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.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Problems with Homework Page

To all my
Advanced Students

 I seem to be having major problems with my home work page
The entire page has disappeared and has been replaced with the MUSIC PAGE. 
I am trying to find out what the problem is. In the meantime, I will post this weekend's homework on this main page. 
If you were lucky, you managed to get the homework before I did something stupid and eliminated the whole page. 

Here is your homework: 

Homework for the Weekend Sept.27th, 2012  


Rewrite last week's composition ( cell phones, pets, parents). Make sure you follow my advice on how to improve your content and organization. Correct  the errors in grammar and sentence structure. Read it OUT LOUD before you decide you are satisfied. You can type your correction as a word document and send it to me as an attachment at my email address.

GRAMMAR TEST: You have a Grammar Test on Monday Oct.1st 
  • on compound sentences ( both and, but, so + adverbial conjunctions however, therefore, otherwise etc.) . This will include sentence combining + sentence completion. 
  • sentence combining with adjectives, adverbs and prepositional phrases.
  • subject-verb agreement 
  • singular-plural
  • Sentence Fragments and Run Ons ( easier, obvious ones)  
If I don't get  the homework page fixed, 1 will post various answer keys to homework at the top of the Grammar Page. 

For extra practice with Subject-Verb Agreement, Run-On Sentences, Fragments and Plurals, go to the EDITING and ERROR CORRECTION page. 


Reading For Understanding 2 (RFU2 )  Continue at the card number you last finished, Make sure you follow the instructions and record your scores. In order to put yourself under pressure, spend a maximum of 10 minutes on each card.

The Skilled Reader 
This is an on-line lab for a reading skills textbook and covers all major skills in reading.  Do exercises on Main Ideas and context clues) 


English Central: Try Something New for 30 Days  
  • The Shoop Shoop Song ( Does he Love Me) by Cher  ( from the movie Mermaids)       This is a great song to practice linking. Write out the lyrics and try to link ends of words to beginnings of others. Remember to cross out the h in she. Then sing along as often as you can. If you are not sure what linking is, go to the PRONUNCIATION page. 
  • Every Breath You Take by the Police  
  • This is a great song to practice collocations ( note that there are many adjective clauses without the "that". After you have done the activities, singalong as often as you can. 
Listening Test Practice
  • Go to the LISTENING PAGE . Scroll down to test listening practice. Do as many short conversations, longer conversations, and lecture practices as you have time for . 
 Listening to Conversations Practice
  •  Go to Randall's ESL-Lab and do all of the exercises in at least three or four conversation listening activities. Try different  topics. Do not move on until you have a perfect score. 
From ELLO ( English Language Listening Lab Online) 



 An interesting video about How Video Games Affect Behaviour  from ESLVideo

How to improve your speaking by including punctuation into your speaking and pronunciation  

Find more videos like this on EFL CLASSROOM 2.0

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Improve your Fluency with Collocations

One of the best ways to increase your fluency is by learning and using collocations in your everyday life.  

What are collocations? 

Collocation are words that often go together in English. Native English speakers automatically use these words with each other because they sound "just right." 
For example, native speakers  always say a tall building NOT a high building. They also    throw a party. They don't make a party. They do homework rather than make homework

Whenever we hear someone using  words that DON'T seem to go together, we  automatically think it sounds "wrong," not English.

Using the "right" combination is more about sounding natural than about being 

understood. When you use two or three words together in a different way than we do, we might understand you, but you sound "strange", " wrong" or unnatural. We know right away that you are an ESL speaker who is not really comfortable with the language. 

The Expression "Awkward" in Your Writing   

I'm sure that many of your teachers have handed back compositions with the expression "awkward" written on top of your sentences.  Each time this happens, your teachers really mean that a native speaker would NOT use these words together.  They are not fluent.

The message is that you need to go back and rewrite your sentences in a way that sounds English.

Awkward English vs Normal Collocations 

Un-Natural English
Natural English
Someone has a high education
Someone is well-educated, has a good education or is well-educated
replaceable resources.
renewable resources  
learn knowledge
acquire or gain knowledge , OR even better  just learn.
Support my living
make a living, support my family
Grow up children
raise children

What are the advantages of learning collocations?   
  • The most important advantage is that you will immediately sound more natural and fluent  and we will understand you much better
  • Research has proven that our brain learns and remembers language much better if it you learn it in chunks, or groups of words than if you only learn and try to remember single words.
  • You are much more likely to use new vocabulary if you know how to use it with more than one other word.
  • You will be able to express yourself in more ways with a richer and more expressive vocabulary.  That means your writing will improve dramatically. 
  • You will feel more confident about your speaking and writing, which means you will want to speak and write more often than you used to.  As you know, this will help you improve even faster. 

Let's take the word " lack" for example. This is a very useful word to learn, remember and actively use because it means " not have" or "don't have." 

   If you just learn the word and its meaning, without every  learning what other words you can use it with, you will probably forget it right after your vocabulary test. it will be easy to forget.

But, if you learn that the word lack can be used with many other words, you might begin to use it.  Take a look at the graphic on your left. We can use the verb lack with all those nouns.  

I will discuss types of collocations and how you can learn them in my next post. In the meantime, let's look at two verbs that often cause problems. 

Do and Make

Non-native speakers often confuse the verbs do and make.  Although their meanings are similar, there ARE  differences. We can't simply interchange them. 

Do for activities. 
Use the verb do to express daily activities or jobs. Notice that these are usually activities that do NOT product a physical object.
  • do housework
  • do homework 
  • do the dishes
Do for general ideas  . 
Use the verb do when speaking about things in general and you are not specifically naming an activity.   We often use this expression with  "something, nothing, anything, everything." 
  •  What did you do today? 
  • What do you do? =  What is your job? your occupation? 
  • The storm did a lot a damage.
  • haven't done anything all day. I need to get busy. 
  • I hope you do well on the exam. 
 "Make" for Creating, Building  We use make to express the idea of creating something  This  can be something we can touch or feel, or it can be a concept or idea. 
  • make a cake
  • make a bed 
  • make friends 
  • make a mistake
  • make a suggestion  
 Collocations with with DO and MAKE 

a difference                      a cake 
a mistake                         trouble
an effort to                       a suggestion
an attempt(to)                  a mess
friends with                      money 
a promise                        a deal with/ to  
progress                          a fuss about   
an offer                            an excuse for
fun of                               a mess
a decision to/about          a face 
noise                                a date                
arrangements with/.to      money       
sure of something            room (for)     
appointment  to/for           a date (with)     
an excuse for                    a fuss   (about) 
the most of (something)   sense 
it clear that                        love                  
the most of something                      
the best of (something)  
it clear to/ that    
(a, any, no difference) to                        
a fuss about
business  (with)       nothing
something                a favour (for)
everything                 research              
homework                housework
the dishes                the shopping         damage/ harm(to)   the laundry
drugs                     an experiment         
a project                  a puzzle  
your hair                  your nails
overtime                  an activity 
time in prison           a poll/ a survey  
an exercise            something over                
do your best 
do your duty  
do well/ do badly
do the right thing   
do a bad/ good job      

Practice make and do with the following quiz.

For more lists of collocations and quizzes go to the VOCABULARY PAGE.  and scroll down to the collocations section. .

If you liked this post, and would like more of this kind of practice, please leave a comment.
You can also become a member of this site, or subscribe to get regular posts and activities.

Friday, September 21, 2012

I Won't Give Up

Are you finding things a little difficult now that you're back in school? Here's a song for any of you out there who need a little encouragement.  This is a great song to help you practice  pronunciation. Make sure you sing along with it after you finish the exercise.  I have added a second video that has the lyrics right on it.  Enjoy!   



This song has a lot of idioms, and useful expressions that native speakers frequently use.

1.  When you give up, you quit
  Example: I"m sorry. I give up. I don't know the answer. Can you tell me what it is.

2. When things get rough,  they become difficult

   Example:  Things got rough for me when I lost my job. I had to borrow money from my 
                     parents  just to pay the rent.

3.  When you need your space, you need the freedom to explore you own needs and 

Example: I think we're spending too much time together. I need more space to see other  friends and just to be alone.  

5.When your world is caving in,  something terrible  is happening 
to you. Your life is coming apart.

     Jane:      Kathy is acting as if her world is caving in. What's  her problem?
     Susan:    She's really depressed because her boyfriend   broke up with her last night. 
6. When you have a lot at stake, you are taking a big risk. The     result of what you are  doing is very important. 

Example:   You need to study hard for that exam in order to get     
                   very high marks because   a lot is at stake. If your 
                   marks are too low, you won't get into a good university.   
We often use the expression high stakes test or exam, when we refer to the TOEFL or  PELTS Exams. We also say high stakes presentation or meeting.  

6.   If you are tough, you are strong. You can handle  things.

John:    Are you sure you can handle this hike? It's a 1,000   metre climb. 
Mary:   Hey! Don't worry about me. I'm tough. I won't have  any problems.

7.   When you've come so far, you have made a lot of  progress.  You've improved a lot.

   I'm really proud of you John. You've come so far in  three months. Your English 
   vocabulary has doubled and I can understand everything you say.  


Practice the expressions by asking and answering the questions with your friends. Make sure you use the actual expression in your sentences. 

1. Do you give up quickly when things become difficult, or do you keep working at the 
    problem for a long time.  In what kind of situations do you give up more easily 
     than others?  Why?

2.  When is the last time things got rough for you? What happened? How did you handle it?

3.  Do you ever tell people when you need some space? Why or why not? Where do you 
     go when you need some space?  

4. Talk about an experience you had when there was a lot at stake. What happened? Were 
     you successful?

5. Do you need to take a high stakes exam or test? What is it? Why do you need to take 

6. Have you ever felt like your world was caving in? Tell about what was happening at the 
     time. What did you do?

Monday, September 17, 2012

William and Kate Sue Re: Nude Photos

Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton will file a criminal complaint against a French magazine for publishing nude photos of Kate which were taken while they were on a private holiday. 

Closet Magazine recently published pictures of Kate Middleton sunbathing topless  while she and William were holidaying on a private estate in France.
A spokesmen for the palace said the royal couple are furious because paparazzi took the photographs without Kate or William's  knowledge or consent. 

" It is unthinkable that anyone should take such pictures, let alone publish them," he said.

 St Jame's Palace confirmed on Friday afternoon that William and Kate will sue the magazine for what's called "breach of privacy" - where they feel their privacy has been invaded. 

Royal lawyers working for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are going to court to try and stop any more private photos of Kate being published.

The pictures of Kate sunbathing without her bikini top on have been published in two European magazines, one foreign newspaper.  They have not been published in the United Kingdom. 

The lawyers  will ask for the photographer to be caught and charged, as well as getting the magazines removed from the shops. 

A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron, says Cameron believes the royal couple are "entitled to their privacy."
Princess Diana's Death brought Respect for Privacy
The British press has been very careful about respecting the royals' privacy ever following the death of the prince's mother, Diana Princess of Wales, in Paris 15 years ago while being pursued by paparazzi on motorbikes.

The topless photos of Kate  were probably inspired by a British tabloid's recent publication of Prince Harry naked at a party in Las Vegas, said Caroline Jan, a media lawyer from Britain. 

She added that the Kate Middleton photos are a sign that the French public's demand for gossip is bringing back the idea that is it acceptable to invade the privacy of popular young royals. .

The publicity briefly affected the couple's tour of the Far East and South Pacific  to mark Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.  

BC's royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell, traveling with the royal couple, said Prince William looked furious as they left Malaysia. 

"He is absolutely determined to protect the privacy of his wife; he has always been very protective of her and that anger has mounted during the day."

Laurence Pieau, the editor in chief of the magazine that first published the photos has said,  "there is nothing shocking” about the photos. They show a young woman sunbathing topless, like you see millions of at the beach.”

Privacy lawsuits against French tabloids are common and are usually resolved with damage awards of between 1,000 euros ($1,300) and 15,000 euros, as well as printed notices telling readers the tabloid was condemned in court, said Christophe Bigot, a Paris-based media lawyer who doesn't represent the magazine. 

French privacy fines are set “based on personal suffering, and traditionally French judges assess these fines much lower than Anglo-Saxon judges,” Bigot said. 

Since Middleton was hidden from view, her award would probably be in the higher range, as much as 10,000 euros, though there is no specific limit to such awards, he said. 

Meanwhile , despite their recent problems with the media  Kate Middleton and Prince William  looked as cheerful as ever as they continued their tour and arrived in the Honiara International Airport in the Solomon Islands September 16. 

adapted from articles on the BBC, AP, The Telegram, the New York Times 

  • Take a short comprehension quiz on the reading. 
  •  Then, watch the video called Paparazzi by Lady Gaga
  • Finally - write a comment about  what YOU think about invading the privacy of famous people. 
  •  IN YOUR OPINION does the the media (paparazzi) have the right to pursue and photograph celebrities and royalty in the privacy of their own homes or holiday spots? 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Setting Smart Goals in Language Learning

If I were to ask you what your goals are, many of you would say: "I want to improve my English.  Others would try to be a little more specific and say " I want to understand English speakers"  or "I want to improve my grammar."  

What do these "vague" goals actually mean?  How do you know how to achieve them, or or when you have actually achieved them?  How can a teacher help you when the words are so general they don't really mean anything.

So... what's the answer?

It's important for you to have a dream, a destination you want to reach.  However, if you truly want to reach that destination,  you can't just hope it will happen by saying you want to improve. You need real strategies that will help you achieve your dream. 

Instead of having vague, undefined goals, you need to set realistic targets for yourself - targets you can actually hit or achieve. 

Business experts and psychologists have proven that setting SMART goals will help you get to your destination much more efficiently and effectively. They will also allow you to measure and see t he progress you have made.


'Watch the following video on SMART goals. Then, think about how the strategy could be  used to help you set "real" goals for different aspects of your English learning. 


VIDEO # 2: SMART GOALS for language learning 

So what does this all mean?

One way to think about  SMART GOALS is to think of them as a series of smaller,  easy to accomplish action steps towards achieving your bigger goal. 

If you use this method, you are more likely to move one step closer to your final goal instead of always being disappointed with yourself and your the progress. You are also more likely to develop the self-discipline to do the required work, and the belief that you can eventually achieve your bigger goal.

S= Specific

  • Make your goal(s) specific, not general. 
  • What do you want to accomplish? Saying you want to improve your English grammar is general. It doesn't really mean anything because you don't really know what you really want, or how to measure it. 
  • On the other hand, if you are an advanced level student, start with something like " I want to be able to write with only a few verb tense mistakes by the end of the term,  or I want to understand and use prepositions properly 80% of the time."   
  • Don't say you want to improve your communication skills.Try something like this: I want to be able to comfortably carry on a ten minute conversation with a stranger. 

  • Make your goals measurable.  For example, if you want to make fewer verb tense errors in your writing, start working towards that goal by learning which tenses to use in your writing. 
  • Start proofreading and editing  your writing. Finally, count the  number of verb tense errors your teacher has marked. Are you making fewer errors each time? Don't give up after one or two tries. Keep doing this over a period of time, and measure the improvement. 
  • Are you getting closer to your goal? If you do reach your goal- extend the goal,or develop another one.
A= Attainable:
  • Make sure you can achieve your goal within a realistic amount of time. 
  • Don't set too many at the same time. For example, if you are not comfortable speaking English out of class, don't think you will be fluent and comfortable at the end of three months. Instead, decide that you want to be comfortable speaking in a few non-survival situations.  Then, make a plan and stick to it.
  •  If you never speak English outside of class, decide to join a church, a club, a meet-up group, or a sports team. Do this regularly, and as often as possible. Participate, become engaged rather than sitting back and letting others do the talking. Become as comfortable as you can with that particular group. 
  • After a few weeks, try to determine if your comfort level has increased. 
  • Continue measuring it. Are you now using your English spontaneously with strangers, at work?
R= Realistic or Relevant 

  • Make sure you goal is relevant to your needs. 
  • Focus on areas you are weak in  rather than on stronger skills.  For example, if your  pronunciation is OK,  leave it alone. 
  •  Decide what you DO need to work on now. How about your vocabulary? Do you still use simple words like bad, good nice, interesting, have, be, and do instead of better words that show you are not a beginner.  
  • Determine the  kind of vocabulary you want to be able to actively use correctly in three months. 
  • Make sure these words are useful ones for your life - NOT  the kind you will only use once on a TOEFL test. Then, make a plan as to how you intend to accomplish this. Make your plan specific, measurable and realistic.
T= Timely or time Bound

  • Set a time frame, or deadline within which you want to achieve your small goals.
  •  Remember. There is no magic. Your English will not be perfect in three months. It takes time. 
  • But, you CAN make fewer mistakes in your writing and speaking. You CAN improve your ability to listen to the news, or understand more complicated instructions at work. You CAN  start feeling more comfortable stepping outside your comfort zone and speaking to English speakers. 
 Here is another short video to help you set up SMART goals.  Another short video on how to write a smart goal

Let me know what you think, or if you have some suggestions of your own.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Take a A Positive View on Learning

As you start  back to school, ask yourself: am I an optimist or a pessimist?

An optimist is a person who looks at a glass of water that is only has 50%  of water in it and calls it half full. 

A pessimist is a person who looks at that same glass of water and calls it half empty.

Many of you tend to look at all the things you CAN'T do in English and rarely give yourself credit for the many things you CAN do and HAVE learned to do. 
As you get ready to go back to your English classes, why don't you write a list of things you CAN now read, write, understand and even say in English that you COULDN'T a year or two ago. 

You don't need to be able to do these things perfectly. That is setting yourself up to constant disappointment and feelings of failure. Simply think of the things you are reasonably comfortable doing and that you feel good about. 

Take time
Make sure you give yourself enough time to think about all areas of your life so that your list is as complete as possible. 

As you look at your list, think about how these accomplishments make you feel today compared to how you felt a year or two ago.

Then, focus on what life is likely to be like in another year's time after you have learned even more. By this I mean in September 2013.

In my next few posts, I will be discussing how to learn English more efficiently and how to set SMART GOALS goals for yourself. 

In the meantime, read the article Think Like an Optimist . which offers a some very helpful tips to keep yourself focusing on the positive rather than the negative. 

 Get in the mood to think positively about your studies

Listen to this cheerful song about focusing on the positive and do the listening activity below.  Enjoy!