Words Easily Confused…and How to Keep Them Straight

One of the most common types of questions I get every week is about the difference between two words that sound similar and/or have similar meanings. I’m asked about words such as rely vs. depend, affect vs. effect, capable vs. able, will vs. be going to, recent vs. current, among others. This week I had to…

12 Best Practices for Writing Quizzes and Exercises

If you weren’t using online quiz makers before, you likely started using some soon after the outbreak of  COVID-19 when everyone went into lockdown. Even prior to the big migration to online learning, many teachers were already experimenting with quiz tools in and out of the classroom. At the 2013 TESOL convention, Susan Gaer demonstrated…

Practice with Paraphrasing

Students learn to paraphrase for different reasons. In the academic world, students must avoid plagiarism, so to refer to a key idea in a written text they have two choices: include a quote or restate it. In the ESL classroom, we regularly paraphrase to make unfamiliar vocabulary understood. We offer explanations such as, “If you…

Exposing Students to Ellipsis

Using ellipsis confidently and appropriately in speaking comes with practice. I decided the first step to helping students was to call awareness to the practice of omitting words. My video lesson goes through about a dozen patterns. Some should already be familiar to intermediate students. My hope was to show learners how some patterns have…

Guiding Students to Form and Use the Past Progressive

Thankfully, a bunch of previously recorded lessons will allow me to continue publishing new videos in my Basic English playlist on YouTube. I’m up to Lesson 103 on the past progressive. In the video, I chose to use personal photos to prompt use of this verb form, but just about any photo with people can…

Fun, Effective Ways to Teach Geography

Who wouldn’t benefit from a review of geography? My latest YouTube lesson on the U.S. states and capitals put me to the test. I covered this material back in 2008, but a request came for an update, and I felt I could extend and improve my presentation. First, I had to remember everything. The last…

Group Storytelling: Format and Story Starters

The tools of any online platform will influence your choices of how to present information and how to conduct activities. I continue to lead large live streams of 200+ students a few times a week. I’m using the app Hallo as my platform, and it allows up to four students to hop on camera with me….

Timed Essay Writing and the Value of Checklists

What I love about writing is that you usually have the chance to form and tweak ideas through multiple revisions. Unlike real-time conversations, you can carefully choose your words and delete mistakes. You can also reorder ideas into a more logical sequence. Some of these opportunities for improvement are taken away from us when we’re…

Testing Our Ability to Explain CAN, COULD and BE ABLE TO

The fun thing about having a live weekly Q&A session with a large group of students is that you’re basically allowing them to test your knowledge and ability to explain just about anything related to the English language. I’ve been doing this for a few months, and I enjoy the challenge of seeing what I…

Using Intensifiers and Downtoners in Spoken English

Intensifiers and downtoners are fun to cover because we use them in many different situations, so it’s fairly easy to create examples and practice tasks. But since I feel they’re used a lot more in conversation, I chose to limit my examples to spoken contexts in my latest YouTube lesson. Another decision I had to…

More Practice with Practical Exchanges

In a previous post, I shared handouts with useful expressions that students can refer to when ordering food, leaving voicemail, and performing other everyday speaking tasks. I know the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our sense of what’s normal, so it can be hard right now to imagine getting our hair cut at a salon or…

Mastering the Passive Voice

The passive voice may not be used as much as the active voice, but knowing when and how to use the passive appropriately gives a person a higher level of accuracy in written and spoken English. I recently met a request for an updated lesson on the passive. In the ideal world, I would have…