Saturday, 27 October 2012

Do you understand eye language?

The eyes are said to be the windows of the soul. You've probably heard of "body language". "Eye language" is an interesting aspect of non-verbal communication through facial expression.

Read here to discover more about what we can learn from the language of the eyes:

While you read, highlight or underline key words or phrases.

After you read, choose five important vocabulary items you don't understand. Check the words in a dictionary (such as as ), and add them to your vocabulary notebook.

To reinforce your learning, use each of the new vocabulary items in a sentence.

Instant Lesson on Perspective and Perception

When we change our perspective, we can change the way we perceive what we see.

Take a look at the image below. It's a type of "optical illusion".

What colours do you see in the upper and lower boxes?

Now, place your finger across the line separating the two boxes. Look again. The colours in the two boxes appear the same now, don't they?


perspective (n.) - view, outlook, angle of vision; view which shows the relationships of parts and the whole

perceive (v.) - to become aware of, to see, to understand
perception (n.) - the act of perceiving

optical(adj.) - related to the eyes or vision

illusion (n.) - an incorrect perception of reality

Do you enjoy hearing and seeing other people's perspectives on issues and events?

Can you think of examples of other times when your perception of "reality" has been challenged?

How can looking at life from different perspectives be helpful?

The Benefits of Pets

Do you own a pet -- or does a pet, perhaps, own you? All pet owners know how rewarding the companionship of an animal can be.

"Owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety; health-wise, it can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke. But the positives don’t stop there."

Read about the numerous benefits pets bring at .

What kinds of animals do you think are the best pets? Why?
Should the number of pets per household be restricted? Why or why not?
What are the most important benefits of pets, in your view?

Phrasal Verbs - Guide and Exercise with Answers

Phrasal Verbs

A phrasal verb has 2 or more words:

to run into
to run away with
to run over

It has a special meaning.

I must give up coffee. I can’t sleep at night.

To give up coffee is to stop drinking coffee because it is a bad habit.

Sometimes phrasal verbs have more than one meaning.

I’ve tried and tried to make my mother stop drinking coffee but she won’t.
I give up !

In this sentence, to give up is to stop trying because something is too difficult.

Practice: Put the phrasal verbs below into the appropriate sentences.
You may need to make some changes for tense & person.

get into get over take off try on
run over put on run into give up
speak up look for shut up put off
look up end up drop in break up

1. “Why is Christine crying ?” “Because she ………… with her boyfriend last night.”

2. You are welcome to ………… any time you go past my house.

3. We looked for the bus-stop for hours but we couldn’t find it.We …………….. getting a taxi.

4. I am really ……………… this book. I have read more than 100 pages since I came home from school.

5. You need to rest more if you want to ………….. your ‘flu.

6. I found the twenty dollars I thought I’d lost and it has stopped raining so we can go to the beach. Things ……………. !

7. Tomorrow you must tell your friend that you broke her mp3 player. You can’t …………………. any longer.

8. I want to change my seat in class. I can’t concentrate.The boy who sits next to me never ………………………..!

9. If you feel too hot, why don’t you ……………….your sweater ?

10. I’ll ask the shop assistant to bring me the next size to …………..This skirt is too tight.

11.I am late because I spent 10 minutes ………… keys.

12. How terrible ! A car ………. her pet rabbit and killed it.

13. …………your jacket. It’s cold outside.

14. Could you ……………., please ? I can’t hear.

15. I must ……………. chocolate. I am getting too fat.

16. I ……………. James at the market yesterday . I hadn’t seen him for months.

1. broke up 2. drop in 3. ended up 4. getting into 5. get over 6. are looking up 7. put it off 8. shuts up 9. take off 10. try on 11. looking for 12. ran over 13. put on 14. speak up 15. give up 16. ran into

The Importance of Reading and Writing ~ Carl Sagan

Friday, 26 October 2012

Prepositions of Time - Guide and Exercise with Answers

Prepositions of Time


at : exact time - at 2.40 pm
name of a holiday - at Christmas

on : name of a day - on Saturday, on Christmas Day

in: part of the day - in the morning ( * but : at night)
name of a month - in July
name of a year - in 1996
name of a season - in summer

1. ….. Friday, Lisa and I walked to school together.

2. I always visit my brother ….. Easter.

3. My birthday is ….. March.

4. I was born ….. 1903.

5. ”When do you have dinner?” asked Diem.
“….. 6 o’clock,” said Kazia.

6. ….. Wednesdays, my brother has swimming lessons.

7. We started English classes …… Tuesday morning …. 8.30 a.m.

8. ….. the morning I go to school, ….. the afternoon I go to the library
and …. the evening I spend time with my family.

9. We finish school … two-thirty.

10. Australia Day is ….. January.

11. Every morning I get up … 6 o’clock.

12. I never walk home … night.

13. ….. Spring, the flowers bloom.

14. In Australia, the school year ends …. December and starts …. February.

15. Sarah’s baby was born ….. Friday …. one o’clock.

16. ….. 1983 I went to europe.

Answers: 1. on 2. at 3. in 4. in 5. at 6. on 7. on, at 8. in, in, in 9. at 10. in 11. at 12. at 13. in 14. in, in 15. on, at 16. in

Prepositions of Place - Guide and Short Exercise with Answers

Prepositions of Place


in : when something is all around, on all sides
in the phone-box
in my pocket
in the garden
in the kitchen
swimming in the pool

in + town/country
Kate lives in Ma On Shan.
Sydney is in Australia.

in + street name
in Sai Sha road

on : for a surface
lying on the rug
walking on the footpath
a number on the door
egg on your shirt

on: for a line
a town on this road
a bridge on the river

on + floor
on the first floor of the building

at : for a position, a point in space
someone at the door
sitting at my desk
at the end of the street

at + house /address
at 65 Bridge Road
at John’s house

Some common phrases :

in prison
in hospital
in a book
in a movie
in a photo
in the country
in the sky
in the middle

on the farm
on the page
on the screen
on an island
on the beach
on the right/left

at the station
at the airport
at home
at school
at work
at the top
at the bottom
at the end

in / on / at

1. We spent the whole holiday ….. the beach.
2. I read about kangaroos ….. a magazine.
3. Suzy’s flat is ….. the twenty-first floor.
4. Julia was holding a small bird ….. her hands.
5. I’ll meet you ….. the airport.
6. London is ..... the Thames River.
7. There weren’t many books ….. the shelves.
8. We had to change planes ….. Beijing.

Answers: 1. at 2. in 3. on 4. in 5. at 6. on 7. on 8. in

Halloween Vocabulary Exercise (Easy)


Work with a partner. From the words in the below, find the best word to complete the sentences.

celebrate Halloween witches earth dress up scared costume pretend decorate skeletons carved pumpkins lanterns apple-bobbing blindfolds Trick or Treat ghosts evil spirits

1. Every year children like to …………. Halloween.The festival of ……………. is held on October 31st.Some people say that on this night many bad things walk around the ………… .

2. …………. are the spirits of dead people. Some people use firecrackers to frighten away …………. …………. . ………………… are women who wear black clothes and ride through the night on broomsticks. ……………… are the bones of people or animals. For Halloween, my sister is going to ………… ……. as a witch. I am helping her sew a black ………… . My brother wants to …………… he is a ghost by wearing a white sheet.

3. We bought some orange …………… at the market and we …………. them with scary faces. We put candles inside to make ……………. . We will …………. the house with pictures of other scary things, like spiders’ webs.

4 …………………… is a game in which children lift apples from a bowl of water with their teeth. In “House of Horrors”, another Halloween game, children wear …………… and touch things that feel strange. The most famous Halloween game is “…………………………………”.

Answers(in order): celebrate, Halloween, earth, ghosts, evil spirits, witches, skeletons, dress up, costume, pretend, pumpkins, carved, lanterns, decorate, apple-bobbing, blindfolds, Trick or Treat

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What's your favourite colour?

If your answer to the question, "What's your favourite colour?" is "Blue", your answer is the same as that of approximately half the people in most parts of the world.

Read more about the special qualities of the colour blue at

What's your favourite colour? Why do you like this colour?
Is your favourite colour the same as, or different to, the favourite colour of most people you know?
What are the special meanings of some colours in your home culture?

No apostrophe when "its" is an adjective!

Simple, isn't it?

When "its" is an adjective, like "my" or "your" or his" or "their", you don't use an apostrophe.

You don't write "hi's door", you write "his door"; you don't write "it's door", you write "its door".

Which door? His door! Its door!

Just too easy!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Unappetizing Lunch - A joke

Do you like to tell jokes? Here's one about an English teacher.

One day in America, a little boy pretended to be sick.

"Dad, I don't want to go to school today," said the boy.

"Why not, son?" asked his father.

"Well,” said the son, “One of the chickens on the school farm died last week and we had chicken soup for lunch the next day.”

“So?” said his Dad.

“And three days ago one of the pigs died and we had roast pork the next day…” said the boy.

"But why don't you want to go today?" asked his Dad.

"Because the English teacher died yesterday."


In your culture, do people like to "tell jokes"?

Is there a difference in the kinds of humour men and women prefer?

Using Adjective Clauses

Are you sometimes unsure how to make adjective clauses (also called "relative clauses")? Here's a useful summary chart:


Person: who/that

I met a girl. She fell in love with me. → I met a girl who/that fell in love with me.

Thing: which/that

I have a car. It is fast. → I have a car which/that is fast.


Person: who(m)/that/Ø

The man was Mr. Jones. I saw him. → The man who(m)/that/Ø I saw was Mr. Jones

Thing: which/that/Ø

The movie was good. We saw it last night. →

The movie which/that/Ø we saw last night was good.

Object of a preposition

Person: who(m)/that/Ø

She is the woman. I told you about her. →She is the woman who(m)/that/Ø I told you about.
OR She is the woman about whom I told you.

Thing: which/that/Ø

The music was good. We listened to it last night. → The music which/that/Ø we listened to last night was good.
OR The music to which we listened last night was good.

Possessive: whose

I know the man. His bicycle was stolen. → I know the man whose bicycle was stolen.

Place: where/which/that/Ø

The building is old. He lives there (in that building). →
The building where he lives is very old.
OR The building in which he lives is very old.
OR The building which he lives in is very old.
OR The building that he lives in is very old.
OR The building Ø he lives in is very old.

Time: when/on which/that/Ø

I’ll never forget the day. I met you then (on that day). →
I’ll never forget the day when I met you.
OR I’ll never forget the day on which I met you.
OR I’ll never forget the day that I met you.
OR I’ll never forget the day Ø I met you.

For more information and exercises, go to

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Using Perfect and Continuous Verb Forms in English

Understanding Tense and Aspect in English

To use English verbs correctly, you need to understand both tense and aspect.

Tense marks past, present and future time. Closely linked to tense is the concept of aspect, which adds a further time perspective. Aspect reflects the way in which the action of a verb is viewed with respect to time, answering questions such as: ‘Is the event or state completed or still in progress?’.

There are two forms of aspect in English, the perfect aspect and the progressive aspect (sometimes called the continuous aspect). The perfect aspect usually describes events or states which occur or begin during a previous period of time. The progressive aspect describes events or states which are in progress or continuing.

“I have read your letter.” uses the “present perfect” verb form, made with the present form, “have” + past participle, “read”.
“Present” shows the time and “Perfect” shows the aspect (completed).
There is a connection between something that happened in the past and the present time.

“I had read your letter.” uses the “past perfect” verb form, made with the past form, “had” + past participle.
“Past” shows the time and “Perfect” shows the aspect (completed).
There is a connection between something which happened in the past and another past moment in time.

“I have been reading your letter.” uses the present perfect progressive verb form, made with the present form, “have” + past participle, “been” + progressive form, “reading”
The perfect aspect shows that the action began in the past and the progressive aspect shows that it continued and may still be happening now.

(Adapted from Present perfect aspect – article by Kerry G. Maxwell and Lindsay Clandfield)

Check your understanding by trying the exercises:

***Don’t feel frustrated if you can’t always use these verb forms correctly! It takes time to fully understand and master the use of tense and aspect in English.

American and British English Vocabulary Differences

Here's a fun exercise to help you learn some differences in British and American English vocabulary:

(from the British Council's excellent resources for learning English)

You will also find a list of the main points in which British English differs from American English at .

Keep in mind that these differences are really very minor. UK and US English are by FAR more alike than different!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Understanding Tonic Stress in Spoken English

Improving sentence intonation is one of the key elements in your English pronunciation. The four basic types of word stress that lead to proper intonation in English are:

* tonic stress
* emphatic stress
* contrastive stress
* new information stress

Tonic Stress

Tonic stress refers to the syllable in a word which receives the most stress in an intonation unit. An intonation unit has one tonic stress. It's important to remember that a sentence can have more than one intonation unit, and therefore have more than one tonic stress. Here are some examples of intonation units with the tonic stress bolded.

He's waiting
He's waiting / for his friend
He's waiting / for his friend / at the station.

Generally, the final tonic stress in a sentence receives the most stress. In the above example, 'station' receives the strongest stress.

There are a number of instances in which the stress changes from this standard. Here are short explanations for each of the changes with example sentences to illustrate.

Emphatic Stress

If you decide to emphasize something, you can change the stress from the principal noun to another content word such as an adjective (big, difficult, etc.), intensifier (very, extremely, etc.) This emphasis calls attention to the extraordinary nature of what you want to emphasize.

For example:

That was a difficult test. - Standard statement

That was a difficult test. - Emphasizes how difficult the test was

There are a number of adverbs and modifiers which tend to be used to emphasize in sentences that receive emphatic stress.


Contrastive Stress

Contrastive stress is used to point out the difference between one object and another. Contrastive stress tends to be used with determiners such as 'this, that, these and those'.

For example:

I think I prefer this color.
Do you want these or those curtains?

Contrastive stress is also used to bring out a given word in a sentence which will also slightly change the meaning.

* He came to the party yesterday. (It was he, not someone else.)
* He walked to the party yesterday. (He walked rather than drove.)
* He came to the party yesterday. (It was a party not a meeting or something else.)
* He came to the party yesterday. (It was yesterday not two weeks ago or some other time.)

New Information Stress

When asked a question, the requested information is naturally stressed more strongly.

For example:

Where are you from? - I come from Seattle, in the USA.
What do you want to do? - I want to go bowling.
When does class begin? - The class begins at nine o'clock.

Use these various types of stress to help improve your pronunciation and understandability.

Does Handwriting Matter?

"... we are at a moment when handwriting seems to be about to vanish from our lives altogether. At some point in recent years, it has stopped being a necessary and inevitable intermediary between people – a means by which individuals communicate with each other, putting a little bit of their personality into the form of their message as they press".

Read the complete article at:


inevitably (adv.): unavoidably, inescapably

One occasion on which you MUST still write by hand is the IELTS test. Undoubtedly, though, people are writing by hand far less frequently than in the past.

Do you enjoy writing by hand? When?

Is handwriting still important? Why or why not?

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Differing world views of Asian and European Americans

" The way we see ourselves in the world can affect how we answer ambiguous questions like: “Next Wednesday's meeting has been moved forward two days. What day is the meeting now on?” "

How would you answer this question?

See the different answers Asian Americans and European Americans give and read more about the difference between the way these two subcultures view the world at .


ambiguous (adj.) - unclear, with more than one meaning

In what ways do you think your own culture affects your view of the world?

Do you think people from different cultures are more different than they are similar?

Listening Practice: "Music as a Language"

Yet another excellent TED talk for listening practice and reflection:

"Music is a powerful communication tool--it causes us to laugh, cry, think and question. Bassist and five-time Grammy winner, Victor Wooten, asks us to approach music the same way we learn verbal language--by embracing mistakes and playing as often as possible."

What do you think of Wooten's idea?
Is music an important part of your own life and culture?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Good news, speakers -- others don't know how nervous you are!

If you fear speaking to a an audience, you are not alone. Indeed, "public speaking" is often ranked in surveys as people's number one fear!

Speaking in a second or third language can also make us feel nervous, especially in exam or test contexts. Teachers often advise students to act confidently at such times, even if it's necessary to "fake it". Adopting confident body language actually makes you feel more confident and so helps you to perform better. In turn, your audience responds more positively to you: it's a "win-win" situation.

Here's some other good news for those who fear speaking to a group, in a second language, or both! Research has found that others can't tell how nervous you feel.

"In one study in which people gave extemporaneous speeches, participants were asked to rate their own nervousness (Savitsky & Gilovich, 2003). This was then compared with audience ratings.

The results showed that people tended to over-estimate just how nervous they appeared to others. And this is a consistent finding. We think others can read more from our expressions than they really can."

Read the article here:


to fake (something) - to pretend

a "win-win" situation - a situation in which everyone benefits

extemporaneous (adj.) - unprepared, improvised

Do you feel nervous when speaking a second language or to a group? What strategies do you use to overcome your nerves?

What would you list as your "number one fear"?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Do you say "Autumn" or "fall"?

Most of us know that in American English, the word for the season before winter is "fall" while users of British English prefer "Autumn".

Here's some fascinating background to this difference in vocabulary:

Canadians, meanwhile, switch between the two terms. Read more here:

This beautiful photograph is from the article on .

How many seasons per year are there where you live? What are their names?
Which are your favourite and least favourite seasons?

Monday, 8 October 2012

Is Your Facebook Page A Lie?

A student in her first year at a London university found a disparity* between the seemingly connected and fulfilling lives represented on Facebook and the reality.

""I thought that everyone on Facebook was having a better time than me," says Jemma. "A lot of people I knew had gone to universities in big cities, so my Facebook feed was constantly flooded with evidence of the great nightlife in these places. This upset me because I wasn't being tagged in pictures enjoying myself like they were."

"If you're having a bad day, the last thing you want to do is go on Facebook and see another happy couple or another fun party that you're not at," agrees Natasha."

Read the complete story here:


disparity (n.) - a gap; a difference

Do you think that the way people represent their lives online generally matches the reality?

Is a social medium like Facebook a good place to share your dissatisfaction or unhappiness in life?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

IELTS Reading - 10 Top Tips

IELTS Reading – 10 top tips IELTS Reading

Adapted from Dominic Cole's IELTS Blog

For many academic IELTS candidates reading is the hardest paper and the one which requires most training. Following are suggestions for different ways to make that training as efficient as possible. These pieces of advice are fairly general and are designed to help you think about the best way to train yourself in IELTS reading and how to avoid some common mistakes.

1. Beat the fear – read as much as possible

My first suggestion is to read as much as possible. By this I don’t mean do endless IELTS practice tests, I mean do as much general reading as possible. I suggest you focus on reading short articles on topics that interest you or on topics that are common in IELTS – newspapers and magazines are a great resource here.

One reason why this is such a good idea is that many candidates freeze in the reading believing it is too hard and so fail to get their band score. If, however, you read enough “native English” before the exam, you will become more and more confident in looking at texts where you don’t understand every word. Confidence is a very important concept in IELTS. Find something that interests you and read. That’s all.

2. Improve key skills – skimming and scanning and reading in detail

A major problem in the exam is the length of the texts and you will not have time to read them all carefully. You need to train your speed reading skills so that you can read as efficiently as possible. Two important skills are skimming which is reading quickly for general meaning and scanning which is looking for specific information.
You may sometimes see advice saying that you don’t need to read in detail. Incorrect. Bad advice. You shouldn’t read the whole text in detail but you will need to parts of the text in detail – if you want to get the right answer. Put simply, skimming and scanning are useful skills to help show you where the answer might be: reading in detail tells you what the answer is.

3. Time management – experiment to see what works

Because the texts are so long you need to have a definite strategy for how you manage your time in the exam to make sure you finish on time. This means deciding:
how long you look at the text before answering questions
how long you spend on each question
how long you spend on each group of questions
how long you spend on each text
do you leave time at the end to go back at look at unanswered questions?

There is a lot to consider here. You will find books and websites that insist you do it their way. They may claim to have a magic formula and that you must do this or you must do that. Ignore them. Their advice may be good for some people but not for you.
The key point here is that different learners have different styles and different needs. Much the best advice here is to experiment and try different approaches and see what works best for you.

4. Focus on the question – avoid careless errors

The texts in IELTS are typically quite hard, so candidates spend as much time as possible reading the texts. Mistake. Why? Well, a huge amount of mistakes are made by not focusing enough on the exact question. It can be easy if you are in a hurry to miss a word such as “always” or “often”: the problem is those sorts of words can change the meaning of questions.

There is an easy solution to this problem: it is to go back and look at the question before you write in the answer. Make sure that the question says what you think it says. You will normally save yourself 2/3 marks this way.

5. Learn the exam – know the different types of questions

There are 8/9 different types of reading question that examiners may use. Before the exam, you should make yourself familiar with each type of question as they are slightly different. Look at the different types of reading questions as a first step to see what the question types are. The next stage is to experiment and see what techniques you are going to use for each type of question.

This may mean that you approach different types of questions differently.

Details of question types here:

6. Train yourself, don’t test yourself

One common mistake candidates make is to practise exam questions too much. Exam practice is important to learn the timing (3 above) and learn the question types (5 above), but that does not mean that every time you practise reading you need to do it in exam conditions. My suggestion is that you do some “open book” tests where you can see the answers as you do the questions. This way you will learn how examiners set questions and how to find the answers. If you just test yourself, this may not happen.

7. Learn how to underline

This is a very specific piece of advice. You may believe it is wrong to write in books and generally I’d agree with you, but IELTS is different. A very strong suggestion is that you should underline words in the text in the exam. There are at least two reasons for this:
if you underline key words in the text, it can help you organise the text and this will save you time in the exam
if you find an answer, it is sensible to underline the part of the passage that relates to the question as a check (see 4 above) and to write the number of the question next to it in case you find a better answer later
How you do this will depend on you and your style. Some people underline different types of words in different ways. I’d only add that less is more: if you underline too much, it can become confusing.

8. Beware word matching – be careful with key words

One very common mistake is to match a word in the question with a word in the text and to think you have found your answer. It is almost never that simple and I am tempted to say that if the words do match, then that is not your answer. What you are normally looking for are either synonyms (words with a similar meaning) or paraphrases (short bits of text that say the same as the question.

Essay Basics

Essay Overview

1. Topic

Be sure to “answer the question”. Look carefully at the essay prompt. What are the key words? Which are the instruction words (e.g., “compare”, “discuss”, “give your opinion”). Underline or highlight these words.
Make sure your Thesis Statement, Topic Sentences, Supporting Sentences and Conclusion relate directly to the question. You must write on topic in every part of the essay. If any part of your essay is off topic, change or delete it!

2. Introduction

The first sentence of the introduction may be a “hook” which catches the reader’s attention.
The Introduction must include a Thesis Statement. The Thesis Statement gives your position (opinion or point of view) on the topic. It should be one sentence which gives an answer to the question you have been asked. Often, the Thesis Statement is the last sentence of the Introduction.
The Thesis Statement may include the topic of each body paragraph (e.g., “The internet can help students learn English in three main ways: X, Y and Z”, where X, Y and Z are the main ideas of the body paragraphs).
The other sentences of the Introduction lead the reader to the idea of your Thesis Statement. They may connect your “hook” to the Thesis Statement.

3. Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs will each have a Topic Sentence, which gives the main idea of the paragraph in one sentence, plus Evidence. Evidence is other sentences which support the Topic Sentences with examples, explanations and/or other details.

The last sentence of the body paragraphs may summarise the paragraph or lead into the next paragraph.

4. Conclusion:

In the Conclusion, the Thesis is restated. At this point, the reasons behind your Thesis should be clear to the reader. The Conclusion may summarise the main points of the essay.

Never introduce new ideas in the Conclusion. End strongly.