How to improve your English (year 1)

Now that the second term is almost over, maybe we can have a look at this list of activities, apps and resources you can use to improve your English, and particularly some skills that might be more complicated to you. All my recommendations are free, or at least have some functionalities which are free.

Using a dictionary: 

At this level, you should really be using an English-English dictionary, and only use a Spanish-English dictionary from time to time.


These are my recommendations for online dictionaries:

  • Oxford dictionary: English-English dictionary, with definition and pronunciation of the word. You can also use the thesaurus, if you want to find synonyms (and you really should).

  • Cambridge dictionary: English-English, Spanish-English dictionary, with definitions, pronunciation of the words (British and American), and phonetic transcription.
  • Macmillan dictionary: English-English dictionary, with definition, pronunciation, and very good thesaurus.


Spelling City– On this website you can create your lists of words you know you have to learn. They may come from our literacy classes, or from Social /Natural Science. Then, click on “play game”, and you can practise the words you wrote but playing games, not just memorising. It will be easier for you to remember both spelling and pronunciation.

Tutorial on how to register with Spelling City and create lists to play games.

In any case, reading is what is going to help you the most. (More about reading later)


  • For most words, go to any of the dictionaries I mentioned above.
  • For countries and place names, people, (and for all other words) you can visit this website: FORVO. Real native speakers (not computers) have recorded themselves pronouncing these words and names for you.

Type the word or name you need, then look it up:

Then you can choose if you want to listen to a British person pronouncing the word, or American, or Australian…



Apart from the books I recommended at Christmas, there are some books in English you can borrow from the school library. You have quite a few by Roald Dahl, for example. Please visit the library. You will get a Class Dojo point if you tell me examples of books in English you could borrow from the library (because you’ve had a look there).

Reading books, comics, articles online…is going to help you understand better, but it will also help you with your writing and spelling. 


In the English Department there are some films you can borrow, and that can help you improve your English. Please ask me.

You can also visit the British council Learn English section on listening. Choose exercises for A2 level, and if that’s too easy, take B1.

How to write an email to your teacher- guidelines for students

Please, bear in mind these instructions when emailing me as your teacher, or sending me a message through Edmodo:

  • You may have a peculiar email address, something like”” o “”. This is totally OK for your friends, but please, for school, use a more “serious” email address. Suitable email addresses would be “” or “”, for instance.
  • In the subject line there should be a brief summary of what the message is about. For example: “Question about Women in STEM project”
  • There needs to be a beginning to your message, which should be polite. (“Dear Natalia,“, or at least “Hi Natalia,”).
  • You need to use stops, commas, colons…just like you would use them in a writing task.
  • Remember to use as many paragraphs as different ideas you would like to express.
  • Have you heard about netiquette? It’s the rules of politeness on the internet (what to do and not to do if you want to be nice and polite). According to netiquette, if you use capital letters, it means you are angry. So please, don’t write all your message in capital letters, or I will think you are angry at me.
  • Please do not use abbreviations, or informal expressions. I don’t mind emojis, but please, don’t overuse them.
  • Please check carefully your spelling, grammar and vocabulary before sending your email / message to me.
  • If you include pictures, word documents, audio clips, etc…these are called “attachments“.
  • Use “please” and “thank you“, please.
  • Then, when you finish your message, you should end it properly: Best wishes / See you tomorrow / … and then your full name and group (Diego Martín, 1G).


These are some model emails:


QR codes in the classroom

For the past few days I’ve been using QR codes in my lessons. They come in very handy when you need to share links, whether in the class or for home use.

QR codes are simply another way of representing a link to a website, video, sound clip, as well as text you input…anything that is hosted on the internet. Instead of providing your students with the usual link, you only share something like this:


To convert a link into a QR code you simply need to use a QR code generator. There are plenty of free online generators, just google it and you will find lots.

Then, you need to install any free QR code reader app. Again, there’s a great variety of free readers for Android and iOs. You open the app, and point your device camera to the code. It scans the code and automatically takes you to the website. Much easier than having to type a URL.

You can print the codes you need for everyone to scan, either on a handout, or stick them on the wall…

I’ve been using it these days, for example, with my C1 group at the CARLEE, for reading comprehension exercises. Previously, we had listened to five restaurant reviews, and students had to take notes about what they heard. Now, they had to check the written reviews from Time Out London for the very same restaurants. But instead of printing the reviews, I just put the codes up on the wall, and they could stand up and scan them. Then, they read the reviews on their devices, and took notes as well, checking them against the previous radio reviews.

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I’ve also used it with my year 1 secondary students. We’re working on a project about relevant women in the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). We’ve selected five different women, and each group has to prepare either a video biography, the trailer for her biopic, or an interview with one of these women (more here). In order for them to have some background information, I have prepared a handout with some links they could visit in class, using as many devices as I could gather for them to use. But instead of plain old chunks of URLs, I have given them QR codes, to save time.

Our final products will be part of a whole-school project. Their videos and recordings will be visible to other students, parents, teachers…probably, they will be accessed through QR codes.


#WomeninSTEM project- organisation

We’re getting our #WomeninSTEM project started, and I need your help to organise your groups / pairs, and the products you are going to create. Please, go to this link and answer the questions on the form.

Remember we’re talking about these five women / groups of women:


Ada Lovelace, 1st computer programmer


Hedy Lamarr, Hollywood actress and inventor (responsible for Bluetooth, wireless communications…)


Joan Clarke (and many women working at Bletchley Park during WWII trying to decrypt Nazi codes). The beginning of modern computing.


Katharine Johnson (and other African-American women working as “human computers” at NASA during the 1950s and 1960s).


Amy Farrah Fowler, neuroscientist (fictional character on The Big Bang Theory)

Unrequited love letter

The exercise below was created as part of our sessions on love and relationships. The objective of this particular exercise was twofold: first, we wanted to show our students that pop songs can be an excellent way to improve your vocabulary. So we came up with this “love letter”.

Besides, it can be done and self-checked by students on their own, in case they’re not able to come to class on that day, or want to do it again some time later to revise vocabulary. The quiz has been created using GoConqr, which teachers can use for their own classes, whatever their subject may be.

Click on the picture. Then, drag and drop the words to the suitable gaps to complete this love letter.

Most of the expressions have been taken from pop songs, which goes to show how useful they can be when learning English. Most of the songs can be found on the playlists in this post.


Ada Lovelace video

Remember you have to log in with Edmodo, watch the Edpuzzle video about Ada Lovelace there and answer the questions you will find as you watch the video.

However, if you have any problems doing that, you can watch the video here, and then write the answers in your notebook. This is only if you try everything and you can’t watch it through Edmodo, only an exception.

Link to video and questions