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.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

World's Best Ad: Listening Quiz

 The Viral Positivity of 'Dumb Ways to Die'
based on information from a variety of sources including Reuters, Ad Week,Wikipedia, The Guardian,  BBC Guardian,  Business Weekly, the Dumb Ways to Die Campaign website.

Young people tend to ignore Public Safety Announcements (PSAs) warning them against the dangers of.......everything. Not only are they gloomy and depressing, but they're also boring!

So.....what's an ad agency to do when it wants to make them sit up and pay attention to a safety message? 

Make it irresistibly fun, catchy and incredibly easy to share with friends  on social media ... .just like everything else they get a kick out of.

That's exactly what an Australian advertising agency did with Dumb Ways to Die , an  animated  train safety spot for the Melbourne Metro, which has become the most  successful ad campaign in the history of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity

The three minute TV and online commercial ( or PSA) is part of a much larger campaign that includes billboards, radio spots, karaoke jingles played in train stations and a website in which people can promise to be safe. 

The PSA itself a shows an animated video of cute little kidney shaped creatures doing the stupidest things you can imagine -  sticking forks in toasters, keeping a rattlesnake as a pet, setting fire to your hair, and selling both your kidneys on the Internet among others. 

All of the stupid actions end up in horrible and completely senseless fatal accidents. 

The ad then goes on to push the idea that the the dumbest and most pointless way to die is to be careless around trains. 

Within days of its release, the ad became a viral Internet hit racking up more than 20 million views. Today, more than 55 million viewers have seen it.  

The campaign, by advertising agency McCann Melbourne, swept the awards at this year's  Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, winning a record five Grand Prix awards, 18 Gold Lions, three Silver Lions and two Bronze Lions, the most ever awarded to one campaign in the festival's 59-year history.

It is the second year in a row that the top film award has gone to a campaign with a social message . 

US fast food chain Chipotle won last year  with a similarly with a  similarly-styled animation-with-music ad about sustainable farming and production. 

Here's the ad itself.

How did they do it?
Accidents and deaths among young people on Melbourne's trains have been increasing for years, but advertisers needed to find a way to promote a message about  safety in a way that would reach its intended viewers.  

"The idea for a song started from a very simple premise: What if we disguised a worthy safety message inside something that didn't feel at all like a safety message, " said John Mescall, executive creative director of McCann ad agency.   

"So we thought about what the complete opposite of a serious safety message should be and came to the conclusion that it should be an insanely happy and cute song." 

The song, composed by members of Australian bands the Cat Empire and Tinpan Orange,  has hit music charts in 28 countries, inspired three parody videos ( see video at the bottom of the article)  that have each been watched over a million times, was recently turned into an iPhone game that is now the seventh most popular free app in Apple’s (AAPL) app store, and is being turned into a children’s book. 

Fewer Accidents 

It has also been very successful in its original goal, preventing accidents on commuter rails in Melbourne. In the three months after the campaign was launched, the system experienced a 21 percent reduction in accidents and deaths compared to the same period last year. The goal was 10 percent.

According to an article in  Business Week  ,“Dumb Ways to Die” has been  success for some obvious reasons. It’s catchy and it's funny.  But it has another, less obvious, thing going for it: the power of positivity.
Two researchers from the University of Pennsylvania studied the New York Times most-e-mailed list (PDF) for signs of what kind of emotions were associated with people sharing information through email and other social media .

What they found was that people like content with positive messages - even when the message is a serious one.  The Dumb Ways To Die campaign had both, and therefore appealed to the widest audience - both adults, teenagers, children and even educators.

An industry analysis of Dumb Ways to Die 

Watch the following video on the story behind the campaign and answer the comprehension questions.

The Dumb Ways to Die PSA and train safety campaign has inspired many video parodies - with even more suggestions  and idea. 

Parodies and other associated videos  


Work on brainstorming, vocabulary and grammar
Before you watch any of the following videos, see if you can come up with your own lists of ideas for each of the titles. 

Then compare your ideas with the ones suggested in each video. How did you do?   

Here is one more parody, but with a message about living rather than dying. Before you watch, try to come up with as many "smart ways to live" as you can. Then, compare your list with the ones in the video.

Did you enjoy this post and the activities? 

Please leave a comment below to let me know how I'm doing.  Share the post and its activities with others through email or any other social media. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Top 10 iPad Apps For Learners of English


It is always a pleasure to publish a guest post by anyone with an interest or expertise in some area of the English language, or of English culture. 
If you are anything like my own students here in Vancouver, many of you probably own and use an iPad. If you do, some of the apps below might help you to improve your English, even when you are on the go. 

The following guest post is by Jeffrey Hill, who writes The English Blog and teaches at  the EM Normandie business school in Le Havre, France

The i Pad the Ultimate Language Learning Tool 

It would be no exaggeration to call the iPad “the ultimate language learning tool”. With one portable device you can access an unlimited amount of authentic  material (podcasts, videos, news, books, websites, … )—all in the target language.

But what makes the iPad really special are the apps. And when it comes to apps, learners of English in particular are spoiled for choice. There are literally hundreds of apps available. These fall into two main categories: those specifically aimed at learners of English, and those which are not, but which are useful all the same.

The problem is knowing which ones to choose. Some are free; some cost money. Some are good, some are not so good—and some are just plain bad! So, to help teachers and students identify the most useful apps, I recently started a new blog, iPadEnglish.
Here, in no particular order, are my

Top Ten iPad Apps for Learners of English. -

Newsy for Ipad

One of my favourite video news sites is Newsy.com. It’s not specifically designed for learners of English, but the transcripts and on-screen extracts from source articles make the short video reports much more accessible than they would otherwise be. The videos are organized into categories (World, US, Politics, Business …), so you can easily find something of interest. However, the beautifully-designed Newsy app is something else again. It works brilliantly on the iPad—and it’s free!

Google Translate

You can translate words and phrases between more than 60 languages using Google Translate for iOS. For most languages, you can speak your phrases and hear the corresponding translation (which, of course, you can’t do on the web-based version). The voice recognition is not perfect, but as long as you speak slowly and clearly, the results are impressive. Note, however, that you will need an internet connection to use Translate.

English Idioms Illustrated

This beautifully-illustrated app from Professor Potts (aka Aidan Potts) explores the story behind more than 160 idioms from “Achilles’ heel” to “Wrong side of bed”, as well as explaining what they mean.  The first 23 idioms are included for free and the rest are available at a small price. You can see a selection of the illustrated idioms on the Learn English Idioms microsite

Sounds: The Pronunciation App

Winner of the British Council ELTons Award 2012 for ‘Innovation in learner resources’, Sounds is Macmillan’s mobile English pronunciation app for both students and teachers. The free version includes Interactive Phonemic Charts for British English and American English, as well as some taster activities. In the Premium version ($5.99) you can look up, listen to and record words in the WORDLIST, PRACTISE your pronunciation skills, test yourself with the pronunciation QUIZZES, use the phonemic TYPEWRITER, and LEARN with Top Tips, videos and more.


MyWordBook2 is a free interactive vocabulary notebook app for language learners from The British Council. The app lets you learn, practise and review words using sets of flashcards. Each flashcard contains pictures, sounds, example sentences, translations and notes taken from Cambridge University Press learner dictionaries. The app comes with a random selection of around 25 words at intermediate level, and if you register


There is an excess of English dictionaries available in the App Store. Some are free, some are not. Some work offline, some do not. Some are good, some are not so good. They all offer different features, which makes it hard to know which one(s) to choose. One of the best is Dictionary.com, which includes both a dictionary and thesaurus. The good news is that it’s free. Another advantage is that you don’t need an internet connection to search for words, an important consideration if your Wi-Fi connection is unreliable or non-existent

Business Words

At the risk of sounding like one of those guests on Desert Island Discs who choose their own records, I’m going to blow my own trumpet and recommend an app I developed myself! Business Words (free at the time of writing) is a ‘hangman’ type game aimed at students or professionals who have a good level of English but wish to improve their vocabulary in the field of business and management. Players have to find the missing word in a sentence relating to a specific business topic by guessing individual letters. The words and sentences are organized into 12 topic areas: Economy, Law, Industry, Trade, Marketing, Human Resources, Banking, Travel, Retailing, Finance, Communication, and Technology. There is also a ‘Mixed Bag’ featuring words from all categories. Translations of all words are given in French.

Spell Tower
There are literally dozens of word games available for the iPad, but one of my favourites is SpellTower ($1.99). The game features a grid of letter tiles that you use to spell words by selecting adjacent letters. Each correct spelling removes tiles and earns you points. The goal of the game is to remove as many letter tiles as possible. Very addictive—and fun!


Conversation English HD

There aren’t many actual English courses available in the App Store, and they can be expensive. Although Conversation English won’t win any prizes for originality, the app is professionally produced, and each of the 20 dialogue-based lessons offers a varied range of activities. An Idiom Dictionary with Audio Pronunciation is also included. With enough material for many hours of study, Conversation English represents good value at $4.99.

  The interactive Grammar of English

There’s a real shortage of decent grammar apps for the iPad, so the interactive Grammar of English (aka iGE) is an essential acquisition for iPad-owning English teachers and more advanced learners. 

iGE comes in two versions. iGE Lite is free. It has a complete glossary, and three units of course material dealing with word classes, nouns and determiners. The complete iGE covering the whole of English grammar is on sale for $6.99. Interactive exercises and puzzles aim to reinforce learning and make it fun. My (rather obvious) advice would be to download the free ‘lite’ version and see what you think. You can always buy the complete app after.

I would love to hear your feedback on any of these apps? Have you tried one? Do you have any recommendations for others?  

Leave a comment below with any reviews or recommendations.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Beneath Your Beautiful Gap Fill

Songs can be a terrific and entertaining way to  learn English.  This summer, I will be posting a number of songs with a variety of activities to accompany them. Check out today's song "Beneath Your Beautiful, " which includes some reading practice with pronoun referents, grammar and discussion questions.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

144 Things Canada Has Given the World

July 1st to July 7th is Canadian History week,  so I thought I would start it off a list The Hamilton Spectator  put together on some contributions Canada has given the world. 

From Anne of Green Gables  to the zipper, hockey to the hydrofoil hydrofoil, it’s quite the list.  Some things that are precious to Canadians may cause others to scratch their heads.

You may not have eaten poutine, for example, unless you’ve traveled to Montreal, while Timbits  and double doubles  may sound like gobbledygook  outside our borders.  Have a look

Before you read:  How much do you know  already? 

Answer the questions BEFORE you read. 
Read. Then read and check your answers in the online quiz  Online interactive reading quiz 144 Things Canada Has Given the World 

1. Where does the story of Anne of Green Gables take place?  
2. When was the Blackberry invented?
3. Where did the inventor of basketball first teach?   
4. Where was the chocolate bar invented? 
5. Are timbits made from the missing hole in donuts? 
 6. What did the zipper replace? 
7. What is pablum? 
8. What was invented by Alexander Graham Bell? 
9. When did the Walkie Talkie become popular?   
10. What is a beaver tail? 
11. Why was the beaver so popular in Europe?  
12 .What do we use to take out the trash? 
13  What were the names of Mr. Dressup's "friends?"
14. What advantage did the paint roller bring? 
15 .What is Poutine?  
6  What was the slogan for Red Rose Tea?
17. What piece of women's underwear was invented by a Canadian teenager?  
18. What popular winter outdoor machine was invented by Bombardier? 

19. Who is Red Green? 
20  What makes the Robertson screwdriver different? 
21. What did Alexander G Bell invent that was replaced by record players?    
22. What Canadian space technology was used on the Space Shuttle Columbia? 
23. What is the harder version of ten pin bowling? 
24.  What did the Loonie replace? 
25. What is a sweet thing we put on pancakes or french toast?   

  Discussion and Writing Questions 

1.    In your opinion, what is the most important thing Canada has contributed to the world? Give reasons. If this thing had 
not been invented, how would life be different? 

2.    Rank your top ten inventions from Canada from 1 to ten. Be prepared to explain your 

3.    Which 5 things have actually made a real difference in people's lives?

4.  What would life be like now, if we didn't have the "zipper," the light bulb, penicillin, 
       or insulin?

5.  What is the most important thing YOUR country has contributed to the world. Explain
      your choice and why you think it is so important. In what way has this changed the way 
       people live, think or feel?
6.   Which of the following three  has been the most important to mankind: the wheel, 
       electricity, or the printing press? Explain your reasons. 

7.  What is the most important medical discovery ever made? Give your reasons?

8.  Choose the ONE  modern convenience you could NOT live without: the cellphone, the 
     computer, modern transportation (the bus, the subway, the automobile), the refrigerator, 
     or the battery.  

9.  The Canadian beaver is an important symbol for Canada because it shows that we are 
     a hard working, industrious people. What symbol best represents you country? Why? 
     What does it mean? 

10. What colour best represents your country? Explain. What does it symbolize? Give