passive voice: news headlines- revision exercise

Turn these active sentences into likely headlines, by using a passive voice transformation. Only include the agent (by…) when you feel it’s relevant.

Open the self-grading google form in a new tab here.

More about passive voice and news headlines here.

At a loss for words- tips for English speaking tests

Are you going to take a speaking test in English in a few weeks? Are you suffering from ‘stage fright’ in the face of such an exam? Here are some tips that might help you overcome your performance anxiety, or simply, help you feel more confident.


  1. Train for the exam. Know its structure, and be prepared for what examiners expect from you. 

Get acquainted with the structure of the exam. That way you can prepare specifically for the different tasks you will be required to carry out. Most institutions make sample papers or past papers available on their websites for prospective candidates to see.

Speaking tests are designed to resemble real communication as closely as possible, but unfortunately, they are not: they are always going to be artificial situations. The upside is that their structure tends to be predictable. I tend to compare them to driving tests: you need to practise to pass your driving test, where the examiner will ask you to carry out different processes to make sure you can drive. When you’re driving in a real road, though, nobody is guiding you, or telling you what you are supposed to do- that will be real driving.

Likewise, at different CEFR levels, you’re required to perform at different levels: up to A2-B1 levels, you’re expected to ‘drive’ (=communicate in a basic manner): be able to understand and make yourself understood. At B2 level, you’re supposed to ‘drive confidently’: the degree of precision you’re required to show is higher. At C1, and of course, C2 levels, you’re supposed to be a ‘professional driver’: you’re required to use the language both academically and professionally.

2. Listen to lots of English

To be able to produce, you need to have received input before. That is the way babies learn to speak, by listening to their parents and adults around them. Listen to any rich input you might find either attractive and/or useful for the level you’re at. Here are some suggestions:

Listen to the radio:

TV shows:



YouTube videos: you can use YouGlish to find videos related to a specific subject, or containing specific words.

3. pronunciation: 

When you’re in class, pay attention to the way your teacher pronounces new words (or words you thought were pronounced differently). Make a note of it.

You can also check with online dictionaries or online pronunciation dictionaries such as Forvo or YouGlish (more information here).

4. practise your speaking: 

It’s always a good idea to participate actively in class, and, if you carry out speaking activities, pay attention to your teacher’s feedback.

If you’re preparing at home, you can think of one of the topics you’re discussing in class. What would you say about it? What ideas can you come up with? What relevant language and keywords would you use? Then, record yourself and listen to it. Do I sound fluent enough? Are my answers too short / too long? Have I used relevant language?

You can also speak English with friends/classmates/members of your family. Alternatively, you can also join a speaking group in your city. Here are some cafés and pubs in Zaragoza.



Athletes don’t start running in a race without warming up first. Similarly, professional musicians tune their instruments and play for a while before a concert. Why should you start speaking English out of the blue when you start your exam then? Try thinking in English (and if possible, speaking English) while waiting for your turn.

If you are alone, listen to something in English (podcast, song…) on the way to the exam, and while you are waiting at the door.

If you happen to have the other candidate waiting beside you, start having a conversation with them in English. That way, both of you will get used to your English speaking voice.

Try to avoid the kind of candidates that are so nervous that will make you nervous as well. Give them a polite but wide berth.


  1. Make effective use of your think time

If you are given some thinking time for your task, think of

a) what you want to say- the ideas you want to communicate, and how you are going to glue them together (linking words). Think of enough ideas for all the length of time you are supposed to be speaking.

b) what relevant keywords and grammar you are going to use to show that your English is of the level you’re being tested on. Impress the examiners.

2. Be coherent and cohesive

Even if you are given questions as bullet points to help you come up with ideas, try and make your speech cohesive: relate your ideas by signposting them, by using linking words, and by making your speech coherent (don’t contradict yourself).

3. Use the language of your level

The questions you may be given are intentionally easy: they have probably been written at a lower level than you are being tested on to make sure you really understand them. It is your job now not to give very easy or short answers (especially, the higher the test you’re taking), but rather to show that you can communicate at that level of language, however simple your questions may apparently be. Don’t just answer the question: elaborate a bit further; use interesting adjectives, keywords, nice structures

4. Use natural, intelligible pronunciation and intonation

If your pronunciation and/or intonation make it hard for the examiner to understand what you are saying, communication is not being achieved. It’s not a question of sounding ‘native’, but at the very least, of making yourself understood. Again, this can be helped by having listened to lots of English and having paid attention to the pronunciation of tricky keywords.

5. Self-correct

If you realise that you have made a mistake, it’s OK to self-correct (if it is immediate). That will show the examiners you know the right way of saying it, and that it was not a mistake or error, but rather a slip of the tongue.

6. Use fillers (but don’t overuse them). 

Fillers are words/expressions that may not mean much, actually. However, they will allow you time to think about what you’re going to say next. In this post you can find some examples of fillers used by native speakers of English. Just bear in mind that their overuse is discouraged.

7. Interaction/ collaborative tasks- You need to interact!

If you are asked to hold a conversation with another candidate or the examiner, you may have to reach an agreement, make a decision together…you need to interact: both of you need to speak, agree, disagree, suggest…You need to be able to give the floor and hold the floor (=the right to speak). Think of it as a table tennis match: both players keep passing the ball to each other. So, it is NOT one monologue after another. In most exams, you will already have your turn to speak individually. Now it’s your turn to show you can have a conversation with somebody else.

8. Use expressions that encourage interaction: 

You can use some of the expressions on this post:

Expressions to use in a speaking test (monologue/interaction)



Further resources:

punctuation display

This is just intended as a guide to help students understand how to use punctuation marks properly:

Click on the picture to open pdf file in new tab

-ing as the subject of a sentence / It is…to …

Watch this video for an explanation of how to use this structure:

  • Teaching is very rewarding.
  • It is very rewarding to teach. 

tips for secondary students taking B1 (B2) English tests

This is an updated version of a presentation I prepared some time ago for year 4 secondary students getting ready to take B1 (or even B2) English tests. I’m sharing it now in case it might be useful to students taking any such exams:

Link to presentation

¿Cuál es mi nivel de competencia lingüística en un idioma?

(Actualizado 18 noviembre 2018)

En la enseñanza / aprendizaje de lenguas extranjeras puede venir bien saber, por una parte, cómo se puede evaluar qué nivel de idioma (=nivel de competencia lingüística) real se tiene en un idioma; y, por otra, cómo se puede acreditar que se tiene este nivel de idioma.

Desde hace años, el referente más comúnmente aceptado dentro de la Unión Europea son los niveles del Marco Común Europeo de Referencia para las Lenguas.


DIALANG (todas destrezas, varios idiomas)

Una herramienta muy útil de autoevaluación en varias destrezas es DIALANG. Está en versión online o descargable. Aunque lleva unos cuantos años en funcionamiento, sigue siendo una herramienta muy válida para dar una idea bastante ajustada del nivel de competencia en distintas destrezas y contenidos (comprensión oral, comprensión escrita, expresión oral, vocabulario, gramática) según los niveles del MCER, y en varios idiomas europeos. Permite realizar las distintas pruebas en distintos momentos, guardando el código que os proporcione la página.


En la primera pantalla plantea una serie de palabras para decidir si existen en ese idioma o son inventadas: de ese modo el programa “ubica” en un nivel u otro de partida. Además, para cada destreza, pide que el alumno haga su propia autoevaluación en base a descriptores de qué puede hacer, para afinar más en el tipo y nivel de preguntas a realizar.

WRITING (inglés): Write and improve

Write and improve, de Cambridge English, propone una serie de tareas de redacción a distintos niveles, que se revisan automáticamente. El feedback que sugiere la página da indicaciones de a qué nivel se ha producido, según la riqueza del vocabulario, conectores, corrección gramatical…

Screenshot 2018-11-18 at 17.43.06

VOCABULARIO (inglés): test your vocab

Screenshot 2018-11-18 at 17.39.28

Otras opciones:


Reconocimiento y acreditación del nivel de idioma en Aragón: Resolución de 12 de abril de 2018, del Director General de Planificación y Formación Profesional, por la que se actualiza el anexo de la Orden de 11 de noviembre de 2014, de la Consejera de Educación, Universidad, Cultura y Deporte, por la que se regula el reconocimiento de la acreditación de la competencia lingüística conforme al Marco Común Europeo de Referencia para las Lenguas en la Comunidad Autónoma de Aragón.

BBC Podcasts to improve your English

(Updated 18.05.2019, originally published 4.02.2014)

If you’re thinking of taking an English test, BBC radio podcasts are a must. Most of them come from regular BBC radio shows. However, some of them have been designed specifically for students of English as a foreign language. It is well worth browsing their website for free downloadable podcasts ( The following might be useful:

  • 6-minute English: for students around B1. Sometimes it is too pedagogical. It somehow reminds me of the TV shows for learners of English broadcast some 30-40 years ago (or some rather successful TV & radio shows being shown today). Having said that, they’re OK if you simply want to listen to something in English on your way to work, while doing the household chores, or right before an exam. You can also listen to 6-minute grammar, and to 6-minute vocabulary. [B1 and above]
  • The English we speak: to learn idioms. Each show explains the meaning and usage of one particular idiom.
  • The Listening Project: The BBC and the British Library have been travelling the country since 2012, asking ordinary people to have real conversations about their relationships, worries, parenthood, illnesses, social issues…The aim is to capture real conversations to be broadcast now, but also to be archived by the British Library, preserving them for future generations, as a sort of time capsule. As these are real conversations (not interviews by BBC hosts), the level of language is much more informal, in terms of the vocabulary being used, and the speed of delivery; besides, regional accents and colloquialisms are present. These conversations might very well be part of any English exam.[B2-C1 and above]

  • phone-in shows: current affairs shows where listeners are asked to phone in and contribute. Typically, the questions asked are phrased as dilemmas (should we…? What’s your take on…?). Again, another staple of listening comprehension exams. You can also listen to other phone-in shows in local radio stations, such as Vanessa Feltz’s show on BBC Radio London and many others in local radio stations.
  • BBC Radio 4 Six O’Clock News– daily news reports not just from the UK, but from around the world. The language used is rather formal and cultured, showcasing extremely rich vocabulary. Some of the reports are monologues by the reporter, which is somehow similar to what can be found in some listening comprehension tests. The speakers have both RP (standard)  and regional accents, especially Scottish and Irish accents. [B2 and above]


  • From Our Own Correspondent: This show has been on air since the 1950s. Interesting for those of you interested in geography, history, politics…BBC correspondents around the world share their reports and views of their area through almost literary monologues. Yes, reports do tend to have this imperialistic, paternalistic overtone. And yet, to learn English, they can come in very handy. Besides the subject and language used, the reporters tend to have this perfect speaking voice and enunciation; and they use the kind of vocabulary which can only be found in essays or novels, so they can also be useful to prepare for writing tasks. In the last few years, the BBC is also broadcasting once a month From Our Home Correspondent, about current affairs in the UK. In both cases, sometimes the texts read by the reporters are published on the BBC News website as news. Google the title of the report, and see if you’re lucky to find it so you can have a near word-by-word transcript. [C1-C2]

  • Woman’s Hour: Daily show which has been on air since 1946. It deals with female issues. Many different subjects are tackled, typically current affairs, from a female perspective. [B2+-C1]
  • Word of Mouth: show about the English language, linguistics, and the influence of language in society and vice versa, hosted by Michael Rosen. Further information here. Recommended for English language enthusiasts. [C1 and above]

Literature and music-related podcasts: