Monthly Archives: May 2012

CAE Mon/Weds Tues/Thurs – advanced writing – focus on letters (1)

The idea behind the post is to look at letter writing for the Cambridge Advanced Exam.   It will pay particular attention to register and give some useful phrases for writing letters to organisations which describe an experience, suggest ideas which could improve the service and ask for action to be taken.

The post links to an activity and a reference document on  You can access the links without having to log in.

A quick overview

Letters at CAE can focus on a variety of scenarios.  Here are a few examples:

  • You might be asked to write a letter to a friend who wants advice about something you have experience of.  Remember, if the compulsory part one task asks you to do this, there’ll be some information provided for you containing key points that must be included in the letter.
  • You may be required to write to a company manager recommending someone for a job.  An example of this letter or statement of reference can be found in Unit 1 of your book, CAE Result.
  • You may need to write a letter describing both the positive and negative examples of an experience.  For example, the letter to the manager of a spa in Unit 5 of the book.
  • You may have to write a letter of application for a job detailing why you are suitable for the position.
  • You may be asked to write to a college principal perhaps explaining a situation, describing a problem, and asking for and suggesting appropriate action.

You can find examples of 3 different letter types by downloading some official practice material from the official Cambridge Advanced website (look for the link under “FREE materials” halfway down the page) and read some sample answers with examiner comments by looking at pages 35-46 on the link here.

Getting the right register and some useful phrases for letter writing

As with all writing tasks at this level it is important to consider how you phrase your letter.  Keep in mind the effect your letter will have on the reader.  Ask yourself, ‘what register is most appropriate?,’ ‘Should I write a formal letter?’  ‘Is what I have written too direct or too formal?’

Here is an activity designed to help you find the right register in your letters.

Let’s look at the register that might be used in a letter to a company manager about an experience you had.  Let’s say you are writing to a company because you bought a book online and were disappointed in the service.

Here are the content points you need to include:

  1. You have used the company before because you think the website is excellent.
  2. Normally the books you order arrive quickly but this time you had to wait over a month.
  3. When you sent an email after waiting two weeks nobody replied – suggest they look into this.
  4. When the book finally arrived it was badly damaged – what action will they take?

Take a look at the extracts for this letter/email on this linoit.  They are classified according to whether they are too formal, too informal or direct, or just right for the situation.  Can you identify what words/phrases in the extracts put them in these categories?  What is it about the tone that is right or wrong?

You can also add some sticky notes to the page which deal with the other content points above in the appropriate register.  You should have permission to add new sticky notes without needing to log in or register.
Finally, for now, another link to linoit which gives some useful phrases for writing letters describing an experience with a company/organisation.

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Filed under C1 / CAE Writing, C1+ Vocabulary

CAE Mon/Weds, Tues/Thus – Vocabulary revision – 6 phrasal verbs

Some revision of 6 phrasal verbs we have come across in class recently…

Can you remember which particles are needed to complete the phrasal verbs in the table?



Cut _____ Interrupt It’s rude to cut _____ when other people are having a private conversation. Set _____ (on a journey) Depart, leave Although we set _____  early, we still arrived extremely late.
Give _____ Admit defeat, surrender I couldn’t work out how to solve the puzzle so eventually I had to give _____ and look at the solution. Cut _____ (by bad conditions) Isolate, leave isolated / make separate The floods have cut _____ several mountain villages.
Drop _____ (on someone) Visit unexpectedly We were in the area so we thought we’d just drop _____ to see you. Drop _____ Fall asleep I’ve been so tired lately that I nearly dropped _____ right in the middle of an important meeting.

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CAE Tues/Thursday – Report writing…highlighting important points

A quick post to follow up on some of the points we looked at in class last week when we were discussing and reading about a report into standards of zoos in Portugal by a report by an NGO called Born Free.

In class you discussed some of the findings of the report and ranked them according to how important they were for zoos to take action on.  After you’d made your decisions, you wrote a summary paragraph for your top 3 most important ‘areas of concern.’

Later in class we looked at ways to show that something is a priority and to highlight how important an issue is in the context of writing a CAE Report in which you have to recommend action to be taken.

The video here revisits some of those forms…

Showing that action needs to be taken as a priority


Born Free Foundation – EU Zoo inquiry reports

Summary of The Born Free Foundation report in The Portugal News Online

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C1+ CAE Writing – Tuesday/Thursday group

Looking for some extra reading texts to help get ideas for the latest writing assignments?  These might be of interest…

Coimbra:  A city worthy of closer inspection by Ben Webster in The Telegraph (May 2004)

A few collocations/phrases worth noting down from this text…

  • “the city has a great deal to offer” (tourists/visitors)
  • “as I wandered along its medieval cobbled alleyways…” – Why do you think the writer used “wandered” rather than “walked”?
  • “an eye-catching new bridge”
  • “Coimbra is richly endowed with with cultural and historical sights”
  • “Perched on a hill overlooking the city, the main building was originally a 10th-century Moorish fortress and dominates the city’s skyline.”  (Check the meaning of “perched” – why did the writer choose this word rather than “located.”
  •  “…the reward…(of walking up “the steep climb” to the top of the hill)…is a spectacular view over Coimbra…”
  • “What struck me most…was…”

From the world to your plate – Portuguese cuisine is a celebration of the nation’s tradition of exploration – and worth a journey of its own by Tilly Culme-Seymour in The Independent (September 2011)

Coimbra, Portugal:  A cultural guide by Tim Pozzi in The Telegraph (June 2011)

A Portuguese university town, both familiar and foreign by Seth Kugel in The New York Times (January 2012)

And (a little) further afield…

Reader’s Tips:  Secret Portugal in The Guardian (April 2011)

Go the whole hog in Portugal (Mealhada) by Simon Majumdar in The Guardian (September 2010)

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C1+/CAE Vocabulary Expander – Homework 2nd May 2012

CAE Mon/Weds homework (2nd May 2012)
Brrrr!  Is this normal May weather in Coimbra?  Sitting at home on a damp, cold holiday morning the other day, I thought we could try out a slightly different homework activity this week.
In class today we looked at Part 4 of the CAE Use of English exam in which you are asked to think of one word which could be used appropriately to complete three sentences.  Thinking about how best to prepare for this part of the test, I would suggest:
  • getting familiar with expressions containing fairly high-frequency words and jotting examples of these down in your vocabulary notebook.
  • checking examples of the second, third, fourth etc. meanings of common words.
  • noting down words which collocate with high-frequency English words.
For example, with the word “cold,” we get the collocation…
 bitter(ly) cold (intensely cold weather)  “Let’s quickly look at the weather forecast for the next few days, the temperature will remain bitterly cold throughout the country over the weekend but is expected to warm up on Tuesday morning.”
…as well as the expressions…
to give someone the cold shoulder (to deliberately ignore someone)  “When their son was accused of stealing the money, many people in the village gave his parents the cold shoulder.”
in cold blood (acting in a deliberately cruel way) to kill somebody in cold blood
get cold feet (feel anxious about)  He was starting to get cold feet about the wedding.  Similar to “have second thoughts about doing something.”
Familiarity with one or two of these expressions might help you in the exam if the 3 sentences needed the word “cold”  to complete them.  So, for homework, I’m setting you a collocation and expression finding mission.  Here’s an example of how it works…
The words bittershoulderfeet, and blood appear in the four collocation/expression examples above.  Here are some examples of how they appear in other collocations/expressions…
a bitter disagreement / argument / dispute:  (unpleasant)  Their divorce was very bitter and they haven’t spoken to each other in years.
a bitter disappointment Losing the match in a penalty shoot out was a bitter disappointment to the England team.
To feel bitter about something to feel angry and unhappy about something…(similar to resentful) She feels bitter about not being promoted / losing her job etc.
To fight until the bitter end – to continue until you have done everything you can before accepting defeat… (not give up).
Hillary Clinton will ‘fight until the bitter end’ after landslide win in West Virginia… Hillary Clinton last night defied renewed calls to abandon her White House campaign and declared: “The race isn’t over yet.” …At a victory rally in Charleston, she said her win made her “more determined than ever” to fight the five remaining primaries in Kentucky, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Montana and South Dakota.  Daily Mail 15th May 2008

Verb + shoulder collocations (shoulder = part of the body between the top of your arms and neck)  To shrug your shoulders (to show you don’t know),  To look back over your shoulder  (,  To tap someone on the shoulder (to get their attention)

A shoulder to cry on – someone who listens to you and gives you emotional support… (

If you ever need a shoulder to cry on, i am here for you, if you ever need someone to laugh, and share memories with, i am here for you, if you ever just want someone there without ever saying a word, i am here for you, because in the truth of it all, i will one day need you for those very same things, and you know why it would be easy, because dear sister of mine, we’re family, and i love you.  Angelica Brogan

to shoulder the blame for something – accept some/all of the responsibility for something that went wrong

 John Terry:  Chelsea players must take some blame for AVB axe

Chelsea captain John Terry concedes that he and his team-mates are partly responsible for André Villas-Boas’s sacking.  John Terry admits the Chelsea players must shoulder some of the blame for André Villas-Boas’s dismissal – because performances were not up to par.  The young Portuguese coach was given his marching orders following the Premier League defeat at West Bromwich after less than eight months in charge at Stamford Bridge with the Blues fifth in the Premier League.

The Sport Review, 13th March 2012

to be rushed / run off your feet…to be really busy:  “With three colleagues on holiday at the moment, I’m rushed off my feet at work.”

To have / keep your feet on the ground…be realistic and sensible about how you approach life…

From an online advice column:

Dear Abby: Girl chasing fame should keep her feet on the ground

(Question)  Dear Abby: I am a 16-year-old girl and I want to become famous. My mom says that’s not a real job. I was in magazines when I was little, but now that I’m older, I want to be a singer or actress. What should I do? — Heading for Fame in Ohio

(Reply)  Dear Heading: Listen to your mother. Fame, if one can achieve it, is usually accomplished after years of planning and hard work. If there is community theater in your area, volunteer and become involved. Plan to study music, drama and speech — as well as another subject so you can support yourself if it takes awhile for you to become famous. (This is called “Plan B.”)

Record online (Times Herald-Record)

 to put you foot down…to be strict – especially in opposition to something someone wants to do / is doing…
My Dad put his foot down and said “enough” about my fighting in school.  Either I had to stop hanging out with that group or he was going to take me out of school.  Dr.  Lisa Mefoff, Stressed out students’ guide to handling peer pressure (Kaplan, 2008)
blood is thicker than water…family relationships are very strong…your parents and family are more likely to stick by you (support) you in times of trouble than friends.
…makes my blood boil…to make someone very angry…”It makes my blood boil when I read about companies exploiting children as a cheap labour force.”

to have blood on your hands…to be responsible for somebody’s death…“Critics of the war say the President has blood on his hands.”

like getting blood from a stone…almost possible to obtain…often associated with making someone tell you something…“Getting him to tell me what happened was like getting blood from a stone – he hardly said anything about it.”

The examples here show how a little research into one key word can lead you to lots of examples of collocations and expressions.  So, here’s the homework mission…

The mission

The 9 words below were used in the expressions given above.  In class, you were given one of these words to research and investigate.

  • end
  • cry
  • blame
  • run
  • ground
  • water
  • boil
  • hand(s)
  • stone

If everyone completes their mission to find 3 expressions or collocations with their key word, as a class you will have a new collection of 27 examples.


Online dictionaries are the perfect research source for this.  Here are some you can use:







  • Find examples of expressions and collocations with your key word.
  • Select 3 that you think would be most useful for you and your classmates to know about.
  • Report back with your findings by writing messages in the comments box on this page (you don’t need to register to leave a comment and your information will not be public – you can use an invented name to post under).
  • If you want, you can link to stories or songs containing examples of your expressions online.  A good way to find these is to put the whole expression into google with speech marks around them in the search box to ensure you get exact hits.
  • I don’t think it should take too long to do and by sharing the results will mean that your classmates will benefit from your research and you from theirs.

Extra challenge:  If you are the first to post or you post an expression which includes your key word and the word “cold” (where we started off, remember?), there may be an exclusive prize heading your way in class next Monday!

Good luck!


Filed under C1+ Vocabulary, C1/CAE - Use of English