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Hi to everyone out there!

This is my site where I discuss, share ideas and write about English as a Foreign Language.

At the moment, the menu on the right of the page links to help for students with general English and exam English, as well as teaching resources and tips for teachers. I add things fairly regularly – at least once or twice a week. Take a look and feel free to comment, download, peruse and enjoy!

I hope to get to know people, students or teachers and hear about teaching and learning experiences from as many people as possible.

Above all, I hope you enjoy the site!

SimonSimon Richardson

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Weeks 8-10: Variety is the Spice of Pain

Review of Recent Weeks:

Miles: 91 (best week 27 miles)
Longest Individual Run: 11.2 miles
Miles to go: Many. So, so many.
Weight: 98.5 kg
Resting Heart Rate: 56
Amount of Seafood Consumed in Barcelona: I drank so much that I now have a two-second memory, like several of the fish I consumed

I’m writing this the night before I set off on my first proper hill run of the year: The Fairfield Horseshoe. It represents a small section of the actual ultra route in October. I’ve done the Horseshoe before both in full and in smaller sections, but I’ve never run it. What kind of an idiot would do that?! At 11 miles and 3,000 feet of total incline, it represents a quarter of the distance and incline of the Lakes in a Day route, so will be a really good gauge of how I’m doing at the moment. It’s also a mere 2.5 weeks before I join up with my running partner for the first time for a training weekend – again in the Lakes. To be perfectly frank, I’ve expelled larger things than him into the toilet after a heavy weekend’s drinking, so I’m naturally concerned that my endurance levels won’t hold up. I’ve prepared well for the distance; I’ve run 11.2 miles in 1 hour 45, but since then I’ve also abused my body by eating all the octopus in the ocean and drinking too much Vermouth in Barcelona (NB: It is virtually impossible to eat octopodes out of existence; a female octopus lays 200,000 eggs in her lifetime, and, if anything, their species grows at a rate above global fishing. NB#2: The plural of octopus is octopodes. You’re bloody welcome).

3D octopus jigsaw – 50 delicious pieces

The old weight loss has dealt me a hefty (ha!) blow too. Instead of shrinking away, my legs have instead put on substantial amounts of muscle, leading to me not so much losing weight as changing shape slightly while maintaining the same weight as before. If this continues, I will become a triangle – something which I pointedly refuse to do (sorry not sorry – couldn’t resist). I will also encounter serious issues when the mileage jumps up to marathon lengths, something about which I am already a little concerned, even though there are still…SHIT! Ok, let’s scrap the word “still”. There are 12 weeks until our first trail marathon of the year. Bugger me backwards with a barge pole! (As my mother used to say – apologies Mum – Happy Mother’s Day again by the way).

I REALLY hate Particle Man

So, how’s it been so far? Let’s weigh up the pros and cons – I’ll do five, because it will satisfy my OCD.

PRO: I can run a 10k pretty much anywhere, at any time now.
CON: This has no practical use in modern life whatsoever.

PRO: I feel like I am just about on track so far with regards to the year’s training.
CON: I have done the easy bit. Subsequent 10-week training patterns will be significantly longer and more time-consuming.

PRO: I have noticeably lost body fat.
CON: It’s somehow migrated south from my stomach, turning into extra leg muscle. I now have to wear padded cycling shorts to walk to the shops to prevent the most severe kind of chafing.

PRO: AfterI run, I feel virtuous and healthy like some kind of superhuman monk.
CON: Five Guys have just joined Just Eat.

PRO: My brain is sharper; I’m now able to recognise simple shapes and patterns.
CON: The patterns that I have thus far recognised are patterns of binge drinking.

Well, I’m not too sure that was a helpful exercise at all, but as Magnus Magnusson used to say: I’ve farted so I’ll stinish. Odd guy.

U wot M8?


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Weeks 6 and 7 – Stepping on Ducks

Weeks 5 and 6 Review:

Miles: 37
Longest Individual Run: 8 miles
Miles to go: 1,900
Weight: 97 kg
Resting Heart Rate: 54
Overall Mood: Violently swinging – like sadistic polyamory

Surely only those of you with the most unbelievably sharp presence of mind will have noticed that this is two posts combined into one. This is partly because it’s been a couple of busy weeks in the world of sofa-based self-employment (no webcams involved), but partly because there has been very little to say. I find this to be quite a pleasing metaphor for such a long training programme with such a steep upward curve. The fact is I don’t always make a discernible improvement every time I run. And now I’m six weeks in, I’m beginning to come to terms with this. In weeks 1, 2 and 3, not only was every single run a tangible step forward, but if it wasn’t then I would be riddled with anxiety, like a corpse at the end of a Western. I’m slowly but surely learning to temper my expectations. They are now as follows:

  1. Some days, you just feel like shit. These are not days for improvement, these are just days for mileage.
  2. I won’t be less knackered than the previous run every time. The very notion is absurd – this is not how anything in life has ever worked.
  3. I will not necessarily be able to run further every Sunday, and I can’t necessarily rigidly follow the training programme I downloaded on the Internet, because it doesn’t take into account my specific fitness, injuries, mental state or work timetable.

I intend to read these back to myself every time I start to feel anxious. Because, as fate would have it, by doing an activity that has proven to be extremely beneficial to those who suffer from anxiety, I’m now anxious about my ability to do it, and do it well. Those who have told you that suffering from anxiety is exhausting are spot on, and this paragraph is testament to the fact. I get anxious that I will have an anxiety attack, before I have had one. How utterly ridiculous the human brain really is.

Charlie Brown is fucking bob on.

So, what of the next few weeks? Well, I have a goal in mind. I would like to get to half marathon distance by March 4th. That gives me two and a half weeks. I’m not going to stipulate whether this should be outside or on the treadmill at this stage, as my shins will dictate that – and I’m not going to panic about it. I’m also not going to set a time to adhere to. I would be loosely happy with two hours, factoring in my new stride pattern and extremely restrained pace, but if I accidentally go more quickly or slowly then so be it. This is part of my resolution not to be beholden to “one size fits all” training regimes. Because LIFE IS NOT LIKE THAT.

Oh, just as an amusing aside to finish on – I did an absolutely tremendous fart while working my way up Beecroft Hill today. It must have changed pitch about seven times – more than an entire Iggy Pop album – and I swear it helped me shave three seconds off my time.  I am reliably informed that this is a pretty standard by-product of running. I now need to make sure that the next one I do takes an old lady’s hat clean off, kills a passing crow stone dead, or summons Cthulhu.


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Week 5: Take a Deep Breath

Week 4 Review:

Miles: 20
Miles to go: 1,959
Weight: 98kg
Lower Body: Glued together with an eye-watering array of tape and supports

Here we are then! It’s time to take a deep breath and start the marathon training programme for real. It’s a spreadsheet of seemingly random words; strides, lunges, recoveries, sprints… fartlek (calm down now), and the numbers next to the days are escalating rapidly beyond the counting capacity of your average young toddler / regular at the Leeds train station Wetherspoon’s. By the time February is over, I will (in theory) be running in excess of 10k four times per week. My Sunday long runs will be as close to full marathons as halves, and I assume, I will have started to get “runner face”. Right this moment though, I’m staring at the training spreadsheet, turning it upside-down and every which way in an effort to make the numbers look less like they are trying to jump off the screen and attack me.

“But I can count to eleventy…”

I’ve made a bit of headway with my shins though… shinway? I’ve drastically reduced my stride length, which has resulted in that weird shuffly run that comes to mind when you think of liquorice-thin, middle-aged distance runners; a kind of wobbly fast walk, with floppy hands bouncing from side to side like a sped-up version of Dale Winton wandering around a shit British supermarket in 1994. I can do that for an hour without stopping now, and with pretty tolerable pain at the end, as long as I stretch for a good 10-20 minutes both before and after the run.

Convincing a generation of children that shoplifting is fine if you do it to dated music.

And I do feel fitter. My lungs feel larger, and I generally feel a bit less depressed – although this could be because January is ending, and we’ve had a few blue skies. I’m also genuinely excited about seeing if I can get myself up to a half marathon in the next four weeks. Ok, maybe “excited” is a little strong. I am far less daunted by the prospect of the rest of the year than I was two weeks ago, though. What’s the word for “slightly better than totally apathetic”? I’ll borrow from 10 Things I Hate About You; I’m whelmed. Let’s hope that I’m not adding a prefix to that by the end of the week.

Just to be clear – I think I’m trying to say that I don’t absolutely hate every single moment of this. I think. Maybe.



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Week 4: Derailed? Not a Bit of It

Week 3 Review:

Miles: 18.5
Miles to go: 1,979
Weight: 99kg
VO2 Max: 46
Emotional State:

It’s been a tough week. You can set out to do things with the best of intentions, but ultimately if something more important comes along, then your intentions have to be shelved. This week, unfortunately, that something was the sudden death of my grandfather. There isn’t much to say about this – we all loved him, he led an incredible, inspiring life, and his four children in particular are understandably devastated. So, I’m going to depart from the usual pattern of petty, sweary humour that is my “level” of intellect for just a second to post a nice photo of him – if you’ll indulge me.

My grandfather David and his wife Jean, with my brother James, and me – 1987

And I’m back in the room. As Flanders and Swann would say: Pee, Po, Belly, Bum, Drawers!

I’ll tell you what, though. He wouldn’t have been impressed that I departed from my running routine so that I could be sad. Oh no. And he certainly wouldn’t condone the kind of moping that would stop me from completing my training program, and the upcoming races. You see, when it comes to the stubbornness (and pedantry) that has worked its way through my entire family, David was patient zero. He was the Uber-pedant. King Stubborn. I have tried – believe me, I have tried very hard – but I still feel as if I can only aspire to hit the heights of the great man. Like so many runners will do over the next 9 months, he has left me trailing in his wake.

So, as the training gets tougher, and my shins become more swollen, I am going to use David as my inspiration. He was unbelievably tough, resilient and unwilling to admit any kind of defeat in life, and I will attempt to follow up the hills, along the paths and through the mud, all in his footsteps. And every time I feel like giving up, instead of summoning up extra courage from within myself, I’ll just imagine him giving me a look that says “Don’t even think about it”. That ought to do it. He’d probably have done all the runs in a better time too – just to prove that he could.

Anyway, this week is the final week of my “ramp-up” training. Next week, the proper marathon programme starts and I’ll be relying on him to help me keep going back to the gym when I’m in pain, or I’m tired, or I simply can’t be arsed. But then, he never let anyone down in life, so I know he won’t let me down now, even in death.

And nor I him.

In Memoriam – April 24th 1928-January 20th 2018

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Week 3 – Shin Splints and Sadistic Fantasies

Week 2 Review:

Miles: 17.5
Miles to go: 1,988
Weight: 98.5kg
VO2 Max: 46
Shin Splints: OUCH

I feel a little bit like Icarus. Well, except for the Greek bit. And my Dad didn’t create a massive labyrinth. And I didn’t try and build wings – who even does that? And I haven’t drowned. But other than that, I feel a little bit… no, exactly like Icarus. Or at least I thought shin splints were like Icarus, in that they were a myth. And now I’m drowning in a sea of pain, choking on the hubris that has led to the only set of wings in my line of sight being those of Nemesis. Woe is me, death befalls us all…

Alright, this may be a slight exaggeration. It fucking hurts though. Like, well bad, innit? It’s like the kind of pain that loan sharks inflict upon you when you don’t pay up. A writhing, baseball-batty kind of a feeling. I’m now on a diet of weird stretches and hobbling, but it also means compression socks, a return to the dreaded treadmill (the dreadmill) and the looming spectre of something even more disturbing emerging from the tarry pit of doom that is any reputable gym; the cross-trainer.

“I will cut you, bitch.”

Anyway, this week I have been alternating between slower and faster runs. I’ve found a decent treadmill pace that I feel I could run at forever (for the purposes of this post, forever = anywhere between 1 and 15 hours), and I actually enjoyed the final two runs of the week, despite one of them being the day after an extremely important staple in any Dry January disciple’s calendar: the accidental-on-purpose beer festival.

I have two more weeks of increasing my workout duration in stages, although some of my mileage will have to be completed on the cross trainer due to the aforementioned shins (not The Shins – they are far less palatable). It’s all about cardio at this stage though – building up a level of endurance and being used to breathing heavily for longer and longer periods of time, like a really persistent stalker. Today, for instance, I’m taking my phone, headphones and some duck / duct tape to the gym. This final ingredient is key; I don’t want anyone thinking I’m not a dangerous kidnapper, and that it’s therefore acceptable to use the machinery directly adjacent to me (note to Interpol, A.K.A my most frequent blog visitors – duct tape will actually be used to secure my phone to the screen of the cross trainer so I can watch Netflix – an hour on the cross trainer is roughly as dull as being locked in a room with Tim Henman, but the walls are all padded, thus removing the most logical route to the sweet release of death, meaning that you are forced to commit suicide by repeatedly lacerating your own temples against his giant teeth).

“…and KILL”

My “run buddy” and I are training separately until March, so I can’t be entirely sure if he is experiencing any similar issues. My brain has taken over though, and I find myself passing my running time imagining him skipping blissfully over mountains and rivers, singing “Fa la la la la” and “Hey Nonny” and suchlike while all the woodland creatures of the world dance along merrily behind him. He isn’t sweating. Oh no. The only moisture that touches his face is but the gentle morning dew of a crisp spring day as his mind serenades him with the greatest symphonies known to man. I imagine jealously stabbing him in his stupid little trim midget body, but then I realise that instead he’s waltzing off into the distance and I’m sitting naked in a puddle, hitting a nearby plant with a butter knife.

Still, it’s all good fun, eh?


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Week 2 – Why Am I Not Yet Mo Farah?

Week 1 Review

Miles: 13
Miles to go: 2,005
Weight: 100kg
VO2 Max: 48
Desire to eat so much cheese that I turn yellow: Ever-rising

Well, here we are. I’d like to thank my fans around the world, all the Kenyans whose achievements I have far outstripped in under a week and, of course, my Mum. Only 2,005 miles to go! And I thought it’d be hard…

I’ve done five short runs this week at a slow pace – I’m trying to focus on the kind of pace I might be able to maintain for the best part of an entire day. Obviously, this requires a carefully calculated, scientific approach, so I tried running with an open, 90%-full flask of whisky for a bit, to see how quickly I could do this without spilling most of it all over myself. It turns out that the answer is roughly a 9-9.5-minute mile, in case, you know, you’d like to “ask for a friend”.

I’ve also been very cautious with my glass knees. I will be doing three of my five weekly runs on the treadmill all month, and two longer, slower runs on relatively flat, forgiving paths alongside canals. I’ve already had to upgrade my weight loss plan by an extra (circa) seventy-three kilos to compensate for the weight of the ludicrous assortment of neoprene supports that will cover various parts of my lower body, the further I run.

Incomprehensibly though, when I looked in the mirror this morning, I was still staring back at myself. I wasn’t Mo Farah yet – this has come as an enormous shock to me, so I haven’t done any running today. On a slightly less stupid level, my resting heart rate has gone up, and I have been sleeping less well. I’m assuming that this is because 13 miles is pretty insignificant, and I’m therefore still just suffering from the same insomnia as before. Or maybe running is bad for us all, and I should instead attempt to kill 2,018 Germans on Call of Duty (NB Object of Call of Duty may or may not be to kill Germans – can not confirm) in one year. Or eat 2,018 steaks. You’d all sponsor me to eat 2 tonnes of meat and write about it, right?

Anyway, on to this week and the rest of January. Each week for the remainder of the month will be the same in terms of structure, but with an extra mile per run each time that day come around again – except for Saturdays, which always stay the same. To be clear:

This week: Tues, 3 miles, Weds 4 miles, Thurs 3 miles, Sat 3 miles, Sun 4.5 miles
Next week: Tues 4 miles, Weds 5 miles, Thurs 4 miles, Sat 3 miles, Sun 5.5 miles

And so on and so forth. The idea is that I will then be running the amount of miles per week required to start proper marathon training come the first week of February, which coincides with it being 16 weeks until the Calderdale Marathon. This also means that I can eat roughly 400 grams more cheese each week without putting on weight. This equates to – roughly – 14 slices of cheese on toast, or two per day. Alternatively, I could carry the one, subtract the number I first thought of, and eat about 97 wheels of Laughing Cow (other fake cheeses also available). Either way, if my calculations are correct, I should be at “CHEESE LEVEL: FRENCHMAN” by January 31st.

Zut alors!

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Trough Physical Condition – the Start of a Long Journey

The Ruins of 2017

What a pleasant, positive post title to start 2018! And with that I’d like to welcome you to the “Ultramarathon 2018” section of my blog. Excuse the stench; I’m covered in a very specific sweat – one that smells of maple cured ham, seventeen different types of booze and an assortment of chocolate. That’s right, we’ve just had Christmas and New Year, and I’ve obviously treated my body like a wheelie bin round the back of a kebab shop. What better time than now then, to start 10 months of training that will see me complete a hill marathon, the Yorkshire three peaks and the Lakes in a Day ultramarathon, by which time I will have run 2,018 miles in 2018, with two months to spare. This is the equivalent of running from Leeds to Ankara (excluding the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam).


This seems like a good point to put this into context; I’m not currently unfit. I can currently run 5km in 20-25 minutes depending on terrain, and 10km in under 50. I could walk 50 miles tomorrow if you told me I had to. However, I haven’t run further than 12km in 2 years, and my gym trips have been mostly HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and weights. I love rugby, and have played on and off for 26 out of the 33.9 years I have been on this planet, so most of my training has revolved around keeping in shape for this. Because of the nature of the sport, I’m 5″10 and 15.8 stone (100kg). This is great for smashing people to smithereens, but not so good when you have to lug that extra weight across hills and mountains for 50 miles. As a result, I think it’s safe to say that I need to do two things:

1) Lay off the weights, give up rugby and lose 10-15kg in weight. This one is easy; my knees were recently described as “held together only by the will of the Gods”. In rugby terms, I’m old and battered. It’s time to accept my fate. Also, losing weight is going to be a given when I sneak up behind my contented stomach and metaphorically yell “SURPRISE!!!” by relentlessly running four or five times a week.

2) Significantly improve my endurance. Interval fitness is totally different. I can get my heart rate up to 200 for several minutes and go all guns blazing at the weights or the sprinting. But then I need a minute off before I do it again. This is not conducive to running for the best part of a day without stopping.

Actually, three things.

3) Stop eating pizza and drinking beer all the time (MyFitnessPal informed me that in 2017 my two most logged “foods” were wine and beer). Mmmmm… wine and beer. Not completely, mind. This isn’t a blog about going vegan or teetotal or anything else that I would genuinely rather die than do – more one that will document the struggles of running between 30 and 70 miles a week, non-stop for the next 10 months, and how it ends up affecting me both physically and mentally.

Again, a little context. Like so many people I know – and more people in the world than perhaps we all realise – I suffer from anxiety – panic attacks, insomnia, mood swings and low self-esteem. I have done so for many years, and at its worst it’s like living in a nightmare. Except not, because I can’t have nightmares if I don’t sleep. A daymare? Anyway, I can’t deny that the post-exercise feeling is a good one, and that exercise helps me sleep and feel better about myself. So absurd amounts of exercise should make me feel absurdly great, right? RIGHT? Well, I owe it to the people in my life, and to myself, to give it a go. Part of the reason for keeping a weekly blog is so that I can look back in ten months time and (hopefully) see a change for the better. I also hope that people will read this blog – other runners, people like me who want to run more and further, or who suffer from problems with anxiety.

The Charity

Over 50% of my motivation is self-improvement for sure – I’d be lying if I said otherwise – but some of it comes from the desire to do some good old-fashioned fundraising. I’m doing this with a friend of mine – he will be going through the same hell as me, at least according to our Excel training programme. Together, we’re raising money for Yorkshire Cancer Research. I doubt I could name a single person who isn’t either related to, or doesn’t know someone who has suffered or died because of cancer. It’s a horrible disease, and one that I firmly believe can be beaten. I’ve gone for YCR as opposed to Cancer Research UK partly because Yorkshire is my home, and partly because smaller, more local charities often struggle for funding, but shouldn’t be overlooked. I’d love us to raise £3000 together – after all, we’ve got a year. But who knows? Every little helps. Here are the links to my JustGiving team page and personal page if you’d like to donate / heckle us.


First Stop – January

Shit, I’ve actually got to do this now. Words come more easily than steps, weirdly. Fortunately, January is a build-up month – I’m just getting used to running further and further over the course of the month before starting a proper 16-week marathon training programme in February (16 weeks before the Calderdale marathon). Oh, and Monday is always a rest day – I’m thankful for this as I spent all of Monday January 1st feeling like I had been turned inside out by an evil robot monster made entirely out of vodka.

Here it is: WEEK 1: Tuesday 2 miles slow, Wednesday 3 miles steady, Thursday 2 miles slow, Saturday Park Run, Sunday 6 miles slow. Week total: 16 miles.

Current weight: 100kg. Resting heart rate: 58bpm. 2 miles slow: 19 minutes. Fear level for rest of year: Q*£&£YT%*W&£TY£W(TR*U!!!!O£)R*UCMC

It’s now Tuesday evening, and I’ve done my first two miles of 2018. It felt like running after consecutive days of drinking huge amounts of alcohol always feels – fucking horrible. 19 minutes of beer demons punching me in the chest. But hey! That’s two down, 2016 to go. I’ll be in Ankara before you know it (Disclaimer: this may not be remotely true in any way, shape or form).

Bring it on.



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Preparing for an EFL Interview

It’s nearly the end of an incredibly busy summer. Summer schools are a number of things – enjoyable, full of energy, manic, full-throttle, but above all, extremely hard work. In peak week this year, I was overseeing a summer school of 9 classes and 130 students in conjunction with an adult school of 17 classes and 208 students across three buildings. So, 26 teachers made it through the interview stage to join the team and me for up to 7 weeks of mayhem. Now it’s fair to say that, with such a large organisation, staffing is difficult and certain concessions have to be made simply to ensure that we have enough staff. Employing a teacher on a short-term contract for a summer school is far less about selecting the technical cream of the crop, so to speak, than it is about making sure that said teacher is likely to be able to cope with the craziness and go in to class every day, smiling and enthusiastic. Because of this, I’ll start generically and then divide parts of this post in to two sections: Summer school and… let’s call it “Normal” school, because summer school is many things, but it certainly isn’t normal! I’m not going to name any names or even years – in nearly three years as a Director of Studies, I’ve worked out that I’ve employed over 100 teachers, conducted over 200 interviews, and unfortunately sacked three people. Suffice to say, I’ve seen some things in applications and interviews. Not all were good…


Application forms are a real pain. Mostly, they require you to copy information from your CV in a slightly different way. They are a complete waste of time, but seem to be a staple HR requirement. What they do do though is weed out people who are just clicking around and applying for every job under the sun. The assumption is that if you spent an hour on the application form, then you are genuinely interested. This is completely negated if you do a half-arsed job! Fill it in!


I have witnessed CVs get worse and worse. I’m not sure if the UK secondary education has stopped providing guidance or if the guidance they are providing is just simply bad, but writing a sensible CV is so easy!

  • No photos unless specifically requested. They encourage negative judgement. If you are asked for a photo, make sure you are dressed sensibly – work clothes, with a neutral background, perhaps some study materials visible. Certainly not like one CV I received – pint in hand!
  • You could start with a few sentences that sum you up, but I advise against it – it almost always sounds cheesy and false. Certainly don’t do what one candidate did, and annotate your “key skills” with stickmen!
  • Start with personal details – Name, address, phone number, email address, LinkedIn. NOT Facebook, Snapchat or Tinder (yes, really!) Also, make sure your email address isn’t absurd and / or childish.
  • Education and Qualifications is the next section – A-levels and above only, most recent first! Nobody cares about your class exams from year 8!
  • Time for the work experience section – dates (from / to), company name and a bullet-pointed list of key responsibilities. No waffle, no long paragraphs and no meaningless jargon. Here’s an example (this wouldn’t be in a table on your CV – it’s just so you can see it clearly here:
Date – Date, Teacher of English, Company Name
·         Teaching General English (A1-C1) and IELTS classes to mono- and multi-lingual classes of 8-15 students
·         Designing assessment materials for General English
·         Invigilating IELTS mock exams
·         Using (name of system) online student maintenance system
·         Mentoring new starters
·         Attended CPD sessions on Task-Based Learning, Flipped Classrooms and CLIL


That’s it! Turning up every day, planning your lessons and wearing a shirt are NOT key responsibilities!

  • Other skills – Microsoft Office, playing instruments, typing speed, sports etc. Keep these sensible and short!
  • “References available on request” – make sure you have contacted these referees and they are willing to provide you with references. You won’t be able to start at a new job until references have been received. Remember, one must be your current employer. Try and choose referees in the field, and your father is not a referee!

Finally, remember that this is a job for an English teacher. If your CV contains typos or spelling mistakes, it will go in the bin. Check your work. Also, keep it to two pages – 2.5 at most. I once received an 8-page CV. It went straight in the bin.

The Interview

You’ve made it to interview. You’ve either got a good CV / application, or the school in question is utterly desperate because it forecasted for 100 fewer students than are turning up in three weeks’ time! Either way, you must treat an interview with respect and do some proper preparation even if this job is only for the summer.

Interview – Summer Schools

A large part of a summer school interview is going to be based around pastoral care / supervision of under-18s. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Young learners need supervising inside the classroom and out. Supervision ratios are typically 1 adult to 15 students under the age of 16
  • There are certain topics you will have to avoid in class – think about this
  • Groups of young learners will usually have afternoon activities – sports, projects, trips. Showing interest in getting involved will win you brownie points
  • Young learner classes are different from adult classes. Juniors are there temporarily, and for a fun holiday. You will need to use lots of games with shorter, more interactive / physical activities and minimal grammar input. Have examples of these
  • Young learners need discipline – be prepared to answer questions about how to deal with bad behaviour. Generally, a class contract is a good thing to establish, with clear boundaries and rules in place BUT never shout at them!
  • You may be asked about professional boundaries. Think about the importance of maintaining the role of a teacher, and having a policy of not being alone with individual students, especially if you are a male teacher
  • Think about the challenges associated with teaching students of different ages. You might have classes with 13 and 16 year-olds together.

Interview – “Normal” schools

The feel of a year-round school is different, as a proportion of the students will be studying for a longer period of time. Some may be sponsored and have progression requirements imposed upon them. As a result of this, they may be stressed. There will be other students who are only coming for short periods of time, and the needs of both these sets of students will need to be carefully managed and monitored inside the classroom.

  • What’s your approach to teaching? You can talk about the communicative classroom, task-based learning, blended learning… have a think and do some research
  • Example lesson structures – you may be asked to bring a lesson plan or you may be asked on the spot to go through stages of a lesson. This kind of question is designed to see that you know how to follow a structure correctly. If it’s a reading lesson, have you gone through prediction / gist / detail stages? Does your lesson finish with a communicative activity? If it’s a systems lesson, have you got a controlled practice stage?
  • If you’re asked to come prepared to do some demo language focus work, PREPARE IT! This summer, I asked for teachers to come prepared to go through Meaning, Pron and Form of 5 items of vocab of their choice on the whiteboard. Some of it was almost embarrassingly bad, or worse, unprepared. If you can’t do the most basic, staple EFL task in an interview, how do you expect a Director of Studies to employ you?! If you spell “messy” with one “s”, you are asking for trouble (again, yes, really!)
  • You will be asked a grammar and / or vocab knowledge question! This shouldn’t come as a surprise! Do some revision! The most common grammar questions centre around the differences between one thing and another, e.g. present perfect and past simple.
  • Don’t waffle – your answers should be concise. On the other hand, one-word answers don’t help an interviewer at all.
  • Look at the school website. All of them tell you what they teach. Don’t ask at the end “So, what classes do you offer?” Instead say “I’ve seen on the website that you offer X… how do you….?” – this makes it obvious that you have done some preparation.
  • Have some intelligent questions ready for the end – don’t ask about salary!


Finally, and this applies to both schools, come dressed smartly, shake hands, be polite, DON’T call the interview “mate” and DON’T turn up to the interview late or pissed! Again… yes, really!




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Product Writing – A Report (Useful for student feedback!)

Who is this post for?

  • Students looking at writing skills – especially writing a report for FCE / CAE
  • Teachers looking at lesson structures
  • Teachers / Managers looking at effective ways to get honest feedback


The thing I love the most about a product writing lesson is that it’s surprisingly multi-level. Because you structure the class around a model text and language from that model, (as long as you grade the model and the target language accurately) you can use this kind of lesson with classes from A1-C2. Students have the support they need because they can see a model, and when they finally produce their own work, they can rely on this model to different degrees depending on confidence and competence. Obviously, student output will vary wildly, but once you are at the written output stage of a product writing class, the pressure is off both the teacher and the student in that the traditional “teaching” part of the class is over, as is the stage at which students openly exhibit what they do and don’t know in front of the whole class.

Sample lesson / structure

Have a look at the material here (from New English File Advanced) Writing a Report (from New English File Advanced Pp. 80-81)

  1. Start students off with a discussion in small groups about the positives / negatives of their school, or things they would like to see in their perfect school. You could produce a form for them to make notes in.
  2. Get group feedback
  3. Students read the report on P.80 – ask some comprehension questions and get feedback on the structure / language used (How is it paragraphed? Is the language formal or informal?)
  4. Start looking at the controlled practice activities – P. 80 b, P. 81 c / d. Remember to get some of this language on the board – look sideways at the sentences (What comes after “advisable to” / “strongly recommend”?) – and go through meaning / form / pronunciation.
  5. Organisation stage – students look at how they will structure their report (ordering) – they can do this in a group
  6. Individual writing stage – the output stage. They’re trying to write their own report about the school, using some of the target language.

They can finish this for homework, and then you can either use some of their mistakes for another lesson, or provide feedback in a different way.


You could use this lesson with any level. I would even say that you wouldn’t need to adapt the model text for Intermediate / Upper-Intermediate students; grade the task, not the text. So, perhaps you would only focus on exercises c and d with an Int class (P.80 ex. b might be a bit tricky). For Elem / Pre-Int, you would need to simplify the text a bit, and perhaps your language focus would focus on something like “Ways to give opinions” (I believe / In my opinion / I think) or “Reporting using past simple”. You’d then need to prepare controlled practice activities around the model text, but this wouldn’t be too time-consuming, as a lot of the adaptation would be exactly that: adapting rather than rewriting.

Teachers / Managers

I watched a fairly inexperienced teacher do a great job with this product lesson from New English File the other week – they used P.80 and then c / d from P.81, missing out the brainstorm etc. stages after that, because they would be more applicable to a process writing task instead (see more on product /  process writing structures here ). The thing that makes this lesson interesting for students, teachers and managers, is that the output stage gives students a chance to reflect privately on what they believe the strengths / weaknesses of their school are. This is perhaps more revealing than focus groups, as students are often reluctant to voice their issues directly to a manager, or in front of other students. The timing of this class supported this theory; we had a focus group the week before and much of what was raised on the written reports from this lesson hadn’t been mentioned! I’ve since arranged for all classes to do this lesson at some point this term, so that we can get some really good feedback to work from.


Have a look at the material in this file. Here are a few things to consider if you’re preparing for Cambridge Exams.

  1. The structure is based on a series of titles
  2. The introduction clearly states the aim of the report
  3. The conclusion is very generalised
  4. There are a lot of examples of the passive being used, as well as language for generalising – eg. “It is generally thought…”
  5. Precision is an important part of the test. Why say “making classes smaller” when you could say “reducing class size”? The words do  / make / get are often used because a student doesn’t know the exact verb that a native would use. When you start to write one of these verbs, think: is there a better word I could use?

Writing a Report (from New English File Advanced Pp. 80-81)

As always, if you want to send your attempts to me, I’d be happy to receive them! 🙂



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A look at writing lesson structures

It can be difficult to adjust your mindset from systems to skills in the language classroom. “Traditional” General English and its course books revolve around grammar and vocabulary over skills teaching. Not only this, but the CELTA and other pre-service training programmes provide the opportunity for trainees to run through systems lessons exclusively, meaning that skills teaching is an almost completely un-encountered mystery until a teacher gets extra training, or decides to take on a higher-level qualification. Therefore, when you’re presented with a skills-only class, like an elective or an exam class, it can be difficult to know what to do differently. What I’ve found in my experience, is that this results in teachers doing the dreaded AAA (activity, activity, activity…) lesson structure!

What I’ve done here is outline a few different structures for a writing skills class. This could be IELTS, general English or ESP. The four structures are product, process, process genre (kind of a mixture of the first two) and then a task-based learning lesson structure. Obviously, the first three are specifically for writing classes, but TBL can be used for any skills class. I’ve also put a couple of benefits / drawbacks at the end of each structure. In the next couple of days, I’ll be posting a lesson plan for a product writing, and I’ll follow suit with the others over the coming month. As always, feel free to comment on or query anything.

Here’s the link to the word document:

Writing Lesson Structures





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Teaching Pronunciation in the Classroom

I’ve attached the powerpoint slides of a CPD I delivered at school this week. I’ll say a few brief things about it.

Firstly, I think it’s a real shame that there is this fear of dealing with pronunciation in depth in the classroom. In my experience, students respond really well. It increases confidence, builds bonds and really develops not just the ability to discriminate between sounds and improve production, but the ability to listen more accurately; the area that I think is most improved upon when we teach pronunciation.

You may find a few terms / suggestions in these slides that you aren’t familiar with. As always, message me or add a comment if you aren’t sure and would like to use some of these ideas in class / deliver this as a CPD in your own school. I hope you find it valuable in some way.

Teaching Pronunciation


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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 4, Task 2)

Every year several languages die out. Some people think that this is not important because life will be easier if there are fewer languages in the world.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

With globalisation comes an almost inevitable joining together of cultures, experiences and languages. One of the consequences of this is that a great many lesser-spoken languages are dying, as they are no longer required in the context of the modern world. This could be either be seen as a positive or a negative, depending on whether a business or a cultural view is taken.

From a business perspective, moving towards a singular international language is not only sensible, but has in fact already begun. International trade and diplomatic relations are just two key areas that are made easier without a language barrier, and English has already positioned itself as the world’s leading language in these areas. The potential for misunderstanding and misrepresentation is dramatically lowered, and this extends to the public in general, with holidays and wider social communication made all the more possible by a singular, shared language.

On the other hand, culture and tradition is rooted within language. To lose one’s national tongue could be seen as losing one’s identity. If this happens, it could cause no small amount of resentment, in particular towards nations which speak the chosen international language as their first. This could actually lead to diplomatic issues rather than solutions, which is precisely what globalisation is seeking to reduce.

In conclusion, while I am entirely in favour or closer diplomatic relations between countries, I strongly believe that it is extremely important that traditional values and cultures are upheld. Seeing as I am convinced that language and culture are inseparable, I disagree with the idea that life would be better with fewer languages in the world.

(269 words)

A few points:

  1. You don’t need to start with “nowadays” or something that means the same thing!
  2. I don’t think you should put your opinion in the introduction, unless you know you won’t finish in time. Be neutral, acknowledging both sides to the argument, in the introduction, and then present your view in the conclusion.
  3. Remember, if you are running out of time, you must write a conclusion. A good thing to do is to make your second body paragraph in to a list of bullet points, like this:

On the other hand, culture and tradition is rooted within language.

  • Lose language = lose identity
  • Resentment towards some nations
  • Lead to diplomatic issues

Now, write the conclusion and spend some time on it!

You will lose fewer marks for doing this than you will for writing complete body paragraphs without a conclusion!

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 4, Task 1)

Test 4 Task 1

The line graph outlines energy consumption in the USA from 1980 to the present day, with further projections up until 2030. Use is recorded in quadrillion units and is divided in to six categories, almost all of which display a general increase over time.

For the entirety of the period covered, petrol and oil usage is the highest. In 1980, 35 quadrillion units were used, and this dipped a little initially before rising steadily to a projected peak of 50 quadrillion units by 2030. This rate of increase is matched by that of coal, whose usage climbs from around 16 quadrillion units to just over 30 quadrillion units over the same period of time. This means that, by 2030, it is expected to be the second-most used fuel, whereas in 1980 natural gas usage was higher, at 20 quadrillion units. However, usage of this fuel is expected to remain at 25 quadrillion units from 2015 until 2030.

At the other end of the spectrum, nuclear fuel and solar / wind fuel usage is not predicted to change drastically, with increases from 3 to 8 and 3 to 6 quadrillion units respectively. In slight contrast, usage of hydropower, which was also 3 quadrillion units in 1980, dropped very slightly to approximately 2.5 quadrillion units in 2011, and it is not expected that this level of usage will change in the future.

(205 words)

A few points.

  1. In the introduction, explain what the X and Y axes display – time and quadrillion units.
  2. If there are any trends that are the same, make reference to that – coal / petrol and oil increase at a very similar rate.
  3. Similarly, highlight contrasts. Coal and Natural Gas change places between 1980 and 2030.
  4. Decide how to group your information. Here, I’ve decided to group three high and three low together in paragraphs.
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100 up!

It’s taken a little longer than I thought it would – just under 3 years in fact – but I’ve finally reached 100 posts. I started off not really knowing what would end up on my site, whether it would be a blog, a resource site for teachers, a site for students, an academic site or nothing in particular. I think it’s ended up as a more student-centred site, with a focus on IELTS – 40% of my posts are about IELTS or are model answers. Perhaps this reflects the situation in English language learning in the UK, and student needs. Interestingly, about 40% of students in my current school are IELTS-focussed students, so perhaps I’m subconsciously responding to the needs of my own students – not a bad thing.

I hope I will continue to post more General English / Teacher Training / General Blog posts, because they bring me (at least) a lot of enjoyment. But I fully expect the IELTS section of the site to continue to grow and grow. I also hope that in the next 100 posts I can write a bit more of what my readers want – I’m happy to listen to and write about what my students, ex-students and peers would find useful. As always, you can contact me by clicking the tab at the top of the page, or just by commenting on this or any other thread.

Anyway, I’m really proud that I have kept going and am now averaging well over 1000 views a month. Thank you to everyone for reading, commenting, following, liking and sharing. Long may it continue! 🙂


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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 3, Task 1)

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 2, Task 2)

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Using the future in Writing Task 1

This is a very short tip on using the future in IELTS Writing Task 1. Let’s look at an example chart.

Line Graph Future

This is a typical example of a graph that starts in the past, but ends in the future. This is a bit more tricky than a graph in which all the information is in the past, because you need to change your grammar depending on the section. However, it’s a good opportunity to increase your mark for Grammatical Range and Accuracy. Here’s what we can add in:


So, we start with our typical “The graph shows…” section. Something like:

The graph shows financial data, separated in to revenue, charges, borrowings and grants and subsidies, as a monetary figure in millions of dollars. 

So, we have explained the Y axis. we now need to explain the X axis, specifically, that it starts in the past and finishes in the future.

This information runs from 2012 to the present day, and includes a projection for 2016 to 2022.

The word “projection” is a financial word meaning “prediction”. We could also use “estimation”.


So, we could separate our paragraphs in to 1) Past until now and 2) Now in to the future. That would help us divide up the grammar to keep it simple – past in body paragraph 1 and future in body paragraph 2. What are our choices?

  1. will

We can use “will” + infinitive as a simple option. Here’s an example:

From 2016 until 2022, the rates revenue figure will consistently increase from about 1600 million to just under 2500 million.

Fine, but a bit simple, so we can’t use it for the whole paragraph.

2. Is + past participle + to + infinitive

There are a few different participles we could use: estimated, predicted, expected, projected. Example:

After 2015, the rates revenue figure is expected to continue its growth, from about 1600 million to just under 2500 million at the end of the period.

Very nice because it’s simple, you can use the same structure but just change the past participle each time, and it includes a passive.

3. Future perfect (will + have + past participle)

Possibly the highest level way to express the future in IELTS. We need to look at the very end of the graph, so that we imagine that the increase / decrease has already happened. This is exactly what we do for present / past perfect as well. We can do this by using “by”. Look at the example:

The rates revenue figure started increasing in 2014, and, by 2022, it will have reached a peak of just under 2500 million.

An excellent piece of grammar to include – just remember to use “by + end of graph / end of increase or decrease” and then talk about the change that will have happened at that point in the future.


As always, if you have any questions, please contact me!



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Prepositions in IELTS Task 1 Writing

OK, let’s take a look at a few prepositions, and a really easy way to remember how to use them.

  1. to / from

In task 1, you will use “to” if you are talking about change. So, if something goes up or down, we use “to”. Look at the example:

The number of people rose to 800,000 in 2011.

So, we use “to” for changes, and we use it to describe the second number – the number at the end of the increase / decrease.

We also use “to” with “from” – like from 400,000 to 800,000 – again, we are talking about the end number. If we want to talk about the start number, we use “from”.

2. by

We use “by” similarly to “to”, so when we talk about change. This time, however, we are thinking about the difference between point A and point B. Here’s another example:

Number of people, 2001 = 55

Number of people, 2005 = 60

The number of people rose by 5 from 2001 to 2005.

So, we also use “by” for changes as well, but to talk about difference.

3. at

We use “at” to talk about numbers that haven’t changed over time. Look at this example:

The number remained steady at 25 for about five years.

So, “at” is used in the opposite situation to “to”.

4. with

We use “with” when we just want to talk about one number, at one time, with no changes. Here’s an example:

The highest number was in the 16-25 age group, with 500,000.


So, here’s the simple way to remember:

to – change, second number
from – change, first number
by – change, difference between first and last

at – no change over time

with – one number, no movement in time

Good luck!



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Is the IELTS exam fair?

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. In a twist of fate though, it’s the most recent post from the brilliant “Secret Teacher” in the Guardian, referring to the stress and pointlessness of the current exam climate in mainstream education that has led me to finally put finger to keyboard (link below). IELTS is the monopoly, THE exam for students wishing to enter our universities. But is it fair? Does it truly live up to its claim that it assesses students’ ability to cope with life at a British university? Do any exams really contribute positively to education?

With the IELTS exam, this is largely a question of time. There have been no significant updates to IELTS in years, and it’s not just the format; most other EFL exams are now available to sit online, which at least more closely mirrors motions that students actually go through in modern universities. IELTS as a paper exam falls down somewhat before you even inspect the content; who handwrites essays? This is a problem in mainstream education as well, but there are arguments for handwriting as a skill with younger students writing in their own language. In EFL, how many students will actually ever use handwriting – especially on an essay level – other than for sticky note reminders on their fridges? Online, yes. Emails for work and to friends, the general language of the Internet, and TYPING essays. But spellchecking and autocorrection is an advanced tool nowadays, with the grammar counterpart not far behind. Surely retaining 25% of marking criteria for grammar and 12.5% for spelling in writing is redundant and provides an unnecessary obstacle to success?

To further compound the problem with the writing paper, task 1 is a ridiculous exercise. Students analyse a graph which looks like it was drawn in the 1980s. No part of this task replicates anything that 99% of these students might actually do at university or in real life. Even the final 1%, the maths / economics students, of which there aren’t many coming in from the typical IELTS countries, wouldn’t realistically analyse a graph in this way, because it in no way requires objective thought, exophoric comparison or real “analysis” anyway.

Adding spelling in as the main criteria for the listening exam on top of this just seems to be deliberately unfair. I know a great many English people can’t spell very well. Does it really matter that much? Is a student going to read back through their lecture notes and penalise themselves for a missing letter, or a misheard minimal pair? Granted, the listening test contains some isolated tasks that replicate real university life, especially the task 4 lecture note-taking, although students were even using their phones to record lectures when I last attended one in 2003. I imagine this is even more common nowadays, and obviously students can replay audio of a lecture again and again if there is any difficulty with comprehension, rather than being told that they “will not hear the recording a second time”.

The reading paper is the worst of the lot. The time pressure is absurd, so much so that students training to take the exam are taught how to AVOID reading, because there isn’t time. They scan, match shapes and numbers and fill in gaps. Not one of the tasks actually requires a critical response, or any in-depth reading, and the third paper is about a technical subject, often from New Scientist, that will in no way match the subject that the student actually wants to study at university. I can honestly say that I can’t find a single redeeming feature about this section of the exam. Why can’t students sit an integrated skills paper, with a reading and summary section, like the ISE exams? Why can’t they answer some critical thinking tasks? The cynical answer to the second part is that it would require IELTS examiners to undergo extra training or retraining in order that they an accurately assess a critical response. Ultimately, I have seen nothing to suggest that Cambridge want to spend a single penny on improvement in any area of the exam, and they are unlikely to as long as they are an accepted monopoly.

In the interests of fairness, I should point out here that the speaking test is quite good. The two-minute presentation and the discussion / opinion-based questions give the students a good work out, although it’s a shame that they don’t adopt an FCE / CAE approach and get two students in at once for a seminar-style discussion. Still, it is a reasonable exam, and the marking emphasis is (correctly) on fluency and ability to communicate rather than being pernickity over minute accuracy.

The danger of exams such as this is that, because they don’t really test ability in realistic situations, teachers then prepare students to pass said exam, rather than upskilling them in real-life tasks. This could be said of secondary school exams as well as IELTS, but this doesn’t make it right. The added external pressures that students receive from governments, workplaces or family, mean that they are also happy to be taught to pass an exam in this way, and they become interested only in this. I can say that I have seen students leave IELTS preparation courses with a lower level of general English ability than they had when they started, but they are happy because they’ve ticked off the entrance criteria for their university of choice. Bearing this in mind, surely IELTS is actually detrimental to a student’s ability to survive at university, and is therefore negatively affecting the skills gaps on university courses that it was put in place to close? And if so, why haven’t universities noticed this?

I imagine that I am writing this in vain, but I am also pretty sure that I’m not the only one having these thoughts. I’d love to hear from more people about their experiences either with EFL or mainstream examinations. I also hope that if this strikes a chord with you, you’ll share it. Maybe someone far more important than I will read it.



Secret Teacher link: