Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

This is a Canadian ESL blog for Intermediate and Advanced Students who want to learn and improve their English. Each PAGE above contains thousands of free English lessons, tutorials and practice exercises to help you learn and improve your English grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, speaking, writing and editing. Some of the resources are Canadian. Others are from around the world.

The resources on this Canadian blog are all free, and I spend a lot of my time working on it, so please consider becoming a SUPPORTER. I appreciate all the support I get. It is the fuel that keeps me going.

Membership is FREE.

NOTE: To leave a comment, click on the word "comment" at the bottom of the page. A comment page will pop up.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Back To Normal

Blogger has come up with a whole new set of templates, but didn't mention that we would lose all of our links , pages and other features if we "tried them out." I'm sorry that some of you were not able to access my pages or links for awhile yesterday. I just spent several hours playing around trying to get things back to normal. It has been a frustrating time, but things are almost back to normal. I apologize for any problems.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Enjoy a Little Romance!


One of the big problems with the novels and short stories aimed at ESL readers is that most of them tend to focus on action adventure, or mystery titles. For the past 10 years many of my students have complained that nobody ever seems to write romance romance novels or stories they can enjoy. Remember,we are talking about reading for pleasure, not reading great literature.     

I have never really understood why publishers have not published any higher level ESL romance stories other than classic novels such as Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice etc. They are great classical novels., but women readers often want something a little more contemporary that they can relate to. I think the publishers are missing out on an entire market. I have often thought about writing a few romances for my students myself - if I ever have the time.

Romance Novels are Not Too Difficult to Read   

Generally contemporary romance novels and stories do not require an extremely high reading ability. A native speaking grade 6 or 7 student could read them quite comfortably. This alone can help many second language readers not only read, but actually get through a story or a novel they actually enjoy.
So. here are a few websites that offer romance stories and novels for free. Enjoy! 

Read A Romance
offers short stories that have been approved by the Romance Writers of America in a wide variety of genres from western romance story, to science fiction romance, to ordinary romance. 
 Free Online Romance Novels       has a large number of romance stories on line, but also has other genres such as young adult, science fiction, humour, fantasy, historical stories. You can even choose the type of romance you like: contemporary ( now), regency (during the 1800's in England, classics etc)

Wild Rose Press Romance Stories   offers free romance stories as well as books you can buy in digital format for a very low price.

Many Books Romance Category  offers many romance novels with readers reviews  that can help you to go decide if you would like the book or not.  It also offers books in many other genres, including westerns, horror stories, science fiction, detective, mystery etc. 

American Love Stories         There are many different American love stories on this site -- stories about couples who have established intimate relationships that cross not just racial differences, but religious, ethnic, geographical, age and other boundaries as well.  Many of their stories are inspirational  and genuinely give you hope that even when things are different, you can overcome major obstacles.

Many Books Online  
This is another site with a variety of genres, but with a larg4e collection of romance  

Online Novels   This site has more than a 1,000 novels of all genres. Each novel has a short paragraph describing what the  novel will be about. It has a big romance novel section , including some Harlequin Romances. Harlequin has been the most well-known publisher of romance novels for more than 50 years

10 Greatest Romance Novels of all Time    
This is actually a blog posting  by a writer and big fan of romance novels. It is worth reading just to see what he has to say.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Comics in the Classroom

When I was a child, my mother absolutely refused to let us read comics. As far as she was concerned it was all junk. She felt that if we read comics about Archie, Superman, Batman, the Green Lantern or any other superhero, we would ruin our minds and never graduate to reading `real`books with important content. Nothing could have
been further from the truth.

Regardless of what my mother thought, every Tuesday when the new batch of comics came in to our small northern Ontario town`s one and only drug store, my brothers and sisters and I could always be found sitting on the floor reading that week`s new comics. We took up a lot of space because there were six of us. It got so bad that the local druggist, who knew us all by name,called my mother and told her to keep her kids at home.

A little complaining didn`t stop us. Instead of going to the drug store, we developed new friends in town - friends who had entire series of comics, hundreds of them - all piled according to which superhero hey represented. There we would sit, again, on the floor, completely ignoring the new friend and reading comic after comic. Now that I think back about it, we really behaved terribly towards these friends.

Reading all those comics did not make a dent in our intelligence, our reading ability, or our interest in reading good books. All my brothers and sisters are reading fanatics. You might say the entire family is composed of bookaholics. It actually gets in the way of other things we should be doing - like housework, or washing the car. .

This brings me to the point of suggesting that comics and Manga novels can be very helpful to new second language readers. To begin with, they have pictures,which half tell the story. Secondly, they will definitely introduce them to new vocabulary, some of which will be very idiomatic. Poor, or reluctant readers might overcome some of their bad habits - backtracking, fixating their eyes, etc, Nor, are they likely to put the book down after one page. In fact, what they will do is read. That is all we as educators want them to do: read, read and discover that reading in English can be fun. It doesn't all have to be boring.

Education professionals all over the US and Canada have begun a conversation about the use of comics as teaching tools, and a number of schools in the US have begun large scale pilot projects.using comics in the classroom. Some schools are having students draw their own cartoons as a way of getting them involved in writing.

I am not taking a stand on any of that. I think it probably has good potential. All I am suggesting is that it might be a good idea for our students - especially our reluctant readers - to try reading a few Manga or other graphic novels for pleasure. Who knows, reading comics might bring a reluctant reader into the reading fold.

I have added a series of links to free online Manga comics and other graphic novels. There are also one or two in the reading links on the side.

This is still a controversial subject for some people. Leave a comment to say whether you like the idea or not, how you have used them yourself, and if they have been successful.

Free Speed Reading Practice

Many of you have trouble reading as quickly as you need to in order to succeed in school or other areas of your life. There is a wide variety of reasons for this. You're reading one word at a time. You are sub-vocalizing when you are reading. You go back and reread material you have already read. You stop whenever you don't understand a word etc. etc. etc.

I will discuss bad reading habits and ways to improve your reading in a later blog.

All I want to do here is to let you know that while browsing on the net, I accidentally found a type of flash reader that can help you practice speeding up your reading. The best thing about this flash reader is that is is free. .

Now, this flash reader will not provide you with the readings, nor will it time you. It will,.
however, help you to get rid of some of your bad habits and it will help you to read more quickly by preventing you from using some of those bad habits.

Here's a short summary on how it works:

You cut and paste your own passage into the front page of the reader.
You then go to the top and adjust for how many words you want to read at a time. For example. try four words. The reader will then flash on the fist four words, and second later it will continue flashing the second group of four until you have read the entire passage.

You can adjust for the size of the letters as well.

What you can't do is go back, or fixate ( stay on one word) because the reader keeps moving.

Try it out. If you like it, keep using it. Simply click on the link.

Flash Reader


Your opportunity to ask me questions

I would like to let you know that you can now ask me questions about various aspects of English - speaking, listening, grammar,reading or writing issues - anything that io might be able to help you with.
  • Just go to the ASK ME page above.
  • Scroll down to the bottom of the page.
  • You will see a comment box that says leave a comment.
  • Simply type in your question.
  • Sign your name and include your email address.
  • If you have a google account,click on that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Are You Risk Taker?

I am conducting a mini survey on a few questions related to language learning. Pick one out of the three and send me your comments. Simply click on the word comment below and a comment box will pop up.

Question 1: Do you need to be a good risk taker to learn English well? Why?

Question #2: Which is harder to learn? Speaking and listening or reading and writing? Why?

Question #3: Can you think of some good ways to learn and remember new vocabulary for
longer than two weeks?

I look forward to your comments.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Take a Leap of Faith: Live Your Life in English

Leap of Faith: As with all things dear to your heart, and convictions, you must have Faith in yourself... by CT Pham off Flickr

Dear Upper Advanced Students,Welcome to class.I`m sure we will have a great term together. In the few days that we have had together so far, I have seen that all of you have both strengths and weaknesses.

Some of you have strong listening and speaking skills, but are weaker in reading, or writing.
On the other hand, others may have great grammar, or reading skills , but really need to work on your English speaking and listening skills.

As you know, this class covers all skills within a limited amount of time ( i.e. ten weeks).
This means that some of you may have to work on your weaker skills on your own (by yourself, with no help.)

You can do this in a variety of ways: by going to the Learning Centre, using my Moodle platform, or using the resources in this blog to do some independent work on your own. There is a lot of help out there. Whether you use it or not is up to you . It will depends on how motivated you are, and how badly you want to meet your goals.

Keep in mind (idiom - remember) that you are only human and therefore need to develop realistic expectations of what you can possibly achieve in two and half months. L
earning English is not like learning math, or physics. It is not a classroom subject that you only study for exams.

English is the world you;live in. It is the language you will work in, shop in, make new friends in, play in, talk to your children`s teachers in..... I could go on. It is a living, breathing, constantly changing language. You cannot think of it as something you stop using as soon as you step out the classroom door. In fact, you must stop thinking of English as something you take multiple choice tests in.

Life is not a multiple choice test - in any language.

Can you imagine answering questions at a job interview with an A, B,C. D. Can you imagine asking a customer how you can help her, only to have her respond `D please.``:
Ridiculous isn't it .

English is the language of the country you have chosen to live in. If you want to improve, you have to practice, practice, practice, just as a new driver must practice until he can drive.
This means taking a great leap of faith. Of course you will make mistakes. That is part of the process. Remember, you didn't learn how to communicate in your own language at the professional level in two years.
Don't get discouraged, or blame yourself if you don't seem to be learning as fast as you want to, or as fast as you thought you would. Perhaps you had unrealistic expectations, both of your teacher and yourself. Perhaps you thought that you would improve simply by attending class, listening to a teacher, and practicing in class. Sadly, that will never be the case. You will always need to practice out of class and use English as the living language it is.

You may however, need to adjust your expectations and reassess your goals. Rather than focusing on the big picture, develop SMART goals.: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic ,. and timely. ( I will be saying much more ab out this in another post)
Most of you are working full time. Some of you have families and children as well, so you only have a limited amount of time. Whatever you choose to do, try to study smart. If you only have an hour in which to study or do homework, focus on the areas you are weak in. Don`t spend an hour on a grammar exercise if you already understand that point quite well.

Focus on a weak area instead. For example, put all of your energy into your reading homework. Make notes on the sides saying what you think the writer is trying to say. Practice with the new vocabulary. Learn some conversational idioms and practice them with every English speaker you meet. Listen to an all news radio station while you are driving. You will hear the same news stories over and over again. As such, you will start to absorb the vocabulary without even realizing it as getting your ear used to the music of English.

I will have a lot more to say on goal setting, time management and specific strategies you can use to improve all of your English skills, both in class and out of class, but I will discuss these in other blogs.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Upside Down : Be Positive About your Efforts

This is a wonderful song that Jack Johnsonh wrote for his brother who had autism. The message is full of hope. Watch, listen and sing along with the lyrics below. If you are feeling discouraged about your improvement in English, your results in an exam or anything esle, this song will make you feel better. There is always a way. Singing along is also great for your pronunciation. Read the notes below before you start

Upside Down
Music and Lyrics by Jack Johnson

Who's to say
What's impossible
Well they forgot
This world keeps spinning
And with each new day
I can feel a change in everything
And as the surface breaks reflections fade
But in some ways they remain the same
And as my mind begins to spread its wings
There's no stopping curiosity

I want to turn the whole thing upside down
I'll find the things they say just can't be found
I'll share this love I find with everyone
We'll sing and dance to Mother Nature's songs
I don't want this feeling to go away

Who's to say
I can't do everything
Well I can try
And as I roll along I begin to find
Things aren't always just what they seem

I want to turn the whole thing upside down
I'll find the things they say just can't be found
I'll share this love I find with everyone
We'll sing and dance to Mother Nature's songs
This world keeps spinning and there's no time to waste
Well it all keeps spinning spinning round and round and

Upside down
Who's to say what's impossible and can't be found
I don't want this feeling to go away

Please don't go away
Please don't go away
Please don't go away
Is this how it's supposed to be
Is this how it's supposed to be


First try to say the lyrics out loud, as he sings. Focus on the phrasing Jack uses. You can even use slashes to show where he pauses or lines where he stresses a word.
Then, once you feel you can pronounce the words,. sing along with him several times.
You will be using English in a fun way and learning at the same time. You will also be working on your pronunciation and accent reduction. Have you noticed that Europeans and other language groups who sing in English don't have an accent. Why do you think that happens?

Think About It

What do you think Johnson means when he says?

1. Who's to say what's impossible?

2 As my mind begins to spread it wings, there's no stopping curiosity.

3. I find that things aren't always what they seem?

4. Ill find the things they say just can't be found.

5. Why do you think Jack chose to use the well known children';s book character Curious George in his video.

Use your critical thinking skills to reflect on the questions

Write your answers to the questions in the comment box below. Simply click on comment, and the comment box will pop up.

NOTE: Parents, you you might want to go to the PBS educational program using Curious George to teach c

Have a great day!


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Smile At Them! They Might Speak To You!

This summer I hurt my leg badly and spent some time in a wheelchair. This usually happened when I was in shopping centres, in parks,or at large outdoor concerts.

Many people are uncomfortable even looking at a person in a wheelchair. Maybe they feel sorry for the person and don't want to let her see their pity. Maybe they think the person in the chair doesn't want to be looked at.

But, imagine what might happen if the person in the wheelchair smiled at them, not with "a poor little me, I'm surviving" smile, but with a real "I love life. I'm happy and I'm enjoying myself smile."

In my case,whenever I smiled, not only did I get a big smile back, people actually spoke to me. My genuine, relaxed smile somehow signalled that they didn't have to feel uncomfortable about their good luck about not being the one in the wheelchair.

These people were strangers, but they spoke to me. What we spoke about depended on the venue. At the Roots and Blues Festival in Salmon Arm, they would ask me if I was enjoying the band. That often started a five minute conversation. At a dog park, we spoke about dogs. At the beach, we spoke about the weather conditions. In Canada talking about the weather can be a five minute conversation. In Vancouver, the chit chat can last 15 minutes or mlore if you want it to. .

Regardless of where I was, the result was usually the same. When I smiled at people, they spoke to me.

any of you are newcomers to Canada who are not comfortable speaking English outside of the classroom. You're afraid of making mistakes, or being laughed at. I will discuss some of these fears in a different post.

But, i
magine if you tried smiling whilke you were waiting for an elevator, sitting on a park bench, or waiting for a bus. Someone might actually smile back and ask you where you're from.
What a great opportunity for you to practice speaking English and making small talk!

All it takes is a smile - a big one. Try practicing in the mirror.