Sunday, 8 December 2013

Presentation Zen

Many of my students are now working hard on their end of semester PowerPoint presentations, so I would like to give you a few ideas to help. First, I'd like you to know about a great presentation blog called 'Presentation Zen'. I've mentioned the author of the blog - Garr Reynolds - to quite a few of my classes but if you haven't checked out his blog yet, have a look when you have the chance. It is full of good ideas and tips for making great presentations. Take a look at:

Garr lives in Japan and takes a lot of his inspiration from Zen and the natural world in Japan. He has written a number of very popular books on presentation techniques but I think the best place for you to start is with a very useful handout he made called 'How to Design & Deliver Presentations Like a Pro'. The handout is available here:

Here is a small selection from his handout of the presentation ideas I think you will find most useful:

1. Brainstorming - write down your ideas on paper first before making your PowerPoint
2. Keep it simple - avoid too much information on your slides and have one idea per slide
3. Visual - it is best to speak with pictures
4. Stories - illustrate your points with personal stories
5. Keep good eye contact with the audience
6. Use the "B" key

To be honest, using the "B" key is something I sometimes forget to tell my students about. If you press the "B" key while using PowerPoint, the screen will go blank. This is great if you want the audience to stop looking at your slides and just focus on what you are saying. When you are ready to move on, just press the "B" key again. In fact, anyone he tries it in their end of semester presentation will get a bonus point. Firstly, it is a good presentation technique. Secondly, it shows that you have been catching up with this blog!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

M Reader

     As some of you know, I'm a big fan of extensive reading with graded readers! Today, I want to tell you about a great website called M-Reader. This website has quizzes for most of the graded reader books in our graded reader libraries (at both Tokai and Rikkyo University).
     This is useful because, when you have read a book, you can take a short quiz and prove to your teacher than you have actually read it! When you log in to M-Reader, you will see your own page, displaying all the books you have read and the total number of pages. It's a great way to keep a record of your reading.
     Also, if you like a challenge, you can try to read more books at a particular reading level than any other student from around the world. One of my students at Tokai University recently found that she was the top reader in the world at level 4. She was really happy and it motivated her to read even more books.
     To start using M-Reader, your teacher needs to join up. This is very easy. I am the administrator for Tokai University and have all the information your teacher needs, so tell them to talk to me. To get your teacher interested, you can suggest that he or she has a quick look at the following link:

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Summer Listening

As the summer holiday begins, a few students have asked me what they can do over the break to improve their English. One good idea is to do some English listening every day. Here are some ideas.
     If you have the Podcasts app (see the previous post), you can subscribe to two good podcasts. First, there is 6 Minute English, which I discussed in a post a couple of months ago. In this programme, two people discuss a recent news story and use it learn some new vocabulary.

Second, you can subscribe to English at Work. This programme is a weekly drama about people working in an office called Tip Top Trading.

The programme follows the lives of four main characters and is a good way to study English communication in an English-speaking office. If you go to the BBC learning English website, you can also find the transcript for each episode. However, please remember, it is better to listen first and read later.
     Finally, also at the BBC Learning English website, you can find Words in the News. Here you can find a simplified BBC news story every few days. You can listen to the story and read it. Any difficult vocabulary is explained at the bottom of the page. For students who want a more challenging listening or reading exercise, you can follow the 'Related BBC links' link to find a more complete version of the news story.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Podcasts App

     The podcasts app is an easy way to listen to podcasts on your phone or mobile device. Remember, podcasts are radio programmes that can be downloaded onto your computer. Once on your computer, you can transfer the podcasts to your mobile device. You can subscribe to podcasts in the same way some people subscribe to a magazine. You can download the podcasts app for free from the iTunes store.

     To get some podcasts on your phone, go to the iTunes store and find some podcasts you want to listen to. Next,  click the 'subscribe' button. The podcast will be automatically downloaded to your computer every week or every time a new podcasts is released. Connect your phone or mobile device (iPad, iPod Touch or MP3 player) to download your podcasts. You can find your podcasts on the podcasts app. The picture opposite is a screenshot of the podcasts I have subscribed to on my iPad.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

BBC Learning English Website

The BBC Learning English website is one of the best resources on the web for students. In fact, there are so many good things there that it can be a bit overwhelming when you first take a look. In this post, therefore, I'll just tell you about two great resources to help you with your listening skills.

The first is a soap opera (weekly drama with the same characters) called Flatmates. Each episode is quite short at just over a minute and you can watch a simple animation of the drama on the BBC learning English website. The animation includes character speech bubbles so you can read what the characters are saying as you listen. Flatmates also has other features including a quiz, downloadable audio file and an archive of old episodes. Overall, it's short, fun and great listening practice.

The second resource is 6 Minute English. In this radio programme for learners, two people discuss a recent story from the news and use it to learn some new vocabulary. You can download the programme as an audio file, listen to it on the BBC Learning English website or subscribe to the 6 Minute English Podcast. Personally, I think that subscribing to the podcast is best because this way you'll always have some English to listen to on your MP3 player or phone. This is very convenient if you have a long commute to university in the morning!

Friday, 7 June 2013

English Dictionary App

I really think it would be great idea to put an English dictionary app on your phone. These days, almost all my students have a smartphone (usually an iPhone) but hardly any of them have an English dictionary app on it.

While many students bring a bilingual Japanese-English dictionary electronic dictionary to class, many students have no dictionary at all. However, I think that using an English dictionary regularly can be one of the best things you can do to improve your English. Indeed, I try to get students in my class to use their dictionaries for at least a few minutes every class. Only by looking up a word they don't know and seeing it in an example sentence can they increase the size of their English vocabulary.

My recommendation is the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary app. You can buy it from the iTunes store or Google Play depending on whether you want it for an Apple or Android phone. This dictionary is designed for learner's of English and has easy to understand definitions of thousands of English words (about 170,000). Importantly, it also has example sentences showing how a word is really used in a sentence. I have this app on my iPad and it is very easy to use.

I know that one reason students don't buy an English dictionary app for their phone is that these apps are quite expensive (this app costs 1,400 yen at the iTunes store). However, I'm sure that if you explain to your parents what the app is for, they will help you with the cost of buying it.

Just think how useful this will be. You take your phone everywhere with you. If you have the Cambridge Advanced Learner's dictionary app on your phone, then you will always have access to thousands of English words, definitions and example sentences. There will be no need to carry an electronic or paper dictionary to your reading or writing class anymore. Moreover, you will find that you begin to learn more and more English words. You will also become a more independent learner of English.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Elementary Podcasts

The British Council has lots of great resources to help you study English. In this post, I want to tell you about Elementary Podcasts, a series of podcasts that you can listen to on your computer or download to your MP3 player or phone.

Elementary Podcasts are short radio shows for learners of English. There are two regular presenters called Tess and Ravi, and each show has regular topics. As a general guide the different parts of the radio show are 1) chat between the presenters 2) someone talking about somebody or something they like 3) a quiz to help you learn the meaning of new words 4) a feature called 'Your Turn" where people give their opinions on something 5) Carolina - a feature following the story of a young woman who has come to live and study in the UK 6) a joke 7) Tom the teacher

So far, there are three series of Elementary Podcasts. Series 1 and Series 2 podcasts have 10 episodes and are 20-30 minutes long. Series 3 podcasts are only 10 minutes long but there are 20 episodes. Series 3 also has a slightly different format to the other series.

You can listen to the Elementary Podcasts at the British Council LearnEnglish website:

Or, even better, download the free LearnEnglish Elementary app to your mobile device. Go to the iTunes store if you have an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, and go to the Google Play store for the Android app. Once the app is on your mobile device, you can download all the podcasts and listen anytime you want.

The Elementary Podcasts are not particularly difficult for learners to listen to, although the speaking can be quite fast at times. However, if you find the podcasts a bit difficult, there are a few things you can do. If you have the app on your mobile device, you can read and follow the transcript of the radio show, although it is probably better to listen first and read later. You can also break down the listening experience and listen to the podcast bit by bit, or listen again to something you don't understand the first time. Also, for each podcast, there are some Exercises for you to do to check your comprehension. Once you have completed the Exercise, you can check your answers and get immediate feedback.

The British Council has lots of other English learning resources, but the Elementary Podcasts are a good place to start.

Monday, 18 February 2013

English Central

English Central is one of the best resources available for students on the Internet. It is a website that has created a special online learning environment with lots of videos and study features for learners. For example, as well as a wide choice of videos to watch, learners can see the transcript, do vocabulary exercises and even interact with the website through a voice recognition feature.

In many ways English Central is a bit like a special Youtube channel for learners of English. Click on the link to see a video introducing English Central:

The idea of English Central is that you immerse yourself in English content by watching short videos of speeches, film trailers, TV programmes, interviews, documentaries and so forth. The aim is that, by immersing yourself in videos while studying the associated vocabulary, you will improve and empower your knowledge of English by increasing the size of your vocabulary. At English Central, learning English means learning new vocabulary.

Because English Central has hundreds of free videos for you to watch, you can choose videos that interest you. You can watch and listen to a video as many times as you want and learn by studying the vocabulary. You can also speak English and practice your pronunciation with English Central's speech recognition technology.

To get an idea of the video watching experience that English Central can give you, click on the link to see a video about a Chinese-British woman's view on Britain and food:

You do not need to register to use English Central but registering does give you access to a few more feature, so it is probably a good idea. For example, once you have registered, you can select the videos you watch according to the English level you choose, such as TOEIC 500.

To go to the English Central website, click on the link:

Finally, a few more things you need to know about English Central. Some of the videos and some of the features are not available unless you pay a fee. For example, you can only speak 2 videos a month if you use the site for free and several video courses are not open unless you pay a monthly or annual fee. However, many videos are free to use and this should not stop from using English Central. My suggestion is that you try and watch at least three videos a week.

I have tried English Central with some of my English speaking and listening classes and they seemed to really like it. Let me know how you get on!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Listening at elllo

The ello website is one of my favourite resources for students. At elllo you can listen to native speakers of English speaking about a wide variety of topics, including travel, sports, family and the environment. It is a great place to listen to naturally spoken English.

Click here to go to elllo:

These are real conversations and speakers often use idiomatic language, so the website is most useful to intermediate and advanced level students.

When you go to the website, have a look at the topics listed, find one that interests you and click on it. You can listen while reading the audio script or while watching an audio slideshow. I suggest that you listen without looking at the audio script for a few times first and just focus on the main ideas in the conversation. You can look at the audio script later and also check any difficult vocabulary. Also,
after listening, you can check your understanding by taking a vocabulary and comprehension quiz.

If you want to try one listening at elllo to find out if you like it, click on the link below. A Vietnamese woman is asking an American man about his recent trip to Vietnam.

Listening is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your English.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

English Books for Intermediate/Advanced Level Students

Many intermediate/advanced level students would like the challenge and satisfaction of reading English novels written for native speakers of English but do not know where to start. Therefore, I have made a list of books that I think 1) you will enjoy 2) should not be too difficult to read. Most of the books could be best described as 'young adult literature' (12 -18 years old).

Of course, some books will be a bit challenging because you are reading books that are a little beyond your current linguistic competence. However, I have chosen books that other students have enjoyed and you will benefit from lots of English reading input.

Here is the list, including publisher and author:

Holes (Bloomsbury) - Louis Sachar

The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas Definitions) - John Boyne

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night (Vintage) - Mark Haddon

The Hunger Games (Scholastic) - Suzanne Collins

Twilight (Atom) - Stephenie Meyer

Northern Lights (Scholastic) - Philip Pullman

The Diary of a Young Girl (Puffin) - Anne Frank

The Graduate (Penguin) - Charles Webb

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Puffin) - Roald Dahl

Danny Champion of the World (Puffin) - Roald Dahl

I Know What You Did Last Summer (Atom) - Lois Duncan

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Simon & Schuster) - Stephen Chbosky

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Puffin) - Jeff Kinney

Mates, Dates and Sole Survivors (Piccadilly Press) - Cathy Hopkins

Crocodile Tears (Walker) - Anthony Horowitz

Survival (Red Fox) - Chris Ryan

Before you buy any of these books, it is a good idea to look at them at an online shop like Amazon. You can click on the book and read the first few pages to find out what it's like. This will help you to decide how interesting the book might be and how easy or difficult it might be for you to read.

I really hope that enjoy these books and please let me know how you get on.