Archive for the ‘Brainstorming on Language’ Category


Beginning of the learning year – some tips for learning English

September 3, 2013

A two-page document I’ve written for my students



Some thoughts on learning (edited)

June 8, 2013

Learning should be like a journey, an event where exploration and discovery take place, this is, where limits dissolve and we move more freely and also beyond.

A learning year should never leave you untouched, as a person, as a Some One. It should allow you to be better, both as an individual and as a social being.

Exams turn out to be a thin slice of this cake. The least meaningful part. The red tape. ADDED LATER: Though, as you can see from my notes on and here, I use exams as excuses for some meaningful learning too! 🙂

Language learning is about communicating. Communicating is about learning about oneself and others, it’s about learning to live with oneself and with others, it’s about building realities (living, life) together. Whether we like it or not, whether we have such purpose or not, the fact is that through communication we build our society, the social mechanisms that have an impact on our lives. We should acknowledge such power and use it for the general good and also to improve the quality of our daily lives.

What do you think? What’s your experience? How do you relate to learning? How much learning do you think you do in life?


Writing Tests

June 8, 2013

In Writing Tests, like the ones that are given at Spanish EOI’s (standardized in Europe — A2, B1 and B2 CEFR certificates), you are required to respect the TOPIC you are given and the KIND of text (e.g. a letter or email, an article, etc.) and the WORD LIMIT (non-complying pieces cannot be checked by examiners). About the three points you need to mention, whenever required to do so, if you don’t mention one, for instance, that lowers your mark, but examiners can proceed to check your work. In any case, ALWAYS mention the three points, even if you don’t know how to develop one properly.

All EFL textbooks from Britain have wonderful explanations and exercises on how to write each kind of text, and with Useful Language for formal and semiformal letters, for instance. So browse through your textbooks, just to consolidate a few ideas about what you are expected to write for each kind.

Here are some of the notes I give my students, especially at the Upper Intermediate (B2) and Advanced levels (C1).


Speaking Tests (B2): Brainstorming on Topics and Language Functions

June 8, 2013

When you have to speak about a topic, it is generally expected you fulfill certain communicative aims and you perform certain language functions, too. Have a look at this and see what I mean:

You will find more ideas for working on your Speaking here:

But remember: listening to English is key. When you listen to English, you learn to speak, you consequently learn “grammar”, and you get used to understanding people, while developing comprehension strategies unconsciously too!


Speaking Activity – Spain on holidays – Audio

April 24, 2013

We recorded the Listen & Repeat of useful language at the Intermedio 2 group, so you can practice sentences about planning a holiday in Madrid, Spain for English-speaking people.


Speaking Activity (visiting Madrid, Spain)

April 22, 2013

In class, we’ll only have classroom copies (15! to share in pairs), so you can print it if you want to have your own copy! Thanks! And sorry about that. Cuts are getting inbelievable!

speaking-activity-Spain (2 pages)

Remember that English-speaking friends can come from different countries! Canada / Canadians (French Canadians / English-speaking Canadians), US Americans, Hawaians, people from Trinidad & Tobago /tobeigo/, Australians (Aussies) and New Zealanders (Kiwis), Irish people, British people (Scottish, from Wales, English), Indian people, South Africans…

If you think it’d be useful, I can record a Listen & Repeat episode.


Example Brainstorming for Language (Unit 7, C1) – Productive Skills

April 14, 2013

When learning a language, you should collect useful language based on the language items you are learning. I did this with the language items in the Grammar Bank of Unit 7 (New English File Advanced – the textbook being used by Avanzado 2 students) to show you what I mean. The “brainstorming” part comes in when you pick the sentence which will remind you of the structure. So, yes, it’s not a true brainstorming exercise — words just do what they can! 🙂 Most of the times, it’s useless to jot down words in isolation equalled to a single word in your own language. Useless and misleading and unreal. You should write down the word in English you want to learn, and then look for sentences where it is used and you understand its use (underline the word so it stands out). You should not depend on dictionaries for this, for in real life (and in exams) you cannot use them, and you have to have developed enough skills to work things out in spite of unknown words, at least for many of the times.

When students have to do a writing assignment or when they have a few minutes to think about what they are going to say on a given topic what I recommend they do is that they brainstorm for language: what tenses can I use?, what kind of clauses? (if– clauses, because, although, time clauses: before + –ing, while past cont. then past simple, relative clauses without the relative pronoun…), infinitive / gerund / participle structures, what about modals? A little Saxon Genitive here, other possessives, –ing/-ed adjectives, comparatives, superlatives, “It” subjects, indirect questions preceded by “I don’t know”, “I can’t remember”… Of course, then you have expressions, vocabulary, to make your range rich, but you should also consider morphosyntaxis = grammar.

Two Intermedio 2 students who did this very well in an oral performance are Laura and Isabel, so check out their work! And adapt it to your level! More oral performances by students + videos by Avanzado 2 students with teacher’s written feedback. More videos by Avanzado 2 students: Pedimos el C1

So here’s the example of Brainstorming for Language at a C1 or Advanced level with the items learned in a unit. Once you know how to pronounce it well, you could record it saying each sentence twice, so that you automatize production and achieve fluency and accuracy!

Unit7_Brainstormingforlanguageitems_c1 (1 Word page)


Talking about the crisis

April 9, 2013

EFL students should not say

The main responsible for the crisis is the government

The responsible is…

Also the responsible are business people / multinationals / the wealthy (“the wealthy” is correct, yes)

This is WRONG in English

What can we say?

Post freely! We’ll appreciate! 🙂 And you could also be helping us improve this section on Talking People. Thanks!

Apart from this I have a question:  There’s widespread corruption among politicians, apparently. Well, that should be fixed, and we should fight to get that fixed. And get the money back. Then the political system needs relevant improvements. Consequently, we should put pressure so that this happens. But if we discard Politics as our way of organizing societies, which are the options? Should we go back to the military organizing our society (dictatorships)? Or further back to having religious leaders organizing society (they still have too much a say considering we are meant to respect women’s human rights. Anyway)?


Closing down the house and coming back

April 8, 2013

Today Irene Gu. (Av2) asked about how to name the things we do when we close down (or close up) our houses before leaving for a holiday, and then when we get back. I’ve been surfing a few websites to fish some Useful Language, in case it helps! Let me know what you think, and also feel free to post more sentences!

Turn off – Turn on, Unplug – plug…

Prevent water damage while you’re away.

  • Shut off the water: Shut off the water supply to your entire home when you leave for overnight or longer.
  • Turn off individual valves: Turn off valves for water-using appliances like dishwashers, washing machines and icemakers.
  • Shut off the water to exterior faucets

Save Energy While You’re Away

  • Unplug appliances that consume electricity even when they’re not in use such as DVD players, microwaves, coffeemakers and computers (also make sure to disconnect the computer from the Internet). This is both a cost savings and a safety issue. It’s not unheard of to have a cat tiptoe across a counter and unwittingly turn on the coffeemaker.
  • Turn the water heater down to the “vacation,” “low” or “pilot” setting.
  • If you’ll be gone for an extended period, clean out the fridge (and freezer) completely, shut it off and leave the door propped open.


  • Arrange with a neighbour, relative or friend – someone you trust – to check your house from time to time. Leave them a set of house keys. Give them the telephone number and address of where you’re staying abroad in case they have to contact you urgently.
  • Pull out all electric plugs for safety reasons.
  • Make sure all windows are closed and the front and back doors are securely locked before you leave.

More, source:

  • Turn off the main water supply to your home.
  • Turn off the water heater.
  • Unplug and defrost your refrigerator.

Read more: How to Close Down a House for Winter |


A 5-min monolog on Mainstream Medicine & Alternative Treatments

April 2, 2013

for learners taking tests at the B2 and C1 levels – Upper Intermediate and Advanced. With final comments on how to work on your speaking tasks at home.


Useful Language around Discussions!

March 1, 2013

In case it’s useful!

Language for Discussions, by michelle (2011)

Who facilitates? – ¿Quién modera? – A facilitator is the person who by a low-profile intervention eases the path for the discussion to reach a good end. A facilitator can: give speaking turns, present the discussion, re-word opinions to clarify points or reduce tension, summarize what has been said to clarify points and/or help the discussion move on…
Do you need a time-keeper? – Necesitáis que alguien controle los tiempos?

  • A heated debate – The other day there was a heated debate in class. Really interesting!
  • A controversial topic – I would like to address this controversial topic because…
  • A biased opinion (prejudiced) – I believe that’s a biased opinion. The generalization is based just on one case!
  • An opinionated person (dogmatic, intolerant, narrow-minded… ?)
  • To try to agree on some point / measure – OK, then, but we’re running out of time and we should try to agree on something now. What should we do, then? Ask people to bring a euro each or try to fundraise in some other way?
  • To reach an agreement – They haven’t been able to reach an agreement yet.
  • To reach a dead end – OK, we’ve reached a dead end. Why don’t we take a break and meet again in half an hour?
  • To reach a consensus – We need to reach a consensus in this, so — you do not share P’s analysis but would you be OK with his/her answer to the problem provided we kept in mind what you say?
  • To exchange views – I love discussions. You learn a lot when you listen to people exchanging views!
  • A position / A stand point – So what’s your point? / standpoint / position?
  • To make a point – I would like to make a point.
  • To hold a discussion – Why don’t we hold a discussion on the pros and cons of social networks?
  • To end a discussion
  • To take a break
  • To move on to the next/following point
  • To go back to a point: Going back to the reasons why we use the Internet, I’d like to mention…
  • To do a recap(itulation)

A Language Function which is common in this kind of event (towards the end) is:

Making a proposal/suggestion…

  • to move on in terms of analysis: OK. Can we move on now (to the next point in our agenda)?
  • to move on in terms of time: We’re running out of time. Could we tackle the issue of who to invite?
  • to ease tensions: OK, there, people. Why don’t we take a break now? We could go out for a nice cup of coffee!
  • to solve the problem discussed: To avoid reaching a standstill, why don’t we try to find small things each of us could do to solve the problem?

Find others. (Review the Communicative Strategies 1 – 3 episodes on the TP Podcast)

More Useful Language (read them aloud! repeat them as many times as you can!)

  • I’ve got mixed feelings about this topic. On the one hand, I feel that… On the other, I can’t understand why…
  • Shall I start? / Go ahead, please. / I’d like to start by saying that …
  • My stand in this topic is: I’m for/against /… What’s your point?
  • That’s interesting. / What interesting insight.
  • I forgot what I was going to say. / Where was I?
  • OK, sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. What I wanted to say was/is…
  • Let me explain this. / Allow me to explain further. / I don’t know how to explain this. Let me think… / Let me try again. It’s complicated. / That’s a tricky question.
  • I’m confused. /I think that is confusing. / I don’t quite understand your point. / I don’t get your point. Can you give an example? / Can you expand further? / Can you develop that?
  • Allow me to clarify. What I actually wanted to say / what I meant was…
  • Hold on (a minute). / Wait a sec(ond). / Please, let me finish / Hold on — Let me say something / Let me reply to that./ Allow me to reply to that, if you will.
  • Can we find some common ground? / Can we agree on that? / We’re running out of time.
  • I cannot possibly agree with that. I’m sorry. / Well, I wish we could. Why don’t we take a break? / How about coming back to this later on?
  • Why is that (so)? / Can you explain that?
  • Please, don’t get upset. It’s just my view. I can’t help it! 😉

Brainstorming on Language: ability

February 28, 2013

When you are asked to speak about a certain topic, you should try to brainstorm on which language items you can use to make your language range richer!

Here are some examples:

If you are asked to speak about your own experience with food, some of the language items you could use could be those meaning, expressing ability:

  • to be good/bad/… at …-ing: I’m not very good at cooking, but
  • can / can’t or cannot – I can make salad, and I can heat stuff in the microwave! I can fry an egg and boil rice, or spaghetti. But I can’t make potato omelette! 😦
  • know how to / don’t know how to – (you can then use the synonyms of “can/can’t”, just to show you also know them!) I know how to use the oven, so I can roast chicken, but I don’t know how to make quiche!

Well, these are just a few silly examples. But do you see my point? This IS brainstorming on language.

This technique is also useful when you are asked to write!

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