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Phone / Skype Interviews

Hi. Welcome. Congratulations. You’re here, so you’ve successfully negotiated the perils of processing and the pitfalls of print layout to create a CV / cover letter that doesn’t fall foul of any of the cretinous issues mentioned in my previous article http://simonrichardsonenglish.com/2013/04/11/efl-jobs/. Now, onwards to interviews.

Job interview etiquette is well-documented on the web. Don’t be late, dress appropriately, make a positive first impression by making eye contact, shaking your prospective employer’s hand firmly and then proceed to the interview room, where you sit up straight and deliver well-prepared answers to anticipated questions with confidence and assertiveness while all the time smelling nice. Oh, and then ask some good questions youself. What could be easier?

Well, let’s think about Skype. For a start, making eye contact involves staring at the top of the computer instead of at the video, something so completely unnatural that if you do it then the person on the other end of the call has absolutely NO option but to assume you’re a serial killer and inform the local anti-terrorist unit. Hear those sirens? They’re already on their way. Erase all files and take own life by auto-asphyxiation using small household pet. There. That went well.

Clearly, there are a few differences then.

Give me a job

“You’re going to give me a job, or I’m going to find you and eat your toes”

1. Appearances

The problem with a Skype / phone interview is that you’re at home. That might sound really obvious, but I genuinely believes that it alters your behaviour.  Sure, you’ve put on a shirt and tie, but under the table you’re wearing novelty Tasmanian Devil slippers and Oh my God, is that LUBE over there, just out of shot?! On some old toast?! That’s just… that’s just foul. You aren’t taking this seriously, but the interviewer is. THEY’RE at work, you see.

  • Put on smart clothes, including smart footwear. It’ll make a difference. Do this for a phone interview too – it’ll really help you get in the mood.
  • Clear your desk of toenail clippings, and arrange it like you would a work desk – mug, papers, relevant literature etc.
  • Remove distracting items from your eye line AND the eye line of the interviewer.
  • Switch off your mobile phone.

My favourite: A very well-dressed man sat with a Justin Bieber poster in the background. “Sorry, can you repeat that please, I wasn’t paying…..”

2. The First Part

There’s nothing like saying “HELLO… HE… HELLOOOO…?” twelve times to calm the pre-interview nerves. Just remember: if the interviewer is choosing this method, then they have seen this before. You aren’t making a bad impression by having Skype problems. They aren’t writing “X – lives in area with poor internet coverage” on a piece of paper. Just stay calm, and make sure you’ve logged on in good time to do the Skype call test. If it doesn’t work, try switching off the video.

Once the call is connected and working, you are now VISIBLE. Then it really gets awkward. Do I say “Hi, nice to meet you”? (because we’re not technically “meeting”).

Something along those lines is fine. At this point it’s probably appropriate to introduce My Favourite: A man who chose “Alright mate?” as his opening line.

NB: If you’re on a phone interview, it’s still obvious if you’re looking out of the window. Remember, the interviewer can’t see you, so they place even more importance on your voice. Focus on your pitch and variation in tone. Nobody is going to be impressed if you sigh or breathe heavily. They may bar your call, but that ought not to be your goal. They also won’t give you a job if you deliver every answer in-com-plete mo-no-0tone.

Firstimpressions

3. Appearances (Again)

You’re still on camera. The interviewer can see you throughout and the answer is “No”, you can’t remain completely still and poker-faced while you slowly edge your hand towards your mouse, and “Yes”, they can hear you / tell when you start tapping in your Facebook password.

Instead of some tips, here are some cautionary tales. (Also, partly because people told me after my last article that they wanted more amusing instances of candidate idiocy).

  • A girl started talking about her previous experience, but got so comfortable that she picked her nose. OK, a surreptitious nose pick might have been forgiven, nut she pulled out a massive, green bit of nose-string that stayed attached to her finger AND nose for about 8 inches, like some kind of offering from a tiny nose-dwelling Spiderman web. Tip: TISSUES.
  • A young man who had prepared his desk well enough to have a mug of water ready for the interview. Perfect, but HIS mug had a pair of tits on it.
  • A young lady whose phone went off. Pretty poor, but then she clearly started texting under the table. I CAN SEE YOUR EYES.
  • A guy who put his chin on his hand for the majority of the interview. He looked like I was telling him a bedtime story.

Sit up straight, don’t lean on your elbows (a headset will enable you to sit further away from the screen without compromising on volume) and keep your eyes on the screen. You wouldn’t look out of the window during a face-to-face interview. What’s that? You would? Get out of my office.

4. General Interview Stuff

There is nothing more galling than devoting time to an interview for which the interviewee is unprepared. Nobody is asking that you spend days on this, but there are a few things that you really should be doing as standard.

  • Check the company website – locations, ethos, any clues as to your potential remit.
  • Be prepared to explain gaps in employment and go in to details about previous jobs. If something relevant happened a while ago, jog your memory about it BEFORE the interview, rather than choosing the midway point of your conversation as the ideal moment for a quick reminisce.
  • Try and think of a positive from each experience you mention. If you were responsible for filing, it was developmentally positive because it enhanced your organisational skills. If you made a “like-clockwork” 30-minute visit to the toilet each morning, it demonstrated both reliability AND intestinal health.
  • Be prepared to answer “competency” questions. (More on that below)
  • What are your weaknesses? This always gets asked. Try and think of something honest, but not too awful. “I need to improve my presentation skills” is OK. Anything that starts “I really hate…” is not.
  • Have some questions ready for the end of the interview. DON’T ask about salary, holidays, perks, benefits, pensions, free chocolate or where the interviewer got that lovely top. Also, don’t say “Did I get it then?”

My favourite: A candidate whose first question was “Yeah… are we nearly done, because I’m off to the cinema… I didn’t know it’d be an hour, you see” (The Email asked to allow an hour)

Special mention: Somebody who said “Nobody has ever told me I have weaknesses, so I guess I don’t have any, because feedback would have told me”. After my feedback, she was presumably unable to ever say this again.

1009

(In)Competency

By this, I mean questions that refer to specific situations and scenarios in which you have to make a decision. I DON’T mean the kind of questions that high-street retailers have started asking students in order to separate candidates (I know for a fact that one well-known retailer currently asks potential employees to think of an animal that they’d come back as if they could choose). Some examples:

  • Can you think of a situation in which you’ve…..
  • (PROBLEM) happens. How would you solve that?
  • (NEGATIVE EMPLOYEE TYPE THING) happens. How would you react?
  • In the event of (SITUATION SPECIFIC TO YOUR JOB), what steps / precautions etc would you take?
  • Tell me about a time when (SOMETHING) happened.

Take a look at http://www.michaelpage.co.uk/content/18002/how-to-answer-competency-questions.html and http://www.interview-skills.co.uk/competency-based-interviews-questions.aspx for a bit more.

NB: Don’t lie. I find it unlikely that anyone is going to believe that this one time, lions came out of a magic closet and started attacking inanimate objects until you strode in and overpowered them all with your bare hands while simultaneously teaching a class of 400 disabled monkeys to complete giant Rubik’s cubes made out of uranium  – something for which you received a 20p-a- year pay rise and an Employee of the Month certificate.

Remember: If you can’t think of a professional example of what the interviewer is asking, be creative. Interviewers like it when candidates can relate experience from different jobs / personal life to what they are asking. It shows intuition, ingenuity and awareness.

Lions

5. Goodbye!

I don’t have much to say here. You’ve asked some questions, the interviewer has told you that they will let you know, and you’re so desperate for the toilet that you’ve spent the last five minutes manoeuvring an empty Lucozade bottle in to position with your feet. All that remains is to say “Thank you very much for your time” / “Good to speak to you” / “I look forward to hearing from you” / “It’s been a pleasure talking to you” and you’re home and dry. So, DON’T do the following things (all of which have happened):

  • Wave
  • Hang up mid-sentence
  • “End” the call, sigh, say “Thank f*** for that” and then realise that you’ve actually just turned off the video, rather than ended the call.

As always, comments, questions and physical abuse are all welcome.

Thanks for reading!

Simon

Thank f*** that’s over… writing that was a RIGHT pain in the…Oh. You’re still there. But, I’ve got the job right? No? Oh….

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Professional Development – CPD Log

This will no doubt cause irritation. CPD logs are becoming the norm. Schools have already started using them as part of appraisal programmes and are now starting to expect teachers to have existing logs.

Obviously, if you are extremely active on the development front, this will be time-consuming. On the other hand, you’re probably the kind of person who will do it. It may give you an advantage as the industry moves to heighten its standards and differentiate between part-timers and those looking to further themselves and build a career.

The log consists of:

  1. Professional development courses I have attended
  2. Conferences / workshops I have attended
  3. Journal articles I have read
  4. Books I have read
  5. Internet resources I have found useful
  6. Thoughts and ideas from colleagues and peers
  7. Reflection – my thoughts and ideas on my own teaching
  8. Action research projects
  9. Talks / workshops I have given
  10. Papers / books I intend to write

I’m not saying that employers are going to disregard you for not having been to a conference or for not planning to write a book, but keeping an active log of your professional development could well help you.

You can find the log here: CPD Log

I’m doing mine now!

Simon

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Applying for Jobs – Part 1 (CV and cover letter)

I must be out of touch. In my day, CVs didn’t have photos or opening paragraphs resembling quotes about the person whose CV it is I’m reading. They weren’t written in continuous prose, poorly formatted or in Comic Sans MS. Cover letters were tailored to the specific job being applied for and addressed to the correct person, with no sense of Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V about them.

Somewhere along the way, there has been a cock-up. Or I’m out of touch. I must be – hundreds of applicants can’t be wrong… can they?

Let me tell you something that is clear AND definite. At my company, I am now the employer. It hasn’t taken me long to see an enormous range of CVs and cover letters in a massive diversity of styles. It also hasn’t taken me long to develop pet hates. Some of these are blindingly obvious, and yet they wouldn’t have become pet hates had I not received them again. And again. And again. Others may simply not occur. Either way, here are a few shoulds and shouldn’ts (from the perspective of myself, and others I have spoken to)

CV

What was this job for again, innit?

CVs

1. Don’t make spelling mistakes!

You know that job you’re applying for? The one where you have to have a complete mastery of the language? Make a spelling mistake in your cover letter / CV and you can guarantee not getting an interview.

My favourite: Under “skills”, someone wrote “atention to detail”. Priceless.

2. Pictures on CVs

The general consensus in my office is that they are a bad idea. Imagine a scenario in which, before a potential employer has even read your CV, they’ve called a mate over with the sentence “You’ve got to see this! This guy looks exactly like…..”. Laughter ensues, but not in a good way. The attention has been drawn.  If you feel you simply have to do it, at least follow these instructions:

  • Blank background
  • Professional attire
  • NORMAL smile
  • No props
  • Not huge
  • Black and white

My favourite: A young lady whose CV photo was her, in a pub, holding a pint.

3. The “introductory paragraph”

I say scrap it, personally. It should be on your cover letter and tailored, so that the comments about your personality directly correspond to the skillset required for the job. Because of this, I’ll return to it in the cover letter section (below)

Note: I have been told that some people do like this, but the above points still apply. Third-person commentary and flowery vagueries are not welcome – you should check the job description and then write this part.

My favourite: Somebody who had created a column especially for quotes about themselves. The CV looked like a holiday brochure. Ultimately, I want a teacher, not a person I can “stay in” (so to speak)

4. Formatting

Don’t go over the top. Everybody knows where the “format” button is.

  • Choose a sensible font like Arial or Verdana.
  • Bear in mind that offices all have different versions of Word, so put your CV in a .pdf so that it doesn’t look any different on another person’s screen. Dont send .odt, .jpg, .gif, .png or .IDIOT versions of your CV.
  • Use bolded headings and bullet points – they make it very easy for reference purposes
  • 2 pages! A third could be acceptable if it’s reference info or interests

My favourite: I was sent a CV a few weeks ago in an Excel spreadsheet. Yes, that’s right. An Excel spreadsheet. Just in case you’re still pinching yourself, here’s a picture of an Excel spreadsheet:

Excel

I have a degree in Call of Duty

5. Content

It’s pretty standard. Let’s go for four sections:

  • Personal info – Name, address, phone number, Email. You DON’T need your facebook ID. Yes, that’s right. A world where facebook is absolutely unnecessary.
  • Educational Background – most recent first. Include dates (months), institution names and grades. You don’t need to list your GCSEs. Just “10 GCSEs A-C” will do.
  • Employment History – again, most recent first. List key duties and avoid rambling by using bullet points and starting each sentence with a verb. The key here is to be concise. I personally HATE continuous prose on CVs. Also, don’t include useless stuff. If you worked in an ice cream parlour 10 years ago, I frankly don’t care. I want to know what you have done as a teacher. Next time you apply for a customer service job, plonk the ice cream parlour back on there. Until then, either leave it out or merely reference it to avoid gaps in employment. You don’t need to list your duties. A teaching example might be:

April 2011 – July 2012, Teacher, Roger’s Naughty Little Boys School of English, London

  • Taught A1-C2 general English, IELTS exam preparation and Cambridge Exam classes to multinational classes
  • Helped students with self-study
  • Delivered an INSET on pronunciation
  • Was observed regularly both by peers and management
  • Delivered skills-based classes
  • Assisted with and led extra-curricular activities

You don’t need to write about obvious stuff. Every school has registers – I don’t need to know that you can fill one in!

  • Additional Skills / Hobbies – Clean driving license? Black belt in Origami? Extra qualifications,  no matter what they are, show discipline. If you can use a computer, be specific. “Can use a computer” is not as good as “Proficient with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint”. If you play Football, put it down. If you go out and drink 25 Jagerbombs every weekend, DON’T put that down.

My favourite: Under “Skills”, somebody put “No tattoos”. I have three. I am still insulted.

Unskilled Workers

David Beckham – An unskilled worker

A final note about CVs

CVs are not colloquial. Exclamation marks, phrases such as “which I really enjoyed” and emoticons (Yes, REALLY) have no place on a CV. Trust me, you aren’t getting an interview.

And another thing… (I sound like my Mother) – put an Email address for your referees, if you are attaching their contact info. Most employers will have a form to send them.

On to…. The Cover Letter

I get the sense that guidance hasn’t been provided. Let’s go for a rough guide:

  • One page is enough – I’m talking Arial, 12pt, 1.5 line spacing. Any more and you run the risk of sounding pompous / making me eat the paper out of boredom.
  • Employers are NOT idiots – I receive hundreds of these things. If you’ve cut and pasted the format of a cover letter online, someone else has too and I WILL NOTICE.

As an extension to the above, here’s the rough format of a cover letter that I’ve seen several times of late:

“Blah blah blah my Cv / resume blah blah native / near-native speaker blah blah blah Thank you for blah blah CV / resume”

If you happen to see this before applying to me, take this as a warning: If I see this, I will press “DELETE”

  • Read the job spec – If there is a name at the bottom and you send your “old faithful” cover letter starting with”Dear Sir / Madam”, then you’re asking for trouble.
  • Refer to the actual job – mention the company name. Actually do a little bit of research. The clicky-clicky-sendy AND REPEAT method of applying for jobs in bulk will get you nowhere.

Content

Here’s a good idea of what should go in your cover letter:

  • A brief introduction – why are you applying? Why should I read beyond this sentence?
  • Overview of experience – NOT the time to mention that ice cream parlour job. Relate your experience directly to the role. Write about 200 words.
  • Your personal approach – do you believe in task-based learning? Does your school take the communicative approach? Are you well-organised? Do you believe that communicating with students outside the classroom lowers the affective filter inside the classroom, thus facilitating more effective learning? PUT IT. Again, 200 words is enough.
  • BYE BYE! – Thank me for reading your letter, state that you would like to arrange an interview to discuss the role further, and then sign off (using the correct sign-off – “Sincerely” if you used my name at the start, “Faithfully” if not.)

My favourite: “Dear Sir / Madam, I am most interested in working for your company and have attached my impressive CV. Please read it and let me know how many weeks’ work you are going to give me. Sincerely, X”. Whoever you are, if you read this, for shame.

Feel free to contact me / comment on this. I’m particularly interested in people between the ages of 18 and 23 who have received input at school / university on CV and cover letter writing and can recall what that input was. As I say, I am clearly out of touch.

Next week: Phone / Skype Interviews: An interviewer’s nightmare.

Simon

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New Website Layout

Hi everyone

I’ve changed the navigation on the right hand side – hopefully to make it a bit easier to find things as the website becomes bigger. Now, the titles “For Students” and “IELTS” contain nothing, but the headings under the titles (By level – for students and by skill – IELTS) have the posts that match to these areas.

As always, feel free to give me your feedback!

🙂

 

Simon

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English Lessons / Proofreading Service

Would you like a little bit extra?

Sometimes students find that they don’t get the benefit of one-to-one help in the classroom, if they are in large groups.  With a one-to-one class, you have the chance to choose exactly what you want and how you want it. You also have a teacher who is only focussing on you and what you need.

If you would like to receive some one-to-one lessons from me, then there are two options:

  • Skype lessons

Materials can be Emailed and the lesson works like a regular English lesson. See the price list: Skype Price List 2013

  • Face to Face

At the moment, I am based in Oxford and can visit you at your home to give one to one / small group lessons. Prices: Face to Face Lessons

Are you at university? I also offer a proofreading service – checking grammar, vocabulary and layout. Prices: Proofreading Price List 2013

Interested? Contact me at simonrichardsonenglish@gmail.com

Simon

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Accents – For Higher Level Students

Like any other country, England is a country of many accents. If you study in London and decide to go and visit other areas, you might be surprised!

Have a go at listening to some of these:

Liverpool http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9pY08Jt_-E

Newcastle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhHLmhchLrU

London (East): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VosbyJa-JMs

Norfolk: mms://audio.bl.uk/media/learning/sounds/contemporarydialects/england/northelmham.wma

Yorkshire: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScELaXMCVis

Manchester: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJZQjmLYfi8

Devonshire: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1jZCde9pvE

And from Scotland:

Glasgow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91Tj7eezFJ8

Edinburgh: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG3ezQUodao

And Wales:

Enjoy listening to some of these – which do you find the most difficult to follow?

Simon

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This new-fangled thing called the “Worldwide Web”

It’s Wednesday. If you’re a bespectacled Kiwi, this means that ‘tonight is the night that we make love’. But I’m not in New Zealand. In fact, I’ve never even been, despite it effectively being a giant country-shaped rugby stadium in the middle of the sea. Instead, I’m sitting in my bedroom in Oxford. Well, when I say “sitting” I actually mean “crouching in the corner of a dark room wearing a coat hanger covered in tinfoil for a hat, gibbering poppycock about the Wars of the Roses to the wall”. Why, you ask? Why is this otherwise entirely sane gentleman of repute acting in such a way that might have him mistaken for a rabid Justin Bieber fan?

The length of....time you'll have to wait to see Justin Bieber

I’ll tell you, but ONLY you. You see, the Internet did it.

Cast your minds back, if you will, to the dim and distant past. The internet was in its infancy. Facebook, Twitter and the seminal Roundabout Appreciation Society hadn’t even been roughly conceived in the back of a Ford Transit yet. And, across the world, perplexed parents are speaking to their mothers on their landline telephones, when suddenly “BRRRRRRRRRRR…EEEEEEEEEEEEE….B-DN B-DN B-DN” – a noise that could only be described as similar to what happens when Q*BERT flushes the toilet after a long day lighting up cubes drowns out their fawning agreements and tiresome eye-rolling. It’s happened. Their children are connecting to “The World Wide Web”, futuristic land of pixellated paedophiles and pornography involving wallpaper and horses. “Say it ain’t so!” they cry. But so it was. And is. And forever shall darn well be. Thankfully, they just sigh, apologise, reach for the plug and…..”click”. Silence. Disconnected.

Qbert

So there was a time, you see, when the www’s and the http’s could be rationed. It was considered a routine request that the internet be “disconnected” so that homework could be completed, chores done or pets fed. However, let’s fast-forward a few years to the present day and try and conceptualise the same request, as presented to today’s snarling, square-eyed picture of youth. I believe it would go something like this:

Father: “Mike, it’s time for tea! Come downstairs and… OH MY GOD… I…er…I…”

Son: “Dad! Oh my God, what are you doing! You can’t just come… I was, er… I was just looking at this…er…”

Father: “OK OK OK, enough, I’ll be, er…. just… tea’s ready, come downstairs please”

Son: “OK just… SHUT THE DOOR! I’ll, yeah, OK…”

Not a pretty picture.

Cup

I digress. The point is that the internet is omnipresent, omnipotent, omnivorous; it literally devours everything it touches – meat or vegetable. Everything that was once perfectly happy living a 3-dimensional, oxygen-breathing life has now been absorbed into “the all-powerful internet”, a place so backward that it contains sites where “following” people is encouraged rather than illegal. Books are online, jobs are online, I even overheard my family talking about taking my Grandmother offline the other day. I was incensed. How dare they upload members of my own family without even informing me?! Is she available on USB? Can I “share” her with my friends? So many questions…

Nan

All this madness brings about the question: what happens if, amongst this, you suddenly find yourself deprived of the internet for a length of time?

And so I bring you back to my current reality, chewing on nails and spiders’ legs while shivering under a blanket made of my own toenail clippings. Ladies and Gentlemen, I HAVE NO INTERNET. If I say this in public, I imagine I will be stared at while mothers  usher their children away from me and preachers flick stagnant water over my face. I am impure! Unclean! Disconnected from the internet; disconnected from life. It isn’t fair. Imagine what would have happened if Jack Bauer had said “Chloe! I need satellite coverage of the hostile’s vehicle NOW!” and he had got the reply: “Sorry Jack, Internet’s down. Apparently someone from Virgin Media will be round in two Monday’s time, between 1 and 6 and can she have the first line of your address and postcode, please?”

What

I need help.

Missing: One “Internet”.

Size: Both minuscule and unfathomably huge.

Answers to: “BRRRRRRRRRRR…EEEEEEEEEEEEE….B-DN B-DN B-DN”

REWARD: MY ETERNAL GRATITUDE AND (WHAT IS LEFT OF) MY FRAGILE SANITY

You know where to find me.

Simon

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A new website – youtube videos for language points

This is a great website, created by a teacher / author called Nick Shepherd. These would be particularly good when used with Promethean / Smartboard so you can pause and elaborate. They could also be used to bookend lessons. Take a look.

Students – you could use these as revision tools at home. Try these ideas:

  • Can you make notes and summarise what was said?
  • Can you try and copy parts of what Nick said?
  • Can you make some example sentences of your own to put in your workbooks?

Remember – keeping a written record of what you have studied is an effective way to help remember new language!

http://www.youtube.com/user/School0fEnglish/

Simon

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A Phrasal Verb Story

Here’s a story I made with a few phrasal verbs in it. It’s intended for higher levels, but depending on the activity, could work with Intermediate students. I devised it not only to teach a bit of new vocab, but as a vehicle for looking at phrasal verbs with regards to idiomaticity, pronunciation and form (separability). This is what I did:

1) Warmer – Students asked if they have seen any fights or violent behaviour. Asked what the common reasons / locations for violent behaviour are in their countries / England.

2) Reading for comprehension – students can read to answer the question “How is the main character doing now / Where is he now?”

3) Students go through text and underline phrasal verbs

4) Students categorise them in to three columns (don’t give them titles, ask them to sort them as they wish)

5) Groups rationalise their choices

6) Look at phrasal verbs in terms of pronunciation rules, separability and levels of idiomaticity (I believe that each of these three categories can be split in to three columns – for more information see my essay: 

Teaching Phrasal Verbs to Lower Learners (particularly pages 3-7)

Drill, answer questions etc.

7) Gap fill / other controlled practice activity

8) Get them speaking – role play, or writing a story.

As a follow up to this lesson, I gave students the following muddled up version of the original story. NB: This is difficult, but my class were all CAE / CPE students, and coped well.

Phrasal Verb Story Muddle

Enjoy!

Simon

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Idioms – Market Traders

I often get students asking “What does…….mean?” after trips to markets. The fact is that not everyone can be expected to grade their language. This is particularly true of markets, where traders strive to represent their area of the country as much linguistically as anything else. With that in mind, I created this for a high level class.

Steps:

1) Cut up conversation and students can order it in groups

2) Have a look at meaning, form and pronunciation – particularly focusing on London accent variations. I’ve found that students love having a go both understanding these phrases when said rapidly and saying them themselves.

3) Role play!

Enjoy 🙂

Students – can you find any “strange” language in the text below? Do you know what it means?

Market Traders

 

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IELTS Speaking – Can you answer these questions?

Students: Have a look at the list below. Can you answer these questions? Can you see which questions might come up in Part I, Part II or Part III? I’ll post this again in a few days with the questions in categories to show you.

Remember: Use AND, SO and BECAUSE to make your answers longer.

IELTS Speaking Topics and Questions

Simon

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Speaking – Having a Discussion (Useful for FCE / CAE Students + Teachers)

In this post, I want to have a little look at how we interact with each other when we have discussions. Below, I have written a transcript of a conversation between three people at work.

Key: Red, Blue and Black are three speakers. Words in brackets () show when two people are speaking at the same time.

So, I thought that the meeting the other day was… (a bit rubbish)

…totally rubbish! Me too! And I was sure I was going to fall asleep y’know…

Yeah yeah me too! It was horrible! And I’d prepared some stuff to er… to talk about… and I didn’t… in the end I just couldn’t stay awake enough…

…so you’re saying you had things to say? I didn’t even have anything to…

…wait a minute, what was the meeting about?

Erm… about the way the new budget increase will… (be split)

…be split, and it was totally pointless erm… all the managers had already decided where…

Well hang on, I’m not sure about if…

They totally had and I…(thought it…)

Can I finish?

Yeah sorry, go on…

I’m not sure they’ve already decided that the money would go on resources for the training project…

No yeah, totally…

…and maybe saying something would actually help them get an idea…

Hahaha well maybe you’re right there, but anyway…

 

How many kinds of interruption can you see? Are they all polite or are some of them impolite?

Interruption Types:

  • Finishing sentences – anticipation – a bit rubbish / totally rubbish
  • Emphatic agreement – Yeah yeah me too / No yeah totally…
  • Disagreement – Well hang on
  • Clarification Request – So you’re saying… / Wait a minute

Can you see that when we agree, we often follow our agreement phrase with the word “And”?

Eg: Yeah no totally, and… / It was, wasn’t it? And… / Me too, and…

This makes sure that we keep our turn and can continue speaking. However, when we disagree we often use phrases that mean “Wait”

Eg: Hang on a sec / Wait a minute / Hold on / Well just a minute

We can also ask questions. This shows that we are paying attention and encourages the speaker. We often use the word “So” when we are going to ask a question. Phrases include:

So you’re saying that… / Wait a minute, so…

The other thing that we often do is finish each other’s sentences, anticipating what the other person is going to say. This shows that we know the person, and are comfortable in their company.

Next time you have a discussion, do you notice that other students are using this? Does your teacher use any of these phrases when you’re talking to him / her?

Simon

Teacher’s Notes:

It is useful to get a few of these phrases more automatised, so students could benefit from some drilling with a lot of these. Repetitive drilling, call and answer drills and backchained drills could all be effective.

As a practice, you could either use the Cambridge Exam speaking section where two students have to discuss a set of pictures, or you could play a game where students have to try to successfully interrupt each other in a topic-based discussion, with points gained for natural / polite interruptions. You could also use a game where one student is trying to tell a story and the other students are preventing them from being able to finish by using some of these phrases to slow them down.

You could use the model above as an analysis tool in the middle of a task-based lesson.

 

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IELTS Writing – Organising Your Essay (Part III – Conclusion)

Now you have your introduction and body (see Introduction lesson: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-4J and Body lesson http://wp.me/p2RmnE-4P ) you are ready to write your conclusion. First, some things to remember:

  • Your conclusion should not make any new points
  • It should include a short summary of the main points
  • It should include your final opinion
  • It should directly answer the question

The conclusion is only about 30-40 words, so don’t worry about it. Just make sure that you DO write a conclusion, even if it means you don’t finish your body. It is very important that the examiners see your final opinion.

OK, here are the question and the essay so far from the end of lesson 2:

Many newspapers and magazines feature stories about the private lives of famous people. We know what they eat, where they buy their clothes and who they love. We also often see pictures of them in private situations.

Is it appropriate for a magazine or newspaper to give this kind of private information about people?

Over the past two decades, interest in celebrity life has increased to the point where every aspect of their lives is examined, documented and published in the media. Clearly, this raises questions about whether it is right to deny a person the right to privacy. Not only that, but it would appear that these stories that are being printed are not useful in any way.

It is a basic human right to be entitled to one’s own privacy, and for good reason. Being forced to constantly live in the public eye can lead to immense stress on an individual, causing illness, stress and paranoia. It is doubtful that those who actively pursue celebrities day and night would themselves enjoy the same kind of scrutiny, making it a hypocritical activity. Furthermore, it could be argued that printing pictures, stories and gossip about a particular person without their express permission to do so constitutes a crime in itself. For these reasons, it is extremely important that tougher laws are put in place to protect famous people.

Secondly, it seems that the stories printed about celebrities are becoming more and more banal, leading to a decline in the quality of the country’s media. Articles about a person’s clothes, hair or diet are not newsworthy, and encourage an unhealthily aesthetic approach to life. Such a focus does not provide a good example to children and could lead to them growing up with a set of values that disregard sociopolitical issues, respect and empathy. Bearing this in mind, it is important that the media takes on the responsibility of carefully monitoring the levels of this content within their publications.

If you look above, I have highlighted the main points in black. You can see that they are found in the first and last sentences of the body paragraphs. Now we need to begin our conclusion with a few words that show the examiner that this is the final paragraph. Here are a few possibilities:

  • In summary, 
  • In conclusion,
  • To sum up,

All of these are followed by a full sentence starting with a subject.

Here is my example conclusion for the above essay:

In conclusion, I believe that it is inappropriate for the media to publish intimate stories about celebrities due to concerns over privacy and content. Because of this, it is important that the police and the media work together closely to regulate content more strictly.

My conclusion contains my opinion and repetition of the points and conclusions from the body that connect to my opinion. That is ALL you need to write in your conclusion.

Now, can you write a second body paragraph and a conclusion for the other essay from lessons 1 and 2? (Question, Introduction and Body paragraph 1 below)

Some people feel that certain workers like nurses, doctors and teachers are undervalued and should be paid more, especially when other people like film actors or company bosses are paid huge sums of money that are out of proportion to the importance of the work that they do.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the above statement?

Recently, there has been considerable concern over unfair pay rates for key workers when compared with seemingly over-inflated salaries for business figures and celebrities, which have been leading children to view these jobs as undesirable or less important. As a result, it has been widely suggested that pay should reflect the usefulness of a job to society.

Underpaying people such as teachers and nurses has a negative effect on young people. In an increasingly materialistic society, children have become more focused on the value of money and are therefore less likely to want to do lower-paid jobs. Furthermore, they may come to associate celebrities with positive role models because they represent a life that they desire, more than those who do work that is truly important to our countries. This could lead to a severe shortage of key workers in the future, leading to a decline in the quality of education and healthcare. Therefore, it is important that the divide between salaries is closed significantly in order to provide incentive for future generations.

If you would like to contact me about these lessons or with some of your answers to these questions, please do so at simonrichardsonenglish@gmail.com

Happy New Year everyone!

Simon

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“Mum… MUM! I think the planet’s dead!”

I hope that you all appreciate this. I’m hunched over, bottom lip firmly clamped over nose, taking valuable time out from the last day on earth to write about the last day on… yes. Well. My nonetheless valid point is that I deserve recognition for this selfless act. Of course, the painful agony of this is that the earth is about to be eaten by Godzilla, meaning that my long overdue Nobel prize will remain undelivered. Damn you, Gorilla-Whale. Anyway, while rocketing through my bucket list at a speed that would give Morgan Freeman an epileptic fit, I have had time to pause and reflect on the cold hard facts that form the undeniable truth that is the forthcoming apocalypse.

Marlon Harewood's Bad Hair Day 20.12.12

The Mayans

I feel compelled to begin by stating that I have never in fact met a Mayan. However, I have been told that the 21st of December represents the end of a 5125-year cycle in their calendar. This is terrifying news, but it DOES allow me to draw the following highly educated conclusions about their ancient society with some degree of confidence and authority:

  1. Their calendars were ludicrously expensive.
  2. They used rhinoceros horns embedded in to their walls to hang said calendars, which made a mess of their kitchen wallpaper.
  3. They are responsible for most species of rhinoceros being endangered today.
  4. Mayan Teenagers’ calendars contained an eye-watering amount of airbrushed soft pornography.
  5. This resulted in Mayan males having abnormal asymmetries in their wrist sizes.
  6. Mayan females liked to plan things an awfully long way ahead.
  7. Except for counting numbers after 20.12.2012

Hot Mayan Nurses

ARE YOU SCARED YET????? I start trembling and have to hide behind a pillow whilst sobbing quietly in to a bucket of my own sick EVERY NEW YEAR (although I have been told that this is actually affected by alcohol consumption rather than doomsday-phobia). All the same, imagine the state the Mayans must be in right this second, after stacking up 5125 New Years in to one night. I can’t even begin to imagine how one would go about dressing in 5125 different fancy dress costumes at once, let alone sing Auld Lang Syne 5125 times. The mind boggles.

The Music

Whilst there is no denying the quality of both The Beatles and Nirvana separately, the combining of two powerful forces such as these has no doubt confirmed that Armageddon is upon us. It doesn’t matter that 50% of them are dead, or that Paul McCartney has been melted by his own smuggery leaving only a magic singing toupee behind, the facts CAN NOT BE IGNORED. Strongly backing up this argument are musical collaborations such as Madonna and Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Chris Brown and Iggy Pop and that staggering mountain of wildebeest turd with a dollar sign in her name. The mysterious release of a single called “Scream to high buggery” by Ban$hee on this very date has almost certainly swayed it for me.

Ke$ha is Swamped by Fans

The Guys with the Signs

I mean, they seem so sure this time, right? Undeterred by the previous 74 occasions on which they have been proven to merely be the kind of people who twitch on buses, stare intently at geese and sniff bridges, the placard-wearing brigade have once again taken to the streets in force, sporting everyone’s favourite judgement day slogans:

  1. “The End is Nigher”
  2. “Get your tissues for the second coming”
  3. “It’s not the end of the… OH WAIT”
  4. “I’ll NOT be back”

I’m pretty sure I also spotted a group of students near the back too, but their signs said “NOW will you legalise it??”

A-DOH-CALYPSE

They Killed Sir Patrick Moore

I don’t know who “they” is, but television has recently told me that Sir Patrick Moore was the only man in the entire world to have owned a telescope. Now nobody can see Godzilla coming. We are all surely doomed.

Conclusion

So it’s almost time for me to bid you adieu. The final curtain, the last hoorah. As Edith Piaf, a woman who could be transformed from a midget in to the tallest woman in the world through careful ironing, once warbled: “Je ne regrette rien…”

BUT WAIT!! An epiphany! Maybe all is not in fact lost! Remove the knife from your mother in-law’s throat, put your pants back on and return that Bugatti to its owner very, very quietly. And, for those of you just about to seal the airlock on your cryogenic chambers, first ponder over these three crucial, life-changing facts:

  • It’s already 21.12.2012 in Australia, so even if the end of the world is coming, at least they died first.
  • One of the four horsemen of the apocalypse recently received a six-month ban for the presence of a “prohibited substance” in his blood and is therefore unavailable for selection.
  • Kim Jong-Un’s fingers are too fat to press the big shiny red button on his massive mahogany desk.

FRANKIE DETTORI - DEFINITELY NOT A COKEHEAD

Simon

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IELTS Writing – Organising Your Essay (Part II – Body)

OK, so here is the question that finished the previous post (http://wp.me/p2RmnE-4J ):

Some people feel that certain workers like nurses, doctors and teachers are undervalued and should be paid more, especially when other people like film actors or company bosses are paid huge sums of money that are out of proportion to the importance of the work that they do.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the above statement?

Here is my sample introduction:

Recently, there has been considerable concern over unfair pay rates for key workers when compared with seemingly over-inflated salaries for business figures and celebrities, which have been leading children to view these jobs as undesirable or less important. As a result, it has been widely suggested that pay should reflect the usefulness of a job to society.

Now we have the introduction, we can start the body. From my introduction I have decided to write about image and usefulness.

Writing the Body

When you are writing the body, it is important to remember that each paragraph you write is like a small essay; it needs an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

  • Introduction sentence – make a statement / give an opinion
  • Body sentences – support / give reasons for that opinion
  • Conclusion sentence – So……

Here is an example paragraph. The introduction is in red, the body is in blue and the conclusion is in black.

Underpaying people such as teachers and nurses has a negative effect on young people.

This is my introduction sentence: my statement. I now need to explain it in the body:

In an increasingly materialistic society, children have become more focused on the value of money and are therefore less likely to want to do lower-paid jobs. Furthermore, they may come to associate celebrities with positive role models because they represent a life that they desire, more than those who do work that is truly important to our countries. This could lead to a severe shortage of key workers in the future, leading to a decline in the quality of education and healthcare.

I have given reasons for my introduction statement. I have also explained what the results of the reasons could be in the final sentence. I now need a conclusion sentence to finish my paragraph:

Therefore, it is important that the divide between salaries is closed significantly in order to provide incentive for future generations.

Now, I can move on to my next paragraph and do the same again.

Can you write a paragraph about usefulness?

Before I finish this section, have a look below at my sample answer so far (introduction and body) for the question from my post about introductions http://wp.me/p2RmnE-4J:

Many newspapers and magazines feature stories about the private lives of famous people. We know what they eat, where they buy their clothes and who they love. We also often see pictures of them in private situations.

Is it appropriate for a magazine or newspaper to give this kind of private information about people?

Over the past two decades, interest in celebrity life has increased to the point where every aspect of their lives is examined, documented and published in the media. Clearly, this raises questions about whether it is right to deny a person the right to privacy. Not only that, but it would appear that these stories that are being printed are not useful in any way.

It is a basic human right to be entitled to one’s own privacy, and for good reason. Being forced to constantly live in the public eye can lead to immense stress on an individual, causing illness, stress and paranoia. It is doubtful that those who actively pursue celebrities day and night would themselves enjoy the same kind of scrutiny, making it a hypocritical activity. Furthermore, it could be argued that printing pictures, stories and gossip about a particular person without their express permission to do so constitutes a crime in itself. For these reasons, it is extremely important that tougher laws are put in place to protect famous people.

Secondly, it seems that the stories printed about celebrities are becoming more and more banal, leading to a decline in the quality of the country’s media. Articles about a person’s clothes, hair or diet are not newsworthy, and encourage an unhealthily aesthetic approach to life. Such a focus does not provide a good example to children and could lead to them growing up with a set of values that disregard sociopolitical issues, respect and empathy. Bearing this in mind, it is important that the media takes on the responsibility of carefully monitoring the levels of this content within their publications.

The third part of this series of posts – Part III – Conclusion, will be published soon.

Simon

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IELTS Writing – Organising your essay (Part II – Introduction)

For part two, when you first see the question how do you feel? Nervous? Confused? Panicked? Timing is a problem, but if you have a clear picture of what your essay will look like, this could help you relax a bit. This page is going to give a few tips on how to do that.

OK, let’s look at an example:

Many newspapers and magazines feature stories about the private lives of famous people. We know what they eat, where they buy their clothes and who they love. We also often see pictures of them in private situations.

Is it appropriate for a magazine or newspaper to give this kind of private information about people?

Step 1 is obviously reading the question, checking understanding and finding the question. I get a lot of students who give up before they start because they read the question and there is a word they don’t understand. Don’t panic! Try and look at the word in the sentence and if you still can’t understand it, just delete the word. It’s only confusing you and if you can’t see it, then it won’t any more.

For example: Maybe you don’t know the words feature and appropriate above. So, let’s delete them and see what we have:

Many newspapers and magazines ______ stories about the private lives of famous people. We know

what they eat, where they buy their clothes and who they love. We also often see pictures of them in private situations.

Is it __________ for a magazine or newspaper to give this kind of private information about people?

Less confusing? This is the question for you to answer. Don’t worry about the words we have deleted.

Now let’s split the question in to two parts: background and question.

Background: 

Many newspapers and magazines ______ stories about the private lives of famous people. We know what they eat, where they buy their clothes and who they love. We also often see pictures of them in private situations.

Question:

Is it __________ for a magazine or newspaper to give this kind of private information about people?

So, for our introduction, we need to think about two things:

1) Writing a sentence or two about the background. This is very much like in part I, where you are copying the idea from the title, but using your own words.

2) Preparing the examiner for what we are going to write about. In this sentence, you should think about what your main ideas are, but not write any argument.

For this, 40 words is enough and you definitely don’t want to write more than 65. Here’s an example:

Sentence 1) – Background:

Over the past two decades, interest in celebrity life has increased to the point where every aspect of their lives is examined, documented and published in the media.

Sentence 2) – What am I going to write about?

Clearly, this raises questions about whether it is right to deny a person the right to privacy. Not only that, but it would appear that these stories that are being printed are not useful in any way.

Now the examiner knows that I am going to write about two things:

1) Is it right to deny the person a right to privacy?

2) These stories are not useful in any way.

These will be the titles of my two body paragraphs, and it is really important that you write about the subjects from the second part of your introduction – not something else!

Now you try with this question:

Some people feel that certain workers like nurses, doctors and teachers are undervalued and should be paid more, especially when other people like film actors or company bosses are paid huge sums of money that are out of proportion to the importance of the work that they do.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the above statement?

The second part of this lesson looks at an example introduction and how to organise the main body. You can find it here: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-4P

Enjoy!

Simon

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‘Tis the Season

Hurrah! Huzzah! Brobdignag! We should all be sickeningly congratulatory, stand around in large circles and laugh heartily in rounds (until the laughter awkwardly fades away like that bit in Austin Powers).

Why, you ask?

“Well, it’s Christmas! You see that?! WE did that!!” Except….

It will come as no surprise to those of you unfortunate to know me that I dislike Christmas intensely. I wake up every December 25th with what psychiatrists specialising in providing an entirely unwanted supportive ear to hormonal teenagers will come to refer to as “an utterly stonking grump on”. Do you remember that time when Fred Durst nonchalantly flung strands of his pubic hair, 15 stone of lard and a dead clown in to a Play-Doh pasta machine and then furiously turned the handle, grinding away until, eventually, the band Staind popped out? Yes? Well, even more miserable than them.

StaindPlay-Doh

I have reasons which conveniently divide themselves in to two kinds:

  1. Poignant and Genuine
  2. Strange

I won’t ruin the surprise by telling you which of these will form the focus of the remainder of this post. Call it my Christmas gift to you all. Don’t thank me.

Drum Roll……………

1) Snow

On Christmas Day, 1941, Bing Crosby, via radio, released a version of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” so covered in treacle that a morbidly obese man, unable to beat hunger away with his giant back-scratcher until Turkey o’clock promptly devoured it. No known copy of the original broadcast exists. Undeterred, Crosby, who was later scientifically proven to have the most punchable face in human history, re-released it via the eye-wateringly terrible film, Holiday Inn. The following SUMMER. Such was the power of his dream of a white Christmas, that a terrified God invented snow almost immediately after, and that was that. Boy, did HE have egg on his face when he realised that Crosby had being singing about class ‘A’ narcotics all along.

The obsession with snow in this country is ludicrous. I have actually witnessed real adults flapping their wings with joy and utter disbelief when they discover that THERE IS ICE FALLING FROM THE SKY. All well and good, don’t get me wrong. But then, almost inevitably with us Brits, the complaining starts.

“It’s COOOOOOOOOOLD!” “It’s really sliiiiiippyyyyyy!” “My snowman looks like a fat Grand Imperial Wizard and it’s scaring the nice Nigerian family next door!”

KKK Snowman

Chaos ensues. The country literally goes in to meltdown (no pun intended).  People are unable to leave their houses and go to work for fear of the annual plague of Yetis, drivers reduce their speeds to 10mph (whilst still driving three inches from the rear of the car in front) and pensioners all across the UK start dropping dead in protest.

So my message about snow to you all, as you shield yourself from a barrage of suspiciously yellow-coloured snowballs hurled by the children across the way, is this:

It’s all Bing Crosby’s fault.

Bing

2) The “family meal”

Q: What’s the blandest, dullest, most depressing kind of meat in the world?

The answer of course is Andy Murray. But we can’t all eat him. Oh no. So, we use an unbelievably complex mathematical principle to calculate the optimum number of drunk, hat-wearing lunatics that comfortably fit around a dinner table, add seventeen, then sit in anticipation of the world’s second blandest, second dullest, second most depressing kind of meat, Turkey.

Turkeys were introduced to Britain by William Strickland upon his return from America in 1542. This was during the reign of King Henry VIII, an exceptionally fat man, who was pant-wettingly excited about the fact that turkeys were bigger than geese. He started eating them and, being as he was in no way an enormous pain in the posterior, he never once threatened death upon those who did not support and facilitate the breeding of these animals. ALTERNATIVELY…

Henry VIII

So here we are, picking disdainfully at our turkey while frantically clock-watching, beads of anticipatory sweat dripping from our brows as if our very juices are trying to make a break for it and save themselves, when things take a dramatic turn for the worse. How wrong D:Ream were with their 1993 prediction, because, that’s right, it’s time for Christmas crackers. I can’t adequately describe a cracker in a way that fully portrays its unbearable crapness. Fortunately, Wikipedia can. I would like you to read the following while imagining it being narrated by the blandest, dullest, most depressing kind of meat in the world:

‘A cracker consists of a cardboard tube wrapped in a brightly decorated twist of paper, making it resemble an oversized sweet-wrapper. The cracker is pulled by two people, and, much in the manner of a wishbone, the cracker splits unevenly. The split is accompanied by a small bang or snapping sound produced by the effect of friction on a chemically impregnated card strip (similar to that used in a cap gun). One chemical used for the friction strip is silver fulminate, which is highly unstable.’

Brilliant.

But wait? What’s that inside the cracker? Is it…. a joke??? Could things be looking up???

HILARIOUS joke

What follows this is laughter so forced that it can only be replicated on any other day by attending a Russell Howard stand-up routine. Not to mention the fact that I was absolutely positive that the answer to that joke was “Chuck Norris”.

Fortunately, I have a solution to this part of “The Christmas Problem”, the instructions to which are below:

  1. Unfurl “joke”.
  2. Pretend to read it, concentrate very hard on Russell Howard, and then make laughy noises.
  3. Instead of reading it, pretend to read it while instead telling a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT JOKE that is ACTUALLY FUNNY.
  4. Apologise to your grandparents.

Works every time. I call it “How not to be invited to your own house on Christmas Day”.

3) Jesus

Let me get this straight. I’m eating turkey, wearing a stupid hat and sitting twelve centimetres away from my Grandmother’s cleavage because there was once a story of a wizard baby who grew up, drank too much and enjoyed a “bit of a dabble” with a prostitute? Who does he think he is? Angus Deayton?

Angus Deayton

Two Weeks Later…..

Margaret, mother of two, has given up. The strain of Christmas has ripped her soul in to tiny, tinsel-covered shreds. She’s had more visitors than she could shake a stick at, and they have harassed, demanded, niggled, gibed, annoyed, baited, bothered, badgered, hassled, heckled and hounded her in to submission. Not only that, but she’s had turkey sandwiches, turkey risotto, turkey stir fry, turkey stew and turkey curry. Turkey is actually coming out of her eyeballs. She even called the President of Turkey to see if he could assist. He could not. Defeated and a shell of a woman, she wearily trudges across the new lino that was given to her as a present by her dreadful Mother-in-Law, opens the bin and…

“What about the starving children in Africa, Mummy?”

Spanking

The moral of the story is that Christmas also directly causes child abuse. I rest my case.

Simon