One-sided phone calls

Some of the more eagle-eyed among you may recognise the title from another lesson that we have done. This one seeks to differ though in its focus on future forms. There is also a focus pronunciation, intonation in the first listening and connected speech in the second.

The idea for this came, as so many of ideas do, when I was a little grumpy. This time i was imagining how much worse my mood would be if someone were to cancel plans I had made. If you know me, changing or cancelling of plans is one of my pet hates, unless it means I no longer have to do anything, then that is ok! However, I digress. The focus of this is to present the different structures we use for future forms within a context in which they may exist in the ‘real world’ and obviously to provide listening practice and hopefully some chances for them to use the newly acquired knowledge in a review of what was learnt from listening two at the end:

Level: Strong Int with scaffolding but prob Upper Int and above

Aims: To highlight the uses of future forms / to focus on pronunciation and intonation


Pre listening (optional) ask students to discuss their plans for the evening and the rest of the wk and record themselves. 1 min max recording time.


Listening 1:

Play the first recording once.  Ask students how the person speaking feels at the beginning and the end of the conversation.  Ask them how they can tell and what do they think caused this change?

Who is speaking to who, about what? what is the relationship between the speakers? How do they know?

*If you wanted you could board some hypothetical language of prediction for them to use: could be, sounds like / as if / I suppose/guess.

Additionally, you could add some adjectives to describe emotions to the board, for students who struggle a little more.



1. answers:

  1. fine
  2. I’m meeting Chris…
  3. We’ll maybe go…


2. answers and instructions:

What tense is each one? 

present simple / present continuous / will

Why was each tense used here?

This is the more interesting part, it is all about reflection on the tenses and what they know about them with regards to their function.

for me, present simple used for timetabled event

present continuous used for an arrangement

will used to imply that the event is not fixed, less certain.

What would be the difference to the meaning if any of the other future forms were used?

In the first, this is the only tense that sounds natural here.

in the second be going to’ could easily be used and this is also the case in the third example.

3. Reflection on st’s own usage – (if you recorded students at the beginning use it here, ask them to listen and write down which future structures they tend to use.)

group discussion, the rules they select are fine, try not to correct too much at this point, encourage them to think about how they differ, by all means monitor and prod them towards the right direction though.

4. This is something I call Audi Future, the idea is that we often use more than one tense for one function, but that they don’t all get used for the same things.



  • Will – offers / spontaneous decision / promises / predictions
  • Be going to – plans / predictions with fact
  • present continuous – arrangements
  • present simple – timetabled events

These will be known to you and to many of your students, the whole point of the graphic though is to show how native speakers are often a little flexible with these definitions, hence the fact they overlap. Despite this though, we never really use present continuous for a spontaneous decision, so only when the two circles overlap can there be a mixture of use.

*also perhaps pointing out that often when ‘will’ is used for promises it is often pronounced fully, rather than it’s more usual contracted form.



A brief focus on natural pronunciation

How’s it going?

Ask students how to pronounce this – you will probably get 3 or four separate words.

Here you are trying to get them to notice that it is in fact two words

/haʊzɪt gəʊwən/

The second sound in the first could be a schwa for some, but I think I pronounce it /ɪ/.

Intonation – ask students to draw what happens to the voice during this

‘go’ has the big stress

Ask if students can think of any other examples of native speakers putting words together like this.  You might get the following:

whatcha doing / dyer like  / etc


Listening 2:

Prediction – this is a much neglected listening skill. We do it instinctively, but it seems to be one of those skills that students don’t use when learning English.

Explain the second conversation is the person phoning the other person, Chris, and ask the students to predict what will be said in groups.

All class feedback, board suggestions

Ask what grammar they would expect to hear.

Listen to check, ask students to take notes on what they hear then ask the following questions:

  • Is this the first time James has let them down?
  • How does the speaker feel about it?
  • What is their plan for the evening?



The focus on conditionals ties into something that we both talk about a lot, which is the limitations of putting conditionals into the 0/1/2/3 categories.

Neither of these conditionals fit neatly into those boxes, which can throw some students of the scent a little in terms of their meanings.

This aims to focus on the meaning, and when they refer to, rather than just focusing on the more traditional numbers.



There are only two things that I would draw the student’s attention to here.

Bail – to cancel at the last minute (in this context)

This could be a good opportunity for students to see how dictionaries really don’t always have the answers they are looking for. You could get the students to look in their dictionaries and then listen for the word and see if it fits with the meaning in the situation.

Alternatively, you could ask them just to work out the meaning of the word from the context. Make sure that they have considered register here.

Fancy – ask them to listen and to see what they think the meaning is in this context.

Draw attention to the register difference of ‘fancy’ / ‘would like’ / ‘to be up for it’ see in which situations they think they would be used. maybe ask if they can think of any other ways of saying this and ask them to create a cline from formal to informal.



Just to draw some attention to some common features of connected speech. You can drill it, but for me the focus hear is very much preparing them for what happens in the real world, rather than trying to get them to take on all the features of connected speech in their own pronunciation.

“guess what”

/geswɒ/ – the ‘t’ isn’t pronounced

“he always”

/hɪjɔːleɪz/ – the /j/ sound connects the two vowel sounds, students are probably not aware of this. Ask the students if they can think of other examples of this.

“to be honest”

/təbiːjɒnɪs/ – the to uses the schwa and as above there is an intrusive /j/ sound and the /t/ is dropped from honest

“if we fancy it”

/fwiːfænsɪjɪt/ – ‘If we’ becomes one sound – /fwiː/ – this frequently happens when native speakers are using conditionals.

Grammar (revision):

Ask students to listen and note down future forms they hear, and ask them to reflect whether the use of them connects to what was examined earlier in the class.

Place them in groups and ask them to discuss this together.



Audio 1

Audio 2





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.