B2 Lesson Plan – Writing an album review (Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?)

31 03 2012

B2 Lesson – Oasis Album Review

This is a lesson I taught on an FCE prep course last week, which supplements (replaces) the review writing in Unit One of Premium.

First the students do an FCE speaking task comparing and contrasting the album covers of Abbey Road and What’s The Story?

Then they read the text and summarise each paragraph, followed by a focus on the vocab used to describe the band, the album and the music / individual songs.

It leads nicely into the learners bringing in their own reviews to share with each other and then using all of this input, writing their own reviews of one of their fave CDs.



Comment on @ThornburyScott’s blog post ‘I is for Imitation’

26 03 2012


A very timely post for me and my IH CAM (Advanced Methodology) course participants who have been discussing the difference between active and passive noticing this week, Scott.
We decided active noticers find useful language in the texts they read and listen to and try it out in other contexts in order to communicate for themselves, thus (eventually) making the language their own. Passive noticers on the other hand just copy and paste without thinking or adapting or creating something new out of the old.
Surely the imitation being discussed here is the same, and the more actively we imitate (i.e. think about the meaning and contextual use of the utterance we’re imitating as well as copying its form) the more successful language learners we become?
The teachers roles are many in this process. Giving helpful and immediate feedback, as Kathy suggests above, is crucial. But training / encouraging our learners to take as active a role as possible in their imitation / noticing, as both Bruno and Luiz have done, is also crucial learner training. Activities such as When would you say this? Who could you say this to? can help immensely in this regard.

It’s not fair

24 03 2012

Don’t suppose that you could tell me?

Don’t suppose you’ll ever know?

Only I can think it over

Make a choice or let you go.


Not fair am I to keep you like this?

 Not fair is it to make this my truth?

Not fair at all but that’s the way it is

Life’s not so fair today at all


Don’t imagine that you’d leave me?

Don’t imagine that you’ll ever let me go?

Only I can free us both to

Make it fairer than it was before.


Don’t you think I’d know the answers?

Don’t you think I’ve been here before?

Only I can’t remember the way to

Make it fairer than it was before.


Don’t you know I’m turning you over?

Don’t you know I’m out of time?

Only I can see the difference

Making it up while it’s still too soon.


It’s not fair

So scream and scream so I can hear you crying

It’s not fair

And I know and I scream so I can see you dying

It’s not fair, it’s not fair, but it’s the truth.


A Sporting Chance – The sticky wicket of sports-inspired idioms

23 03 2012

A Sporting Chance is a workshop I’m presenting on Sunday 25th March 2012 at the ABS conference ‘Challenge Your English’ – a conference for non-native teachers of English to boost the level of their own English.

Handout A Sporting Chance

ABS Challenge Your English

ABS Challenge Your English

Slides A Sporting Chance

The workshop focuses on English idioms from the world of sports, starting with sailing, then baseball, cricket, cards and finally a free-for-all called guess the sport.

As they are introduced to the idioms, the teachers play sports themselves which can be used in the classroom.


Do you find yourself behind the eight ball when idioms come out of left field?  Are you out of your depth when idiom-loving friends call the shots? Give yourself a sporting chance to cover all the bases as we dive headfirst into the world of sport-inspired idioms, exploring their meaning and background to give ourselves the inside track in the idiom race, allowing us to paddle our own idiom canoes and put a new vocabulary arrow in our language quivers.

The Total Process – ‘verb+ing or infinitive?’ – once and for all.

18 03 2012

I was asked this week by @easyteach, when they should use propose + infinitive and when they should use propose + verb+ing.   Well, let’s look first at the general meaning of infinitives and verb+ing  and then see if it holds up for proposing. 

The whole debate between verb+ing and infinitive use is one that has raged for years, with most course book stating there is no rule and we need to learn each possibility as a collocation.  In the same way, many argue that I like playing and I like to play mean the same thing – well, if they did, why do we have two ways of saying it?  They mean similar things, but there is a difference and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone explain it satisfactorily (see G is for Gerund for many valiant but unsatisfactory attempts).  So @easyteach has given me the excuse to give it a go myself.   This is the way I teach the difference and my students have no trouble understanding it and have never found an exception to the rules – can you?

For me the infinitive is the unmarked form – like the simple aspect – and is used when there is no specific need to use another form.  The infinitive / simple aspect describes a state or action in its totality and can be seen as atomic (in so much as it cannot be divided up into smaller states or actions), which is the main reason why I prefer to denote the simple as a circle on timelines rather than a cross, as seems to be commonly accepted, since a circle seems to depict better the totality or non-divisibility of the event.  So we use the infinitive when we are talking about the simple fact of an action in its totality.

The continuous form, on the other hand, and the continuous aspect generally, focus on the progress of the action and the speaker is emphasizing the fact that the event or the state (although much less often) can be broken down into the constituent parts that make up that progress.

And so we tend to choose to say I like watching football, because we want to emphasise that we enjoy most of the aspects that watching football entails – the trip to the stadium, the dodgy pre-match burger, the anticipation of the event, the singing along, the celebration of the goals etc. all of the match day rituals need to be and are emphasized in the simple choice of -ing form over infinitive. 

Watching football?

When we are focused on another aspect of the statement however, we want to take away the importance of the nuts and bolts of the event and just treat it as a uniform totality, and so we use the infinitive (or the simple aspect when we need to conjugate).  And so we would say I like to watch football, perhaps, in answer to the question ‘What do you watch most on television?’ since the speaker is not focused on the beauties and intricacies of the ritual that is watching football, but is thinking much more about the watching of television and the events he watches when he has it switched on.

The ‘rule’ holds up when we consider the verbs which change their meaning depending on the following verb being an infinitive or -ing form.  We remember posting the letter because we can remember the whole process – we went to the post office, we stood in the queue, we bought the stamps, we gave them a good licking, we popped the envelopes in the box….but when we say we need to remember to post the letter, we don’t care about the process of posting a letter, we just care about the totality of the event – we want the letter to be posted, whether or not the process involves a good licking. 

To post or not posting?

So what about proposing?  I wasn’t given any examples, so let’s stringnet the phrases and see what comes up:

1 So where do you propose to send her?’Here the important information is the ‘Where?’, we’re not interested in the process of sending her, just the destination, so therefore we use the unmarked form.
2 She said,‘ Well, when do you propose to go and see her?’Again, the ‘When?’ is important, not the process of the going.
3 ‘Oh,’ Harrison’s voice was tinged with sarcasm,‘and how do you propose to do that?’This is more interesting, since it’s possible to ask, if we ask ‘How?’ aren’t we interested in the process?  Well, according to the speaker’s choice of to do, no, we’re not (yet) interested in the process, we’re not expecting the answerer to launch into a detailed explanation of the process of doing it, just an overall summary – perhaps, outlining the main action to be done.   This is also true for example 4 below, and 5 is like 2, so let’s jump to example 6, our first example of propose + verb+ing
4 ‘ If Kinsella steals from the IRB fund, how do you propose to blazon the news abroad?’
5 ‘ When do you propose to arrest him, sir?’
6 How do you propose correcting errors identified in 7.1.2:Here we are interested in the process of correcting the errors, particularly since we seem to be emphasising that it’s going to be a difficult process or that we expect different techniques to be used for different errors and we’re interested in knowing which ones for which errors.  We are expecting a detailed account of the process of correcting and so we use correcting in oreder to signal this.  The next example of a verb+ing is example 16, so let’s jump there:
16 ‘ When do you propose calling on Eddie Brady?’Again, an interesting example, since we’ve previously said when we ask ‘When?’, we aren’t interested in the process of what happens but the timeframe and so we expect the infinitive. But here the speaker chooses to use the verb+ing – why?  They must be interested in the process of calling on Eddie Brady.  Perhaps it’s more difficult to call on Eddie than it is the other people that have to be called on (and so the difficulty of this process is emphasised) or the speaker is suggesting the listener simply doesn’t have the time to call on Eddie and so is emphasising just what process is involved, reminding the listener of how long this will take, to challenge the listener to explain how they will complete this process within the timeframe known to both conversants. 

Saying yes or to say yes, he’s popped the question!

You might find propose + verb+ing sounds strange, but that’s simply because it’s less common.  We don’t tend to choose to emphasise the process of something when we talk about proposing it.  The details of the process come later.  But there are times, such as in examples 6 & 16 above, when we do want to do so and the choice is there for us to do so when we need it. 

Why not give your students that choice by teaching them about the fundamental meanings of the infinitive form and the verb+ing form, rather than give them rules that don’t work in practice, or suggest they learn infinite lists of verb + verb ‘collocations’?

And while you’re at it, have a go at applying other uses of the -ing form or infinitive to my theory and see if you can come up with examples that except my rule – I’d love to hear about them….

P.S. Here is a game I’ve used in class for verb pattern development / revision, which can easily be used to explore the above rule with your students.  The examples I chose for the sentence race bring up some interesting uses which prove the rule, for example:

Neil would love to run a marathon is the intended answer (we’re not interested in the marathon running process, we’re interested in Neil’s yearning to run one) but one might say Neil would love running a marathon, it’s right up his street, if we were thinking of all the things involved in the process of running a marathon and that Neil would enjoy them.  This use might be more common (or colligate) with comparatives – Neil would love running a marathon more than he’d love cycling 100km

Level 2 Elementary Verb Patterns Sentence Race

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Realising Reading

4 03 2012

Realising Reading - Macmillan Montevideo 2012

Realising Reading – Handout from Macmillan Montevideo 2012

Here are the slides from my talk ‘Realising Reading’ which I gave for the first time at the Macmillan Conference in Montevideo on February 29th 2012.  The talk is about how we can keep reading real for our students at the same time as getting them to realise what they’re reading, thinking about it critically and noticing the language in the texts.

Look forward to hearing what you think about it.  Enjoy!