Smile and listen to me

Something one of my students had difficulties with was following smile with a preposition. She would always say something like “The man smiled me and went away”. Well, this one’s for you! 🙂

Let’s look at some verbs which can be followed by prepositions.
I’ll take 8 of them that I often use.

Look atLook for
Care aboutCare for
Worry aboutSmile atWait forListen to

As you can see, 2 of them can be used with a different preposition. Let’s look at them in more detail:

When you look at something, you just use your eyes to see it.

For example, I’m pretty sure that now you’re looking at the picture of the woman I put below. 😉

A beautiful girl

Looking for something means you’re trying to find it.

If you lost your phone, for example, you’d have to look for it or buy a new one.

While care about and care for could both be used in some situations, let’s look at the different meanings they have

Care for can mean:

1) Do the necessary things for someone who needs your help (I care for my grandparents because they can barely move)

2) Love someone like a friend (Even though he was married, it was Jessica, his best friend, who cared for him and even saved his life).

3) Treat something so carefully that it stays in good condition (I care for my computer. In the 7 years I’ve used it, I only had to fix it once)

You may have noticed that the people or things in the sentences are in bold. That’s because the first 2 meanings are used for someone and the last one is used for something.

Care about can mean:

1) Have something or someone be interesting to you (I care about music and I listen to a lot of different musicians when I have time)

2) Have something or someone be important to you (I really care about you, I want you to marry me!)

I don’t think I need to explain what the other words mean, but it would be a shame if we didn’t practice these words so here are a few exercises for you:

Here are two personal questions I’d like to ask you: what do you care about and what are you waiting for in the next couple of days? Leave a comment to let us know and I hope you enjoyed the activities I’ve been making. 🙂

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Say and tell

Sometimes people confuse say and tell, let’s look at their meaning and use and hopefully, things will make more sense to you 🙂

If you use Tell, you must follow it with the person whom you’re talking to:

He told me an anecdote.

Jamie told Mrs. Brown she was taking a vacation.

This is not necessary for said, we say something and this is also used for direct speech:

I said I would call him tomorrow.

The Professor said: “Work harder to get a scholarship!”

Okay, I know how to write and say them, but where do we use each of them?

Let’s look at a few examples starting with Say:

  1. When you’re quoting somebody (William Somerset Maugham said: “The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit.”)
  2. When you want someone to pronounce something (Please say the word Asparagus)
  3. When you want to hear someone’s opinion (What do you say we watch the new movie today?)
  4. When you want to indicate something (Look, buddy, the sign says “No smoking”!)

Now, let’s look at tell:

  1. Tell can be used not only when talking to people, but also when you’re writing to them. (I just got an e-mail from Sandra. She told me about her trip to Beijing)
  2. This means that tell can mean give information. (Welcome to our online store, before we start shopping, please tell us your city and country of residence)
  3. You can start a question with tell me (So tell me, was the movie boring to you?)
  4. Tell can emphasize something you’ve said (I’m telling you, that girl is looking at you all night so go and talk to her! To tell you the truth, I didn’t like my meal at all.)

Let’s put both words into practice:

Now, I’d love it if you told me what you like listening to in your free time, because next time I’d like to focus on some words which are followed by prepositions. 🙂

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The or thee?

Just like we use an when our noun starts with a vowel (the letters a, e, i, o, u) or starts with a vowel sound (e.g.  the hour) there’s a special way to pronounce the article the with the same words.

You need to pronounce the letter e in the just like you read the letter E in the alphabet [i:].

Now, try to pronounce the and listen to yourself speaking.

Let’s look at a few examples:

The apple

The apple

The envelope

The Envelope

The island

The island

The ocean

The ocean

The umbrella

The umbrella

Now, try to pronounce the same words yourself and listen to how you speak.

The words are:

  • The apple
  • The envelope
  • The island
  • The ocean
  • The umbrella

I decided to make my next video about how to pronounce the th sound and I’d love to know how you pronounce it. Feel free to leave a comment with a short recording of your speech using vocaroo to share with us.
Who knows? I might even make a special tip for you in the video. 🙂

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Have you got a plan?

Let’s look at why we use the Present Continuous in the future.

Here’s an example:

I can’t come to your party because I’m seeing my doctor tomorrow.

A doctor

In this situation, I’m seeing my doctor because I already called him and made an appointment for tomorrow.

Here’s another example:

Bobby is flying to my city next week.

Here, we know that Bobby already bought his plane ticket and he will be in my city (unless his plane is cancelled) so I should probably meet him. 🙂

A man traveling

When you’ve got your plans organized and you know what you’ll be doing in the future, you use the Present Continuous.

If you haven’t made the appointment with your doctor (You don’t need an appointment if you’re going to a walk-in clinic) or your friend hasn’t bought his ticket yet, you can use going to or will:

I’m going to see my doctor tomorrow.

Bobby will fly to my city next week.

But let’s focus more on the practice by doing some exercises. 🙂

Where are you going this Summer? Do you have any plans for a vacation? Feel free to let us know about your plans in the comments section. 🙂

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A Clockwork Lesson

Droogs by Paul Stevenson. License: CC BY 2.0

Since I mostly teach people whose mother tongue is Russian, one common thing they have is that they often read without really thinking about what they are reading. They may focus on each word so much that they would mispronounce them and often ask you the meaning of a word, not noticing that it collocates with something else giving them a context. I figured that by taking an extract or two from “A Clockwork Orange” written by Anthony Burgess where the heroes use a made up language that mixes English words with Russian ones I could help them think more about what they’re reading and the right way of pronouncing some words. 🙂

Here’s what I did and what you can also do with your students:

1) Ask your students if they like reading books. What was the last book they’ve read? Is it easy for them to understand books in English? Ask them what they do when they find words they don’t understand.

2) Write down Nadsat on the board. Ask your students what they think it means but don’t confirm any answers yet. Then, write A Clockwork Orange on the board and ask your students if they’ve seen the movie or read the book and what they think about it (Or what they think it’s about if they have no idea what this is). You can tell them that the book speaks about the relationship between a person and the government, morality and being good or bad. Show your students a trailer and ask them to think while watching what Nadsat means.

3) Divide your students to Student A and Student B. Regroup them if you want to. Do a jigsaw reading. Each student reads their own parts of the reading and underline the things that they’ve seen in the video. Find out what they’ve underlined.

4) Give the students 14 True or False statements and, since Students A & B have different texts, tell them to skip the questions they can’t answer. Then, put Students A & B in pairs and have them compare and explain their answers to each other before getting feedback.

5) Ask your students to look at their texts, make a short plan of them and tell their partner what they’ve read.

6) At this point I usually tell students that while there is a method of reading books which puts the translation and meaning after the words in the original language (It’s called Ilya Frank’s Reading Method), I believe reading should be done for fun and, in order to enjoy the books we read, sometimes it’s more useful to guess the meaning from the context instead of always looking at dictionaries and losing interest in the book itself. Anyway, give your students the next exercise where they have to work out the meaning of the words in Nadsat in pairs and then, after you get feedback from your students, have them find other words in this “language” in their texts and try to work out the meaning as well as the words they find hard to understand in pairs. Get their ideas and correct them if necessary.

7) Tell your students that the method they’ve read about was called The Ludovico Technique and write it down on the board. Ask them if they think this method is effective in curing young people from committing crimes and have them give reasons for their opinions.

8) Give your students 8 questions to discuss in pairs. When they’re done, have them share their ideas with the class.

9) In A Clockwork Orange the Government plays an important role and its aim is to suppress individuals and individual choice in favor of the stability of the State so that it can survive. The Government is ready to do everything in its power, including distributing propaganda and censorship, employing shady techniques to “reform” the criminals, and employing criminals as state patrol to threaten other citizens and achieve this stability.

So this can be used to start a debate. Write down on the board:

Should the government take action in fighting young criminals?

You can divide your class to two groups. One of which would speak for the idea and the other one – against it.

If you have enough time, you can also ask students to debate this question too:

Which is a more moral person: a kid who consistently but freely chooses to do evil deeds over good ones or a reformed criminal who has been brainwashed to choose only good deeds?

10) For a final activity, have your students work in groups of 3 people as a commission for juvenile criminals’ rehabilitation. Your students should make a program to prevent juvenile criminals from committing crimes.

They must think:

1) What will they do to help young people?
2) How will they promote their program?
3) What problems can their program have and what will they do to solve them?
4) Where will they get the money to implement this program?

When they’re done, have your students present their programs and you can have a class vote of the best program, the most useful one, the most realistic one and the shadiest one.

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Know your portmanteaus

Something that English has in common with lots of languages is how many new words are formed. You can just combine parts of words which already exist and you’ve got yourself a new word.

Many well-known companies created their names in such a way, leading to such portmanteaus as:

Federal + Express = FedEx

Integrated + Electronics = Intel

Microcomputer + Software = Microsoft

Pocket + Monsters = Pokémon*

Wiki + Encyclopedia = Wikipedia

* This one misses the C, because they actually used the romaji name (Poketto Monsuta)

It’s considered that by combining two parts of words to form a new word, the brand name will sound natural and people are more likely to trust it.

You may want to say, okay, but those were brands, what about real words we use that we make this way?

Let’s look at some examples of these words:

Cheese + Hamburger = Cheeseburger

Electronic + Mail = Email

Foreign + Exchange = Forex

Mock + Documentary = mockumentary

To give you an example of a mockumentary, watch the movie “This Is Spinal Tap” which is a funny documentary of a fake heavy metal band and their tour around the USA.

Motor + Pedal = moped

The same goes for motorcycle, which we made using motorized and bicycle

Another word which uses motor with hotel is motel and you are more likely to find them on the road than a five-star hotel.

One of my favorite portmanteaus is workaholic, which is made by mixing work and alcoholic and adding an A in between. What a good way to show that too much work is bad for you 🙂

I won’t be checking if you remember these words this time, I’m sure you’ve heard of most of these already. How about you find out other portmanteaus by trying to complete them on your own? Take the words on the right and use them to make portmanteaus.

Ready? Go!

Did you catch them all? 🙂

Which of these were new to you? Which other examples do you know?

Let me know in the comments section and I’ll see you next week! 🙂

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Starting With Up

I realized that I spend a lot of time focusing on grammar, so let’s take a quick look at some words that start with up.

Ups and downs – good points and bad points.


– How’s your new job?

– Well, it has its ups and downs.

Ups and downs

Upside down – in a reversed position.


Upside down

This photo is upside down.

upbringing – the education we get when we’re growing up.


My parents were sometimes strict and studying at school was tough but I think I got a good upbringing.

Good upbringing

uproar – a public expression of protest or anger.


When Salman Rushdie released his “The Satanic Verses” book, it caused an uproar in Islamic countries.

Salman Rushdie

Poor man, Iran wants him dead…

upshot – conclusion, result.


The upshot of the meeting was signing a partnership agreement between the companies.

The upshot of a meeting

upsurge – a quick rise.


There’s been an upsurge in terrorist attacks around the world over the last 6 years.

An upsurge in terrorist attacks

Now, let’s try putting those words into sentences:

In which contexts would you use these words and what examples can you come up with? I’d love to hear some of your ideas in the comments 🙂

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Can we count that?

I recently had a lesson with a student who kept saying advices and that gave me the idea to write about some words which are uncountable in English.

Read on for more info

Let me introduce you to some of those words:

advice, equipment, information, knowledge, money, news, research, stuff, time, work

  • With these words, we don’t use a/an when talking about 1 thing.

Where did you find this stuff?

She bought new equipment for diving underwater.

We’ll send you the money when we get back to the office.

Knowledge is hard to get.

  • And, when we want to talk about more than 1 thing, we can use words like some, a bit of, a lot of and much.

I need some advice about traveling around Spain.

With a bit of money, he agreed to make the changes we needed.

I can’t come with you. I have a lot of work to do this Friday.

I don’t have much time so listen to me!

Let’s practice these words by completing a short story.

Now, see if you can find which sentences are wrong below.

The words time and work can also be countable, but they have a different meaning:

He tried to apply to university 4 times. (= 4 tries to become a student)

You can find the works of Michelangelo at our museum. (= creations: paintings, sculptures, music)

How many times have you given people some advice and did they often listen to you? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂

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Did romance get killed by technology?

Here’s a lesson I’ve done using a Funny Or Die video about how phones are making us less romantic and motivated. I decided to use it to both give my students extra practice at listening, as well as to revise the Present Continuous. For my fellow teachers, I’ll share how you can use this video in your lesson.

As with most of the authentic content, there are some things to keep in mind if you decide to use this video:

1. In the beginning of the video, Josh starts writing a poem and, if you used this video with Pre-Intermediate students like I have, you may need to tell your students that what he’s writing isn’t important for them.

2. The video features the F-word (Once) and you may have to pre-teach the word “hangover”.

1) To warm students up, ask them about their free time, what they do when they have it, how often they use their phones and if it’s easy for them to stay focused when their phone is online and why/why not. Alternatively, you can print out the questions and ask your students to ask each other these questions and then get feedback from them.

2) Tell your students that they’re going to watch a video. Ask them to find out what the man sent to the girl.

3) Have your students work in pairs and put the events they’ve seen in the video in the right order. When they’re done, have them watch the video again to check their answers.

4) Have your students work out which statements are true and false, compare their answers with their partners and check the answers by watching the video once more.

5) Ask your students:

1) How does the situation in the video make you feel?
2) What do you do when you get too many messages?
3) What emotions do you have when you get too many phone calls and texts?
4) When you text someone, are your texts usually long or short? Why?

6) The next thing I do is transition the second half of the lesson to be devoted to the Present Continuous. Since I teach online, the presentation below has students completing examples of positive, negative sentences and questions, but feel free to do something else to give your student the meaning, form and pronunciation.

7) Next, have your students complete some sentences using the Present Simple or Present Continuous and get feedback from them.

8) To keep things related to the video they’ve seen, tell your students that a few days later, Liz called Josh and he invited her for dinner. Have your students complete the dialogue they had using the proper tense and then have them take turns playing the roles of Liz and Josh to practice their pronunciation.

9) As a final activity, ask your students if they remember how Josh met Liz. Tell your students that they will work in pairs to play the roles of Josh and Liz at the bar. Students who will be Josh will have a handout with some questions he could ask Liz and Liz will answer these questions. Students can take roles getting to know each other and add their own questions to make the meeting more interesting.

10) To follow up, ask the students how their evening was, if they liked Josh and if Josh got Liz’s phone number and do an error correction based on what the students have said during the final activity.

I hope you like this lesson, if you’ve got some ideas you think would work better or some suggestions you’d like to offer to make it even more memorable and useful to the students, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section. 🙂

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Negatively speaking

Sometimes, we want to say something in a negative sense.
While one way to do that is just to add not to the words, like not practical or not legal, a better way to do that is to add a prefix to the words we use.

Today, let’s focus on 4 common prefixes:

We use il- when the word we want to say starts with the letter L (illegal, illegitimate)

We use im- when the words start with the letters M or P (impatient, imperfect, immature, immortal)

We use ir- when the words start with the letter(irresponsible, irrelevant)

We use in- mostly with words taken from Latin and we can’t use it with words starting on the letters I and U (inadequate, inconsistent, inaccuracy)

Let’s put these prefixes to practice:

One thing I’d like to ask you: are these short exercises relevant or irrelevant to you? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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