Monthly Archives: October 2011

B2.2 – FCE Writing – stories for Halloween

What are the classic ingredients for a Halloween story?  Suspense, tension, intrigue, drama, a secret, a strange and spooky location.

What other elements can you add to the list?

In Part 2 of FCE Paper 2 (writing), you may be asked to write a story of 120-180 words.  The story will often be based around a sentence that should be used either at the beginning or end.

To tie in with Halloween, we recently wrote some stories in class based around photos.  We started by brainstorming sentences that could either begin or end stories based on the pictures you can find on the following links to flckr:

Photo 1

Photo 2  

Photo 3

Photo 4

Here are some ideas for first and / or last lines that we came up with in class.

Can you match them the pictures?  Would the following sentences make better first or last lines?

  • It all started with a bad idea
  • This phone call really changed my life
  • If I was there again today, I wouldn’t open that door.
  • He wanted to escape but he couldn’t open the door.
  • He just wanted to reach the phone.
  • Their/his/her eyes were moving.
  • He had always wondered what lay behind that door.
  • There was something about those faces that captured her attention.
  • At the end of the corridor she could make out a figure.  Who was it?  She was supposed to be alone.

If these lines and photos inspire you, send me your stories via the comments section.  I’d love to read what you come up with.  If you have your own ideas for first/last lines, feel free to use them.

Here is a fantastic story that the students in class came up with…

At the end of the corridor she could just make out a figure.  Who was it?  She was supposed to be alone.

Since she had been diagnosed with her disease she had moved into an abandoned house.  There she could die alone without anyone noticing it.

When she saw the figure, she thought she was hallucinating.  Suddenly it stated moving towards her.  She realised it was real.  Realising the phone was within reach, she called 911 but she found the line had been cut.

She was really scared, who could have come here and what were his intentions?

“Caroline, Caroline, don’t run away, it’s me.  Can’t you remember?”  He called.

“No!  Leave me alone!  Get out of here!” She shouted, picking up a knife that lay on the table beside her and pointing it at him.

Then, he kissed her and she recognised him immediately.  It was Charlie, the long-lost love of her life who had disappeared mysteriously years earlier.

He told her that she was beautiful despite her illness and that he wanted to stay by her side even though she was dying.


…and one of my own…


Opening the door to the bedroom I had the sensation that I had been there before.  That would have been impossible however.  I had never set foot in that house before today.

I had gone there to interview the owner.  I’m a journalist and on this occasion I was putting together a piece on historic homes lived in by generations of the same family.  It was in bad shape now but it would have been much grander in the past.

The owner, Mr. Manifold, had been delayed so the housekeeper had suggested I stay the night and interview him the following day.

An old photograph stood beside the bed.  The couple staring out at me also seemed strangely familiar.

That night, they appeared in my dream.  Or at least, the man did.  In the dream, I was the woman in the photograph and he was telling me not to leave, that I should never leave.  I woke and turned on the light.  There, on the wall in front of me, written in red letters were the same words ‘Never leave.’

That’s when I noticed the picture.  Her image had vanished.  But him!  His eyes were moving.



(1)  The narrative of stories is often not strictly chronological.  From the first story put the following events in a chronological order.

She saw a figure at the end of the corridor.

She was told she was ill.

She moved into a house.

She thought she was hallucinating.

The figure moved towards her.

She realised it was real.

She realised the phone was close to her.

She called 911.

She found the line was dead.

The line was cut.

She was scared.

Somebody came to the house.

She shouted at him.

She picked up a knife.

She pointed the knife at him.

He kissed her.

She recognised him.

Charlie disappeared.

He said he wanted to be with her for the rest of her life.


Which events happen simultaneously or almost at the same time.

How does the form of the verbs in the story, reflect the chronology of these events?


(2)  Vocabulary:  Find words in story one which mean…

  • see with difficulty
  • be told about an illness
  • easy to pick up
  • disconnected
  • missing for a significant period of time

…and story two…

  • go into a place
  • not in a good condition / badly preserved
  • tomorrow (in reported speech)



Photo one was taken by Strange Kulture and appears on flickr at the following address:

Photo two was taken by Joe B and can be found at:

Photo three was taken by Angel KP, flickr:

Photo four was taken by AndreasS, flickr:


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Halloween Ideas 2011

First post for teachers…

Halloween ideas 2011

The following are some ideas for bringing Halloween into the classroom this week.  They are based around the idea of planning a Halloween party which originated with Jason Renshaw’s Weblog ( in his post The English Raven lesson materials design challenge:


Jason’s idea is to see how different teachers take the initial input material he has put on a template and develop it into a lesson.  There are some great responses from people who have taken up the challenge in the comments boxes and the ideas here feed off the ones I looked at.

Thanks to all the teachers at IH Santa Clara who contributed ideas to this collection, Jason Renshaw for setting the whole thing up and the teachers who contributed on Jason’s page who we might borrow ideas from in our classes this week.

As per the brief, these lesson ideas are aimed at young learners, primarily young teens, studying at A2-B1 levels.

Introductions – brainstorming ideas for a Halloween party

Ls brainstorm ideas of typical things people do to celebrate Halloween drawing on their own knowledge of the topic.  To facilitate this, the brainstorm could happen using a social network-like news/status feed sheet like the one in the picture here.  The status could read:  Help!!!  I’m going to have a Halloween party – any ideas for things to do???  The ss could add ideas to the sheet and then move to a different sheet and add comments on and develop the ideas that others have suggested.

Halloween news feed
Halloween news feed – stimulus for brainstorming ideas
Using Jason Renshaw’s input material – the party invitation
1)  Listening  Jason’s input material has been adapted so there is a listening test/challenge element.  Mirroring a KET-type activity, learners listen and correct / complete the party invitation with accurate information.
The listening audio – Halloween track 1 –  is available from Jason’s page – you can download it to your own PC to use in class.
Here is the invitation learners complete with answers:
Halloween party invitation from Jason Renshaw's blog post:  The English Raven Halloween Lesson Materials Design Challenge

Halloween party invitation from Jason Renshaw's blog post: The English Raven Halloween Lesson Materials Design Challenge

Date:  October 30th 31st
Time:  7 pm
Where:  At my school  My house

I’m providing all the food, drinks, and _music__.  Bring along a fun Halloween activity for everyone to do. See you there!

2)  Reading and Speaking  Learners read about and discuss ideas for how to celebrate Halloween at a party.
Here is a suggestion for how the activity could be staged:
Read about some activities and decide which should be included at the party.

1)      Individually, rank the activities according to how popular you think they would be (1 = the most popular, 7 = the least popular)

2)      Compare your ideas with 2 other people.  Can you agree on 3 activities which will make the party fun?


Ideas for Halloween Parties

  • Telling scary stories:  Each person tells a story to the group.  When everyone has finished you vote for the scariest story
  • Fancy dress competition:  Everybody comes to the party in a Halloween themed costume.  Monsters, vampires, aliens, zombies, witches, skeletons!  The person with the best, most realistic or most original costume wins a prize
  • Making Jack-o-lanterns:  No Halloween party is complete without a pumpkin face for decoration
  • Trick or treat:  This means you visit your neighbours’ houses in your costume.  Your neighbour has a choice:  either they give you a treat (e.g. some sweets) or they face the consequence (e.g. you do something horrible to them!)
  • Watching a horror film
  • Scary music disco:  There are some great songs related to Halloween – make a playlist of your favourites, turn up the volume and dance!
  • Traditional games:  Apple bobbing is an old custom where you pick up an apple which is floating in water.  Sounds easy?  It isn’t when you can only use your teeth!
You could get some general feedback from different groups of learners:  Which ideas were most/least popular?  Why?  etc.
3)  Writing
Using the ‘status update’ ideas from the brainstorming page and the extra input from the texts, learners write an invitation for their own party. Challenge:  Can learners make their party sound more exciting than the example we listened to and completed?  You could model some ideas to help learners achieve this…
  • using questions or strong statements to make the reader more interested…Want to celebrate Halloween but not sure how?  My amazing party is going to celebrate in style!   Don’t be a pumpkin on Halloween – come and celebrate with me!
  • using descriptive language (the input texts are superlative rich) to make the activities sound interesting
  • using Halloween topic vocabulary…It’s going to be frighteningly good! etc.
Ss could brainstorm similar sentences to these to include in their texts.
Taking the party planning further
How could the lesson develop so that Halloween activities and sub-topics such as costumes, films, stories and music were further exploited?
Here is something I prepared earlier, an idea for developing the topic of food.   For this you will need, some print outs of the material (preferably colour printed or a projector connected to a PC so learners can see the visuals), for the later stage, a PC / access to a computer room is required to stream a video.  A strong stomach might also help you cope with these rather horrible Halloween snacks.
Designing the menu for a Halloween party
1)  Learners match names and pictures for horrible Halloween snacks:

Match the correct name to the pictures of the Halloween snacks (There are two extra names you do not need to use) 

(a)     The vampire’s false teeth

(b)    Melon brain

(c)    Edible eyeballs

(d)    Bat chips

(e)    Finger food

Use the pictures to complete the ingredients for each of the Halloween snacks.  Follow the examples at the beginning.

 To make this recipe you will need these ingredients… 

Finger food

The vampire’s false teeth

(a)    Edible eyeballs

…some carrots



…some cheese




…a green pepper




…some almonds




…a few black olives




…some apples




Live listening to check answers.  Teacher reads and learners check the key nouns for the ingredients they ticked are in the instructions:

One:  Making finger-food is quick and easy.  All you need is some cheese, cut into the size and shape of a finger.  Then, take some small slices of green pepper and use them to make the finger nail.  Attach the pepper nail to the finger using cream cheese.  Finally, make the cheese look like a finger by marking the lines.  Easy to make, easy to eat, disgusting to look at!

Two:  The vampire’s false teeth are healthy to eat as well as easy to make.  All you need to do is cut the apple into the shape of a mouth and then press the almonds into place for the teeth.

Three:  They look disgusting but they are actually really tasty and what’s more, Edible eyeballs are healthy and easy to make too!  Here’s what you do…First, slice the carrots into chunks of 2.5 centimetres.  Then, put a blob of cream cheese on top of each piece of carrot.  Finally, put a black olive on top and serve.  Your guests won’t believe what they are seeing!

Listening:  How to make Melon brain!  Learners order cooking instructions, watch and check a video without sound and then with sound to confirm answers are correct.  For this you need to show the video linked here in class and have the instructions printed (and if possible cut into strips) for the learners to order.

Here are some instructions for how to make a party snack called “Melon brain.”  Put the instructions into a logical chronological order.

a)      To start with, take off the melon skin using a vegetable peeler.

b)      Next, use a toothpick to mark the lines that look like the surface of the brain.

c)      Finally, cut thin lines with a sharp knife to expose the red fruit beneath the white part.  This really makes the melon look like a brain.

d)      Then, slice off the bottom of the melon to create a flat base that will stop it moving.

e)      First of all, get your things ready.  You will need a melon, a vegetable peeler, a toothpick and a sharp knife.

f)       That’s it!  A disgusting-looking but very clever Halloween snack!


1)  Watch – no sound:  make any changes  2)  Watch – with sound:  check ideas  (extra challenge:  which steps does the presenter say “an adult should do this” / “a child can do this” (difference between should/can etc.)

Alternative:  Get learners to watch the video first without sound and then order the instructions.  Listen/watch and check.

Video link:

Mutual dictation  Learners have two incomplete versions of the same text (a recipe and instructions).   They dictate the text  to each other before showing their understanding of the text by drawing the instructions and giving a name to the recipe they have been working on.

Text 1:  Learner A:  (1) First, take some _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ a bowl.  Add the _____ _____ _____.  (2)  Then, melt some butter ____ ____ ____ ______ mixture.  Stir.  (3)  _____ ____ _____ ______ solid but not burnt, stop ________ ____ ______ _____ _____, ham and carrot.  (4)  ________ ____ _____ and eat immediately.

Text 2:  Learner B:  (1) _____,  ____ ____ eggs and break them into _____ ______.  ____ ____ milk and mix.  (2)  ____, ____ ____ _____ and add the egg ______.  ______.  (3)  When the mixture is ______ ____ _____ _______, ______ heating and add the tomato, _____ ____ _______.   (4)  Serve on toast _____ _____ _________.

Complete text:  (1)  First, take some eggs and break them into a bowl.  Add the milk and mix.  (2)  Then, melt some butter and add the egg mixture.  Stir.  (3)  When the mixture is solid but not burnt, stop heating and add the tomato, ham and carrot.  (4)  Serve on toast and eat immediately.

When learners have finished the dictation they should quickly draw steps 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the instructions and/or what the final dish looks like.  They should also give the dish a name.

Tell learners that this is actually a recipe called sick on toast from a book called Gruesome Grub and Disgusting Dishes by Susan Martineau (b small publishing, 1999; Kingston -on-Thames)

So, hope these are of interest:  Here are the ideas on Jason’s original materials template from the The English Raven lesson materials design challenge:  halloween-1-worksheet-template

The pictures of the Halloween recipes come from:  Disney Family Fun (

Susan Martineau, Gruesome Grub and Disgusting Dishes (b small publishing, 1999; Kingston -on-Thames)

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C1 – Writing: A contribution to a guidebook (1)

The writing task in September was to produce a contribution to a guidebook for a section called Off the beaten track.  Many of you chose destinations in and around Coimbra that have given me a great list of things to do during my first months here.

For the first in a series of follow-up posts, this one will focus attention on a similar text in order to analyse some language features it contains.

Text reconstruction – Lagos

The following sentence beginnings and endings come from a text I found on the Internet (from a google search:  “off the beaten track” “Portugal”).  Match the beginnings 1-9  with the endings a-i.  The beginnings 1-9 are in their original order.

1 Lagos is a small city in a where you can make boat tours to the natural caves.
2 You can pretty b (the) Algarve, (in the) south of Portugal.
3 There is a great variety c of things to see;
4 The city centre is sculpted with traditional d activity, if you like to wake up early don’t miss it.
5 Beaches vary in shape and style from long sandy beaches e much walk everywhere.
6 Ponta da Piedade is a beautiful spot with a nice lighthouse from f about anyone, from the relaxing beaches to the exciting dolphin tours.
7 The harbor in the morning is full of g to almost private ones hidden by cliffs.
8 Also the fish market is an interesting h spot.
9 Lagos has things to do for just i architecture and colours from the region.

You can check your answers by following this link.

(Text source: Copyright 2011 GotSaga LLC)

A useful pattern to notice:

Find examples of the word from in the text (there are 4 of them).  How does from work with the other words around it to communicate the following ideas:
(a)  to show the origin of something (e.g. I’m from…)
(b)  to illustrate a range of possibilities that might be very different
(c)  to show that it is possible to make a journey that originates in a particular place
I am interested in highlighting the pattern in (b).  This is an extremely useful pattern/structure that can help give added cohesion to texts.  It can also be used in speech.  The form is simply:  from (example one) to (example two).  It is often used to show that someone/something is very varied.  So varied in fact that it includes things at different ends of a scale.  Take an example from the text:
“Beaches vary in shape and style from long sandy beaches to almost private ones hidden by cliffs.”  At one end of the scale we find the bigger, “long sandy beaches,” while at the opposite end, we find smaller, private ones “hidden by cliffs.”
Here are some more examples:
  • My music tastes are really varied, I like anything from Jazz and Classical music to Rock and Pop.
  • At XYZ language school we provide classes for everyone, from pre-school infants to retired people.
  • Coimbra is a great shopping city.  From dusty antique shops to state-of-the-art shopping centres, there’s something to fit everyone’s tastes.
  • He’s spent time living in many interesting places, from remote villages in The Andes to more than 5 European capital cities.
Generally speaking, we value variety in society so I suspect that this structure is often used to make people, places and things sound interesting, positive, professional etc.
We can use it to express negative ideas…
“I hate all forms of contemporary music from Hip-Hop and Techno to RnB and House.”
…but I doubt it is as frequently used in negative contexts as it is in positive ones.
This pattern is probably not new to you.  It’s frequent because of examples like…
The shop is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
I lived in London from 1999 to 2004.
I work from Monday to Friday.
What I wanted to highlight was how it can be adapted to add cohesion to texts like guidebook entries or even other CAE writing texts.
Here are some example sentences.  What type of CAE writing text type could these come from?
0)  Coimbra has something for everyone, from energetic water sports to quiet places to sit and read, there’s enough to appeal to everyone’s tastes.  A contribution to a guidebook
1)  As many students as possible were interviewed from those studying the arts to those focusing on the sciences, but the overwhelming majority of people expressed similar views:  It would be regrettable if the budget for the University theatre company were cut.
2)  I guess that if I was in your position I’d be doing everything I could to get them to take me on permanently from asking for extra work to show I was keen to telling the boss how great he was!
3)  She speaks German, French and Italian fluently, capable of doing anything in these languages from negotiating a key deal to socialising with clients and putting them at ease.
4)  We need to do all we can to act responsibly and protect the environment.  That could mean anything from using more public transport to recycling more of our waste to buying energy saving lightbulbs.
1)  Report  2)  Informal letter  3)  Character reference  4)  Article
The from ___ to ___ pattern causes some people to get a bit worked up about incorrect use of it.  If you are interested, read the short text on this link and decide if the writer would complain about the use of from…to in examples 1-4, above.  Why?
This warning apart, it seems that the pattern from…to is a much used technique for showing range of variety.  For texts such as guidebooks they can be really useful for showing why a region or city is worth visiting.
I’ll leave you with some further examples:
The perfect trip: California  Take a classic road trip through the best of the west coast, from Yosemite’s granite domes to the giant redwood trees, and acres of vineyards and dramatic landscapes in (travel)

Take a couple of weeks, hit the road and explore the best of America’s west, from nature’s biggest, tallest and most powerful features to beautiful wineries, before finishing by heading back to San Francisco or north to Seattle.

With 62 restaurants included in the programme, there will definitely be something for everyone, as it caters to all tastes: from the more conservative and classic environments to the more modern and trendier places

Holiday accommodation in Penela comes in many shapes and forms, providing the kind of variety and versatility that caters for anything from a quietly relaxing break for two to a vacation for all your family and friends…

 The final two examples really show how this aspect of pushing a message of variety is common in travel texts (“comes in all shapes and forms” / “providing the kind of variety and versatility”/”caters for anything”/”offers something for everyone”) because they add an element of persuasion.   Commercial travel texts and guidebooks try to sell a destination, make it seem appealing.  The more people they can attract, the better.  The more varied the experience the destination is seen to offer and the more they can make the destination sound like it will appeal to as many people as possible, the better.  For this reason I suspect that the frequency of using the pattern from…to with phrases like ‘there’s something for everyone‘ and ‘caters to all/many tastes‘ is quite high.


  • “caters to anything” – 20,400 google results, “caters to anything from” – 3,730 google results
  • “cater to anything” – 48,700 google results, “cater to anything from” – 22,700 google results
  • “cater to all tastes” – 1,700,000 google results, “cater to all tastes from” – 49,200 google results
  • “cater to any taste” – 40,800 google results, “cater to any taste from” – 1,340 google results
  • “something for everyone” – 37,100,000 results, “something for everyone from” – 5,500,000 google results


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C1 – Vocabulary – expressions with ‘off + the’

In a recent writing task we came across the expression go/get off the beaten track/path in the context of advising visitors of places that might not be major tourist attractions but might still be well worth visiting.

Here are 5 more expressions which include the pattern off + the.  Match the expressions in the examples below (1-5) with the definitions (a-e):

(a)  To think of something spontaneously or recall information from your memory without checking it or really having time to think about it

(b)  To get something wrong.  Often used to talk about a prediction that in time doesn’t come true.

(c)  To talk about something confidentially.

(d)  To behave in a wild, uncontrolled way.  Often involving alcohol or drugs.  Often used to talk about people whose lifestyle changes because they go from being quiet and responsible to being out of control.

(e)  A concept or suggestion that is a bit unusual or amusing.

  1. ‘Daddy, I wasn’t drunk’:  Miley Cyrus assures Billy Ray Cyrus she isn’t going off the rails as father and daughter reconcile.
  2. “…Portugal has it’s own food thing going on – flame grilled chicken sandwiches, fresh seafood and egg dishes, and Port wine to name a few off the top of my head.”
  3. ‘Much of Portugal remains blissfully undiscovered. Most of us know it only for the sun-drenched beaches of the Algarve and there lingers a collective assumption that somehow the rest of the country is unworthy of our interest. This theory couldn’t be wider off the mark.’
  4. “Echoing worries voiced by the United Nations, the rights group warned that sending the army onto Mexican streets to do the job of the police was a bad idea. Even individual soldiers have commented to Reuters, off the record of course, that they feel very uncomfortable about their new role. “
  5. “This 65-year-old great grandmother from Leyland has no desire to take a slower pace in life.  Janet Atkins, of Balcarres Road, has set herself a challenge to run 65 races before she reaches the age of 66. …She said: “It was a bit of an off-the-wall idea and it can be tough because sometimes I am doing the races two days in a row, but everything has been going well so far.







Definition a:  (to think of / come up with an idea/thought/suggestion/answer) off the top of your head

b:  to be (way/wide) off the mark

c:  (comment/say something/speak/talk to someone) off the record

d:  to go off the rails

e:  an off the wall idea/suggestion/concept.  This expression often appears in the following pattern…

This may sound/seem like an off the wall idea but have you thought of… + suggestion + ?

Personalise it:

Drop me a comment in the box below…

It’s my birthday in a few days time.  I’d like to celebrate but I can’t think how.  Any off the wall ideas for something a bit unusual?

Thinking ahead:

Off the top of your head how many expressions can you think of which include the word head?

I’ll add some ideas in another post…C1 Vocabulary / CAE Use of English Part 4 – more expressions with “head”

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