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.