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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Sunday, December 22, 2013

ESL Christmas 2013: The Nativity Story

Christmas has become a fun filled holiday for people all over the world - regardless of whether they are Christian or not.  As a result many people are very familiar with the idea of Santa Claus, gift giving, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Jingle Bells and Christmas dinner of turkey and all the trimmings. 

However, some people are not familiar with the reason practicing Christians celebrate this special day. 

The following video tells the story of Christmas that comes from the Bible.  It does not matter if you believe the story or not, but IS is important to know the story itself if you want to understand Christian beliefs and culture.

  • Try to listen to the story several times WITHOUT reading the subtitles. 
  • Then, try to answer the questions. ( Do NOT check your answers)   
  • Next, go back and listen to the story while you read the subtitles.  
  • Answer the questions again.  Check the answers. 
  • Read along WITH the speaker - at the same time, NOT after him. When you speak at the same time as the speaker, this is called shadow speaking. 

 Read about the Nativity Story 

Traditional Christmas Carols: 

I'm including some traditional Christmas carols  that focus on the real meaning of Christmas.  People have sung these carols for hundreds of years, so it is useful for you to know some of them. 

Silent Night

Silent Night ( German Stille Nach, heilige Nacht) is the best known Christmas carol in the world.  It has been translated into more than 140 languages and sung by every singer who has ever released a Christmas album.  Composed in 1818 in Austria, it was declared an intagible cultural heritage by UNESCO in March 20111. 

In 1914,during World War 1,  soldiers on both sides called a Christmas truce for one night when one side heard the other singing silent night.  All soldiers on both sides began singing the song in their own language as it was one song they all knew. That night, the enemy troops spent the evenig celebrating Christmas together singing, getting to know each other and talking about their loved ones.  The next day, they went back to shooting and killing each other. 

Silent Night and the Seven O'clock News 

In 1966 Well known singers Simon and Garfunkel  recorded two contrasting recordings: a simple arrangement of the Christmas carol "Silent Night", and a simulated "7 O'Clock News" bulletin of the actual events of 3 August 1966.

Breath of Heaven

This song focuses on how frightened Mary was and her hopes that she could live up to the responsibilities she was going to have as the mother of God. The video features scenes adapted from the 2007 film "The Nativity Story" by New Lines Productions Inc. 

O Holy Night 

This song was originally written in French and is often sung at Christian services on Christmas eve. More than 100 artists have recorded this song,  This version by Canadian singer Josh Groban is very powerful.  

Do You Hear What I Hear?

This song  focuses on what the shepherds in the field heard and saw on the first
Christmas when Jesus was born.

What Child Is This 

The next two songs focus on the joy Christmas is supposed to bring and reminds us that we need to remember to keep some of that joy in our heart even when things in our life are bad. 

Try to sing along with this next song as loudly as you can. Make sure you really open your mouth wide. It will help with your pronunciation, your phrasing and your speaking fluency. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

ESL Christmas with Charlie Brown

After nearly 50 years, one  of the greatest Christmas holiday specials continues to be the animated cartoon  "A Charlie Brown Christmas"  

Why is it so special? According to Robert Loyd, film critic for the Los Angeles Times, " it isn't about any invented crisis in the life of an imaginary  creature. There are no elves, no reindeer, no Santa. It's just about us. 

The Spirit of Christmas 
 Charles Schulz, the creator of "Peanuts"  wrote a little fable  about how a meaningful  holiday such as Christmas has become so commercialized that it has  lost any meaning. The only magic Christmas now allows  is the kind we create ourselves when we pay attention to someone besides ourselves.  

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" remains true to both the spirit of Christmas and to the spirit of "Peanuts."

Although it t emphasizes the need for hope and love, it still reminds us that for many people around the world the Christmas season can bring anxiety and a feeling of being alone and unloved. 

 "I know nobody likes me," sighs Charlie Brown in the animated special.  "Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?"

The Charlie Brown Christmas Tree 
The sad little Christmas tree he buys for the school play stands for all the world's underfed, unseen, unloved,  yet it is not beyond rescue. 

In fact, with a little love, care and attention, it can truly be something special and even magic. 

Subtle, slow and quiet — absolutely silent at times — the special is remains as satisfying today as it was when it was first shown in 1965. 

In addition to the wonderful score by Vince Guaraldi's famous jazz piano score, 
the production features the voicers of real children rather than adult actors trying to sound like children. "

Watch the special and learn about one of the most popular idioms about Christmas that comes from the story: A Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. 

How Well did you Understand? 

Watch the film as many times as you need to. Then see how  many questions you can answer in the quiz below. 

Also, can you answer the question: What is a Charlie Brown Christmas tree?

Now, try this song.

For more information  on Charlie Brown 's christmas as well as other Charlie Brown stories go to  Jennthebenn's Peanut Page

For the complete transcript go to:  Transcript Charlie Brown Christmas

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

ESL Christmas: Home for Christmas

One of the most important parts of any holiday, whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah, Lunar New Year,  or Kwanzaa  is coming home to be with your family and friends. 

Many Christmas songs focus on how lonely people are when they can't be with their loved ones. 

Sometimes this is is because they live in different places. Other times, one person is  traveling or working away from home. 

Thinking about Home

No matter what the reason, Christmas or any other holiday can be a time of loneliness and homesickness when we find ourselves thinking of home....wherever that may be.  

Canada is a country full of immigrants, many of whom have left family and friends back in countries such as China, Korea, Poland, Columbia, Peru....

It is common for them to feel lonely and homesick at this time of year. 

Here are a few songs that focus on some of the deep emotions that being away from our loved ones bring out in us.  

Song for a Winter's Night 

This song sung by Canadian singer Sarah McLachlan and written by Canadian singer songwriter Gordon Lightfoot has become a popular Christmas song because it focuses on  the desire to be with a loved one.  Christmas is a time when we think of the people we love who are far away from us. 


This is a new version of Home sung by Blake Shelton and Michael Buble that focuses specifically on how much would like to be home for Christmas. 

The original song by Michael  Buble shows the same emotion, but stresses how hard it is to be away from people you love at any time.  This is an easy song to sing along to because it is clear and slow and full of emotion. Try to sing along with it as many times as you can, and put as much emotion into your voice as possible when you sing it. It will definitely help your pronunciation.

I'll Be Home For Christmas 

Even a beginner can sing this song which communicates the feelings of anyone who wants to be home for the holidays. If you can't be home in reality, you CAN go home in your dreams. What a lovely idea. This is a slow song that doesn't have many difficult words. Enjoy! 


Have Yourself  a Merry Little  Christmas is one of the great Christmas classics and has been recorded by hundreds of singers. 
Judy Garland sang the original song to her sister in the movie Meet Me in St. Louis. Her sister was upset because their  father wanted to move her family away from her  "home"  to New York. 

The original song was much sadder in order to suit the story line in the movie movie  but Judy Garland thought it was too depressing, so the writers changed the lyrics to make it a little more hopeful. Read the original lyrics at the end of the song. 

Original lyrics:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, pop that champagne cork,
Next year we will all be living in New York.
No good times like the olden days, happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more.
But at least we all will be together, if the Fates allow,
From now on we'll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

I think we all understand why Judy wanted it changed to a happier, more hopeful version 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

ESL Christmas Love Songs

Love is one of the main messages of Christmas. 

People all over the world enjoy sharing their love with each other at this special time. 

But Christmas can also be a time of  loss and heartbreak - a time when people remember a love lost and the wonderfu  times they had.

Although these are not traditional Christmas carols, the following songs have no become classics because they show both the joy, the sadness and  the yearning that Christmas and the holiday season brings to people in love.   

Here are a few songs to keep you in the mood, whether you are happy or sad. Listen, play the game. Then sing along. There's lots of Christmas vocabulary here.  Try some.

But first, let's try some some vocabulary review 

All I Want for Christmas is You:

Justin Bieber, Mariah Carey

Before you watch:

1.   When you stand under this, you have to kiss someone   
2.   Underneath means ________________ 
2.   This is made out of snow and often has eyes, a nose and stick arms 
3.   We roast these type of nuts on the fire.  
4.   What do people put under the Christmas tree and open on Christmas 

Winter Wonderland by Rod Stewart and Michael Buble

Before you watch: 

1`.  A meadow is a place ___________________
2.  What kind of person is a "parson"?  (clue) he can legally 
      marry you with someone
3.   What does Santa ride in the sky with reindeer pulling?

Mistletoe by Justin Bieber

Before you listen to the song: 

1.  Justin Bieber uses the word  "Imma" several times during the song. This is slang for  
      "I'm going to be" 

2.  Cheer is another word for joy. 

3.  What is this below?
4.  If you spend time "chilling" with someone, you ___  

5.  shawti is slang for ______________________________'

6. When you "stare" at someone, you ______

Many of us are afraid to tell the people we love how we feel, so we hide our feelings. Sometimes it's worth being brave and taking a chance to open up about those feelings. Who knows what could happen. Listen to the following song to see what Kelly Clarkson has to sat about it. 

Have you ever experienced a sad Christmas when everything reminded you of a former love? I'm sure you are not alone. As everyone knows even people whose heart is broken still get through it. The next song is about that. .

Monday, December 16, 2013

ESL Christmas Listening Activities 2013

As we get closer and closer to Christmas, I thought you would enjoy a variety of  Christmas  listening activities. 

Some of the videos and stories include quizzes. Others include complete transcripts. Listen as often as you need to before you answer the questions.

If one of the stories includes the script, try to listen to the story without reading it the first time. Then, read and listen at the same time.  

Even better, read, listen and try to speak at the same time as the speaker. Do this several times, especially on parts you have trouble with. It will help you to improve your vocabulary through repetition, your pronunciation and your speaking.

Source: learningenglishwithmichelle

Christmas in the 17th and 18th Centuries  


Famous Authors Reading Holiday Holiday Stories 
Emily Temple (SOURCE: Flavorwire) 

 Christmas is coming! a conversation (intermediate) with :
I. Pre-Listening Exercises

 II. Listening Exercises

III. Post-Listening Exercises

Topic : Christmas giftsSpeakers : a man and 2 children 
(Source: esl-lab.com)

The Christmas Gift a narration (difficult) with :
I. Pre-Listening Exercises

II. Listening Exercises

III. Post-Listening Exercises 
(Source: esl-lab.com)

The 11 Million Dollar Christmas Tree

Video Quiz from ESL Video.com

Fred Talks about the daily routine for his family on Christmas Day in Canada   (SOURCE: ELLLO)

 Christmas Tree Traditions  ( ELLL0)
Anja compares Christmas tree traditions with Fred  
 (Source ELLLO)

'Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat!'

Christmas is the biggest festival in Britain and is celebrated on 25th December. The four weeks before Christmas are called Advent, and are traditionally celebrated in churches by lighting a candle each Sunday during Advent. Nowadays, many people in Britain are not very religious, but they still celebrate Christmas. ( Source BBC)

At Christmas time, it's always worth remembering that there are many countries where Christianity isn't the main religion. The official religion of the UK is Christianity, but here in London - one of the world's most multicultural cities - there are many non-Christians who also celebrate Christmas. In this program, Yvonne Archer finds out why this is the case and what they like to do at Christmas time.(Source BBC)

When Christmas is just around the corner, most people have very little Christmas shopping left to do. But it's a well known fact that on Christmas Eve, most of the shoppers on the streets are men. So is that last minute rush just a fun part of the Christmas shopping experience for men, and do they actually like Christmas shopping? Yvonne Archer goes in search of a few answers. (Source: BBC)

If you walk into many London shops at the moment, you might find it difficult to believe that Christmas is still many weeks away. In this programme, with the help of a market researcher, we find out why Christmas seems to be getting earlier and earlier. 

Imagine this program is an invitation to a special kind of Christmas party - not the kind you have at home for friends - but what we call 'the office Christmas party', or less formally, 'the office Christmas do'.(Source: BBC)

                                                         People and Places at Christmas 

We've been out of the office to talk to people about their feelings at Christmas time. We've also been asking people to describe their ideal Christmas. (Source: BBC)

The story of the man in the red suit who brings gifts to children at Christmas. Transcript of radio broadcast: 19 December 2009

"Santa Claus is someone who will remain in the hearts of children forever...
Santa Claus also has some other names: Saint Nicholas, St. Nick, Kris Kringle, Pelznickel."

(Source: learningenglish.voanews.com)

The Gift of the Magi by O'Henry  

A spoken version of the famous story of a very poor young husband and wife  who each give up the most valuable thing they own in order to give the other a Christmas gift.
(Source: VOA  Quiz from ESL Listening.com)

Charles Dickens' 1843 classic "A Christmas Carol" is quite possibly the most often told holiday story in the English-speaking world.

The very wealthy Ebenezzer Scrooge is miserable, while his poor employee Bob Cratchit is a contented man with a virtuous disposition and family.

Scrooge, a hardened, greedy man who undergoes a great emotional change one Christmas Eve through the assistance of three ghosts. Each ghost represents some form of loss. The Ghost of Christmas Past represents the lost innocence and kindness Scrooge endures in a difficult childhood and young manhood. The Ghost of Christmas Present represents the love and fellowship Scrooge is losing in his current life.
Scrooge experiences a change of heart while he reviews Christmas memories and once again discovers what it is like to feel and live in the spirit of love, kindness, and giving..
(Listen and read the classic tale of Scrooge)    (Source ESL Bits.com)

Trailer for the Movie A Christmas Carol 

Listening Quiz for the trailer to A Christmas Carol : Source ESL Video.com

Now that all the Thanksgiving leftovers have been eaten and the Halloween costumes have been put away, everyone is getting ready for Christmas! It’s supposed to be a Christian holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, but somehow it’s become a huge commercial holiday and the most important time of year for retailers.  (SOURCE: Podcast from Melanie ESL)

The Christmas Cuckoo  
A long time ago, there was village in the North Country. All its inhabitants were poor, because their fields were barren, and they didn't have much to sell; but the poorest of them all were two brothers called Scrub and Spare. They were shoemakers. Their shack was very small. The door was low and always open, because there was no window.Continue here  
(Source:John Robinson's ESL Listening.com   

    Chatty Santa (chattysanta.com)   

    "Type what you’d like Santa to say to a particular person, and Chatty Santa will say it. Then send it to the designated person..." (SOURCE: Larry Ferlazzo)

      Christmas greeting from Santa  

      Send your friends and relatives Christmas greetings from Santa by clicking here 
      (Source:  Teflteacher's blog)



      Come back tomorrow for more Christmas songs, vocabulary, videos, readings, games and other activities. 

      Share the love ! 
      If you enjoyed this postinvite your friends and family to join in the fun, or post this to Facebook or any other social site you belong to    

      What are some of YOUR favourite Christmas songs that you would like to see here? Why do you like them?  

      Leave a comment and I will try to post them. 

      Saturday, December 14, 2013

      Christmas Vocabulary and Reading Practice

      How many words do you know about Christmas? 

      It's important to know some Christmas  vocabulary if you want to understand  some of the symbols and traditions of Christmas. 

      Understanding some of the most common vocabulary will also help you enjoy the Christmas carols you listen to and sing along to during the holidays.

      Here are a few vocabulary flashcards, quizzes, games and activities to help you learn and remember some of the important Christmas words you should know. 

      This first item is actually a reading, but it is an interesting one that I hope you will enjoy. 

      • Mistletoe, the kiss of Christmas"It's a vintage year for the legendary mistletoe berries..
        In Britain’s mistletoe-growing regions, a branch would be brought inside at Christmas to protect the house. Any woman walking underneath
        could not refuse to be kissed, or she would remain an old maid. After a kiss, she would pick a berry from the branch."


      Easy Quizzes 

        Intermediate Christmas Reading Activities  

         (by learningenglishwithmichelle)

        Quizlet Christmas Vocabulary Flashcards and games  

          MORE TO COME 

        Come back tomorrow for more Christmas songs, vocabulary, videos, readings, g

        • Christmas and New Year's Vocabulary Vocabulary ( BBC) A  lot of Christmas vocabulary can be used with or without the word ‘Christmas’ in front of it. For example we can talk about ‘Christmas crackers’ or just ‘crackers’:   lot of Christmas vocabulary can be used with or without the word ‘Christmas’ in front of it. For example we can talk about ‘Christmas crackers’ or just ‘crackers’: 
          - with a QUIZ

        INTERACTIVE games : 
        Presents for Xmas (and the rest of the year!)

        Matching - Flashcards (Java / non-Java) - Concentration - Word Search
        • - with a list of terms used in these activities (with pictures)
        • Activities created by: Renée Maufroid

            MORE TO COME 
          Come back tomorrow for more Christmas songs, vocabulary, videos, readings, games and other activities. 

          Share the love ! 
          If you enjoyed this post, invite your friends and family to join in the fun, or post this to Facebook or any other social site you belong to    

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