I am a slowpoke or How chunking helps with connected speech

Originally posted on One to one teaching and more:

I’m guessing for many teachers it won’t be anything new, but for me what happened in my one-to-one class a couple of days ago felt like a Christmas miracle.

I work with Ukrainian speakers. Ukrainian is a syllable-timed language, not stress-timed like English, so my students find sentence stress and rhythm quite challenging. They often place the stress equally on every word and give equal time to stressed and unstressed syllables in a sentence.

My usual tools for dealing with this have been drilling, tapping to stressed syllables, chanting, etc. In my experience, these techniques do help, but the results have mostly been less than I’d hoped for. Oh well, I thought, it’s a difficult language point, can’t expect swift progress here.

A couple of days ago I was teaching an intermediate student and we were working with the following utterance:
I always get rid of old things at Christmas.

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the video I nearly lost: looks like a great base to revise&refresh grammar tenses

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teaching grammar based on what our students actually SAY

A big share of my students is represented by people who have a long string of English learning experience,  especially learning grammar, and not all of this experience is always positive. That’s why I usually try to minimize all the usual things like reading the rules, answering the questions, doing the gap-fills…or at least, I try to move these (definitely useful) things to a later point in time. Because first a need for that should be established. If such need appears,the grammar work will (hopefully) not become just another topic from the student’s curriculum, but will be something meaningful to them personally. And after that there is time and space for grammar exercises, reviews and explanations.

That’s why I love making notes when my students speak, and then starting grammar review from their very own phrase.

Today in the morning I was lucky.. and here is how:

I have long known my morning student’ s problem with Present Perfect/ Past Simple choice, and we even tried once to work with it, but he still makes mistakes, although his theory seems just fine.

Last lesson we were reading about the BBC show “I’ve never seen star Wars”, and so today I asked him if he still remembered what the idea of the show was like. Part of his answer was “They ask them to do something they didn’t do before“. I noted it down and continued (happily;-) listening to him. “ahha”, I thought. So now I had the material that I could base all my grammar explanations on.

the good thing about such “personalised grammar approach” is that if I just told my student that he was having some problem with the 2 tenses and that’s why we were going to spend some time on “doing grammar”, he wouldn’t be too excited. He would probably think something like “oh, I’ve heard both of the tenses names hundreds of times, I seem to use them more or less successfully, so why bother, again?”. But in this case, as I was starting with something he has just said, he was willing to find out why it was wrong and what he should have said instead.

I know we are not always that lucky to catch our students to say exactly what we need them to (so that it corresponds to the next grammar topic in the plan/book/ our heads), but it might just mean we should focus more on what they say and not on what the book says…

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40 brilliant idioms that simply can’t be translated literally

Originally posted on TED Blog:

Tomato_Eyes What does it mean to “have tomatoes on your eyes?” Find out below…

By Helene Batt and Kate Torgovnick May

It’s a piece of cake. You can’t put lipstick on a pig. Why add fuel to the fire? Idioms are those phrases that mean more than the sum of their words. As our Open Translation Project volunteers translate TED Talks into 105 languages, they’re often challenged to translate English idioms into their language. Which made us wonder: what are their favorite idioms in their own tongue?

Below, we asked translators to share their favorite idioms and how they would translate literally. The results are laugh-out-loud funny.

From German translator Johanna Pichler:

The idiom: Tomaten auf den Augen haben.
Literal translation: “You have tomatoes on your eyes.”
What it means: “You are not seeing what everyone else can see. It refers to real objects, though — not abstract meanings.”

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business&office buzzwords: article and worksheet

Last year I came across a real gem of an article – at least it looks like one from an ESL teacher’s perspective. I am sure it was not the use the author of the article had in mind, but it still worked perfectly for me and some of my students (the ones studying business English) , so I decided to share. The article was published in December on my favourite Mind Tools site

The worksheet based on the article introduces us to some terribly overused buzzwords (or buzzphrases? idioms), lets us see how they can be used in a natural context, and then finishes with a speaking task that lets the students try the new vocab items out in their talk.

Here is the article along with some discussion questions:


and here is the second worksheet, which asks students match the idioms to the right definitions:

buzzwords match

As so far I’ve only tried it in one-to-one situatio, I asked my students to think of talk they might make up using as many idioms as possible.

If you work with groups, I guess playing buzzwords bingo would be just the thing.

Oh, and if you decide to take it to your classroom, please tell me how it went down!

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activities to discuss the year’s results

UPD:this year h b

here is my try at encouraging students to talk about what this year has been for them, in more or less business terms. Here is the worksheet

This year has been

It’s just a framework, so it could encourage various talks and discussion. For more advanced students, it could be just a short speaking activity, and for lower levels it would be the ending point after some preparation and learning vocabulary for success, failure and talking about results and achievements was learned.


this year is almost over..

so are you doing something to wrap up all the year’s results and achievements? Do you have any favorite activities you do at this time of the year?

I’m asking because I’ve been working on a kind of a framework activity now, and just about to test this on one of my students.

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a more personalised approach to ING and TO

The gerund vs infinitive grammar has always seemed quite tricky for teaching to me: I have always felt there wasn’t enough really good materials, especially for the one-to-one situation.  Of couing to questionsrse there are all kinds of gap-fills and contextualised gap-fills (like short gapped texts and stories, where students have to choose right forms of verbs, then they can retell the story or discuss it). And that’s mosly it. Or I was looking in some wrong place.  To me these activities seem to have a serious drawback: not much room for personalisation.

Moreover, gerund and infinitive never seems to easy a thing to my students, so as I want to provide more practice for them, I have to expose them to more and more stories and gap-fills. Which is useful, but not terribly creative – the fact that usually brings some kind of excusing intonation into my voice. Something like “I know it’s not particularly creative or interesting to you, but you have to do it because you keep saying “I suggest to talk about it later” “. And that is actually another important point: even after having done tons of exercises they keep making the same mistakes when they speak – because they tend to forget the infinitive/ gerund grammar once they are out of the exercise frame.

So here is my little attempt to make the gerund/ infinitive grammar a bit more personalised and functional, fresh, from today’s morning class:

Is there anything you’d suggest /do to improve life in your city?
Is there anything you couldn’t afford/do 10 years ago but can afford /do now?
What do you think there is no point /do after the sanctions were introduced?
What do you wish you stopped/do but can not?
What do you want your colleagues /do this week?
Do you mind/talk about personal issues with business partners?
What do u regret /not do last weekend?

These simple questions served well as a follow-up on gerunds/infinitives, were a good lesson starter and invited some speaking at the very beginning of the class.

What do you think? And what do you do about gerunds/ infinitives apart from the standard things?

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“8 secrets of success” TED-talk lesson plan

here is the lesson plan based on the TED talk by Richard St John that I referred to in my previous post about my teaching in a field. Hope you’ll find it useful.

The talk itself conveniently takes only 3 minutes, but I’ve found there is a lot to discuss and to take away.

The lesson starts with refreshing some basic vocab and introducing some people the speaker mentions in his talk (he actually bases his talk on some utterances from famous and successful people), then proceeds to watching and discussion, and finishes with a look at some viewers’ comments and some vocabulary recycling.

I’ll be happy to get your feedback if you take the lesson to class!

8 secrets of success TED worksheet


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the most (?) unusual place to teach English

Have you ever taught English (or any other language) in the middle of a field? I have – now I can put a tick in “ELT experiences list” ;-)

it’s been some time before I published anything here. Well, the reason, of course, is summer and a lot of travel.,

First, we spent a month in Barcelona, which was great but went really fast, and then some other, less exciting directions followed. One of which was my mom’s country house where we came to visit for about 10 days. I was planning to rest and to have some time with an extended family, but also to continue teaching via Skype.

As it turned out, I was wrong to take good Internet connection for granted. I had properly  prepared for the visit: having bought a portable modem to insert into a notebook, I felt prepared for my Skype lessons that were scheduled for that 10 days. Hm, I had been terribly naiive.  the connection in the garden was very weak. The same with a different Internet provider – it was definitely not enough to have a Skype lesson.

we went to the nearest town (a bigger village, in fact), where all the providers seemed to work all right. That left me with a really (not) exciting choice: to have a lesson (and remember, that was not about only 1 lesson, 3 or 4 was the original plan) at a playground, right behind the Lenin statue, or in the only  restaurant, cafe bar (?) in the town. I imagined the bar would become quite creepy by the evening, especially as we found out it was some military forces day, so it looked like too much risk for an English lesson.

So I took my last chance, bought a different provider’s equipment (there was also a nice condition that I could return it within a week if I wasn’t happy with it) and went to the field that was just halfway from our village and the town, but was accessible on foot – which made it all a little easier. (As I don’t drive, going to town would also make my mom drive me, or I could take a taxi, but all “those” ancient Zhiguli didn’t look too trustworthy to me).

Thankfully, Yota (the last provider’s name) provided a good connection, which I tested dilligently with various contacts from my Skype.

And there I was – teaching English via Skype sitting literally in a field! I am sorry it didn;t occur to me to take a picture of myself teaching (almost) in the middle of nowhere. The Sunday lesson went down perfectly normal, although the next one had to be interrupted because of a heavy rain (yes, there is a down side to teaching outdoors)

But I’m happy to announce there is a special ELT outcome of this all (along with something to talk about here in this blog post): I had to change the teaching strategy from teaching business English using the board and a lot of materials (as we mostly had to do without video to make sure the connection wouldn’r beak down) to somehting different. Luckily, at a lesson just before my move to the country house we decided to take a break from business English and serious talk, so something different would be welcomed anyway.

The first (a “good weather”) lesson I based mostly on the lesson called “Words” from Film English, and in went down really well, resulting in a good vocabulary set, a pleasant talk, and memorable mind pictures.

but another lesson (a “rainy” one) was based on a TED talk about 8 ingredients of success and seems to me a good one (almost universal) tobe taken to different classes and at different times. I’m going to share it here in the next post.


What about you?

Have you ever taught English (online or face-to-face) from some unusual place? Did it make you change your teaching approach in some way?

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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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