Monday, 29 June 2009

Discovering the Joys of "Scoopler"

Having just read Richard Byrne's excellent "Free Technology for Teachers Blog", I decided I would look into a new real-time search feature called "Scoopler" which was highlighted in his blog post "Honduras, Scoopler and Current Events". I was amazed at the huge amount of real-time information and tweets available on the topics of the day. The number one "Hot Topic" was about an American man called Billy Mays who died prematurely young on June 28th at the age of 50. I have to own up to my ignorance here and reveal that I had never heard of him until today. Scoopler gave a huge amount of links to Billy Mays and in no time I found out that he was an extremely famous TV "pitchman" in the USA. He seemed like a nice person with a great enthusiasm for life.
The following Youtube video found on Scoopler pays tribute to his life in "rapper" style.

Asbos in the News

Asbo is a very popular acronym and it stands for "Anti-Social Behaviour Order". Asbos have been around since 1998 and were first introduced by Tony Blair's government to curb a growing tide of anti-social behaviour. Indeed, the scheme was so successful (not) that it encouraged young thugs and yobs to gain more than one Asbo in order to show them off proudly as a badge of honour. Now this topic is in the news again with Alan Johnson, the new Home Secretary, saying "We need action, not talk, on anti-social behaviour". Read the full article from the Daily Telegraph here.

Asbos seem to have no age restrictions. Here is an article from the Daily Mirror with a reference to an Asbo being given to a very young person and here is another article from ITN News which covers a story about an Asbo given to a pensioner of 82. Learn more about the meaning of the word from this BBC Learning English lesson.

Asbos for Kids
Teachers will be able to take parents of disruptive pupils to court under Government plans to be unveiled this week. Read more of this topical article from Yahoo News here.

Who is ultimately responsible for a child's behaviour? Parents or teachers? What is your opinion?

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Mucky Pup in "Draining" Loo Incident

Teaching colloquial English in the correct context is of great importance for language learners. Numerous "slang" lessons have evolved from what I have heard in person on the street or snippets gathered from the telly or the Internet. I am always looking out for examples to use and demonstrate in the classroom. In fact, there is a future lesson idea in all sorts of everyday situations that I encounter. I have just read an article from Yahoo news entitled "Mucky Pup Saved In Dramatic Toilet Rescue" and couldn't resist doing the quick newspaper clipping generator activity above from

a pooch: a dog
the loo: commonly known as the toilet/lavatory in UK English
a toddler: a young child that has started walking (poetic licence used in my article)
a pup: a baby dog
mucky: dirty
a "plumb" job: a play on the word plumber/plumbing. A plum job = a fantastic job
draining: a play on the word "drain" and an adjective meaning exhausting
flush the toilet: pull the chain so that water will engulf the contents down the drain

Lesson Exploitation
Ask your students if they have ever had a "sticky" situation occur with a pet of theirs or heard of an unusual story in the news about someone else's pet. Have the students compare their stories and then get them to vote on the most unusual one mentioned in the class. Students quickly read the above newspaper snippet and analyse any new words in context. Ask them to predict the full story before reading the article. Once the article has been read and new vocabulary has been reviewed, students can do a short summary writing activity.

Friday, 26 June 2009

An Angelically Stellar Connection: RIP Michael Jackson, RIP Farrah Fawcett

The passing away of Farrah Fawcett, a once huge global star, occured on the same day as that of Michael Jackson, an even bigger cosmic personality. A coincidence or fate? Both had been glowing stars in their particular genre. Both had fought hard against personal destructive demons. Both had experienced more than their fair share of well-publicised traumatic external events. Both had climbed effortlessly to the pinnacle of fame and back. Both had inspired a generation of fans in their unique, inimitable style. A truly angelical and stellar connection in the heavens above?

Jim Morrisson, An American Prayer
Death makes angels of us all
and gives us wings
where we had shoulders
smooth as a raven's

Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Day the Music Died

I woke up this morning to hear that Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, died in Los Angeles yesterday after suffering a suspected cardiac arrest. Today the world is in mourning for one of the true pop icons of the era and tributes have been pouring in from far afield. His life has been tragically cut short at only 50 years of age but his wonderful music will live on for time immemorial. I remember singing and dancing along to his greatest hits such as "Thriller" and "Billie Jean" and being wowed by his innovative dance moves and stunning choreography. He was the original superstar and pop idol for millions of people from all walks of life.

I loved the "Moonwalk", a move I could never emulate.

Twitter: RIP MJ
News of Michael Jackson's death has caused the internet to run slowly and at times grind to a halt as people scrambled to find out whether the reports were true. "RIP MJ" is the top 'tweeting' topic on Twitter as fans pay tribute to the King of Pop online. Read more of the article from Yahoo News here.

The Timesonline has just published "Michael Jackson RIP-the good, the Bad and the ugly"
The article outlines the highs and lows of Michael Jackson's incredible career.

Thrilling Music of all time?
The Times asks if indeed "Thriller" is one of the most influential albums of all time in this article here. Do you agree with their list?

Test Yourself on GCSE English Literature

To my great surprise and embarrassment, I am officially a "Literary Lightweight" according to a GCSE English literature quiz I have this very minute taken. I have read all the books/plays included in the quiz and I am sure I would have answered the questions correctly in my 6th Form heyday. Anyway, no excuses apart from me doing the quiz without my glasses and completing it in under a minute! I should have done some "Bitesize" revision from the BBC first.....
Have a go here.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The "IPOD" Generation

Perennially seeking new hidden gems in the media for possible lesson exploitation, I came across this very interesting article about the "IPOD" Generation the other day. You may well be surprised to know that in this particular case, "IPOD" does not have the same meaning as what you think! It is an acronyn for "Insecure, Pressurised, Over-taxed and Debt-ridden", refering to the youth of "Broke Britain". I first cut out the article from the Daily Mail on 21st October 2008 and put it to one side, ready for me to "do something with it" . The time has come, so here goes!
Click here to read the article in full.

In the Red
In the report mentioned in the article, the finances of 18-34 year-olds were put under the spotlight. Young people today are under enormous pressure to get on in life. They are faced with so much choice and have been lured by banks to get ever more into debt. They are unable to put money away for a secure future as the cost of living is sky high. The image of "broke" Britain is ever more present during the credit crunch and it is a difficult period in history. Here is an interesting video from on "How to deal with being broke after graduation".

The days of "YUPPIES" refer to an era long gone and now according to this article, the acronym has come to mean "Young Unhappy Professionals". Those were the days!

Idioms of the Hour
To be in the red: to be in debt
To be broke: to be without money/ short of money

Monday, 22 June 2009

New Words Quiz

Looking through Nik Peachey's excellent blogs I read about this nice little quiz maker from and thought I would have a go at creating one myself. See how you get on!

Create A Quiz | View Scores

Flying High

A quarter of a century in business is cause for real celebration, especially when it concerns Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic Airlines- a Red Letter Day indeed!

Supermodel Kate Moss kicked off Virgin Atlantic's 25th birthday celebrations by dressing as one of the airline's flying pin-up girls.

Flashing her long legs in a red, strapless playsuit and Yves Saint Laurent Tribute platform heels, Kate jumped into the arms of a willing Sir Richard Branson as they posed on the wing of a Virgin jumbo. Read more of the article here.

Virgin Atlantic can justifiably be proud it is flying high in these difficult times of recession and the credit crunch. A lot of companies have had to "tighten their belts". You can read more about its history here.

Idioms of the Hour
A red letter day: a special occasion such as a birthday
To tighten one's belt: to have to spend less in times of financial hardship
Red hot: extremely exciting or popular

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Back into the Groove

Ups and downs are the usual ingredients of the hurly burly of life. The past few weeks have been a roller coaster. Riding high in the clouds one day, lying low the next. It is so easy to lose track of one's direction if one is not focused enough. One needs rugged determination, powerful will and extreme dedication to fly high. I feel I am "back in the groove"!

A Holy Familiar Reunion
Today the family celebrated my nephew's First Holy Communion at Corpus Christi Church. It was a wonderfully joyous occasion and it was made extra special with the presence of my dear mother. She was able to leave OCE for the whole day for the first time since she had her devastating accident four months ago. She is a walking miracle. I am very proud of her progress and her zest for life, which remains incredibly undimmed.

The Black Boy
A truly amazing celebration lunch was served in a new eaterie in Headington called The Black Boy. The choice of menu was varied and the meal I chose was perfect in every way. The portions were generous and everything was homemade. One thing that really stood out was the great attention to detail. Everything was organised to a high degree. Abigail Rose was the "hostess with the mostest" and ensured that everything went off smoothly and without a hitch. A lovely personal touch was that my mother and aunt were provided with lovely, plump cushions to ensure that they were sitting comfortably. Absolutely nothing was too much and we were looked after very well indeed. Would I recommend The Black Boy? Yes, indeed. It is tucked away in a beautiful corner of old Headington and has a long and varied history. I believe it will definitely become the "in" place to dine. If you are ever in the local Oxford area, make sure you drop in to sample the delicious food and at the same time, unwind in the relaxing atmosphere.

Language in Motion
I am now busy compiling examples of slang words that I come across in newspapers/magazines and of course, the Internet. This is in preparation for my Primary Teachers' Refresher classes called "Update your English" which I will be doing for the Lake School of English in July . The English language is constantly on the move and as a teacher of EFL, it is vital to keep up with what is happening. One of my favourite sites is How many of these words in the Top 100 have you come across? I admit, there are a lot that are new for me, too!

WAGS in the News
Just today I saw this eye-catching headline about Posh Spice wanting to "ditch" her WAG image in order to appear in Vogue Magazine.
To "ditch" something means to get rid of something/remove something, which you no longer want.
WAG stands for the wife and or girlfriend of a famous footballer. It is now not so cool to be known as a "WAG".

Thursday, 11 June 2009


Motorbike + Twitter - what do you get? The answer is "Tweetbike" - an innovative online social experiment introduced by Paul Clarke to help people get around the recent London Tube strike by sending tweets to him. The power of Twitter has no bounds! Read the full story here.

The One Millionth Word
Well, the phrase "Web 2.0" has apparently been voted as the millionth word in the English language. I personally think this phrase has been around for quite a while now so I'm surprised it has been included in this category. The English Blog has got an excellent post on this subject here and also have a look at this informative post by Macmillan English Dictionary Blog.

Macmillan Webinar: 7 Things Beginning with M
I look forward to downloading the session presented yesterday by Scott Thornbury. Unfortunately, I was unable to follow the complete webinar, so I will catch up next week when the session can be viewed on the web. Can you think of 7 important words pertaining to ELT beginning with the letter M?

Macmillan Webinars. Registernow forfree.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Trashing Stashed Dosh

There is an old saying "you make your bed and you lie in it". The literal meaning is that if you make your bed in a bad way, the consequence would be you would have an uncomfortable night's sleep. The metaphorical meaning, however, is that you have to live with the consequences of your own decisions and actions, so it's best to think carefully before doing something. In the following story, copied from Yahoo news, we have both the literal and metaphorical meaning.

Dumped mattress lands cash in trash in Israel

"A stash of cash landed in the trash when a woman in Israel dumped her mother's mattress not knowing it was stuffed with the equivalent of about one million dollars.

Israeli media reported that the 40-year-old woman showed up at a garbage dump in a panic on Tuesday, looking for the valuable bedding.

She had bought a new mattress for her mother and, wanting the gift to be a surprise, threw away the old one. She then found out the decades-old mattress contained her mother's life savings.

Workers are helping her search the garbage, but have found no sign of the cash so far".

An Unfortunate Surprise
For many years the mother literally made her bed and lay in it and unknown to her daughter, was stuffing the mattress with approximately one million dollars, only to have the daughter unwittingly throw the mattress out one day because she wanted to "surprise" her mother with a new one! Oh dear....

How would you feel if you were the mother? How would you feel if you were the daughter? What is the moral behind this story??

To "stash" something means to hide something secretly
To "trash" something means to put something in the rubbish bin. "Trash" means rubbish.
"Dosh" is a UK slang expression for money.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Seeing Red

Teaching idioms has always been a joy. They reveal the intrinsic rich tapestry of British cultural life. They sum up emotions and feelings that have been around since time immemorial. Students love learning idioms in my experience. It demonstrates a command of the English language which renders an air of superiority. However, idioms are indeed tricky for a lot of students and they need to have a variety of examples so that there is no room for error or embarrassment in output of new language.

An Emotional Colour

Today, I have well and truly seen the colour red....It is not a colour I usually "see" as I am a very calm, placid person. However, in life, situations occur which throw us into unexpected turmoil and anger and there is no other colour to sum up this strong emotion. To "see red" is a very common idiom in a lot of sports, especially football. Footballers tend to get very angry if they feel they are hard-done by! Other articles such as this one and this one here, give good examples of the meaning. Members of Parliament are also not averse to this sudden display of anger. Caroline Flint, the Labour MP who has recently resigned, is a case in point.

A Neat Feature
BBC Learning English has an excellent series of teaching all types of idioms including the colour red. I like the way the idioms are introduced with a lively video presentation and then homework is set for learners to send in their own examples of the target language. This is a great touch.

Blog Saviour
All is calm for the moment. I feel better. I have got it off my chest. My blog has saved me from succumbing to the colour blue, the dark sort...

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Leaving the Nest

It is a year since I left full-time employment at the Lake School of English, Oxford. I remember Friday June 6th 2008 very clearly, as if it was yesterday. After more than 20 years of service my time had come to leave the nest and fly off to new horizons in search of a new life in Italy. It was a day tinged with sadness at the end of an amazing era but also a day full of excitement and anticipation at the thought of what lay ahead. The photo above was taken that morning with students and teachers.

Sweet Memories

My last day was calm. I had already packed up my files and decluttered my desk. I had spent weeks beforehand sorting out my extensive range of files all in alphabetical order according to grammar, vocabulary, idioms, phrasal verbs, slang and endless others. I had collected 100 files in 20 years, 5 a year of new materials. I finally condensed them to about 30 and felt happy that I had paved the way for newer, fresher materials. The photo shows me at the computer. Sweet memories indeed.

The Party of the Century
I was treated by the Lake School to a fabulously quintessential English afternoon champagne tea party at The Old Parsonage Hotel. It was a truly magnificent afternoon and I will never forget it for the rest of my life. In fact, the afternoon party carried on joyously into the evening and the picture below shows me being serenaded by the local jazz player!

Simply the Best
The Lake School shaped me both as a person and as a teacher. I gained much valuable experience in the ways of life. Teaching was a pleasure every day. I always looked forward to going into work by bike, through thick and thin, despite the vagraries of the weather. The Lake School staff are indeed the best in the world and I have very fond memories of everyone there. The three directors, Susan, Carmel and Lilly are without doubt the best you could ever wish for and all the lovely teachers are unequalled in this universe.

One Door Closes, Another One Opens
Why on earth did I leave such a fantastic environment, you might be thinking to yourself. Well, my dear readers, however hard it was to leave, I knew I had to leave in order to give my new future a chance. And so it came to pass that the door was kindly left open for me to return for special guest slots in the future and so far, this has worked incredibly well and I am truly lucky for this opportunity. So, I have the best of both worlds now and long may it continue! I will be back on July 6th for 4 weeks to teach on the Teachers' Refresher Courses, which I am really looking forward to.

A Musical Tribute
My abiding memory of Lake School parties is the Tina Turner song "Simply the Best". It sums up my feelings about the school perfectly.

A Storm in a Teacup?

In times of turmoil the first thing most British people turn to is a nice hot brew. "I'm dying for a cuppa" is a common refrain in times of stress or after a particularly hectic activity. Tea has long-since been known for its therapeutic qualities and indeed, it seems to work as a relaxant in a lot of cases.

In Hot Water
An article about tea has caught my eye today. An advert for Tetley green tea has been banned by watchdogs for making misleading health claims. Hence the company is now "in hot water", meaning that they are in trouble. Read more here. It is not the first time that claims have been made about the benefits of Tetley. Read here. Whatever is claimed, however, I can guarantee you that it is a refreshing drink and we are well stocked up on Tetley teabags here in Civitaquana!

1990 Tetley Tea Advertisement
I particularly like this amusing advertisement for Tetley tea sung to the tune of "Hound Dog".

Tea at the Ritz
It has always been my desire to have afternoon tea at the Ritz in London. Maybe one day, when I am rich and famous, my wish might come true! The Ritz is a member of the prestigious Tea Guild.

Language note: the idiom " a storm in a teacup" dates from 1838!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Blogging in the Rain

This song always cheers me up!

Lonesome in the Valley
It's raining hard, K's on a motorbike tour in the mountains, the girls are in their pen, Kelly's on guard, the furkids are tucked up in a cosy corner upstairs, and me? I'm listening to the continuous pitter patter of the rainfall outside contemplating the meaning of life and how it pans out for some people...

Sunshine after the Rain
Susan Boyle must be feeling devastated about not winning Britain's Got Talent. The surprising result has been very well documented in the newspapers. Please see the English Blog's excellent postings and cartoons regarding the latest updates on her story and also read a thought-provoking posting by Saro Rosales. I personally feel sorry for Susan Boyle as she has been caterpaulted to fame in such a quick fashion that she has hardly had time to register what the implications are for her personal life. I do think she has a lovely voice and I hope she will not be affected negatively by her fame. I hope she remembers that the sunshine will always come after the rain!