Thursday, 18 December 2014


"Oh, yes you do!"
"Oh, no I don't!"

There are so many things that I love about Christmas but one that I really miss, being away from home, is an English Christmas Pantomime. That anticipatory hush when the lights went down before the curtain went up. The colours and costumes that amazed me as a child are as vivid now as then, With crazy special effects and poor Buttons who never got the girl. There is nothing quite like a "Panto" (short for Pantomime) for laughs with all the family. Where else but Britain would family entertainment include cross-dressing, custard pie fights, magic, songs and innuendo? Popular TV stars appear in shows all over the country during Christmas and the New Year. So to learn about what "Panto" is, watch one or both of these videos (see the links below), print up the worksheets I've made to accompany them and have fun! 

Panto poster for Cinderella.

1. This is a 3 minute video for a quick listening comprehension exercise. (Suitable for B1 and up.)

What is "English Pantomime"?


2. This is a 10 minute piece showing examples of Pantomime characteristics.(The exercises are more suitable for B2+ and up.)

Characteristics of English Pantomime


"It's behind you!"

A pantomime horse.

Some Horsey Idioms
"Stop horsing around!" Don't be silly!
"A dark horse" Someone/thing unknown or hiding something.
"Only fools and horses (work)..." Meaning: Only foolish people work & do not earn a living in an easy (usually Criminal) way.
"Hold your horses!" Slow down!
"Eat like a horse" Eat a lot.
"Get off your high horse." Stop thinking your are right all the time.

Season's Greetings to you all!


Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Teacherly Ramble Part 3 - Reading

READING, you either love it or hate it! That's my experience with students but that's because of the way they view this skill. For those of you who love them, keep reading you may find something new to do. For those of you who hate it, read on for just a little. Persevere please and I will try to engage you!

If this skill is given a purpose, other than 'Do your home work!' then it becomes a means to an end not just a chore. So how can you go about this?
Get in the right frame of mind.

I love reading!!!!
No exaggeration but why??

Infinite facts, and knowledge.
Laze about on rainy days with a good book!
On Line there are free books and stories at the touch of a button!
Vocabulary builder. Everyone (even me!) improves their vocabulary by reading.
Escapism; books take you out of this world!
Romance, sci-fi, horror, humour, biography - there is something for everyone!
Eating; if you can't read a recipe you can't make yummy foods so well!
Adventure, danger, excitement, suspense - in fact, every life experience.
Do it anywhere!(I have a reading app on my phone & even read in the bank queue!)
Instant access - no waiting around.
New horizons. I've travelled around the world and beyond in a book!!
Good for you and your rep. No parent* or teacher will tell you off for reading a book!

*Matilda's dad doesn't
think much of reading!

Follow these links for some great fiction suitable for tastes!
Daily Science Fiction
Every Day Fiction
Good Reads (for reviews of books)
Smashwords (Check the title you choose is free!)
Worthy of Publishing
Gutenburg's Children's Bookshelf

If you want something more akin to classroom reading try these!
Reading quizzes and games on Line
The British Council Stories and Poems

There are hundreds of other cyber libraries out there. If you have a favourite let me know!

I'll leave you with some words from one of my favourite authors, Roald Dahl,
“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn't be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage.”  
Happy reading!



Thursday, 23 October 2014


Halloween is upon us once more and as you know it's one of my favourite times of year. As an EFL Teacher it is part of my job to teach you about the customs and traditions of English speaking countries and as I dealt with the the history of Halloween last year, this time round I thought I'd do something a little more practical. A quick how-to on pumpkin carving. You don't have to celebrate Halloween to have fun doing this and if you are careful you can save the pumpkin pulp and bake pies, soups or dry the seeds for a great snack - recipes links included! (Purple words explained below.)

WARNING: Sharp knives must be used so be very careful and get an adult to help you if necessary!

1. You can use any kind of pumpkin, marrow or courgette to create a Jack o' lantern. Wash the outside as you want your lantern to glow!

2. Using a sharp knife, cut off the stalk section remembering to leave enough of the flesh around it to use as a lid. If you are using a long thin vegetable such as a marrow or courgette, you can slice it about one third from the top.

3. Using a soup spoon or a table spoon hollow out the vegetable so you are left with about half a centimetre of skin/flesh left. If you you are using a marrow or courgette don't forget to do the lid as well! This is the longest, hardest and messiest part so be patient and persevere!
 4. Now you can carve your design. If you need guidelines draw it with a permanent marker on the outside first. There are two ways to cut; either cut pieces away to make holes so the flame is visible or cut way just the outer skin and leave a little flesh so the flame glows through the opaque flesh.  Faces are traditional but I have seen beautiful scenes, abstract designs and even pictures copied from books!

5. Tea lights are the best for lighting your pumpkin as they have a foil base and none of the wax spills.

REMEMBER: Candles are dangerous and must be kept away from flammable objects such as curtains and furnishings. You should never leave your Jack o' lantern unattended whilst lit.

American Pumpkin Pie
Greek Pumpkin Pie
Smashing Pumpkin Soup
Roasted Pumpkin seeds

For lots of other things Halloween I found a great site last night called Halloween Forevermore, check it out! It has film reviews, stories and articles about Halloween 365 days a year!

shed light on - to make something easy to see/understand
pulp - soft string inner part of a pumpkin
marrow/courgette - vegetables of the same family as pumpkins
glow - shine in the dark
flesh - soft part of the pumkin that can be eaten
slice - cut
hollow out - take the insides out of something so that it is empty inside
skin - the hard outer part of the pumpkin
persevere - keep trying
opaque - allowing light but niotimages to pass through
abstract - with no clear design
wax - what candles are made of
flammable - easily catch fire
unattented - alone

Happy Halloween!



Monday, 15 September 2014

Speaking/Listening - A teacherly back-to-school ramble (Part 2)

Learning a language entails speaking that language. In my book, if you can't speak you haven't really learnt a language (I exclude Latin and Ancient Greek and other languages that are no longer used on a daily basis from this argument!) The three most common choices for a language learner are English Lessons, chatting to someone who is a native speaker or to friends who are learning the same language. However, classroom time is limited, if there are no native speakers in your neighbourhood to practise on and your friend's English is worse than yours; what do you do?

If you have time and money to spare visit a country where the language is spoken,either for a holiday or to live/work! On a more realistic basis, you could join an on-Line learning Community such as The Mixxer, this is and Adult education site and you must be over 18 to use it, not because of its content but for reasons of safety of the users. Minors are allowed but with the permission of a parent or guardian. Babbel/Friends Abroad and italki are other such sites.

Sing your English! Yes, I'm serious! There are endless videos with lyrics on You Tube and other sites where you are sure to find your favourite songs and hey presto! Karaoke here we go! Invite friends round and make it a party!

Worried about accent and pronunciation?  Don't! As long as the person you are speaking to is not puzzling over what you are saying, a hint of a foreign accent is a lovely thing! Regional accents tend to be very popular these days. Not so long ago (well quite a while ago now I think about it!) I was turned down  from a job on the radio due to my too English accent! Even so if you fancy getting your accent right try Learn the

If you are still despairing, fret no more, we are all in the same boat! I've mentioned this poem before in my posts but here's Benny Lewis, the Irish Polyglot, reading it and there are great pictures and a phonetic translation too.
Benny has a great website so if you are studying ANY Foreign language sign up and find new ways to do old things! Fluent in 3 months!

Listening is an underrated skill but essential if you are to communicate effectively. I believe it is also one of the most enjoyable to exercise. Think how often you hear your native language on a daily basis and more importantly, where you hear it. Translate these into English. The radio and TV are bound to figure there somewhere.

Try uploading an English speaking Radio to your phone/PC and listen to that instead of one in your native language. You will hear music, news, debates, plays and loads more! Check out Lamplight Theatre (For kids of all ages), Focus on the Family Theatre, Ranger Bill (Kids adventure stories), BBC Radio 4 Extra (Stories read aloud). There are many more out there.

Watch TV series/film without the subtitles altogether or with English subtitles, tune into English channels. Most people can find BBC World News on TV (in Greece at least).

You can even listen to audio books, search the Web for your favourite stories read in English! Try LibriVox which has a huge selection of free audio books to choose from. They are all read by volunteers but to a very high standard.

Next and last instalment Reading/Writing coming soon! If you are interested in the Scottish Referendum I have added a pdf to the CAUSE FOR DEBATE section too.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Plenty of time... A teacherly back-to-school-ramble! (Part 1)

Freddy Mercury sings "No time for losers, cos we are the champions..." (See the previous post.)

As much as I love the music of Queen I have to disagree with this sentiment! I have plenty of time for anyone who loses, of doesn't gain the grades they want in exams or fails to achieve in any other project they have set their sights on completing.

No, (I can hear all you realists out there harking on) I'm not a deluded 'everyone can win' type (not exactly) or even worse, 'every student deserves an 'A+'.
"That ain't gonna happen!"
(And anyone who tells you otherwise is a bare-faced liar!) 

I believe that everyone can do their best and achieve what they want if they are determined to. That goes for just about anything . (No, George, I don't mean that if you really want to, you can surf the Milky Way. That is a fantasy not a goal.)

First of all, have a look at this video. It's about ADHD but more importantly about how we learn and how we judge learning/passing/winning or whatever label you want to put on it.

(Thanks to Colin for sharing this so I can share it with you.)
You know which part I like the most? (One of many!) The bit where Sir Ken says 'Don't Copy! Because that's cheating!...Outside of school that's called collaboration.' It reflects something I always tease my classes about.
"If I could enter you in the exam as a group, you'd get straight As!"
It gets a laugh more often than not and students know full well that I'm not angry at them. Some of you might be tutting at my unruly classes but remember collaboration is a really important life skill to learn. "It's the stuff of growth." 
That put me in a bit of a sticky, hypocritical situation as the thing is I have to 'train' my students to pass exams where 'collaborating' most certainly doesn't go down well. What I try to do is to make the fun bits fun and get through the necessary, pen-on-paper, hard work, so let me quote Sir Ken again, "Our Children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth." (Sir Ken Robinson, educationalist) 
and use his idea of  'divergent thinking'. Use all this lovely 'genius' you had as a preschooler and answer this question:
How many ways to learn English can you think of?
Throughout September, I'm going to post some sites where you can find interesting things to help you learn English as well as all kinds of other hints and tips for helping you listen, speak, read and write better. Hope to be of some help...

Thursday, 21 August 2014


The summer has passed us by once more and we are all thinking (dreading?) back to school. The blog took a bit of a hiatus during this period but now it's back with a monthly up-date for August.

First of all, with the PTE results out yesterday, the last of the Greek summer exam results in EFL, I'd like to congratulate all my students who tried so hard this year and with such difficult pressures that are happening out of school, your achievements are truly great! I dedicate this video to you all!
Secondly, When I started teaching I used to take photos of my classes at the end of the year.(I don't know why I stopped, I found the albums while clearing out the basement over the summer!) I was wondering what you think about about my adding some photos of classes past to the page? I probably taught your cousins, parents(!!) or even teachers(!!). I really don't remember all their names so perhaps you can help me out! What do you think?  

Monday, 23 June 2014

The long break or a musical interlude?

(Click on the coloured words as you read)
School's out for summer or so the song goes but that doesn't mean that you should forget English. (Now I know I sound rather like a boring teacher but bear with me.) I recommend you put all you've learnt into practice in fun ways.
Galaxidi, Greece.
1. Most importantly get out there and speak to someone (who doesn't speak your language but speaks English) and learn about them. Make friends with the person on the next sun lounger. Give that lost looking tourist help and directions (even if they don't understand what you've told them, they're already lost so it won't matter)!

2. Find a radio station that you like through the Internet. (I recommend BBC Radio 1 for all the latest pop in Britain.)

3. Watch movies and pop videos with English subtitles or English language TV to help your listening skills and build vocabulary.

4. Take an English book out of your local library, buy a magazine in English on a topic you love and read all about it or subscribe to a blog you like.

5. Write a diary of the summer in English - you don't need to show it to anyone and it doesn't matter if the spelling and grammar are all wrong this still helps you become familiar with writing. If you feel more confident try writing a short story and if you are even more confident send it off to a competition (try 99 fiction net for Free very short story competition) or even a publisher!

Whatever you decide to do, stay safe and enjoy your summer holiday!


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

An American flavor to Spring!!!

May is here and the weather is beginning to look up at last. The hills are verdant and the swallows and storks have returned and I was reminded of two poems my dad taught me which I will pass on to you. There are a lot of differences between British and American English, in grammar, spelling, (The latter of which is more logical in American English thanks to Weber's Standardisation) and accent. Accent is something that isn't really taught these days so long as 'pronunciation doesn't impair comprehension', neither is it talked about although it is one of the things that makes a language rich. So FYI the first poem highlights one regional American accent: The Bronx.

ee Cummings or Ogden Nash or Anon
(Depending on who you ask!)
Spring has sprung,
the grass has ris,
I wonder where all the boidies is?
They's on the wing,
but that's absoid,
the wings is on the little boid!

boid = bird
absoid = absurd

You can probably spot the grammatical errors here (there are 4) - I hope you can anyway! They are representative of the very distinct Bronx accent. (I have seen many longer versions but this is what I learnt as a kid!) 
The Bronx is a suburb of New York City
'Twas springtime in the Rockies
and the snow was raining fast,
when a barefooted girl with shoes on
came slowly running past.
She turned straight round a corner,
to see a dead donkey die,
took out a pistol to stab it
and got kicked in the eye. 
This is a poem of contradictions - when one thing is the opposite of the other and cancels it out. Can you  find 6? This apparently isn't even an American poem but something to do with the Welsh infantry! The Rocky Mountains are in the U.S. at least!

The Rocky Mountains, U.S.A.

Monday, 7 April 2014


I thought that with George Clooney getting his Parthenons and Pantheons mixed up it would be fun to debate the Parthenon Marbles this month. It seems to me that the Brits, when it comes to our own country and culture, are all very protective in one way or another. When it comes to the culture of another country some are also very possessive.

George Clooney recently reignited the debate about the Parthenon Marbles (or Pantheon Marbles as he accidentally called them) in a press conference in February for the launch of his new movie The Monuments Men.

No matter how much the British Museum would like to sweep this issue under the carpet once and for good it is sure to keep rearing its ugly head as long as it is kept in the media. There are a hundred ways in which this could be debated and both sides have their supporters. Where do you stand?

Read the following articles and form your own opinion.
This is George Clooney's reaction to (Lord Mayor of London) Boris Johnson's comments and gives you some idea of the reasons why the marbles should be returned to Greece.
This article was published when the Parthenon museum opened and shows the British Museum's reasons for keeping them in Britain.

Click here for a worksheet that goes with both articles.
Parthenon Marbles Worksheet

There will soon be a short summary of points to argue in the new 'Cause for Debate' section, as well as a super Museum Visit role play for levels B1 - C2!

to reignite the debate  -  to start people talking about a controversial issue
to sweep sth under the carpet  -  to hide and/or forget sth
to rear one's ugly head  -  to have a problem/ difficult/embarrassing issue appear when you least want it


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

We All Need Heroes!

Times are tough and you need a little moral support at the very least to get you through to the exams, the day or even the next lesson. What you need is a hero! No, I don't mean someone to do the work for you but someone whose own triumph spurs you on to complete your goals. Perhaps this person is your role model or a mentor or just someone you admire.

So, who inspires you? Who are your heroes/heroines? Who do you admire? Are you a fan of Manchester United or the LA Lakers? Are you a 'Directioner'? (One Direction groupie) or a 'Belieber' (Justin Bieber fan)? Maybe Richard Branson or Bill Gates are your men? Or are you a J.K. Rowling or Stephen King aficionado? Do you admire the work of Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King?

Whatever the field, perhaps sport, politics or Hollywood, the arts, fictional characters or philanthropists, it doesn't really matter. All these people have something going for them and all of them have positive traits that a good role model needs and of course all of them probably have something which their detractors can hold against them; the thing to remember is that in their field they are all leaders and successful. They all have qualities which we aspire to either directly or indirectly. In moments of insecurity, they give us hope that we can succeed too.

Shhh! Can you keep a secret? The answer that I would give if asked 'Who inspires you?' or 'Who is your Hero?' would be (and has always been) 'ROBIN HOOD!'

Now if you are a student of mine that has learnt anything in the years I have been teaching you you will want to know WHY? Well, let me tell you!

Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper I can remember being in awe of his bravery and daring, his will to fly in the face of the opposition; he knew in his heart that what King John was doing was wrong and he wasn't afraid to say so. His focus on a singular goal (well double if you count getting Maid Marion to love him as well as robbing the rich, to give to the poor!) was admirable, he sacrificed many things to assist others. He fought for equality between rich and poor, between the genders (in my mind at least Maid Marion became very easily one of his Merry Men!) He fought for the right to live in freedom from oppression. He fought against hypocrisy. (He also fought unfair taxation...) These are qualities and principles which, if you ask me, a true hero needs. These are the kind of things that everyone should aspire to. (Of course you have to remember that he was also an outlaw for deeds that weren't so honourable but for the sake of argument we'll overlook that for now!)

Robin Hood is what we call a folk hero - a hero of the people. He is part legend and possibly part historical figure. Watch the History Channel video (click on the link below) to see some of the current theories. This is part of a much longer documentary series called 'The Real Robin Hood' which is one of the best I've seen.
There are of course many representations in popular culture of his character a few of the more recent Hollywood movie trailers are shown here:
Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe, who also features in the History Channel documentary.
Robin Hood - The Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner, this is a more romantic version which has a great soundtrack.
Robin Hood Men in Tights (Comedy) a reaction, so it was said, to the Prince of Thieves as it was rumoured that KC wouldn't wear tights!
Disney's Robin Hood - the all time classic!
Then there's my personal favourite, partly because it was largely filmed around where I grew up and partly for the superb music by Clannad, the ITV series 'Robin of Sherwood'.
There have been many songs written about heroism over the years but Bonnie Tyler's 'Holding Out For A Hero' has to be one of the best known. Listen to the song and see if you can spot the adjectives (there are 11) but how many describe a hero? Click here for a worksheet. Holding Out For A Hero Gapfill
Just a last note: 
I hope you feel inspired to go and search for the hero inside yourself!
Make the most of who you are!
Do not waste precious time on those who say you cannot succeed!
Remember everyone has a talent that someone else needs.
Listen to the advice of those you respect!
(Not the criticism of those who wish you harm.) 
Do what you know in your heart to be right!
Make your life have meaning!
Be the hero in the story of your own life!


Thursday, 13 February 2014

TOO MUCH LOVE! (Expressions with 'heart', matching exercise)

Read the text and match the phrases and idioms high-lighted in red to their meanings below!

Click this link for a classroom friendly version with separate answer sheet!
Heart Expressions

Take heart, this is a heartfelt story of a young city businessman who took  his sweetheart for a hearty lunch one Valentine's day.

He had it in mind to promise her her heart's desire but when he presented her with a diamond ring in a heart-shaped box her reply was not what he expected.

"Please don't take this to heart my love, but I've had a change of heart. To get to the heart of the matter, after my father suffered a heart attack he and I had a good heart to heart talk. I've realised that my loyalties lie elsewhere. I'm drawn to the heart of the countryside where people are kind hearted."

The poor man's heart skipped a beat,

"Please have a heart!" He begged but there was no going back,

"I have to follow my heart." She explained.

"Think with your head not your heart!" He pleaded from the bottom of his heart,

"How can you be so cold hearted?"

"If you have your heart in the right place, you will understand."

He knew he had to pour his heart out to her.

"When I First met you you had a heart of gold but it seems to me that your feelings are rather half-hearted. You have broken my heart."

"Please believe me I didn't want it to end like this, cross my heart and hope to die."

"Don't worry! I'll tell you something that'll have you eating your heart out! I've been promoted and I'm moving to the Caribbean!

And with that he fled from the restaurant out into the heart of darkness.

1. Darkest night, unknown territory (The title of a book by Joseph Conrad, inspiration for the film Apocalypse Now).
2. Something we say to prove we're telling the truth.
3. A good character.
4. Have good intentions.
5. With all one's love and feelings.
6. Follow one's calling/desires.
7. Feel nervous/excited/afraid.
8. Kind, generous.
9. Personal, private, honest, with no secrets.
10. Find the cause.
11. (Don't) take something personally/seriously.
12. Anything one wants.
13. Lover.
14. Be sympathetic,listen.
15. Make someone jealous.
16. Unenthusiastically.
17. Share everything that is troubling someone.
18. Unemotional/unfeeling/insensitive.
19. Think logically not emotionally.
20. Beg for understanding and sympathy.
21. In the centre of the countryside.
22. Heart failure.
23. Change one's mind.
24. In the shape of a heart.
25. Large, filling meal.
26. Emotional.
27. Diappointed in love.


Monday, 27 January 2014

From Poetry to PDF

Wow 2014!

Let's get off to healthy start to the year! (You'll get the point of the vegetables if you read on!)

This month's post is a bit of a mixture. I'm all steamed up about poetry this month. I love humorous poems and have included a few here for your entertainment!

The first is by one of my favourite poets Adrian Mitchell, it's called 'Dumb Insolence' and its for all you people who think that to rebel is to shout your cause from the roof tops or to physically display your anger.

Dumb Insolence

I'm big for ten years old
Maybe that's why they get at me

Teachers, parents, cops
Always getting at me

When they get at me

I don't hit 'em
They can do you for that

I don't swear at 'em
They can do you for that

I stick my hands in my pockets
And stare at them

And while I stare at them
I think about sick

They call it dumb insolence

They don't like it
But they can't do you for it

I've been done before
They say if I get done again

They'll put me in a home
So I do dumb insolence

© Adrian Mitchell

Number two is for those of you who cannot spell... When I was about eight years old I had a big argument with my teacher, who up until then I had loved dearly, it was the moment I realised that teachers don't always do what is necessary. I had written cud and wud all through a 5 page essay and she shouted at me so badly and told me to look them up in the dictionary. I cried because I couldn't find cud and wud in the dictionary and all seemed so impossible. I now appreciate that with 35 pupils in the class she didn't have much patience to explain my error however I do try not to follow her example.

Gust Becos I Cud Not Spel

Brian Patten

Gust becos I cud not spel
It did not mean I was daft
When the boys in school red my riting
Some of them laffed

But now I am the dictater
They have to rite like me
Utherwise they cannot pas

Some of the girls were ok
But those who laffed a lot
Have al bean rownded up
And hav recintly bean shot

The teecher who corrected my speling
As not been shot at al
But four the last fifteen howers
As bean standing up against a wal

He has to stand ther until he can spel
Figgymisgrugifooniyn the rite way
I think he will stand ther for ever
I just inventid it today

This is such a beautiful poem because through the use of metaphor it enables youngsters to think beyond there own small needs and see that in the world there are bigger problems. If you were a vegetable what would you be? Why?  
George Macbeth

It occurred to Marshall
that if he were a vegetable, he’d
be a bean. Not
one of your thin, stringy
green beans, or your

dry, marbly
Burlotti beans. No, he'd be
a broad bean,
a rich, nutritious,
meaningful bean,

alert for advantages,
inquisitive with potatoes,
mixing with every kind
and condition of vegetable,
and a good friend

to meat and lager. Yes, he'd
leap from his huge
rough pod with a loud
popping sound
into the pot: always

in hot water
and out of it with a soft
heart inside
his horny carapace. He'd
carry the whole

world's hunger on
his broad shoulders, green
with best butter
or brown with gravy. And if
some starving Indian saw this

flesh bleeding
when the gas was turned on
or the knife went in
he'd accept the homage and prayers,
and become a god, and die like a man,

which, as things were, wasn't so easy.
There are some changes to the blog: you can 'recommend' it now and be notified via email of new posts.

There will be a PDF section coming in the next week or so which will help those of you who are studying for Advanced/Proficiency C1 or C2 exams. I have prepared lots of vocabulary and ideas for a variety of topics in the style of discussions, gap fill and matching exercises to help you with essay writing. Each topic took an hour in class so much less when studying alone at home. I will add to this section every month so you have a whole selection of ideas and vocabulary on various subjects. There are answers pages too!!!