Quartz: Reporting the News

I often use newspapers and online articles in lessons (some of which you can find on this website) but recently I came across a great news app called Quartz. The idea with Quartz is that it delivers the news in handy bite-sized chunks either on the website or via your phone app. Instead of just local news or national news, you can find interesting stories from all over the world and it does it with a bit of personality and humour, using emoticons and humorous gifs and images.

What I found most interesting about it when I first came across it was that it communicated the news as if it was having a conversation with me in work. This is something I’ve always encouraged my students to do: read the papers and then come and talk about it. It’s a simple exercise which gives them the opportunity to reuse the language from the article and practice their speaking. This app helps them to do just that and this lesson is designed to introduce it and to give them some of the language they can use to report any news story.

Objective: by the end of the lesson, your students will be more confident reporting news stories to others.



Level: Intermediate / Upper Intermediate

Time: 2 – 3 hours


  1. Worksheet (word): worksheet-reporting-the-news-word
  2. Worksheet (PDF): worksheet-reporting-the-news-pdf
  3. Teacher’s Procedure: procedure-reporting-the-news


Listening to build vocabulary – Collocations

This is a lesson that I had almost forgotten, until recently I taught a private student who wanted to focus on improving vocabulary to talk about art. Though the topic is art a lot of the collocations are more general than that and I think are a useful addition to students knowledge from B2 upwards.

This is a short little lesson, though there are undoubtedly ways in which you could stretch it, I’ll give you a couple of ideas at the end.

The lesson is based on a 9 minute film about art in Siena, so may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is nicely done and well-presented in my opinion, and features Andrew Graham-Dixon, who I am rather fond of.  Students who I have used this with have found it relatively easy to understand what he is saying which is good as the focus here is on collocation, though you could easily build some pron work into this.

Aims: to increase students collocation knowledge / to practice listening using an authentic text.

Level: B2 +



Discussion regarding Siena, has anyone been and then fast independent research using mobiles and then all class feedback


For this to begin with the main focus is prediction, put students in groups and ask them to think of words which might fit. During group feedback praise good collocations and highlight ones which don’t quite work.

Explain to the students that all you want them to do is watch and try to complete the gapped phrases.  They should be able to get most at the first listen, but be prepared to play it again if need be. Get students to check with a partner and then do group feedback.

Speaking and follow on

This is just a quick follow on to tie it together

However, what I would ask them to do next is to either write a short radio or video show that they present to the class or ask them to find a clip and to take note of what they believe to be strong collocations and bring them to class.



Taken from a BBC programme – via youtube






Paraphrasing and IELTS

This was a lesson I wrote earlier this week, when asked to cover a class with little notice. Having been teaching a lot of EAP, I wanted to bridge the gap between what students do in IELTS classes and at Universities.

The class begins with some reflection, I think the important thing here is that even if they are not planning to go to university, paraphrasing is a crucial skill, however, why then are they doing IELTS, especially if studying within the UK.

When teaching it I highlighted how much we paraphrase in our daily lives, the fact native speakers find it almost impossible to repeat what someone has just said to us without altering it.

This lesson aims to serve as an introduction to paraphrasing, and looks at both lexis and vocabulary within the framework of IELTS.

Aim: introduce students to paraphrasing, to better prepare them for IELTS and their studies afterwards.

Level: High Int +


Reflection to begin: for all of this section set up groups and monitor and then do all class feedback

the things that students should need will be numerous but should include: register, ability to use a variety of grammar / vocab, cohesion, coherence and the ability to paraphrase. Any others that you think work, please include.

For what should come next, all of them.


I asked them to define without looking and then showed them the definition, but you could ask them to read the definition and then rewrite it using different words if you think your class can do this.

Why we do it – again, I did this and ‘how we do it’ as a group discussion

Why – to avoid repetition, to show off range, to avoid plagiarism

how – changing vocab, changing grammar

Using Vocabulary / Grammar

examples and graph come from


  • Ask the students to read the two example paragraphs and evaluate it. It is a good example and would have got an 8 approximately
  • .Ask them to focus on the words shown and in pairs think of synonyms, try to discourage them from using dictionaries.

here are possible synonyms, accept any others and explain why some may/may not work here.

shows –                                                             depicts

a gradual decrease –                                     a steady fall

study for their career  –                              learn in order to further their future job prospects

gradually declines –                                     steadily reduces / experiences a step by step fall


Identify the word form difference:

people who study for career reasons – study (v) / career (acting like adj)  / reasons (n)

interested in studying for their career – studying (n) / career (n)



Passives – this is really easy, just a way of them adding and rewriting

answer: it can be seen that the percentage increases slowly

conditionals – 

answer: if we look at the graph, it can be seen that the percentage increases slowly

final change

If we look at the graph, it can be seen that there is a slow increase in the percentage


follow and guide students through this.

n.b. – I ask students to find examples in the real world as part of their homework and to bring them to the next class to check

Answer for “women earn less than men”:

earn (v) –> earnings

The earnings of women are less than those of men

Free practice part 2

There are no correct answers here, I gave students around 5-10 mins to work on this in pairs and asked them first to think about words where synonyms could be used.

I would recommend getting different versions on the board and comparing them.


Remember this is only supposed to be an introduction, there will be more in-depth lessons coming soon.


PDF  –   paraphrasing

Word – paraphrasing







Why we need to paraphrase or the necessity of being able to say things in a different way

We love synonyms, we love rephrasing things, it is one of the things we do all the time. Partly to avoid repetition, but also sometimes to clarify.  A classic example of this was in an episode of Dragon’s Den, which I always point out to students when I do the lesson in which it features.  One of the dragons says “so you want to form a character” the applicant replies, “yes, a character could be formed.” Imagine how odd it might sound to us if they had said instead: “yes, I want to form a character”.  So to me, this need to paraphrase is in fact paramount, not just from the point of having flexibility but also from the point of being natural.

It is also one of the greatest challenges for our students and as they get to higher levels and consider taking an exam, Cambridge mainsuite or IELTS and then maybe university in an English speaking country, this need gets greater.

This  is going to be a series of lessons that look at different ways in which students can paraphrase. This one will focus on Vocabulary. It is more about giving you some methods to teach them but I have included a text to be paraphrased and given examples. Like a lot of textploitation ideas, for me this is something that should be a lot and often once you do this, not a do it, forget about it kind of thing.

Aims: to help students paraphrase by giving them some tools to help them / to practice paraphrasing using vocab.

Level: though it can be at any level, this lesson is pitched for Upper Intermediate (B2) and above, and would be especially useful for exam students.



  1. First ask students what paraphrasing is and ask them of any situations where they might need to be able to do this.
  2. Accept any answers, but obviously if not mentioned fill them in on the following: to avoid repetition, to make the conversation more interesting, to clarify if someone doesn’t understand, to emphasise something, and last but not least to avoid plagiarism.


  1. Accept any answers that work for “I don’t like music”, but could include the negatives as well as dislike, hate, detest, not a fan of etc.
  2. This is about getting students to think of the synonyms for themselves

Possible answers, but accept all that work in context.

Original word Synonym
Little impact had limited effect
UK economy the UK’s finances
So far until now

3. Rewriting the sentence using synonyms

possible answer

Up to now, the Brexit vote has had a limited effect on the UK’s finances

Ask students what has changed when you put this on the board, get them to identify that the structure has changed to accommodate the new vocabulary.

4. More extended practice with a focus on good paraphrasing, i.e., it is not just changing a word!

Ask students to think of which words could use synonyms and then to write them in the spaces provided.

5. Ask them to decide which is the better paraphrase and why in this situation.

It is A, though listen to their arguments, then explain that the more complete changes in A are preferable, especially when trying to avoid plagiarism.

5.1 Ask them to highlight all the changes in A and add them to their synonym dictionaries / word lists.


I would ask the students to find a chunk of text in the newspaper to paraphrase, this will give them practice. Make sure that they bring in the text too. I would say between 20-30 words is optimum as you want to focus on quality, not quantity.

Coming soon will be more lessons on this with a focus on grammar.




Old Habits: Used to + would

Yet another in the Barry London sequence. If you haven’t come across any of our other Barry London lessons you can find them below. The important thing to remember is that this is not Game of Thrones so you don’t have to have done the first two lessons for this one to make sense. They are stand alone lessons with the same fella running through them…mostly for our own amusement I think. Oddly enough two of them have to do with transport in London…I may have an obsession.

  1. A tale of two cities
  2. Writing + Study Skills

This one examines “used to” and “would”. It looks at their differences and how they are often used together. It also examines their pronunciation.

  • Level: Intermediate + above
  • Time: 1.5 – 3 hours (depending on discussion stages / practice)
  • Aims: see above
  • Procedureold-habits-procedure


  1. old-habits-teachers-copy
  2. old-habits – PDF version
  3. old-habits – WORD  version
  4. Audio: 



The Boss does Future Forms!

It just doesn’t get much better than Bruce Springsteen…and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise…Well, I’ll have some words with them…strong words.

I love this lesson, it’s nothing flash or fantastic but it really really works. It helps students to come to grips with the FUTURE in English. It really is a tricky area to get your head around and they need a lot of practice. This lesson not only has practice but gets them thinking about some all important questions:

  • Why did you choose this future form over that one?
  • Could you use another one?
  • Would it have the same meaning?
  • What information does the speaker wish to convey?

I very often do this lesson a week or so after we’ve tackled future forms or perhaps for higher level groups who should probably know it already but just need a reminder.

It also works well in conjunction with this short lesson I put up before. It’s a quick and easy lesson designed to encourage them to think about what information these different forms can convey.

  • Level: Intermediate and above
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Objective: Revise future forms / encourage sts to think about the information each form convey.
  • Sub aim: Raise awareness of features of natural speech.
  • Procedure: see the materials below. It is quite a long one so I thought I’d make it printable outable (is that a thing? is now!)



  1. The Boss Part 1 + 2
  2. The Boss Procedure
  3. The Boss teachers’ notes
  4. The Boss: Audio – 



Phrasal verbs – Register

One of the things I have noticed most is that our students lack knowledge of how much lexis affects register.  Even CPE students I have taught have been puzzled to find phrasal verbs highlighted (by me) in essays, assuming the issue was with meaning, not style or register.  I think students need to know about register and how their choices affect it and so here is a little lesson to highlight it.

The other reason for doing it like this is that students often say:

“phrasal verbs are hard, I’m just not going to use them.”

This hopefully gives them a reason to use them in a way that is manageable and demystifies them, seeing them as just another piece of vocab.

For follow up I am setting noticing skills, asking them to see if they can find other examples in newspapers / magazines / films and bring them into class.  As always, the key is trying to make them a little more autonomous and get them reading outside the classroom environment.

*I am using ‘phrasal verb’ in the lesson to describe multi-word verbs, I know therre is a debate about what is and what isn’t but don’t think it is necessarily helpful for students to play that out in front of them.

Level: High Int +

Aim: To highlight the effect on register of using phrasal verbs


This lesson starts with a little sort of needs analysis, getting students to think about this first just helps you to find out more about their strengths and weaknesses.

Needs Analysis: You could set it as homework and then ask them to bring it to class to discuss, but I do this as my warmer.  Depending on the students this stage can last between 10-30 mins.


  1. I think the second option is correct, but in a sense you could accept that both are correct
  2. look at is not a phrasal verb – look into (investigate) and look up (search in a dictionary/online) can be both normal verb and phrasal verb.  Look for meaning search for something is a phrasal verb.
  3. Students own answers and good for discussion
  4. probably more spoken but not exclusively.  There are some phrasal verbs which we use a lot in written English

Get letter – sheet 2: 

T/F questions -answers

  1. F
  2. T
  3. F it is grammatically good but has register issues
  4. F

Meanings of get

  • get your reply – receive
  • getting around to – finding time to
  • get involved in – take part in / participate
  • have got – have
  • will we get – receive
  • get picked up – be picked up – get used in passive
  • get on well – have a good relationship with

The rewrite could be done in class as groups, something I like to do, or could be set as homework

Putting knowledge into action

When I do this I ask them if there is a subtle difference in the two choices, highlighting that synonyms are rarely perfect for each other and that they add subtle shades and nuances.  Try to elicit this from students as well as any other synonyms that come up.

  • talk – catch up
  • spend time with – hang out with
  • plan – sort out – in this context
  • meet – get together – I also emphasise that meet up would work here too
  • like to go – be up for it
  • come – pop by
  • interested in – keen on
  • excited about – looking forward to

These words make it more informal and friendlier in its feel.



Identifying text types

The idea with this lesson is twofold (love that word):

  1. get sts thinking about what is appropriate in different text types.
  2. make them more aware of what they can learn from the little things all around them.

It’s a simple little lesson but it works.

  • Level: pre-intermediate and above
  • Time: 1 -2 hours
  • Aims: see above



  1. worksheet (word): text types
  2. worksheet (PDF): text types
  3. Teachers’ worksheet: text types teachers’ copy
  4. Audio: 


Brexit: Reading between the lines

OK, this is a very Britain-centered lesson and I completely understand if you don’t want to use it but I came in today and found that all my students were talking about the big Brexit vote so I knocked up a quick lesson for them. If you’re interested, here it is…probably a few days too late…but better late than never, eh?

  • Time: 1 – 2 hours
  • Objective: Encourage sts to read between the lines / expose them to real English / raise awareness of English culture.
  • Levels: (strong) Pre-intermediate and above



  1. word worksheet: Brexit worksheet
  2. pdf worksheet:Brexit worksheet
  3. teachers’ worksheet:Brexit teachers’ worksheet



  1. Introduction: Write Brexit on the board and ask sts to discuss what they know about it and then hand out the definition to clarify.
  2. chunks of language: sts match up the meanings to the phrases in the text.
  3. discussion: Sts discuss the questions in small groups. Feedback as a class and board their ideas.
  4. Sts read through the comments and decide in/out for each one. I would monitor and make notes of interesting errors / emergent language on the board but I wouldn’t help out much. Instruct them that you won’t answer questions and they can’t use dictionaries.
  5. Reflect: ask sts what the point of your activity was (you’re hoping to raise awareness of the importance of engaging with the culture of a language and how in the real world you won’t always have a dictionary)
  6. Vocab from context: sts match up the meanings with the words/phrases from the text. Encourage sts to underline 1 or 2 further words they don’t know and try to work the meaning out in pairs.


  1. debate on Brexit.
  2. give each person a character from the comments box and they must discuss the topic from that person’s point of view.
  3. sts write their own opinions and text them into the Metro where this article came from.

Larry’s First Day: Past Perfect

I don’t know when I made this lesson. Honestly, I was looking through an old USB and there it was. I love it when that happens. I suppose I should have named it something better than “First Day” when I made it first, then I might have come across it before now.

Anyway, it’s a nice little lesson on narrative tenses with a focus on past perfect. I used it for a class today and it went down very well. The procedure is quite straightforward.

Try it out and let us know what you think.

  • Level: Pre-intermediate / Intermediate
  • Objective: to revise / examine + practise the use of past perfect in conjunction with other narrative tenses.
  • Time: 2 – 3 hours



  1. Worksheet (word): first day
  2. Worksheet (PDF):first day
  3. Teacher’s copy:first day teacher’s copy



  1. Students discuss the Qs and feedback as a class. T deals with any lovely errors of emergent language on the board.
  2. Sts read through the story and discuss: How did Larry feel? Why?
  3. T establishes that the actions didn’t happen in order and asks sts to decide in pairs which action happened first. T draws their attention to the table and asks them to number the actions in order from 1 – 8 (the first one is done for you/them). T monitors and helps out where necessary.
  4. Feedback as a whole class. Take some time with this. It’s important for sts to really grasp the order.
  5. Ask sts what tenses they can see in the story.
  6. Draw their attention to the FORM section and ask them to fill in the form using the story to help.
  7. Same as above with the USE section.
  8. Feedback as a class, giving further examples if necessary.


  1. Sts read through the story and ignore the blanks. They answer the same gist questions as above: How does he feel? Why?
  2. Sts match up the vocab. Feedback as a class. Spend some time ensuring sts understand all the words. A lot of them can be illustrated better through actions. Nothing should stand in their way for the next activity.
  3. Sts work in small groups and decide which tense goes in which spot. Tell them they should think about WHY as well because you will ask them why they chose each tense.
  4. Feedback as a class. Deal with any common issues.

PART 3 – Follow up

As a follow-up, I would either have them write about their first day at school or at a job or I would ask them to write the end of Larry’s story. I’d use the mistakes from this as a basis for revising these tenses in the next lesson.