Tools to check whether language sounds natural or not, and to improve the level of a production

  • Dictionaries: some of the dictionaries I tend to recommend at B2 level and upwards are the Cambridge Dictionary (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/) and the Oxford Thesaurus (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/, choose ‘Thesaurus’ in the dropdown menu). Ideas on how to use a dictionary here to improve writing tasks here: https://natalialzam.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/how-to-improve-your-writing-tasks-b2-c1/  
  • Grammarly (https://www.grammarly.com):  Add-on which checks for spelling mistakes, and suggests possible grammar mistakes through Artificial Intelligence. Its suggestions tend to be accurate/useful. 
  • Fraze.it (https://fraze.it): A database of online newspapers and magazines which may come in handy when trying to make sure that a given collocation sounds natural. Type your collocation into the search box, and if it can find those words, it will yield real examples where this expression appears. Once there, you can also click for more context. If your collocation exists, you will find a list of examples; if it does not, or is not very frequent, no or very few examples will appear.
  • Flax (http://flax.nzdl.org/greenstone3/flax?a=fp&sa=collAbout&c=collocations): enter a word, and how words form into collocational patterns will be revealed by looking across different academic and social corpora.

The following links provide further ideas and resources on how to check whether the language produced sounds natural, or to widen the range of vocabulary used to meet the requirements of B2-C1-C2 levels:

Starting secondary school: icebreaker ideas

Starting secondary school can be a nerve-racking experience for students. These are some suggested activities you can use on the first day of your English/literacy classes with year 1 secondary students.

  • Shonny’s first day at secondary school: the day before (Newsround). This British girl describes her feelings when making the jump from primary to secondary school, something most of your students can relate to. You can download the worksheet with some questions based on the video, as well as the transcription.

As a follow-up, you can also use Shonny’s video describing her actual first day at school.

  • What to expect when you start high school (Newsround). Some year 7 students (11-12 year-olds) who have been in a secondary school in the UK for some weeks now are asked about how they feel now. Based on the questions the kids on the video are asked, you can ask these questions to your own students:

    • How do you feel on the first day of high school? (elicit adjectives from your students, and suggest synonyms using a thesaurus).
    • What is the hardest thing about starting school?

Further ideas: Secondary school struggles: captioned video and article

Screenshot 2019-09-04 at 16.18.16

  • Time-capsule: one of my favourite activities to start school. Ask students to answer these questions individually. Nobody else will read their answers unless they want to share anything with their classmates by reading them aloud. Then, a ‘digital time-capsule’ can be created, which can, in turn, become the first element in a digital portfolio. Their worksheets can be scanned and then uploaded, for example, to Seesaw. That way, they could also record their voice explaining some of their answers.

What I did back then was to scan all the answer sheets as pdf files that I have kept on my drive. The students I did this activity with are in their year 4 secondary this year: it would be a nice end-of-year giveaway to show them what their thoughts and hopes were on their first days at secondary school.

  • Finally, another possible nice activity is for students to write a letter to their future selves. The website https://www.futureme.org/ allows you to write text, and schedule it to be sent to your email inbox at a given point in the future. The letter can be scheduled, for example, for the last class of the year, and it can describe, for example, students’ expectations, hopes, fears, and/or resolutions. Then, by the end of the school year, they can check what they wrote in the letter against what actually happened.

Last-minute resources and tips for B2-C1 English tests

Are you only days away from taking a B2/C1 English test? These links, tips and resources might help you make the most of your last-minute revision time:

General tips:

Speaking:

Writing:

Mediation:

Listening:

fake social media generators- ideas for the classroom

In a world where social media prevail (or can it be ‘prevails’?), it might be interesting to bring them into the classroom. Basically, because the language to be used in social media is sometimes different to the language of other media, or may require some adaptation; therefore should be dealt with in class. On top of that, because this kind of communicative activity may prove motivating for students, regardless of their ages.

You can find below a list of online tools and apps I have been using lately. For all of the tools described below, my advice to students (and teachers) is for the tweets/texts to be typed on a word document/pages document first, then copy and paste them onto the website or app. That way, if something happens (if the connection gets lost, for example), you will still keep a copy of your work.

Fake Twitter generators: 

Twister– very quick. Just type the (invented) username of the tweeter, their real name, and the tweet. It will create a ‘twister’ post in seconds, with a picture of the person/ character.

Fake Twitter generator: create really true-to-life fake tweets.

*Tip: if you’re creating the tweets on a laptop/desktop, when you finish your tweet you can click on the button “save image”. However, if you’re using a tablet, iPad, or any mobile device,  the button is likely not to work. Try taking a screenshot instead.

Fake Fakebook generators:

  • Simitator: creates fake Facebook posts and walls.
  • Fakebook: ‘Fakebook’ page, can include character bio, posts, interactions with other users… Different students can access the page if the teacher shares the code.

example- Fakebook page for Nicola Thorp– a British actress who started a petition against dress code in the office. (Started by me as a teacher, comments by students).

Fake text messages / WhatsApp:

  • Fake WhatsApp texts: up to two characters / people can take part in the conversation. Plenty of options: delivered, read; time; emojis…

text created by teachers in a CPD course

  • Fake iPhone messages: the conversation can include up to three characters. You can customise the operator, battery, signal, time…

  • Texting Story: This Android and iOs free app allows you to showcase dialogues between several characters as if they were texting. The product you get is not an image, but a video of their conversation.

WhatsPrank (iOs app)- to create fake WhatsApp texts, including the icon for audio messages.

What kinds of activities can you do with these websites and apps?

  • Turn any ‘write a dialogue between’ activity into an ‘imagine the texts that X sent to Y, and their reply’ activity.
  • Create profiles for (and write comments about) historical characters
  • Rewrite well-known plots (literature, film, TV shows), or imagine how they could be retold in tweets, or the conversations the characters could have at a certain point in the plot.
  • Create custom conversations/social media posts as input for a mediation activity in the classroom (Not recommended for exams-whatever input you provide should be real-life material).

Can you think of other activities? Would you like to share your thoughts on this? Leave a comment.

writing- useful expressions for an essay

The expressions on the chart below can be useful when writing an essay:

Click on the picture to download the file.

sentential relative clauses- referring to the whole of the previous sentence

Some relative clauses refer to a whole clause, a whole sentence, or a longer stretch of language. We always use which to introduce these clauses.

They stayed for the weekend, (and) it was great. – It is grammatically correct, accurate…but something like this would sound better, especially in writing: 

They stayed for the weekend, which was great.

Something similar would happen with these sentences:

Some users do not think twice about the comments they post on social media, and this may have dreadful consequences.

Some users do not think twice about the comments they post on social media, which may have dreadful consequences.

Interactions between people who are near to each other are reduced and it could be dangerous for true relationships.

Interactions between people who are near to each other are reduced, which could be dangerous for true relationships.

Watch this video for further explanation:

 

Words to avoid in a writing task (B2-C1)- alternatives

If you’re writing an essay, report, article, formal letter/ email…and you find yourself using words such as ‘people’, ‘things’, ‘something’, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, please look at this infographic for alternatives:

Click on the picture for a larger version

Click here for a pdf version of the infographic.

Or better still, if you are not pressed for time, go to a thesaurus, like the Oxford Thesaurus, and you will be able to find a more accurate synonym, depending on the context and the exact notion you want convey (the exact meaning of the word you’re looking for).

Further tips to improve your writing: