines…

So the last time I made it a part of a lesson (it was another one-to-one course,and I was pretty sure that student would never find time – or rather reason – to reflect and prioritise on her own). It worked out beautifully: she took some post-its to write down the new (or unnoticed/ forgotten) words, tried to remember (quite successfully) what the text and the listening tasks were about, and refreshed several grammar points we had discussed, so it all resulted into considerably much speaking with some elements of grammar and vocabulary, to go with a precious feeling of achievement . And we were both happy with that.

Such a task seems to me a consistent alternative to a unit test – a more conscious one, and certainly the one that involves the student’s mind a lot.

Now we are about to finish the next unit, so I suppose we’ll repeat the experiment, and I might even risk assigning it as a hometask!

Anyway, what do you think? Would you ask your students to do such a reflection/ prioritising task? How would you go about it?



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Teaching low level Business English

Svetlana Urisman (Englishteachingnotes):

Looking for materials to teach a very low-level student.(who is actually my husband).will see if and how this will work out;-)

Originally posted on Oxford University Press:

Businessmen shaking handsJohn Hughes is an author of Business Result . The new Starter level of this series will be launched in November at the BESIG 2013 conference in Prague. John will also be running a workshop on teaching low level Business English at BESIG called ‘Communicating much much more with a whole lot less!’

As a new teacher in the early nineties I often used to hear the widely-held view from more experienced colleagues that: “You don’t teach Business English at lower levels. The students just need to learn the basics. It isn’t business.” By the late nineties this view had rapidly altered; it soon became accepted that students at Pre-Intermediate level did in fact need English to help make telephone calls, write emails, meet people and make brief presentations. Logically, it then followed that Elementary students in companies also needed lessons with work-based English that focussed on ‘getting…

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