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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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Show and Tell: A Tang Jacket

David modelling his Tang jacket
This month my students are doing show and tell presentations. A show and tell presentation is a kind of informal talk in which a student stands up in front of the class and talks about an object he or she has brought to class.

That's why we call it show and tell. First, you show the object to the class . Then, you talk about what it is, where you got it, why it is important to you, or to your culture, whether it has a historical or an emotional story behind it

A few days ago,my student David brought in a beautiful tang jacket, which he modeled. He gave a short, but very interesting talk about the jacket and how it has come back into fashion - especially during the Spring Festival.  The non Asian students in class were very interested and had many questions. 

 More about  the Tang jacket

A tangzhuang (Chinese:  literally "Chinese suit" is a Chinese jacket that originated at the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). 

Tangzhuang evolved from Magua ( a Manchu clothing, which was in turn adopted by the Han Chinese during Qing Dynasty. At that time, only noblemen, aristocracy and government officials were wearing it, however, in modern times it was eventually adopted by common people.  

Tangzhuang has become one of the 3 main formal men's dress wear in China behind Zhongshan suit and western suit. Tangzhuang is usually made in different colors, most commonly red, dark blue and gold etc for creating a harmonious, joy and festive atmosphere. 

One common design is the usage of Chinese characters (Hanzi, 汉字) as monogram such as Fu (福,'happiness' in Chinese), Shou (寿, 'longevity' in Chinese) to spread good luck and wishes.
 Now wearing Tangzhuang at important occasions such as formal partyiesm festivals and celebrations has become a trend for Chinese men while women will usually wear Qipao to match them.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

How Small Talk Saved a Life

Many English learners don't want to try making small talk because they are afraid that they will make mistakes, that people will laugh at them, or that they will be "uncomfortable." 

The truth is you WILL  make mistakes and you WILL be uncomfortable when you go out and practice, but THAT'S O.K.

You can't learn unless you make mistakes and unless you are uncomfortable. That's what learning is all about.

Learning = being uncomfortable  

Have you ever learned how to ride a bicycle,  how to swim, how to drive, how to play the piano well without making mistakes, or without being "uncomfortable."  I don't think so.

When you are trying to improve your English listening and speaking, being too comfortable means you are probably not learning anything new. You are simply staying at the same level - your "comfort level."

That's fine if you don't want to get better.  But, if you want to make English speaking friends,  get into a good English university or find a good job where strong English communication skills are required, you need to be prepared to be uncomfortable and to make mistakes.

The Power of Small Talk 

It IS very important to learn how to make small talk. Learning how to become comfortable while you do it, will help you in many social, educational and business situations in the future.  It will definitely help you make new friends. It might even help you save a life. 

 Making small talk is the first and most important step in making new friends. Those few seconds or minutes of "chit chat"  are when you break the ice in order to get a conversation going. 

Sometimes that one or two minute conversation can simply be that: a pleasant exchange. Other times it can be the beginnings of a beautiful friendship. 

Watch the following video to get an idea about the difference small talk can make in a person's life.

I will be writing more posts on the "art of making small talk, but for now try 
 Improve Your Small Talk: Review 2012


Here are a few questions to think about.  

As an English instructor, I would greatly appreciate your comments and feedback on this video and any of the questions below. .

  • What is YOUR reaction to this story? 
  •  Has it convinced you to try and practice ,making small talk? 
  • Do you think it is important to learn how to make small talk? Why?
  •   What are the advantages of knowing how to do it?  What are the disadvantages? 
  •  What kind of experiences have you had making small talk with strangers? Has it led to anything more? 

  •  You do not need to be a member of this site to leave a comment. 
  • To add a comment, click on the comment button below - even if it says 0 comments. That is how you open the comment box. 

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Monday, January 14, 2013

What is She Like? Personality Vocabulary

One way to help yourself learn, study, remember and even  spell and pronounce new words is with  a program called Quizlet. 
 Quizlet allows you to make  flashcards, in the same way as you would make flashcards of your own. 

It then allows you to learn the new words, along with their meanings. You can then test yourself and even play games to help yourself remember. 

 Hear and learn to spell the words

Two of the best features of the program is that it allows you to hear the pronunciation of the new word, the definition and even an example sentence. As well,  it teaches you how to spell the word by dictating it to you so that you can practice spelling it yourself. 

Today, I am featuring Part 1 of a vocabulary list on personality words.

Before you study them, make sure you understand the difference between several expressions with the word: like. 

Does Like vs Is Like  

What  does he like? = What kind of thing does he like? This depends on the context of the conversation. If you are talking about television, it means what program does he/she like? It your are talking about food, it refers to the type of food the person likes. If you are talking about sports, it refers to the kind of sport the person likes. 

What does she like to do? = activity 
 What are this person's interests?  Does he/she like or enjoy sports, reading books, going for walks, cooking? How does she enjoy spending her spare time?  

What does he/she look like? =  physical appearance
Is the person, short, tall, slender, chubby? Does he/she have blond, black, brown hair etc? 

What IS he/she like?  character or personality 
When we ask what a person IS  like, we want to know if the person is thoughtful, dependable, outgoingreserved, friendly, or sociable?  

These words and examples that show a person has this personality trait will let us know if we will enjoy spending time with this person or not. 

For the complete set of activities, go to Quizlet: Personality Vocabulary

Friday, January 4, 2013

SMART Goals for Improving Your English


Six months ago I posted an article about how ESL students can achieve their goals more successfully.
Today, as a new year AND a new term begin for many of you, I want to re-post that article because I think many of you could really benefit from reading it. 

You CAN be successful.  BUT, you need to be very clear about to WHAT specific goal you want to achieve, how realistic it is and how you actually plan to do it.  This article can help you start start the process. 

Reaching Goals the SMART Way

If I asked you what your goals are for this term, 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 be more fluent."  or I want to improve my grammar." 

What do these  vague  goals actually mean?  How do you know how to achieve them, or when you have actually achieved them?  

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 get what you want. 

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

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 the 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 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= Time Bound (Creating Deadlines)
  • 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. 
What next?

Next, I will discuss some of the steps involved in setting and most importantly keeping SMART GOALS. Some of the steps include choosing your goal(s). writing them down, assessing them and getting specific, creating a plan and executing it by developing  habits and making changes  in your life to  make time for your actions, staying motivated, tracking your progress and being accountable. 

  What do YOU think about this?    All comments and suggestions are welcome. 

 To leave a  comment, click on the  blue word comment or no comments.  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Polar Bear Swim: A New Years Tradition

Can you think of a better way to ring in   the New Year than plunging into  freezing water? 

All over the world, thousands of people participate in annual Polar Bear swims, running into icy lakes, rivers and even oceans  in order to  welcome the new year.  The first day of the year in 2013 was no different. 

Some do it because it has become an "fun and exciting" tradition for themselves, their families and friends. 

Others do it only once in their life "just for the experience of being able to say they went swimming on the January 1stm." or because they think it will bring them good luck.

Still others do it to raise money for charity.  This year, the majority of American Polar Bear plunges were held to raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy. 

 Netherlands Polar Bear Swim Biggest in the World 

The biggest polar bear swim in the world takes place in the Netherlands. Every New Year's day  more than 30,000 people jump into freezing water in a  "neiujhaarsduik"   (New Year's dive)  in 89 locations around the country. This year a record 37,000 participated in the annual event.

The largest dive is held at the beach of Scheveningen, where well over 10,000 people plunge into the sea each year. 

Nieuwjaarsduik kiss

The Dutch tradition started in 1960 in Zandvoort when a swim club decided to start the year fresh with a plunge in the sea. The new year’s dive received national attention after a big soup brand decided to sponsor it. From that moment on, the amount of participants and locations has increased every year.” 

Vancouver, Canada: Oldest Polar Bear Swim 

One of the oldest and most established Polar Bear swims took place in Vancouver Canada's English Bay. This year  a record 2,200 dressed in super hero, dinosaur, shark and other wild costumes raced into the water to the encouragement of more than 20,000 observers. 
The Vancouver Polar Bear Swim club has been around since 1920 when there were only 10 swimmers. Since then  its membership has grown to hold a new record of 2,246 official entries set in 2011. Now, in its 93rd year, this year's 2013 swim raised food and cash for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank.

Increasingly International
An increasing number of people from all over the world are now participating in the annual event. 

Baba Keisuku, a Japanese-English language student in Vancouver, came third in a 100 yard swimming race that was part of the day's events.  

 "It's too cold, " said Keisuku. "It's like swimming in icy needles." 

Paulo Costa, a 30 year old engineer who moved to Vancouver from Brazil five years ago,
took his fourth plunge into the ocean on New Year's Day. 

"It's fun," he said. " "When you first go in, it hurts., Then you go home and take a hot shower, the best part of the day."    

Polar Bear swims also took place in dozens of other Canadian cities and towns, including St. John's Newfoundland, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton where thousands people of all ages brave the freezing snowy conditions to participate in their own celebration of New Year. 

 Courage Polar Bear Dip Largest Fund Raiser in Canada  

Meanwhile, in Oakville Ontario, more than 700 ran into Lake Ontario to raise money for World Vision.  In the 17 years since the Courage Polar Bear Dip first partnered with World Vision it has raised more than $1 million for clean water projects. 

"At first it was just some friends and family who got together," said Trent Courage co-founder of the event.  " But even after we moved it somewhere public and got charities involved, I never dreamed we'd be here looking at a $1 million mark and what effect that $1 million has," he said. 

Listening Quiz Polar Bear Swim

Polar Bear Swim Popular in Europe, U.S and China 

Celebrating in South Queensbery, Scoland 
Not only Canadians braved the cold to participate in a Polar Bear swim  

This year, more than 1,000 swimmers, many of whom wore costumes,  participated in the annual Loony Dook Polar Bear Swim to ring in 2013 in South Queensberry Scotland. 

Thousands more in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweeden, Russia and even China - where the idea of a refreshing  
Winter bathers of the “Berlin Seals” attend a New Year’s swimming event at the Orankesee lake on January 1, 2013 in Berlin.
Man in Berlin, Germany enjoys a cold swim 
cold swim on New Years Day has also 
taken hold - jumped into lakes, rivers, 
outdoor pools and even holes in the ice.

Meanwhile all over the United States similar events also took place - mainly for charity.

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club in New York, the oldest Polar Bear Club in the world, swam in the Atlantic Ocean to help raise funds for Camp Sunshine, an organization that helps kids fighting  life threatening diseases. 

Coney Island Club existed since 1902
This year participants were also encouraged to donate to assist in the rebuilding of the Coney Island community which was devastated after Hurricane Sandy hit it earlier in December. 

 Dozens of other cities including Seattle, Boston, Chicago and Detroit among many also held Polar Bear dips to help raise funds for victims of Hurricane Sandy.   
For more photos of polar Bear swims around the world:
Only Man in World to Swim with Polar Bear 

Meanwhile, Mark Dumas, a 60 year old bear trainer from  Abbotsford, British Columbia is the only man in the world who swims with a polar bear. 

Online Interactive Reading Quizzes  ( can also be downloaded as pdf files)

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