Monday, October 27, 2014

Wikipedia in simple English

I can't believe I didn't know about this before! There's a version of Wikipedia that is written entirely in simple English. Who knew?!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How to play 'Lyrics Training' (click on the link to watch)

The link to the website is on the 'Useful Websites' link on the left.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Well done to my Year 11 IGCSE class on their latest reading assessment (the one we did on the Thursday before the holiday) - the average score was 89%! You can email me to find out your individual score - just remember to use the .com, not .net address.

Enjoy your holiday!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Grammar videos from the British Council

Some of you may already know about these - from the 'Learning English Teens section of the British Council's website...if you haven't seen them yet, they're well worth checking out - I think they're brilliant. Basically, they take grammar items and show how they're used in real life, illustrated through simple cartoons based around a situation. 

There's some explanation of the grammar points and links to worksheets based on the language used in the clip.  

The videos look like this:

There are something like 30 different videos to look at:

And the worksheets look like this:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

If you're looking for something for News Watch...

Stuck where to look for news? This news site has been created especially for young people - this is from their blurb:

First News is the award-winning weekly national newspaper for children aged 7 to 14, with over 1 million readers every week. Experienced First News journalists provide up-to-date, insightful and dynamic articles on a range of subjects from entertainment to politics, sport to science, as well as all of the major news stories from the UK and around the world. 

There's some interesting stuff here, I think the 'weekly news round-up' from Sky News(see it here: is especially good, both for listening practice and for keeping you up to date with what's happening internationally. Thanks to Miss Julie, who told me about it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Boost your vocabulary in 5 minutes a day!

This is a really cool website for boosting your vocabulary in a few minutes a day by reading interesting short stories taken from the press. In each story key words are highlighted and defined under the text.There's also an option for listening to the text read by a native speaker.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Great video website for developing your listening skills

I've just hit upon this cool website for practising your listening using authentic video clips - well worth checking out. They've got tonnes of great video content (songs, film trailers, educational talks and more), all organised by level. As you can see from the screen shot below, each clip comes with a series of questions to test your understanding as you watch. Have a go and post a comment to let me know what you think!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Quick quiz to test you on 'most' and 'almost'

      How many of the following sentences are grammatically accurate? Post a comment saying which ones are good and correcting the wrong ones - first three correct posts will get three House Points : )

Some of my students were having problems with 'most' and 'almost'...

Both of these come from Practical English Usage by Michael Swan

Friday, March 7, 2014

Another quick quiz

Complete the adjectives in these questions with either '-ed' or 'ing'. The first person to post a comment with all 10 correct can collect 4 House Points from me next week.

1. What's the most interest.... city you've ever visited?
2. What's the most bor.... film you've ever seen?
3. What's the most terrify.... thing you've ever done?
4. Are you tir.... at the moment?
5. What's the most shock.... news you've heard in the last few days?
6. What's the most disgust.... thing you've ever eaten?
7. At which time of day do you generally feel most relax....?
8. What's the most embarrass.... thing you've ever done?
9. When was the last time you felt excit....about something?
10. What's the most worry.... thing about being a teenager?

Also, anyone who sends me a 20+ second 'Jing' clip of themselves answering one of the questions can get an extra 4 House Points for doing that!

Have a good weekend! 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Don't 'Google' it - 'Buzzle' it!

Have you ever been asked to research something by one of your teachers and when you put the topic into Google, what you get back is pages and pages of stuff that's really hard to understand? Well, here's an alternative you might find much more user-friendly.

It's called 'Buzzle'... and it has more than 5000 articles

but they're all neatly organised into just 18 categories:

the search engine on the site is powered by Google, so it works really well.  The articles are relatively short, normally very well-written and often come with pictures or other graphics so the results you get back from searches are easier to read than what Google would give you. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Commonly confused words no.3: 'forget' and 'leave'

So from now on tell me 'I've left my book at home'! not 'I've forgotten...' or better still- bring your book! ; )

For 7V (or anyone interested in zoos)

A really well-written piece here about the pros and cons of zoos- could be very useful for your essays!

Don't forget to leave a comment to let me know what you think (or just to tell me you've read it!)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A quick quiz....

I'll give 3 House Points to the first person to 'comment' with the correct answer to this:

How many of the 10 verbs below can be followed by the preposition about (and you have to way which ones they are too)

e.g. we say we talked about the problem but we don't say we understand about  the problem (we say we understand the problem - no preposition)

  1. discuss
  2. consider
  3. debate
  4. think
  5. revise
  6. review
  7. gossip
  8. (dis)agree
  9. introduce
  10. argue
The correct answers were: 

Congratulations to Minh Anh in 9I for being the first one with the right answers - see me for your House Points!

Here's another pair of words I often see / hear mixed up

Monday, March 3, 2014

How do I know what vocabulary to learn?

The short answer to this question is 'it depends what you want to do'. For most of you, one of the main reasons (if not the main reason) for learning English is to be able to study effectively in your second language at school, college and university. And your studies will naturally require you to read, write and listen to a lot of 'academic language'. But what is academic English? It's partly about the grammar we use in essays and textbooks, and partly about how we organise our writing. But it's also very much about the vocabulary we use in this kind of writing.

What would really help would be if someone could tell us what the most common words found in academic English are.... Luckily for us, someone has done exactly that!

The list is called the 'Academic Word List' and I think it might be one of the most important resources you'll ever find for helping you get on in your studies.

Watch this video for more info:

Alternatively, follow this link straight to the list:

Friday, February 28, 2014

For my IELTS and IGCSE classes - more on conjunctions / sentence types

He (Michael Swan) doesn't say it here, but when a sentence is made up of two independent clauses joined with coordinating conjunction (like and, but or or), that's called a 'compound sentence'. When a sentence has a clause that starts with a 'subordinating conjunction' (like because, when, that, which), that's called a 'complex sentence'.

P.S. if you'd like a copy of this grammar reference book (the best one I know of) come and ask me
Some people I noticed were getting confused between these two words:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Free online programme for making crossword puzzles

For all my EAL classes - if I set you a homework to make a vocabulary crossword puzzle, this is the programme to make it with:

It's dead easy to use but I'll post a video here later to show you exactly how to do it.

Here's the video I promised:

How to make a crossword puzzle using this software

The comma story- video

Funny little video from TED Ed for remembering when to use commas in compound and complex sentences. I like the trick for remembering 'coordinating conjunctions' - they're the FANBOYS (and there are only 7) that join two independent clauses (a compound sentence)

F or
A nd
N or
B ut
O r
Y et
S o

The 'Mighty Subordinates' (subordinating conjunctions), like Although, Because, Before, However, Unless, Even though (and quite a few more) join INDEPENDENT + DEPENDENT clauses (to make a complex sentence) - and need the help of the 'clever comma' whenever they try to lift a sentence from the 'front' - (or 'with only one arm')- a good trick for remembering that one too.

Watch out though - the Americans are a bit different from the British when it comes to using commas with the coordinating conjunctions (the Americans like using them with the FANBOYS- we don't!)

For all my classes- please download 'Jing'!

For everyone in my EAL classes, I'd like you all to download this software which allows me to set you speaking tasks as homework. It's called 'Jing' and I'm already using it with my IELTS class - it lets me play and replay you speaking (at home) so I can give you feedback on things to improve in your spoken language.

Once you've downloaded it, watch the tutorial to learn how to use it, then send me a 5-second sample of you speaking. Do this and I'll give you a couple of House Points for your effort!

Monday, February 24, 2014

For 10.3 IGCSE - Too much pressure to look good?

This is interesting reading on the same topic as your recent school newspaper articles- here they're presenting research that suggests children as young as 10 feel the pressure to look good. Can you believe that?

For 11.3 IGCSE - Should we test on animals?

Here are both sides of the animal testing debate presented in the same newspaper. It's interesting to see how many of the arguments here were included in your articles on the subject!

The 'yes' argument:

The 'no' argument:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Vocabulary for speaking

This is an excellent resource for the IELTS and IGCSE speaking tests and for vocabulary development in general, well worth checking out.

There are (currently) 16 pages of vocabulary organised by topic. Each one shows a speaking test candidate answering questions in a speaking test - using a wide range of vocabulary on that topic. The really useful vocabulary is highlighted and for each highlighted word or phrase, there's a definition given at the bottom of the page.

  • Vocabulary 16: Music
  • Vocabulary 15: Towns and Cities
  • Vocabulary 14: People – Physical Appearance
  • Vocabulary 13: Business
  • Vocabulary 12: People – Personality and Character
  • Vocabulary 11: Clothes and Fashion
  • Vocabulary 10: Accommodation
  • Vocabulary 9: Books and Films
  • Vocabulary 8: Health
  • Vocabulary 7: Work
  • Vocabulary 6: Education
  • Vocabulary 5: Food
  • Vocabulary 4: Sport
  • Vocabulary 3: Technology
  • Vocabulary 2: Relationships
  • Vocabulary 1: Holidays 

  • I would say the best way to use these pages would be to read through all the answer (noting down some new words and expressions you'd like to learn) and then use the same questions in a practice conversation with a partner.

    PS please leave a comment once you've had a look - let us know what you think!

    Friday, February 21, 2014

    HELP!! Speaking Test approaching!

    For our IELTS and IGCSE English as a Second Language classes - I found these functional language videos looking for stuff for the IELTS speaking test, but everything here is also really relevant for the IGCSE English speaking test. Watch these '5 Minute Functions' videos to get some really useful language for:

    Confirming understanding
    Agreeing and disagreeing
    Expressing personal opinions
    Speculating and expressing possibility
    Using fillers when responding to questions
    Expressing likes and dislikes

    All from

    According to the website, there are more coming too.

    Thursday, February 20, 2014

    For my Year 11 IGCSE class- this article from the Guardian this week paints a very gloomy picture of our chances for reversing the effects of climate change. Have a read and tell me what you think!

    Saturday, February 15, 2014

    One more great website

    Still on the topic of useful websites, this is one I used to use, had forgotten about and since rediscovered. Looking at it again, it's even better than it used to be.

    It's organised around Cambridge exams (KET, PET, FCE etc.) but you don't have to be preparing for one of these exams to use the activities. Start by choosing the right level material for you:

    KET - pre-intermediate (A2)
    PET - intermediate (B1)
    FCE - upper-intermediate (B2)
    and if you're feeling really confident (!)....
    CAE - advanced (C1)

    Have a go at some of the grammar and vocabulary exercises - they're very well designed.


    Tuesday, February 11, 2014

    Websites you can use to improve your English

    Hi all,

    I'll be using this blog to keep in touch with BVIS (HCMC)'s EAL students. I'm new to blogging so I'm learning as I go along! Here's my first post - hope you like it!

    Mr Duff

    5 great websites to improve your English

    Knowing what a word means is one thing; being able to use it in the right way is something else altogether. Often the most helpful thing is seeing example sentences, which is what this awesome, free software gives you – lots of examples of how native speakers use the word you’ve chosen, divided by sentence type.

    Not sure about the difference between a sweatshirt and a hoodie? Want to boost your word power with some fun, free activities? This great website has loads of really useful vocabulary, help with clear pronunciation models and activities to test your understanding.

    Learn English to groovy beats. This is a superb idea supported by software that works very well. Basically, you listen to your favourite tunes and when prompted, add the missing words to the lyrics; the music will ‘pause’ while you enter these and won’t let you continue until you get it right. Of course if you get stuck, you can get help, but be careful- the more help you get, the lower your score will be at the end. Each track can be played at different levels of difficulty so it’s easy to tailor the activity to the level of challenge you want. Very addictive and great for listening and vocabulary.

    This excellent piece of free software works in a similar way to the lyrics training website, but uses newspaper articles rather than songs as the basis for its dictation exercises. Choose from ‘full mode’ (writing everything you hear), ‘quick mode’ (you only have to provide the first letter) or ‘blank mode’ (you provide selected missing words). If you sign up and get a log in (it’s free), you can keep a track of how fast and accurate you are as the software will track your performance over time. Again, you can choose the level of difficulty that’s right for you and challenge yourself to hit new targets.

    There are lots of uses for this website and a lot of it is aimed at teachers, rather than students, but for self-study I think the ‘Monthly topical news lessons’ are absolutely brilliant. Each article comes with a selection of reading and vocabulary activities you can print - with answer keys- and is available at three levels – elementary, intermediate and advanced. New articles are added every month and the old ones are available for one year after they are published. Great stuff.