Category Archives: C1 / CAE Writing

CAE Friday 2012-13 – Studying abroad

Hi CAE-ers!  Just came across an article from Portugal Daily View which gives advice to foreign students coming to study in Portugal.  Thought it might be interesting reading (and a good place to look for for useful language!) before you write up the articles we started in class last week about students going to university abroad.  Here’s the link:


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CAE – M/W and Tue/Thu – Speaking (and writing) about photos

Came across some great photo galleries online this weekend, linked to a competition called Portugal: o teu olhar (Portugal – through your eyes (translation ok?)) organised by

I found two online galleries, one at Instagram and the other on Facebook.

(A) Part 2 Speaking – speaking about two pictures for about a minute

I’ve linked some images to the blog in three categories along with some typical CAE Speaking prompts.  You could use these to practise Part 2 speaking tasks.  You can practise speaking out-loud at home (maybe best done in a whisper to avoid family members thinking you’re speaking to yourself).  You could even record yourself using online presentation tools like brianshark.

Alternatively, you could write down what you’d say – think about how you’d organise your ideas to include a mixture of description and comparison leading to an answer to the question.

Here are some links and question prompts…

Leisure time

  • Why do people enjoy doing things like this?
  • How typical are these activities in Portugal?
  • How do you think the people in these photos will remember the day?
  • What do you think the people in the photos might be talking about?

Photo of a couple sitting on a wall looking out over the Tagus River by alaps

Photo of a group of friends, ‘sleeping time after pic-nic’ by renrib

Txim txim – photo by limaamj

Skimming – photo of a surfer by _dutti_

Surfing life by cataryna20

Setting up a street party by ceusobrelisboa

People working

  • Which of these jobs do you think would be the most difficult to do?
  • What kind of skills, abilities and qualities are required to do jobs like these?
  • Why might these people be doing their jobs?
  • What might the people like about their jobs?  What might they want to change about them?

Man pushing a wheelbarrow, ‘Balance‘ by ifox34

Street performer – photo taken by inessarzedas

Corn farmers – Desfolhada by renrib

Fishermen – Pesca by Marco Dores

Graffiti and street art

  • Why do you think the graffiti/street artist chose to paint/make these examples of street art?
  • What do these these examples of street art add to the place they were painted?  Do you imagine that any of them detract from their surroundings?
  • Would any of the images attract criticism?  Which might some people most want to be removed from the walls/buildings they are painted on?

Amy wall portrait – photo taken by danielff76 

Women eating pasta – street art windows – photo by inessarzedas

Street art tell no lies – ‘Til debt… – photo by luisrochareis

Jose Saramago picture and quote – photo by joaofernands

(B) Speaking presentations or writing about images using a variety of photos in the gallery:

Some ideas that you could work on, prepare, and make into a video presentation using online tools like brainshark or write up.

  • Imagine you are editing a photography book of the collection in one of the online galleries.  Which one image would you choose to use as the cover shot?  Why?
  • Imagine you are the picture editor for a national newspaper which is producing a Sunday supplement magazine entitled Portugal in 2012.  The magazine will be a mix of articles and photos.  Which image(s) would you use in the magazine?  Why?  What aspect of life in Portugal today does/do the image/s represent?  How?
  • Are you a photographer?  Choose a photo you admire or even wish you had taken.  What is it about the image you find powerful/moving/inspiring/interesting etc.?  How does the photo speak to you?
  • Imagine you are working for the tourist board of Portugal as a whole or one of the cities/towns/villages/regions etc depicted in the photos.  Which image would best sell Portugal to the widest audience of visitors if used in a poster campaign or brochure?  How might your choice be different if the publication were aimed at a smaller target group e.g. 18-30 backpackers, families, retired people, business travellers etc.  Choose one of these smaller target audiences and compare the photo you chose for that group with the photo you chose for the wider audience.  Compare the two photos giving the reasons behind your choices.  What would be a good caption for the shot?
  • Can you find a Coimbra/Santa Clara image?  What aspect of life in your city does it reflect?

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CAE Mon/Weds: C1+ Writing feedback – competition entry about a significant 20th Century event

This refers to the writing task from Unit 7 of the course book.  The activity asks you to:

  • write about what you consider to be the most important event of the 20th Century
  • briefly describe the event
  • explain its significance for our lives today

The texts I received were good in terms of:

  • the choice of event
  • vocabulary related to the topics chosen
  • strong introductions which justified the choice of event
  • coverage of the event
  • inclusion of ways in which the event continues to bear an influence on our lives today

Where I thought they could be improved:

  • Broader range of structures / phrases / collocation to talk about key events
  • Stronger, clearer conclusions bringing together the main ideas with a clear sentence that sums up the strong influence that this event still has on our lives

To give you an idea of the kind of collocation and phrases that would be useful in such texts, check out this linoit of collocations and phrases to talk about the effects of important events.


If you haven’t done this writing yet, you might find some inspiration here:

If the choice is still too broad, narrow things down to a field of particular interest to you.  You could focus on a scientific breakthrough, a moment of Portuguese history, a cultural watershed moment (watershed = an event or a period of time that marks an important change (oald).

Finally, 3 reasons why it’s worth doing this writing task…

  1. If you think you’re future might involve studying in English, this is a good opportunity to broaden your experience of writing on a more academic topic.
  2. Even if you don’t imagine that you’re chosen area of study will involve writing such texts, because the range of events you could choose to write about is so broad, it’s an opportunity to select something you’re interested in, read and write about it and broaden your vocabulary of the topic at the same time.
  3. It’s good exam practice!

Remember, you can send me any texts you write during your holidays.  Email me or bring your writing into the school during July and September.

See you soon!

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CAE Mon/Weds and Tues/Thurs – Summer Study Ideas

Hi to all CAE-ers studying @ IHSC,

If I haven’t seen you for a while, I hope the college exams went well and that the summer has got off to a good start.

I promised those of you who I saw during the last weeks of term that I’d post some tips and ideas for continuing your CAE preparation during the summer.  If you’re hoping to do the exam this year or at some point in 2013, it’s well worth using a bit of your free time this summer to revise things we’ve looked at during the year and try out a few new things too.  Hopefully a few of the ideas here will appeal.

Don’t be daunted or put off by the number of options here.  I’m not expecting you to do all or even half of them!  Just scan through the page and pick a handful that appeal to you.

If you have any other ideas, share them with your classmates on this page in the comments box.

Using your course book

Why not take some time to do a few of the activities we didn’t get round to doing in class (or any that may have been set for homework that slipped off your radar)?

The review sections at the end of each unit would be a good place to start.  If you want to check any answers before courses resume in September, feel free to pop into the school where you can borrow the answer key.

School resources

As students of the school you are most welcome to come in during the summer and make use of any materials we can make available.  We’re open throughout July and September.

Course book resources online

If you have Internet access, it’s well worth taking a look at the online activities that accompany our course book CAE Result by Oxford University Press.  There are vocabulary record and practice pdfs, grammar practice worksheets, exam practice activities and links to other sites on the web.  The main menu page has links to all these:  CAE Result Online  You can also revisit texts we worked on during the year and use them for building up exam skills by using this textbuilder tool.

Oxford University Press/Oxford English Testing also has some free sample CAE practice.  You can do a Paper 3, Use of English test by clicking the CAE Sample on the left of this link.

Here’s a Cambridge University Press/Cambridge Exams online practice test sample.

Reading – Literature / Film

If you enjoy literature, think about reading one or both of the set texts for the CAE exam in 2012 and 2013.

This would give you an extra option in the writing paper where questions are asked about these books.

The two texts are:

William Golding: Lord of the Flies 


P D James: The Lighthouse

Try before you read.

You can read the opening pages of The Lighthouse here on Amazon by clicking the “Look inside” link on the cover image.

While you read these opening pages, think about how the writer tries to build up the readers’ interest in the mystery.  Also, compare the two worlds that are described – London and Combe Island – how do they compare?  How do you imagine Combe would look?  If you were looking for a location for a film version of the book what kind of place would you need?  What about the main character, Dalgleish?  What do we learn about him in the opening pages?

As far as Lord of the Flies is concerned, you might want to get hold of a film version.  There might be one on You Tube.

If you do choose to study Lord of the Flies, you might want to take a look at this BBC Education page which has some activities designed for teenagers reading this text as part of the UK National Curriculum in preparation for GCSE (national exams for 16 year-olds).

If you decide to read one of these books, let me know and I’ll put together a new post with some CAE-type questions for the set texts.  There’s also some advice for working on these type of questions in the course book (use the contents page writing column and look for “set texts.”)

Exam skills online – Use of English

Try this word formation activity on suffixes from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English site.

Various activities for CAE preparation from Flo-Joe.

Exam English Use of English Part 1 activity.  There are more activities available on this site.

My Place for language learning is a blog with free CAE-style Use of English practice activities.

My colleague over at teflgeek, provided this excellent resource page for CAE teachers but you’ll also find some links to exam practice material you could use there.


There are writing activities in the course book that we either haven’t used during the course to date because we used alternatives from different sources or because you didn’t have time to do them!  Have a look through your book and try out some of those.

For advice on writing letters, take a look at this page, CAE Exam – Writing Letters

It’s also worth reading, analyzing the writing style and noting down useful phrases from) the type of texts you may need to write in the CAE exam.  For analyzing the writing style, think about the intended audience for the text – who is written for?  What’s the balance between writing to inform, entertain, put forward an opinion, writing to persuade etc.

Although these don’t cover all the text types, here are a few ideas you could explore:


  • A BBC review of a concert by The Stone Roses and A Guardian review of the same concert
  • Album reviews by readers of The Guardian newspaper.  You can even submit your own reviews for publication online here.
  • Anthony Lane is a respected and entertaining film critic with The New Yorker.  His film reviews menu page is here.  Mark Kermode, UK Film critic’s BBC Blog.  There are lots of other film reviews available online.  Next time you watch a movie, search for reviews about it in English online and read two or three of them.  Did you have any opinions about the film in common with what the critics wrote about the movie?  What did you agree or disagree with?
  • 100 word reviews are condensed, easy-to-read film, event, restaurant etc. reviews.  What a great place to pick up phrases used for reviewing a variety of things.
  • These days travel sites, commercial or non-commercial, are full of guest reviews of hotels. You could visit sites like Tripadvisor, search for hotels in Coimbra and note down any useful phrases used in the reviews for hotels in the area.
  • Look for customer reviews in English of tourist attractions in Portugal that you have visited.  Do the customers share any similar opinions to you?  What phrases / structures do they use to do this?  Do these make the review formal, informal or somewhere in between?


  • If you’re in the Tues/Thurs group you will remember using pictures from a review into the state of zoos in Portugal by an animal welfare NGO, Born Free.  This link takes you to the report they produced.  The complete text is very long but taking a look at a few pages will give you a taste for the style of writing used in reports.  Notice the range of structures used for making recommendations, justifying reasons for these, stating facts and giving opinions.
  • Surfers against sewage is a campaigning organisation which is trying to protect coastal and sea areas from pollution.  It has produced reports such as this Sustainable Guide to Surfing  which is written in a fairly direct tone to an audience of surf enthusiasts.  It might be interesting to skim through the text looking at how the information is ordered in preparation for the conclusions at the end.
  • Remember the UK Riots last summer?  Here’s a summary of the report presented to the UK government:  After the riots – The final report of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel.  Skim through this text and look at how they present their findings and recommendations.  Do you think any of the problems/solutions they talk about here are also relevant to Portuguese society?
  •  Portuguese government tourism proposal – National Strategic Plan for Tourism.  The summary of the proposals on this page seems to have been written for tourist industry experts and is pretty difficult for me to get my head round.  Either that or it’s not to clearest of translations.  Can you make out the main points of each section?  Find the Portuguese version of the same text.  Is it any clearer to you?  What about trying to rewrite the proposals in more conventional language?  e.g.
3.  Development of distinctive and innovative content: requires the development of Portuguese traditional content, associated to the History of Portugal, literature or music, together with ensuring suitable conditions for enjoyment of the Portuguese cultural and gastronomic offer, making it possible to offer distinctive and innovative experiences to tourists who select Portugal as a holiday destination.  (
My version…
It is recommended that Portuguese tourism reflects the country’s rich history, culture and gastronomy.  By offering these elements to our visitors we will offer them a distinctive and innovative experience that will not only be fondly remembered but also repeated again in the future.
  • An economic proposal.  I wish I could fully follow all the arguments put forward but the introduction to this proposal by two economists (with links to the University of Coimbra) is clear and concise in setting out the problem the proposal seeks to address.  A Modest Proposal for Resolving the Eurozone Crisis, Version 3.0.
Information sheets/contributions to longer pieces
  • Not so much an information sheet but a brochure.  This is a survival guide for Erasmus students coming to Coimbra.  Notice the tone and style of the text and try to extend one of the sections with more information or write an extra section for the piece on something you think visitors should know about.
  • Travel guide texts.  You have written these during the course but it might be worth searching out some travel guides on the web about Coimbra.  You can find some links on this blog at this post and some links to travel videos here.
  • Planning a gap year.  This page from the BBC is a bit like an information sheet.  It gives advice to parents whose sons and daughters want to take a year off from studying between school/college and university (a gap year).  You could try to replicate features of this text by writing a guide to a different audience, e.g. young people about gap year options.
  • Take a look at any of the sites below which aim to curate a collection of links to well-written quality articles.  The opening lines to the articles are given on the pages.  Without clicking through.  Find a selection that you would be interesting in reading more about.  Then, consider why?  Was it just the topic or was it something to do with the opening lines?  Did the writer manage to grab your attention in the first few words?  What techniques did the writers use to do this?  Make a list of such techniques and experiment with them by writing the opening lines to a few articles on topics of your choice.  Which do you think were most successful?  Of course, if your interest in the article was sufficiently aroused, click-through the link and read more!
  • Nearly 100 pieces of fantastic journalism – best non-fiction of 2010 chosen by The Atlantic
  • Longform – best of 2011 (Slate magazine)
  • Most shared articles on Facebook in 2011 – this doesn’t give you any opening lines but you can repeat the above activity focusing on the titles alone.
  • Give me something to read – best of 2010
  • Give me something to read – best of 2011
  • Some advice on essay writing for UK GCSE (16 years, national exams) students from the BBC:  Discursive writing
  • The next two are links to free sample chapters from Academic English course material by Cambridge University Press, The Essay and DELTA publishing, Academic Objectives Writing Skills.  They are very detailed and designed for students studying at university in English, but the tips and language points might help you get to grips with this kind of writing.
 All this reading is fine but nothing helps you get better at writing than actually writing and getting feedback on your writing!  So, let me know what kind of texts you’d like to practice if the options in the course book don’t inspire you and I’ll post some up on the blog.  If you’d like me to read through your texts, send me a copy and I’ll try to get some brief feedback back to you.

Online dictations / listening

Dictations Archive (Macmillan)  The audio files on this site from Macmillan English Dictionaries can be opened by left clicking the file.  You could try using them in various ways:

  • complete dictations – try to transcribe everything you hear
  • note taking – listen and note down the key points made about the topic
  • summarizing – listen as many times as necessary without taking any notes and then write down a summary of what you think the key points are
  • for building word maps – listen and note down words/phrases related to the topic
After listening, you can open a copy of the transcript and compare/modify what you wrote down with the original.  Don’t be put off by the fact that the activities are labelled Upper-Intermediate, the activities above should still present enough of a challenge and the language used is very relevant for C1/Advanced learners.


Word combinations/collocations game from Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

Spelling and pronunciation game from Macmillan

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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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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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