Friday, 29 December 2017

ESL Materials for Talking About Work and Salary

Merry Christmas! I hope you've all had a wonderful festive period and are looking forward to a fantastic 2018.

Today I taught a lesson about work and salary. In the class, I used the following materials as a lead-in and to spark a discussion.

First, I began by showing a list of professions. Of course, your students should know these by now. I've shared a useful PPT before that specifically relates to IELTS, but this stuff today is more general.

I have my students rank the jobs from most to least well-paid, and then show them the actual list for comparison. 

List of Jobs by Salary

Later in the lesson, I get my students to discuss whether celebrities really deserve to have so much money. I use this document to spark interest:

Highest Paid People

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Teaching the Passive Voice - a free PPT

The passive voice is not that hard to teach, but without the right materials it can be a challenge. I made this free PPT to teach my university class. It pretty much covers everything with plenty of examples and even a little test at the end.

For some constructive practice, here's a lesson I posted last year.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Teaching ESL Students to Describe Movies

Everyone loves movies, but can your ESL students adequately describe them? Sure, they can say "comedies are funny" or something like that, but do they know more than one or two genres? Could they say why they like horror films?

I recently taught this very successful lesson to a group of intermediate university students. It gives them the vocabulary needed to describe movies, along with IELTS questions to test them. (My students are all training for the IELTS right now.)

I like to start off with a compilation of good movie moments. You can find hundreds of these on YouTube so pick one that's suitable for your class in terms of contents, length, and interest. Then the students can say which films they know, and if possible mention some information about the film.

Then teach this PPT:

Monday, 20 November 2017

IELTS Reading Practice - free printable (with answers)

I love sharks and so when I found this article on New Scientist, I couldn't wait to share it with my students. As it falls under the topic of environment/animals, it's perfect for IELTS. It's also written in the right tone for IELTS, too, and all difficult words of vocabulary can be figured out from context.

I put together some questions aimed at developing key reading skills: figuring out vocabulary from context, highlight important features for later use, and some common question types. I've also put in a writing response at the end to make it a bit more productive.

I like to begin my lessons with a discussion as a lead-in activity. You can ask students some general questions like:

  1. How do you feel about sharks?
  2. What are some problems sharks face?
  3. What do you know about sharks?
and so on. Don't get them to talk about how to save sharks because that comes later. 

You can also show a short video that deals with the above questions. I like this one from Discovery News: 

Next, give out the reading paper and guide them through the questions, discussing each. I like to show where in the text each answer could be found. It helps them a great deal.

Here's the document:

Finally, when it comes to the writing, I show another short video to get some ideas in their minds. You don't have to, but it's pretty easy viewing.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A Great PPT for Teaching Technology Vocabulary [ESL Lesson]

Teaching technology vocabulary is essential but you can't just rely on the textbook. The textbook my school gives me is great but it's also about 12 years old. In the world of technology, that's a dinosaur. Students all use tablets, smartphones, apps, and videostreaming services, but none of these things are mentioned in most ESL textbooks. If you want to teach, you've got to do it yourself! Well, actually, you don't. I've put together a PPT that you can use. It's got some really useful ESL technology vocabulary like:

  • tablet
  • smartphone
  • app
  • meme
  • social network
and much more. Feel free to download it, adapt it, and share it. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

A Fun Way to Practice Adjective Clauses

Grammar can be boring... but it doesn't always have to be that way. You can use games to teach grammar. Take TABOO, for example. It's a classic after-dinner game in English speaking countries. You probably didn't think of it much before, but often when playing TABOO you would use adjective clauses. Think about it:

You need to describe the Eiffel Tower but you can't say:

  • Paris
  • France
  • Tower
  • Tall
So what do you do? 

How about this: 

"It's a famous landmark which is located in a popular European city. It is a big structure that is made of metal." 

Look at that. Two adjective clauses! 

Here's a PPT I made that's ready to go for your students. Just download it (it's free) and take it to class. 

Friday, 10 November 2017

5 Time Management Tips for ESL Teachers

New ESL teachers often find that one of the hardest parts of the job is managing the timing of a class. It's a newbie's worst nightmare to find they have run out of activities with five or ten minutes to go. This is something you naturally get better at with experience, but there are some things you can do to make to get better at time management.

1. Have Extra Activities Planned

It's better to have too much than too little planned. If you can't finish everything in class, you can always assign it for homework or do it next time, but if you run out of activities early... well, it can be difficult to think of something new on the spot. Make sure that you plan out your lesson with a few extra activities that could - if needed - be skipped.

2. Have a Go-to Activity Ready

This one sort of comes with experience, but if you're a naturally creative person, it might be easy for you. Rather than doing the above and actually planning out a lesson, many teachers just have certain activities in their head for events like this. Rather than dragging out a grammar lesson when it's already run its course, have a productive activity to follow-up. Certain tasks are universal, like asking students what they plan to do later or how they feel about something. If you can tie some sort of discussion to the previous work, that's perfect. 

3. Plan Carefully and Realistically 

This is sort of a no-brainer, but it really is important. In your lesson plan, make sure that you time everything well. Be aware, of  course, that the best plan often go awry... but you have already built that into your lesson, haven't you? Be flexible but realistic in your planning. Don't expect a group of intermediate students to have a thirty minute discussion on an abstract topic. Likewise, be aware that sometimes an activity may prove more interesting and worthwhile than you anticipated, and that you may need to continue it for the students' benefit.

4. Don't Drag Things Out

It's really tempting sometimes when you know that you're coming to the end of a class to drag out an activity in order to fill the allotted time. Instead, follow the above tips. Dragging a speaking activity out can be a massive mood-killer in the classroom as students run out of things to say and simply sit in silence. You don't want to end the activity because you know you have time to kill... so you let the silence run on and on. It's awful. Avoid that by giving them a new task. 

5. Divide Your Lesson Into 15 Minute Periods

My classes are 90 minutes long and the school mandates a 10 minute break at the 45 minute point - so basically 2x 45 min lessons. I like to break those 45 periods into 3x 15 minute units. This may sound silly, but it really makes planning much easier! Of course, activities run on and others fall short, but breaking it into these groups of 15 minutes really makes it easier. Within that 15 minute period you may have several activities or one longer one... but it helps you structure it in your head and manage it during the class.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Teaching Halloween Vocabulary to ESL Students

Today is October 31st and that means ESL teachers across the globe are busy explaining Halloween to their students. It's a great opportunity to have fun in the classroom and I advice you to do whatever you school or university is happy with you doing. Carve pumpkins, give out candy, watch movies... whatever they'll let you do, do it! This is a fun day, like Christmas, and nothing gets students learning like fun.

For me, I have some pretty tight constraints in as far as what I can do in the class, so I keep my lessons a bit more overtly educational. Still, I like to blend in a little music and some visuals, and I always carve a couple of pumpkins beforehand to decorate the room. My students here in rural China have never seen anything like that before up close and it blows their minds!


I like to start off a lesson like this by simply asking them, "What do you know about ______?" Then I'll let them tell me what they've heard about Halloween. Chinese students tend to know a lot more about this holiday than, say, Christmas. Still, I take this chance to board some vocabulary and correct any misconceptions they may have.

After that, I go through this Halloween vocabulary PPT:

Halloween ESL Vocabulary from David Wills

When I finish up with that, I usually talk about pranks because that's the last slide. Ask the students about pranks they've pulled or would like to pull. Then you can show them a prank video from YouTube (something scary is best).

Finally, I download the Halloween episode of Modern Family for them to watch. They can then try to describe what they saw because most of the vocabulary from the PPT pops up during the show. 

Friday, 27 October 2017

A PPT Guide to Noun Clauses

I made a PPT overview of noun clauses to help in teaching my students this important area of grammar. It starts off asking what a noun is, then a clause, and from there it explains noun clauses. It makes use of some valuable examples and then concludes with a short test.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

ESL Speaking and Listening for David Epstein's TED Talk

Oh boy, has it been a month since my last post? Almost. It was a national holiday here in China and then I was busy preparing classes for my new students. I've also been posting most of my teacher's material over at my IELTS preparation website.

Today I'm giving you an ESL lesson based upon a TED talk by David Esptein. I love TED talks for ESL. They're great fun and, importantly, they're free! Also, you can access the website here in China, which is a real rarity. Anyone behind the Great Firewall knows what I mean. :) You can also download them pretty easily straight from the website and then take them to class on a USB.

This lesson is all about sports, and it starts out with a speaking activity, followed by listening ones. The first listening is very general and I like it for my university students because they're supposed to be developing note-taking skills. I take my time to craft a summary together as a group, piecing together sentences from their notes.

Some comprehension questions would be great but I only had 45 minutes with this group for this video, so I kept it simple.

Here's the file. Feel free to share.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Listening and Dubbing Practice with The Big Bang Theory [ESL Lesson]

This lesson is intended as a bit of fun to engage your students have get them talking. It poses some listening challenges and also includes a dubbing activity. Altogether, this lesson should give your students ample opportunity to speak. The topic is education, which is always relevant in an ESL class.

First up, I like to show my students have a few pictures and have them discuss what they see. I use one quote and a couple of pictures that relate to education. Try to get the students to elicit the vocabulary and ideas and then build upon that.

Next, I show a video with the sound off. I ask the students what happened, and it's actually quite difficult to guess. I introduce the concept of dubbing and the students will then spend some time putting their guesses into practice by dubbing the clip. (The clip is from The Big Bang Theory, which is super popular here in China.)

After they've done, I'll ask some groups to speak in front of the class. Then I'll play the video again with sound and ask a few questions to check comprehension.

  1. What is happening at the start?
  2. What does Penny want to learn?
  3. Why can’t she just learn “a little physics”?
  4. What does Sheldon suggest she do instead?
  5. Why does she say his time is not valuable?
  6. What science experience does she have?
  7. How does she convince him? 
I then show another clip from later in the episode, and have my students discuss a little more freely: 

  1. Is Penny a good student?
  2. Is Sheldon a good teacher?
  3. What is the conflict?
  4. Are they successful? Why? 

Teaching Intermediate ESL Friends and Family Vocabulary

So your students know the basics - mother, father, grandmother, aunt, etc - and you want to teach them how to talk about their friends and family with greater range and accuracy...

Well, look no further. I have made a PPT that teaches some very useful vocabulary for intermediate level students. You should couple this with some interesting activities to help them put it to use.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Parts of Speech Worksheet

I was teaching my students about parts of speech, and made this useful worksheet. It begins with a matching exercises, which I think works well for guided discovery. Then I have a labelling exercises for a paragraph from the novel, The Rum Diary, by Hunter S. Thompson. (It's one of my favourite books.)

Here's the worksheet, and the answers are below:

I have also created a PPT for explaining the different parts of speech, with examples and a simple guide to building sentences.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Overview of the IELTS Exam

I'm back in the classroom once again, teaching a group of 50 Chinese students about the IELTS exam. For most of them, this is their first time learning about IELTS. Therefore, I have created a really basic PPT guide to help them understand what the test is all about. In this PPT I have linked to some outside resources including YouTube videos. There's a missing link that pointed at a PDF I used. You could replace it with any PDF of an IELTS practice test.

Overview of the IELTS Exam from David Wills

For more IELTS teaching and learning materials, see TED-IELTS.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Photography Vocabulary - a fun welcome back ESL lesson

So it's the first day of the new semester. You want your students to have fun and talk about their summer, but you're sick of doing the same old lesson: "How was your holiday?" Boring.

Today I'm showing my students my favourite holidays snaps (just four) and quickly describing them. Then I'm going to teach the class how to talk about photos and photography before they do the same.

Some useful photography vocabulary:
  • selfie (of course)
  • composition
  • take/shoot a photo
  • landscape
To help me teach this lesson, I made a colourful PPT. Feel free to use it, adapt, or share it. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

Welcome Back... Let's Talk About IELTS!

Hello Readers,

It's been a while since I last posted. As many of you know, I teach at a university here in Eastern China and that means I get a looooooooooong holiday!

This year I went travelling through Europe and Thailand. I saw my parents in Scotland, did some museums in Amsterdam, saw some beautiful architecture and art in Antwerp, walked up to the castle in Bratislava, shot some awesome photos in Budapest, and then took my girlfriend to Thailand. You read about that at my blog.

I've been posting some secrets to IELTS success on my IELTS website while travelling throughout the summer because there's a good community of readers there who need to get a high score in their IELTS test. Check it out and consider bookmarking the website. (A share on social media is also a great help.)

I've also been working on a book about the Beat Generation. It concerns Allen Ginsberg and his extensive world travels. Take a look at my Beatdom website if you're interested in that sort of literature - lots of essays on Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and others.

But I've not been posting here as much as I like. This is where I post materials I use in class, and, as I said above, I've not taught for 2 months!

So hopefully many of you will continue checking back in the coming weeks because I will be posting a flurry of materials here, including many PPTs and PDFs after I use them in my lessons. This year my classes will be mostly IELTS, but I also teach a general writing course.

Here's a PPT I designed that asks your students "Why should they study IELTS?" It acts as a very basic overview of the IELTS exam and what it can do to help your students in their futures.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

More IELTS Writing Activities

Take a look at my website, for some great IELTS Writing lessons you can use for free with your own students.

Yesterday I posted a new gap-fill activity to help students work on their IELTS Writing Task 1.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

IELTS Lesson Ideas

Recently I have been mostly teaching my students IELTS skills. Therefore, most of my teaching materials have been posted at my IELTS blog instead of here, which I reserve for more general ESL stuff. If you want to get some cool IELTS teaching material, check out my other website. 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Teaching Creative Writing to ESL Students

You might be wondering, "Is it a good idea to teach creative writing to ESL students?" After all, many of them are studying English for academic or business purposes. If you're teaching at a university like me, your students want to know how to get a high score in the IELTS exam or how to use business English well enough to get a good job.

Is creative writing worthwhile for ESL students? In my opinion, yes. It may not seem like it has much real world value, but it's a fun and engaging way to impart some valuable lessons to your students. Doing creative writing allows them to work on grammar, punctuation, spelling, tenses, structure, functions, and much more. What's more, it's exciting compared with writing IELTS essays and business reports. I always have great fun with my students in our creative writing classes.

The PPT below outlines what creative writing is and why it's useful for ESL students. It also contains a great activity for your students that requires little to no set-up time and can fill an hour long class easily.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Talking About Ocean Conservation

I absolutely love the sea, and I care deeply about conservation, so whenever I get the chance to teach an ESL class about either of these topics, I throw my heart and soul into it. Particularly in China, there is little education about ocean conservation, and so I feel it makes a difference not just in a student's English level, but in raising awareness over a hugely important issue.

I'm going to attach my lesson as a Word document and a PowerPoint presentation. It's all pretty self-explanatory. It also follows a fairly straightforward methodology that you will have seen in my other lessons. I begin with a discussion to raise interest, and then move into a PPT that pre-teaches some blocking vocabulary from the following listening exercise. The listening exercises are different to what I usually do because I wanted my students focused on an overall idea. Thus, I look in detail at the introduction.

It's all based on this TED Talk by Brian Skerry. If you like this lesson, you'll probably get a kick out of my other website, which teaches IELTS skills by using TED Talks.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Teaching Paraphrasing Skills for ESL

Yesterday morning I gave my students a lesson on paraphrasing. Right now they're learning how to do the IELTS Writing Exam and paraphrasing is an important element. So I made this PPT, which allows for plenty of in-class practice. You could probably adapt it to be printed with more success, but my school doesn't allow printing anymore. <angryface>

Monday, 15 May 2017

Race/ Racism/ Racial - Vocabulary Lesson

Here's a PPT I made to teach your students some key vocabulary for talking about race. It can be a tricky topic to tackle, but armed with the right language points, your students will be able to speaking more freely.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Teaching Profanity to ESL Students

To swear or not to swear... that's a difficult question. I've sworn in front of my students, but only quietly to myself after dropping something. I also taught them how to *not* say "shit" when instead they intend to say "sheet."

Should you teach your students bad words? Well, that depends entirely on you, your students, and your employer. It's also a big no-no in many cultures. However, I have put together a lesson on profanity that doesn't actually teach any swear words - it just tells students when they should and shouldn't use them.

I use this PPT and then follow up with various parts of this lesson from Breaking News English, with my own discussion questions thrown in. When using material from that website, I like to do the T/F and comprehension questions, as well as sometimes the vocab material.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Leadership Lesson

I have created a speaking lesson based upon the topic of leadership, and featuring Simon Sinek's TED Talk, "How Great Leaders Inspire Action." It's intended for intermediate learners and above.

The lesson is more or less contained within the following two documents, the latter of which contains necessary blocking vocabulary to be pre-taught:

Friday, 28 April 2017

Talking About Days and Dates

So you want to practice talking days and dates with your ESL students? Look no further. Below, I've attached a calendar I made for the month of February. Why? You'll see... This fun activity is suitable for students of all ages and can be used in combination with any number of other related activities. It will challenge even intermediate students, and yet is suitable for lower levels.

Notice that this February has 29 days. That means it comes from a leap year.

Give this calendar to your students and then tell them it's currently the 15th of February. Then the need to do the following:

  1. Color the following yellow: St. Valentines's Day, the leap year day.
  2. Color the following green: the day before yesterday, the weekend before last, the day after tomorrow, the Monday after next
  3. Color the following red: tomorrow, next Saturday, a week today, a week tomorrow
  4. Color the following purple: in four days' time, a fortnight ago, the whole of last week (mon-fri)
Their calendar should now look like this:

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Intermediate ESL Hotel Vocabulary

This PPT is perfect for teaching your intermediate level students hotel vocabulary. The words and phrases here are not too basic, but just challenging enough to stretch most intermediate students. It would also be useful for those of you teaching people already in the hotel industry. The pictures clearly illustrate the vocabulary's meaning, and there are some helpful examples that follow.

ESL Intermediate Hotel Vocabulary from David Wills

A fun follow up activity is to watch a TV show set in a hotel and have students dub it or summarize it. Fawlty Towers is a good example, as is the episode of Mr. Bean which is set in a hotel. 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Intermediate ESL Vocabulary - Personality Adjectives

There are so many great ways to teach your students how to use personality adjectives. In this lesson, I get my students talking as much as possible. I try to elicit lots of vocabulary, but also teach them some great new words along with appropriate examples.

I begin by showing them just the picture below and asking them to describe the woman. When they do that, I note down any personality adjectives they use. Then I show them the text beneath, and have them extract the personality adjective (patient). Usually they can come up with 10 adjectives to describe her - for example, kind, caring, nice, hard-working, and so on.

I like to point out that together they have collected 10 adjectives instead of just saying something dull and boring like, "She's a kind lady." Then I get them to describe a roommate. Once they realize they can use so many adjectives, you can usually get some colourful descriptions.

Once again, as they're describing I will monitor and write up any good vocabulary they use.

Next I teach them some more advanced words from my PPT. I tell them first that their efforts were good but that it's time to up-grade their vocabulary:

ESL Vocabulary - Personality Adjectives from David Wills

After this you can show them a clip of a popular TV show like Big Bang Theory and have them describe the characters, followed by some games like describing and guessing a celebrity or classmate. The possibilities are endless! 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Sports Vocabulary for ESL Learners

I love teaching sports vocabulary to my ESL learners. It's always fun, and there's so much for them to learn. Moreover, it's actually quite easy to get the concepts across. Show them a picture or video of windsurfing and even if they've never heard of it before, they know immediately what it is.

Below, I have embedded a PPT that will teach your pre-intermediate or intermediate level learners some useful sports vocabulary. For intermediates, you'll want to avoid boring them during the easier slides by eliciting some vocabulary and writing it up on the board. When I come to something they know, like baseball, I ask what the man uses to hit the ball...

...they struggle with that.

This PPT can be great for teaching the more advanced level students words like "cricket bat" and "tennis racket" and "hockey stick". (Why so many different words?!)

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Teaching Essay Structure for IELTS Writing Task 2

You are probably reading this because you want to teach your students how to structure their IELTS Writing Task 2 essays. It can be a difficult skill to teach, particularly if they have little experience with academic writing. I do a lot of teaching on this at my other website, TED IELTS. Go check it out for some useful free IELTS resources.

Today I just uploaded a PPT to Slideshare that outlines the slightly different essay structures needed to answer the 5 different questions types for IELTS Writing Task 2. Go take a look and you might be able to use it for teaching your students how to structure their essays.

But how can you get them to practice this, aside from the obvious - just writing essays?

Well, there are some useful ways. You can have them write up plans and then put some of them on the board for the class to analyze. However, one that I really like is to give them a band 9 essay - the perfect example - and then cut it up! The students work in groups to reassemble the cut-up essay.

I've done this numerous times with different students, sometimes in a big class and sometimes in a small class, and it always goes really well. They can usually identify certain parts of the essay, but will seldom be able to get the whole thing put together. As such, it can take more time than you'd imagine - but the work they put in is really valuable.

You can use just about any band 9 essay, but here's one I used recently:

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Can Money Buy Happiness? - an ESL Lesson

Talking about money is always a great way to get ESL students talking, particularly in China. Money is probably more important here than anywhere in the world, and everyone has a strong opinion about it. It's not taboo to talk about salaries or rents or anything to do with money, so it's a great ESL topic.

For this lesson, I start off with the song, "Can't Buy Me Love," by the Beatles. It's a fun song that gets the lesson going in a really positive way. I ask the following questions:

Which of the following best describes the singer?

a) He loves money

b) He needs more money

c) He doesn’t care about money

d) His girlfriend has spent all his money

Choose the Correct Lyric

I'll buy you a wedding/diamond/dollar ring my friend,
If it makes you feel right/awkward/alright,
I'll get you everything/anything/something my friend,
If it makes you be/feel/see alright,
Cause I don't have/care/carry too much for money,
Money can't give/bring/buy me love.

I'll give/leave/save you all I've got to give,
If you say you love me to/too/tow,
I say/day/may not have a lot to give,
But was/what/that I got I'll give to you,
I don't care too match/much/munch for money.
Money can't buy me/my/mine love.

After that, I push the students into a discuss. I'll give them about ten minutes to talk over these questions: 

Discuss the Song

1.   What sort of personality do you think the singer has?

2. Do you think money is important for him?

3. What are some things that “money just can't buy”?

4. Do you agree that money can't buy love? Why?

5. How important is money to you?

6. Do you save money or do you spend it easily?

7. Can money buy happiness?

a. If yes, then how?

b. If no, then why not?

8. Do you think you would be happier if you had lots of money? Why?

Watch the Video

Next, I'll show them an interesting TED Talk video about money and do the questions in the link.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

ESL Dating Activity

Talking about dating can be a lot of fun in an ESL classroom. Of course, that all depends on where you live... It might not work as well in, say, Saudi Arabia as it does in China. But in some countries at least it can provide a great platform on which to build a lesson.

With my pre-intermediate students, I recently taught a fun lesson that included the following two activities. Firstly, I had my students work in pairs to rank the qualities they seek in a partner:

What things are most important to you in a date or marriage partner? Rank the top four ideas in order of importance to you. Remember to say why you chose a particular factor.
  • ___ his or her job 
  • ___ age 
  • ___ hobbies 
  • ___ physical appearance or looks 
  • ___ money 
  • ___ religion 
  • ___ honesty 
  • ___ sense of humor 
  • ___ family background 
  • ___ the person's past life
Next, I had my students work in groups. To do this, I count them off randomly and send them to different corners of the room. This always works great as the students are on their feet and working with different people to whom they normally pair up. I told them to copy down the following:

Dating Profile

  • Sex: M/F
  • Height:
  • Weight: 
  • Appearance:
  • Age: 
  • Personality:
  • Occupation:
  • Smoker/Non-Smoker:
  • Favorite Music:
  • Hobbies:
  • Favorite Movie:
  • Education:

Together, they must complete the information for an imaginary friend (or a real one, if they are a fun group). After five minutes, I take their notes and give them to a different group. The new group must choose a perfect partner for this person. 

Finally, the groups can tell each other why they chose this "perfect partner." 

An alternative is to send one person from each group to a new group instead of handing over the notes. This is more communicative, but might work best with a higher level.

Using "used to" and "would" to talk about the past

This short PPT outlines the different uses for "used to" and "would" to talk about the past. It aims to explain very briefly how and why these phrases are used, giving some examples and practice. It is intended to be taught by a teacher who knows at least the basics of this grammar point.

It might be necessary to teach your students more about action and state verbs prior to introducing this point. I only give examples to show the difference in this PPT.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Intermediate Weather Vocabulary

If your students are a little beyond "sunny" and "rainy," perhaps they'll benefit from this ESL vocabulary PPT. In it, I give some useful words for describing weather that will help your intermediate or pre-intermediate level students. There are also some example sentences and a little grammar explanation.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Restaurant Vocabulary for ESL Students

Do you want to teach your students how to talk about restaurants? Maybe you want them to describe their favourite restaurant for IELTS, or perhaps you want them to be able to simply order their favourite dish when travelling abroad. In this PPT, I give essential restaurant vocabulary for ESL students.

Restaurant Vocabulary for ESL from David Wills

One way that I like to follow up this vocabulary exercise is to have students watch the following video and describe the events that take place. Most of it can be pretty accurately summarized with the vocabulary taught from the PPT. However, you might have to explain what steak tartare is.

There are, of course, a multitude of other suitable activities for them to practice their restaurant vocabulary. A role play is an obvious example.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

ESL Biography Lesson

Yesterday I gave my students an interesting lesson that really engaged them and got them using their tenses carefully to produce some good spoken language. It was a biography lesson that looked at the lives of three famous Americans: Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Martin Luther King. (It helps that these men are all really, really popular here in China.)

I began by showing a picture of Steve Jobs and asking my students to note down everything they knew about him in three minutes. Then I had them share their knowledge with the class.

After that, I gave them this mixed up biography and had them piece it together in the correct order. I also taught them the words "chronology" and "chronological."

  1. Apple's revolutionary products, which include the iPod, iPhone and iPad, are now seen as dictating the evolution of modern technology. 
  2. He died in 2011, following a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
  3. Smart but directionless, Jobs experimented with different pursuits before starting Apple Computer with Steve Wozniak in 1976. 
  4. Jobs left the company in 1985 and returned more than a decade later, after starting another billion-dollar company. 
  5. Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco, California, on February 24, 1955, to two University of Wisconsin graduate students who gave him up for adoption. 
Answer: 5,3,4,1,2

Then I gave them this timeline and asked them to make their own Jobs biography by picked five or six events and linking them together. The picture contains the present tense, so I reminded them to change it to the appropriate tense - usually past simple.

Next, the students shared their own bios of Steve Jobs, and I gave feedback.

Following this, I showed them a biography of Barack Obama and told them to take notes of interesting or important events, along with the dates. 

The students were then challenged to write a simple biography of Barack Obama, focusing again on just five or six key events. I was very careful to correct their misuse of tenses here.

Finally, I showed the students another biography - that of Martin Luther King - and asked them to note down any structural points they found interesting. (I pause the video after the introduction to show that it didn't just start with "He was born in..." but instead introduced his accomplishments first.) Then the students had to create a biography of someone they found interesting. Hopefully, by this point, you students are able to present key events in a logical order, linked effectively, and with appropriate use of dates.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Business English - Presentation Skills

I made this PPT recently for my ESL students to learn group presentation skills. It is intended to teach them how to work together as a team in order to give an overview of a company's history and corporate culture.

My students have never given presentations in English before and lack teamwork skills, so I thought this would be a useful exercise for them. I put them into ten groups of five and assigned them each a company like Google, Amazon, or Tesla Motors. I then gave them a few weeks to put together a presentation.

This PPT introduces some important aspects of creating and delivering a presentation, and does so in simple English that your ESL students will understand.

Monday, 20 March 2017

ESL Essential Computer Vocabulary

I've been teaching ESL for about ten years, and in that time I've come across good textbooks and bad ones. However, very few of them have ever covered the topic of computers (or, for that matter, the internet) adequately.

The problem is pretty obvious: half the textbooks your school gives you are going to be between two and twenty years old. They're already horribly out of date. If they cover computers, they'll introduce words like "floppy disk" and phrases like "surf the net" that no one uses anymore.

To teach computer-related language, you really need to do the work yourself or find some up-to-date material online. I've put together a PPT that introduces the different parts of a computer for my intermediate-level students, although you could easily tailor it for pre-intermediate by altering a few slides.

Here it is:

Lesson Plan

I begin the lesson with a picture, which I give my students 1-2 mins to discuss in pairs:
I have them talk about it, drawing attention to what the computer can do, and then introduce the next activity:


1. How have computers changed in the last twenty years?

2. How will they change in the next twenty years?

3. What do people mostly use computers for?

4. How have computers changed our lives?

5. What dangers do computers pose to our lives?

After that, I show them this video and talk about it:

Then we use the above PPT to learn the essential computer vocabulary.

After that, I will test the students' listening skills by having them do these questions:


Watch the video about computer prices and answer the following questions:

1. What can you do with a $200-300 computer?

2. How much money would a hobbyist gamer pay for a new computer?

3. What’s the least you would have to pay to buy an entry level MacBook?

4. How much would a professional graphic designer need to spend?

For this video:

Finally, I have the students do a roleplay, where one needs to buy a computer and the other will be the salesperson.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Don't Say Delicious!

In China, people love talking about food. In fact, for Chinese, food is like weather is for the British. It's the go-to conversation starter, and it probably makes up a great deal of the rest of the conversation, too.

When I meet Chinese people who want to speak English, they immediately go for food as a topic. My students all love talking about it... A few months ago, I gave them this lesson on food adjectives to help them be more specific.

But sometimes you don't want to be terribly specific, and in fact in China people rarely think, "This is rather crunchy, but also a bit rich..." No, they think in terms of "good" and "bad." As such, even the most advanced English-speakers I encounter will describe everything as "delicious" or "not delicious." It gets a bit tedious.

So here are some other words we can use to say "delicious":

  • Yummy
    • However, for me this word sounds a bit childish. It's not wrong to say something is yummy, but I wouldn't expect a university student or graduate to be saying, "I had a really yummy lunch today!" 
  • Tasty
    • This is a great alternative to "delicious." It is pretty much the same in terms of meaning, although maybe a bit understated. 
  • Scrumptious
    • Does this make you think of Nigella Lawson? That's what it reminds me of. This is actually a pretty good word to use, even if it might sound a tad strange. Again, it shows an enhanced vocabulary.
  • Mouth-watering
    • This is a great phrase. It is descriptive and shows a good lexical awareness. But of course, be aware that this describes something which one assumes to be delicious, rather than what we know from experience. 
  • Flavorful/flavourful 
    • Again, this is a somewhat toned down version of "delicious" and very useful for describing a range of foods. 
  • Delectable
    • Now here's an advanced synonym for delicious! This is a wonderful word to teach your students.  

Friday, 17 March 2017

Introduction to IELTS Reading

This past week, I have been introducing my students to the IELTS exam. Some of them are already familiar with it but most of them aren't. I've been trying to ease them in with some overviews and get them exposed to the style of the questions and the topics that are so commonly used.

A few days ago, for example, I introduced them very gently to the IELTS speaking test. Yesterday I gave them this overview of the IELTS reading test, which contains some useful pointers. Then we did some work from a great textbook called Focus on IELTS Foundation. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Business English Vocabulary - Company History

One of the most important parts of business English is teaching your students the necessary vocabulary for describing a company's history. This means teaching key vocabulary and collocations for describing a business, as well as using grammar incorrectly.

This Powerpoint presentation is intended for intermediate level students who are new to business English, and it mostly gives them vocabulary with examples. However, you may want to bring attention to the grammar used, such as the passive voice for "was founded," and so on.

Company History - ESL Language from David Wills

After teaching this language, I try to give my students a listening task to get them using it for a well-known company. I like this video about the history of Apple:

I would use these questions, which are obviously quite simple, but it makes the students really pay attention to those important phrases:

1. When was Apple founded?

2. When was the Apple II first sold?

3. When did they introduce the Macintosh?

4. When did they release the iPod?

After this, you'll want your students to practice using the target language with some freer practice, so have them describe a company they know. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Groupwork in Big Classes

How do you get big classes to work well in groups? It's a question that baffles many teachers. Indeed, some classes are just going to be difficult, while others many act like angels. But there are some ways that you can help them out.

  1. Most importantly, make sure the students know what they should do. This sounds obvious, but think about your instructions and how they might be misinterpreted. Ask some ICQs to ensure they follow you.
  2. Following on from that, make sure to give tangible goals and realistic time limits. Don't give vague tasks and indefinite periods of time to achieve them. 
  3. Mix up the groups so that the students aren't just playing around with their friends. Sometimes friends work best together... but sometimes they need split up so that they can get some actual work done. 
  4. Monitor the students to make sure that they're on task. If they're not, push them in the right direction. Sometimes this means just quietly reaffirming the task, but if many groups are doing the wrong thing, you need to go back to the start and explain more clearly. 
  5. Give the groups names! This is a surprising one, but it really, really helps. Better yet, let them name themselves. This gives them a sense of identity, and makes them work harder towards their goal. 
  6. Allow the team to choose a leader, and allow the leader to lead the team. Don't let them be tyrants, but this will help keep them working towards their goal. 
  7. Don't interfere too much. Show that you are interested in what they're doing, but watch from a distance after your initial monitoring. 

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Introduction to IELTS Speaking

If your students are fairly new to the IELTS exam, but you want to introduce them to the speaking section and have them get some valuable practice, then I have a great idea for you.

Have them watch a video of someone actually doing the IELTS exam. It's probably best if you choose a candidate from your own students' country. Mine are Chinese, so I use this video:

I'll tell my students to listen and note down the questions the examiner asks her.

After that, we'll go through the questions together. Parts 2 and 3 might be a little difficult for students just being introduced to the IELTS exam, so you might want to just focus on Part 1 instead. The questions can be found at my IELTS help website.

Once you have written up the questions after eliciting them from your students, draw attention to the topics - study, internet, TV - and explain that these are very common IELTS speaking topics. Mention some others.

If you want, you can watch certain parts again and critique the candidate's answers. If you do so, inform the students of the expectations - that they should reply to Part 1 questions with one or two short sentences, but that later they need to speak more.

Then, finally, have your students pair up and practice asking and answering these questions. They're great because they're so common and really quite easy to answer. 

Breaking the Ice

In this ESL lesson, teach your students how to break the ice when talking to strangers.

I have put together this PowerPoint lesson which should take 45-60 minutes to complete. It introduces the term "breaking the ice" (literally and figuratively) and then offers up some engaging questions for your students.

Finally, end the lesson with the students completing a dialogue wherein they imagine meeting someone for the first time.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Company Departments - Basic ESL Vocabulary

This PPT contains some very basic Business English vocabulary. I used it with my students during their first Business English lesson, prior to which they really couldn't be very specific in their descriptions of a business. They would use terms like "leader" and "worker," but this introduces company departments.

Try to use this in conjunction with other activities, such as discussions about what the various departments do, or matching departments with tasks or employees.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

First Impressions

This is a pre-intermediate level ESL activity that works for students who are learning to talk about friends or work. I used it with some quite low-level learners and was able to get some great answers from them because it makes the material really simple.

Here's the PPT. It's pretty self-explanatory:

ESL Lesson: First impressions from David Wills

You might also want to follow up with this activity from ESL Flow.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

How to Correct Pronunciation Problems in Chinese Learners

As most of you know, I teach in China and so all my students are Chinese (except for one, who comes from Kazakhstan). My classes deal with a wide number of topics and I most try to boost their writing skills and teach them IELTS material.

Recently, I've been determined to tackle some endemic problems in their speaking. By this I am referring to the typical problems Chinese have in speaking English. It's not easy to break these habits, but I became interested in creating a lesson that would draw their attention to the problems and then give them the tools to help their speech.

In China, students are focused on vocabulary first and foremost, and after that grammar. They want to pass tests and get good jobs. Some of them want to remove their "Chinese accent" and sound "more native." Is that a realistic goal? Whether you think so or not, it is certainly worthwhile trying to improve their pronunciation and get them saying common words more naturally.

I became interested in this quite recently when talking with my girlfriend, who is Chinese but speaks English fluently. Her pronunciation is not great, but I never really noticed because she speaks so easily that I always get meaning from context. One day I corrected her on something and she couldn't hear the difference in what I said. I was amazed. Then I realized that's why almost 100% of my students have certain problems - to them, two sounds may seem identical. It's the same for me when learning Chinese - can I tell the difference between "jiao" and "zhao"? Maybe if someone was speaking slowly and carefully.

So I identified a few common issues and decided to tackle them in a class. I decided to focus on the big ones that affect nearly 100% of my students and other English-speakers I've encountered here:

  1. /ɪ/ and /iː/
  2. /θ/ and /ð/
Anyone familiar with Chinese English (and other speakers, like Spanish) will recognize the above sounds as difficult. Chinese can't usually hear the difference between, or say, /ɪ/ or /iː/ and they have big trouble with /θ/ and /ð/.

In this Powerpoint, which I use to guide a 90 minute lesson, I attempt to tackle these problems. I start with the picture of a pig because it seems so easy and it's a word that came up twice in the previous week. (I always like to link parts of lessons to previous work.) I ask, "What's this?" and everyone shouts "peeeeeeg!" When I say, "no," they are shocked." It's a good start to a lesson. 

The videos referenced in the PPT will be embedded below from YouTube. If you don't like my "peeeeg" idea, and you have upper intermediate students, you might want to open with the Modern Family video and have students discuss what they think happened. 

Saturday, 4 March 2017

British Culture Lesson

Many of my students here in China are going to study in the U.K. next year, and they really want to learn about British culture. Most Chinese don't know much about Western culture except what they see on TV and in movies, and those things are surprisingly difficult to put into context.

With this PPT, I give a one hour lecture on British culture. I believe strongly in getting students to talk, and so it includes some discussion questions. It is useful to know what they do and don't understand before teaching a certain part of the topic.

Of course, this PPT doesn't contain completely 100% accurate information, but you can address that while speaking. For example, at one point I mention how people aspire to be gentlemen... You will want to do as I did and say that not all British men are gentlemen! But of course, the point is that manners are a big part of our culture.

I'm from the U.K. and so I can talk pretty much endlessly on this topic without preparation. If you're from another country and hope to teach British culture to your students, you will need to do a lot of prep work beforehand.

British Culture Lesson (for ESL classes) from David Wills

Once I have taught this lecture, I segue from the final slide into some activities from the following link. This concerns queuing, which is of course an important part of life in the U.K., and yet something virtually unheard of here in China:

Friday, 3 March 2017

ESL Friendship Vocabulary Activity

Here's a simple exercise to give your pre-intermediate students some practice talking about  friends, or giving them practice describing people.

First, show them this list:

Ask them what kind of words they are. Answer: adjectives. Ask what you can describe with these adjectives: nouns. What kind of nouns? People. Give some examples: She is a trustworthy girl. He is a sensitive boy. etc.

Tell them to work with a partner and categorize the above words as describing:

  • a good friend
  • a bad friend
After maybe 3-4 minutes, show them these partial sentences: 

  • A good friend is _____,______, and _______.
  • A bad friend is _____,______, and _______.
Draw attention to the use of commas and the word "and." Tell them to show three words to describe each, and then tell the class.

Following this, I will show a picture of my best friend and then describe him. His name is Rich and he is rich (true story!), so this always amuses the learners. Then have them describe their best friends. Encourage them to use the vocabulary from above.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

ESL Pets Vocabulary and Grammar Lesson

Here's an ESL lesson for vocabulary and grammar relating to the topic of pets. Learn pet vocabulary, discuss what makes a good or exotic pet, and figure out the grammar of talking about pets with this PPT.

It includes reference to a video which I will post below.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

How to Learn Any Language in 6 Months

On Friday, I posted the first half of a lesson about learning English quickly. The key word here was "quickly." I didn't mean it to come across like clickbait or spam, and I would never make silly promises to my students. What I wanted was for them to discuss whether or not it's possible to fastrack language acquisition.

Today, I'm bringing you the second half of that lesson. Up to this point, the students have been discussing learning English, and they've even suggested methods for international students to learn Chinese. Now it's time for them to watch a TED Talk by Chris Lonsdale, which is filled with ways to speed up language learning.

First, here's the PPT. This contains the whole lesson. When it comes to the blank slide, start the video - I'll put the YouTube link below.

How to learn any language in 6 months from David Wills

Obviously, this is for Chinese (or Taiwanese) learners. The PPT is bilingual, as my students for this lesson had a low level of English but I still thought it would be useful for them to consider these questions and watch this video. Feel free to edit out the Chinese or even input whatever is the L1 of your students.

Importantly, don't forget to leave time for the final question. I believe the most important questions you can ever ask your students are: "How do you feel?" and "What do you think about that?"

Click here for more ESL or IELTS -style questions on Chris Lonsdale's TEDx Talk.

Friday, 24 February 2017

How to Learn English Quickly!

I've just finished my first week of classes for the spring semester, and I'll share a successful one with you. It should take 45 minutes, and is intended for intermediate level students, although it could also be done with pre-intermediates, given a little patience and explanation.

How to Learn English Quickly! from David Wills

The whole class is actually contained within the above PPT. It's very simple and explanatory.

I used this as a 45 minute lesson, but at my school we teach two lessons together as a 90 minute class. I'll post part two tomorrow. It links very directly from the end of this lesson.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Difficulties Chinese Speakers Have Learning English

This week I will begin to tackle some pronunciation problems my Chinese students have in learning English. I’ll just address the most common problems, and I’ll mention some of those below. In a future post, I will give some useful ways to help students rectify these mistakes.


Ship or Sheep?

One big problem most Chinese English learners have is with the vowel sounds /ɪ/ and /iː/. For example, in the words “ship” /ʃɪp/ and “sheep” /ʃiːp/.

Don’t Cut the Cat!

Sometimes learners have trouble with the vowels /ʌ/ and /æ/, which may get confused. In short words like “cat” or “cut”, “hat” or “hut,” “cap” or “cup,” there may arise some confusion.


This is the Biggest Problem!

Even the best Chinese students I’ve taught have typically been unable to make the sounds /ð/ and /θ/. Thus, the words “this” and thin” (/ðɪs/ and /θɪn/) because “ziss” or “diss” and “sin.” Of course, these are incredibly common in English, so practicing them from a young age to ensure proper pronunciation is important.

/v/ is Very Difficult

Many Chinese learners have difficulty with the /v/ sound, typically replacing it with /w/. So they might say “English is wery difficult.”

Faulty Final Consonants

Recently I was doing a choral drilling exercise and noted to my horror, that not a single student could say the word “book.” Instead, they all listened to me and then chanted, “book-uh!” Adding an additional vowel sound to some words that should end in a consonant is quite common; as is dropping the final consonant altogether. For example, I’ve heard “wife” pronounced as /waɪfuː/ and /waɪ/.

Consonant Clusters

Chinese students sometimes have difficulties with consonant clusters, and may insert a slight vowel sound between two consonants. For example, “spoon” may be pronounced as /sɪpuːn/. Pluralizing a word ending in a consonant is also troublesome for the same reason, and you may hear “dogs” pronounced /dɒgəz/ (or even following the faulty final consonant rule from above /dɒgəzə/.