Monday, September 1, 2008

Phrasal Verbs

Last week, the Canadian Academic Success School's Sunday Seminar was on phrasal verbs.

Here's an activity using phrasal verbs for the classroom. Give each student a copy of the following:

Find someone who:

1. _______________ resembles his/her mother.

2. _______________ checked his/her homework carefully.

3. _______________ tolerates the cold weather in Toronto.

4. _______________ borrowed a book from a library.

5. _______________ put something in the garbage.

6. _______________ didn’t come to class last time.

7. _______________ exited a bus at school today.

8. _______________ has the same name as

......his/her grandmother/father.

9. _______________ has shown a classmate a mistake in

......his/her homework.

10._______________ has finished this exercise.

Now, restate your answers using the phrasal verbs below:

check out
get off
get through
go over
name after
point out
put up with
show up
take after
throw away

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Math Memory Game

Preparation: On 3x5 inch index cards, write out 12 or 16 equations appropriate to the level of study. Each equation should be different, but pairs should have the same solution (eg. 4+8 / 15–3).

To Play: Place the cards face down in rows of four. Take turns turning up two cards at time and reading the equations aloud. If the solutions to the equations on the two cards are equal, the player keeps them and takes a second turn. If they do not match, the cards are replaced face down in the same position and the next player takes a turn. Don’t tell the players if they have a match. It is important that the players recognize matches themselves. Play until all the cards are matched. The player with the most pairs wins.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How To Help Failing Students

This advice is directed at teachers, but it is also useful to tutors and parents.

Identify problems as early as possible. In the first week of class, assess all students’ needs through testing, in class writing, and interviews.

Meet privately to discuss problems with students. Show the students the problems you have found in their work. Then, let students tell you what they think their problems are, why they have those problems, and what they think should be done to solve the problems. If they deny there is a problem, be firm and go through their work with them to provide specific evidence for your concern. Students must recognize their problems before they can be fixed.

Listen to what students tell you. You can learn a lot about students’ problems simply by listening attentively and paying close attention to body language. Your assessments may have only revealed the symptoms of their problems, but not source of the problems. Show the student that you are interested, and be open and honest with them.

Work with students to create a plan of action. Help students to determine the best starting point, and to set goals you both agree are realistic. Then, work together to plan reasonable steps to reach those goals. It’s important that students think of this as their goals and their plans. Later, you can use these plans to remind students of what they said they wanted to achieve and offer support and encouragement through each of the steps.

Become a resource for students. Make yourself available for additional instruction and provide extra material at an appropriate level for each student’s needs. Offer to locate other resources such as tutoring ( or community services which can help the students.

Vary your approach in class to accommodate all learning styles. This is something that all the students in your class will benefit from. Because each student takes in information differently, a varied teaching style will allow different groups of students to display their strengths at different times. However, don’t tailor your classes for those weaker students at the expense of the stronger learners.

Offer encouragement. Meet with students before major tests or assignments to listen to their concerns and help them develop a positive attitude. Even when students do poorly, stress the areas where they have improved and help them to learn from their mistakes. Try not to pass students for effort, though, as that will not give them a realistic understanding of their results.

Don’t take your students failures personally. Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, a student will still not improve. Don’t blame yourself; in the end, students are responsible for their own successes and failures. Console yourself by saying that you did everything that you could.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tips for Writing Opinion Essays

Like a hamburger, an essay has several layers. Divide the essay into sections and develop each section separately over time.
    The Introductory Paragraph
    • The opening paragraph not only introduces the topic, but shows where you are going with it (the thesis). If you do a good job in the opening, you will draw your reader in. Just like in everything else, first impressions are key to winning someone over

    • Write in the active voice rather than passive voice because it will make your essay much more powerful. Also, unless you are writing a personal narrative, avoid using the pronoun "I."

    • Write more than one thesis. Even if you think your first idea is brilliant, try to come up with at least 2 more theses. You may surprise yourself with an even better idea.

    • Vary your sentence structure and vocabulary. Try to avoid the same sentence pattern--especially SVO--and review your writing to make sure you're not using the same expressions over and over. This is something that you will carry through the whole essay.

    • Plan your essay before you start. Make sure you are using the best supporting ideas and have a reason for putting them in the order you will use. An unplanned essay will always present an ineffective argument.
    Supporting Paragraphs
    • Each paragraph is like a mini-essay in of itself. Make sure each paragraph has a clear topic sentence that is obviously connected to your thesis, supporting details that are clearly related to the topic sentence, and a poweful final statement that closes the argument.

    • Use transitions to show the relationship of each paragraph to the one that came before it. Each paragraph has to flow, one to the next. It's not enough to just have a plan, but you must tell the readers what your plan is throughout the essay. The transition can be included in the topic sentence.

    • Use specific support. The best arguments are the ones that the readers not only can understand, but can see. Answer Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? for each supporting detail.
    The Concluding Paragraph
    • Many essay writers torpedo a good argument with a weak concluding paragraph. This is the second most important paragraph after the introduction because it will create the impression the reader will take away from the essay. Write the conclusion carefully.

    • Restate the thesis with originality. Do not simply copy it.

    • Summarize your argument with authority. The reader should have no doubt about your position or conclusion of logic.

    • Leave the reader with a powerful thought-provoking last thought. You want the reader to finish the essay thinking, "That was good!"

    Edit and Revise

    • Review individual sentences for spelling, grammar, and consistency. Use the spelling and grammar check in your word processing program. Avoid repetition of sentence structures and phrases.

    • Reanalyse your argument. Make sure the ideas flow logically and there are no gaps or repetitions.

    • Ask a knowledgeable friend to review and comment on your essay, and to repeat back what the essay says. You may be surprised.

    Tuesday, July 29, 2008

    BizLaunch Posting

    I should have posted this sooner, but better late than never. Please check out the article about the Canadian Academic Success School on the BizLaunch blog:

    Monday, July 28, 2008

    Pronunciation: /ur/

    For some people, the pronunciation of /ur/ can be murder.

    Rhyming Words
    Yearn Learn Burn Turn Earn Fern
    Hurt Assert Desert Alert Skirt
    Word Heard Bird Third Spurred
    Search Besmirch Lurch Church Birch
    Pearl Whirl Unfurl
    Germ Worm Term Squirm
    Were Fur Sir Cur
    First Thirst Worst Burst
    Worth Girth Mirth Berth

    Minimal Pairs
    Yarn Yearn
    Part Pert
    Carl Curl
    Farm Firm
    Far Fur
    Garth Girth
    Heart Hurt
    Parch Perch
    Par Per
    Sparred Spurred
    Cart Curt
    Star Stir

    Nouns Ending With “er”
    Change the following verbs to nouns by adding /ur/

    Say the comparative form of the following adjectives

    Circle the word that you hear
    1. Bird Bard
    2. Car Cur
    3. Further Farther
    4. Lurch Larch
    5. Barn Burn
    6. Curt Cart
    7. Hard Heard
    8. Fur Far

    Listening Script

    I saw a bard in the garden.
    There is a cur in the driveway.
    I went a little further.
    My son is in a larch.
    That’s a very big burn.
    We talked to the cart salesman.
    The answers to the test questions were heard.
    The jacket is far.

    Tuesday, July 15, 2008

    English Circle

    The English Circle is an informal group of non-native English speakers who meet every Tuesday evening from 7 PM to 9 PM at the Canadian Academic Success School, 5308A Yonge Street. We discuss current events in the news with an ESL instructor who has 22 years of high-school & community college ESL teaching experience.

    Every week, I browse the internet for articles that can be used as an introduction to a topic for conversation. The articles need to be short, because we want to spend most of our time discussing them and not reading them. They also need to be fairly easy because we get people with a wide range of English levels at each meeting.

    Once I've chosen three or four articles, I go through them highlighting vocabulary I think might be unknown to some of our attendees. I also look for a grammatical item to explain, and underline all the examples of it.

    During the meeting, each of the attendees takes turns reading sections of the articles while I correct pronunciation. We then explain all the highlighted vocabulary and any other words or phrases people ask about. After that, we discuss the topic of the article. Finally, before moving to the next article, I do a brief lesson on the grammatical item.

    In tonight's meeting, we will be discussing articles dealing with where people's names came from, unusual fashion, friends with bad habits, and stupid criminals.

    For example, here is the article on names, which I took from the City TV News website. Unfortunately, I can't highlight the vocabulary or underline the grammar here, so I've changed the text colour of the vocabulary to blue, and the grammar to purple:

    Man Offers Naming Rights For His First Born Son For Free Gas
    Monday July 14, 2008 Staff

    Many people are proud of the stories behind their names. Some have been named after an interesting relative, literary figure or a word with special significance in another language.

    One Florida boy may not be so keen on sharing the tale behind his name when he grows up.

    David Partin
    agreed to name his unborn son after two morning radio show hosts to get some free gas.

    The radio hosts offered a gasoline
    gift card to a listener with the most interesting offer to trade. Partin called in and agreed to name his child after the radio personalities Richard Dixon and J. Willoughby. The child's full first name will be Dixon and Willoughby - yes, the "and" is included.

    The baby is
    due this winter.

    Dixon and Willoughby - the radio hosts - said they'll
    hand over the voucher for free gas when they see the birth certificate.

    Perhaps Partin and his expectant girlfriend could try this stunt if they plan to have a second child. Pampers Partin has a nice ring to it.
    Naming Rights = the ability to give a name to something (or somebody). We usually use this phrase when the rights are bought or traded. (eg. Rogers Centre)
    behind = in this case, behind means the reason for (eg. Money is behind all my problems.)
    named after = the source of a name (eg. I am named after my grandfather.)
    literary figure = a character from a famous book or a famous writer (eg. Romeo, or Shakespeare)

    significance = importance
    be so keen on = to really like or enjoy something (eg. I'm keen on sports.)
    gift card = a card which that lets the user buy things or services up to the set value of the card. For example, if I go to Future Shop and buy a $50 card which I give to my son, he can buy $50 worth of things at Future Shop.
    personalities = people who are very good at something (eg. Tiger Woods is a famous golf personality.)
    due = expected to arrive. We also use this to describe when the mother is expected to have the baby. (eg. She is due in July / When are you due?)
    hand over = to give up possession of something (eg. The police officer told the drunk driver to hand over his keys.)
    voucher = a written, official promise, often for cash or goods. In this case it means the gift card.

    birth certificate = An official record of the date and place a person was born. In Canada, it is made by the province after the hospital where the baby was born sends them the information.
    expectant = pregnant / going to have a baby
    stunt = something that is done to attract attention
    Pampers = a brand of diapers (underwear for babies)
    has a nice ring to it = sounds interesting or attractive (like the sound of a bell)

    Infinitive: “To + Basic Verb”
    The infinitive is often used like a noun, usually as the object of a verb. Eg. I decided to go. / I want to go.
    However, some verbs use a gerund (verb + "ing") as an object (eg. I enjoy swimming.); so you have to memorize which verbs take infinitives and which take gerunds.

    Infinitives can also be used as the subject of sentences, but that sounds old fashioned today, as in Shakespeare's "To be or not to be, that is the question." Nowadays, we usually use a gerund as a subject (eg. Studying is the most important thing.) Infinitives are more common as subject complements (eg. The most important thing is to study / It is important to study.)

    Another use of infinitives is to explain the purpose of an action. (Notice the use of the infinitive as a subject complement in that sentence.) If I want to explain why I went to the bank, I can say, "I went to the bank to withdraw some money." This is really a shortened form of the more formal "in order to." (eg. I went to the bank in order to withdraw some money.)

    You can get more information on infinitives here:

    Friday, July 11, 2008

    Another Scam

    As an update to my last post, there is another scam targeting ESL teachers. This one is an invitation to teach a foreign worker and/or his family in Nigeria. They usually offer a very generous compensation and offer to pay all your expenses. However, once you agree to accept the job, you'll have to send money to process your visa and other documents. And, of course, there is no job.

    Here is an invitation I received through my Meetup page ( from a "German engineer" named Gary Braun (

    Meetup Message from garybraun: me is want you come and teach me family
    Hello teacher me name is Engr.Gary Braun me is from Berlin Germany and me is work as Engineer at Bell Oil and Gas Ltd in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria,
    me is currently seeking for a good qualified English teacher with Three to five year experience that will come and teach me son and me wife goodenglish here in Port-Harcourt,Nigeria.
    me is Already go through you CV and me is like it so me is want to know if you is interested to come and teach me son and wife.
    especially me wife she need to start work here and me son need to teach well so that he will be able to communicate with people around here.
    me is like you to come september and teach me wife and son.
    me is offer you $6,500 Six thousand five hundred united states dollars per month.
    me is offer you $700 Seven hundred united states dollars per month for you vacation fee and $500 Five hundred united states dollars] for health fee.
    me is rent you a good appartment where you is stay when you is come.
    me is sponsor you visa fees and flight ticket so if you is interested you can send me you resume so that me is see and go through it ok.
    Email me - Phone no - +2348053537074
    Thanks and God bless.Engr.Braun

    Monday, July 7, 2008


    This has been written about on many sites before, but the fact that it’s still going on shows that some people haven’t heard about it yet. What made me decide to write about it today is that I received 3 of these bogus offers on Sunday alone. I’m hoping once people stop falling for it, the e-mails will stop, and I won’t have to keep deleting them.

    If you advertise tutoring or some other kind of lesson on internet sites such as Craigslist ( or Kijiji (, sooner or later you will get a poorly written e-mail from someone overseas asking for a large block of lessons. The person will claim their son or daughter is coming to visit your area and the parent wants lessons everyday or 2-4 times a week for the child for the length of the stay, usually a month.

    If you reply—and you shouldn’t, especially after reading this—the parent will offer to send you the whole amount as a cashier’s cheque before the lessons are to begin.

    This is where things go off. They will send you a cheque, but it will be for far too much, or you will receive more than one cheque for the same amount. The parent will then explain that this was a mistake and ask for the overpayment back. (Sometimes they will send you the correct amount, but they'll ask for a refund because the child's trip has to be cancelled due to a tragedy in the family.)

    The problem is, even though the bank will deposit the money into your account, it can actually take as long as a month for a cashier’s cheque to clear—and of course the cashier’s cheque the parent has sent you will never clear, because it’s a fake. So, if you have sent any money back, that’s now coming out of your pocket, because the bank will withdraw the amount on the cheque from your account once they discover that the cheque is bogus. Not only that, but the bank is obliged to call the police to inform them that you have tried to cash a counterfeit cheque. Luckily, the police are well-aware of this scam—too bad you weren’t!

    These e-mails are easy to recognize. Here are the three I received yesterday. Two of them are the same word for word as e-mails I’ve received within the past couple of weeks:

    From "Kenny love" yesterday, and "Frank Umar" on July 1 (although the reply e-mail address is the same for both):
    Hello, i will like you to know that i am very much interested in your lesson for my son which he will be attending twice a week (Monday and Thursday) (9am-12pm)and i will like you to get back to with the total cost of the lesson for one month at your time schedule. please respond to thanks and God bless you.
    (Note: Before I had finished composing this blog entry, I received the e-mail above again—minus the reply e-mail address—from "Ramson Scott"

    From "Juliet Nunu" yesterday and "Monica Cynthia Chris" on June 27 (although Monica/Chris claims to live in the United Kingdom and have a son named Eric,14):
    Hello and How are you?. I am from Germany,my Daughter will be coming
    for an holiday in the Canada,and i want her to be busy throughout..
    Therefore, i just want to know maybe she can always come to you and teach
    her great things to know i life all aspect on every afternoon. If this
    is possible,i will want you to get back to me with the cost of your
    teaching for the MONTH...She will be coming to your house for 1 hour each
    afternoon, I have someone that will always drive her down to your
    house.. her name is Lisa ,she is 23 years old. I will want you to calculate
    1 hour per day for Monday,Wednesday,Friday for the whole 1 MONTH,and
    get back to me so that we can arrange on payment. Kindly get back to me
    don't hesitate to e-mail with your total charges.
    Thanks and waiting to read from you.
    Ms. Juliet Nunu

    And finally, this one from "terry smith" (who has a different name from his e-mail--although his son's first name is the same as his e-mail last name--and is unaware that Canada is not part of the United States):

    Hey, I am Mr Dalihu.An external Auditor,i will like you to start teaching 2 of my kids for 2 hours aday or 2 to 3 times a week.also my son Name is Smith,15 years and my daughter becky is 13 years.they both live in califonai.I really want to keep them busy cos i will be going for am external auditing outside the state.All about their accomodation in your state wil be provided by me.I will like to know the total cost for 2 months if you take them for 2 hours perday. Kindly get back to me with your full name,address and your phone # so that i can make the payment.My RegardsDalihu

    Apparently, this same scam is also used on people selling things on the internet. You can read more about it here:'s_check.htm

    Friday, July 4, 2008

    English Time Tenses

    Last night while I was teaching at Seneca College, one of my students did a presentation on how she met her husband. It was a very interesting story, but at times it was hard to follow because of problems with her English. One of the most common mistakes she made was using present tense to describe something that happened 10 years ago. For example, she said, "We meet or call each other everyday before we were married."

    At the end of the class I suggested she attend the workshop on time tenses the Canadian Academic Success School is holding this Sunday evening. Here's a sample of what we'll be doing:


    Simple Past
    Completed Action: We visted the museum yesterday.
    2. Completed Condition: The weather was rainy last week.

    Past Progressive
    1. Past Action that took place over a period of time:
    They were climbing for twenty-seven days.
    2. Past Action interrupted by another: I was sleeping when the telephone rang.
    3. Past Background Action: We were eating dinner when she told me.

    1. Plans:
    I'm going to see a movie tomorrow.
    2. Predictions: It’s going to rain. / It will rain.
    3. Promises/Assurances: We’ll be fine.
    4. Immediate Future: I’ll answer the phone.
    Note: Modals are also used to express future situations: I can/may/should/must leave soon.

    Future Progressive
    1. Future Action over a period of time:
    I’ll be working on the report tomorrow night.
    2. Future Action at a specific time: We’ll be camping on August 11.

    Present Perfect
    1. From the Past to the Present:
    He has lived here for many years.
    2. Experiences: Have you ever been to Tokyo before?
    3. To describe a Past Action leading to a Present State: I’ve finished all my homework.

    Present Perfect Progressive
    1. To express duration of an action that began in the Past, has continued into the Present, and may continue into the Future:
    David has been working for two hours, and he hasn't finished yet.

    Past Perfect
    1. A Past Action or Condition completed before another Past Time:
    When I arrived home, he had already called.

    Past Perfect Progressive
    1. To express a Past Action
    which continued until a specified time in the Past: By the time she arrived, I had been waiting for over 20 minutes.

    Future Perfect
    1. Action that will be completed by or before a specified time in the future:
    By next month we will have finished this job.

    Future Perfect Progressive
    1. To express duration of an action until a specified time in the Future:
    By the time I retire, I will have been working for over 50 years.

    Match the Main Clauses with the Times listed below:

    1. I was sleeping
    2. I’ll be working on the report
    3. We’ll have solved the problem
    4. I’m working for a bank
    5. I’ve been studying English
    6. I’d been saving money for years
    7. I went to Montreal
    8. I’ll have been working for nearly 50 years
    9. I will return your book
    10.I’ve been to Niagara Falls twice
    11.I’m going to run my own business
    12.Everyone had already left
    13.I go to work

    A. everyday
    B. at the moment
    C. last weekend
    D. when he called
    E. one day
    F. tomorrow
    G. tonight
    H. so far
    I. since I came to Canada
    J. by the time he finished
    K. when I came to Canada
    L. by the time he notices
    M. when I retire

    Of course, when we do this exercise in the workshop, I'll have each clause and each time printed on a separate slip of paper. These slips will be distributed among the participants, who will have to find the matching Clause/Time. Then, when we discuss each tense, the matched sentences will become another example for discussion.

    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    Tutoring Lessons

    Yesterday at 3 o'clock I had an appointment with a parent about lessons for his daughter. At 4 o'clock he called to say he would be at my office at 4:30. He finally showed up at 5. We talked about the school and his daugter's problems with math for about 40 minutes, before he finally decided that he would have to think about it.

    Now it was nearly 6 o'clock and I had to rush home, shave, shower, and change so that I could rush back to my office to set up for the ESL in North York meeting at 7. All because of a 3 o'clock appointment.... (Of course, the subway was shut down from Bloor to Eglinton, causing everyone to come late, but I didn't know that at the time.)

    This reminded me of Dont Answer. He was a gentleman who contacted me last March, asking for help with his English. He made appointment after appointment to come to my office to see me, not showing up each time until he finally appeared 2 hours late on the 5th occasion. Despite the fact I was in class at the time, I spent over half an hour to make arrangements for him to come in on Monday evenings for private English lessons. (You can probably guess where this is heading.)

    Sure enough, the next Monday night he didn't show up for his first scheduled class. I called him that night and the next morning, but there was no answer. I chalked it up to a lesson learned: When someone is in the office and books a class, get the payment right away. Then, if they miss the first class I'll still get paid for my preparation & time.

    But I hadn't heard the last of Dont Answer. Around 11 o'clock the following Sunday night he called to say he was coming to the lesson the next day. I asked him why he had missed the first lesson, & he told me he'd had "something to do." Once again, I was very accomodating, and told him I expected full payment for the next month of classes before the start of the lesson and that if he couldn't make it, to please call me.

    "Yes, yes, yes," he said, but the next day was an exact repeat of the previous Monday. So, it was with some surprise, that I received a call from him the next Sunday telling me he still wanted lessons. At this point, I'd had enough, and told him as politely as possible, that I wouldn't be able to give him lessons. He seemed unusually upset, but thought I finally got him to understand.

    Until he called the next day and offered to pay for the next 2 months of classes. I told him no, and that's when the phone calls began. No matter what I told him, he called several times every day. He was like an obsessed jilted lover. After a few days, I saved his contact name as "Dont Answer." He continued to call for over 2 months.

    And I learned that sometimes it's better to turn down a customer, than try to help them.

    Welcome To Our Blog

    Hi, Everyone!

    We're going to use this blog to keep you updated on events at the Canadian Academic Success School, and to supply you with some exercises and activities we've prepared for our various classes.

    Tonight at 5308A Yonge Street, we're hosting our monthly ESL in North York Meeting (Get more information here: The topic for tonight's meeting is Idioms.

    These monthly meetings are free, but of course we're hoping that some of the attendees will eventually take classes with us, or refer us to someone they know who is looking for classes.

    So, with that in mind, I thought I'd post an exercise I've used on sales & marketing idioms:

    Look at the idioms in the following sentences:

    1. Valerie tried to drum up business for the restaurant by mailing flyers and distributing menus.
    2. The pizza restaurant generated a lot of buzz for its new teriyaki beef pizza by giving away free samples to people on the street.
    3. He was giving us the hard sell. He almost forced us to sign the contract.
    4. Many authors plug their latest books by making guest appearances on TV talk shows.
    5. Because the children's toys were selling like hotcakes, the company was unable to keep up with orders.
    6. We decided to strike while the iron was hot and began to market the sportswear in time for the Beijing Olympics.
    Now try to match the idioms with their meaning from the list below:
    A. cause people to start talking about a product in a way that increases sales
    B. promote a product
    C. take advantage of an opportunity
    D. pressuring a customer to buy
    E. find new customers
    F. sell very quickly

    Circle the idiom which works best in the following sentences:

    Exclusive contests for your online community will ____________ and excitement.
    a) strike while the iron is hot
    b) generate buzz
    c) give the hard sell

    During the power outage, candles ____________.
    a) drummed up business
    b) sold like hot cakes
    c) gave the hard sell

    The big advertisement in today`s newspaper should ____________.
    a) drum up business
    b) sell like hotcakes
    c) plug

    As soon as he heard about the opening, he decided to ____________ and quickly applied for the job.
    a) strike while the iron was hot
    b) generate buzz
    c) drum up business

    American Express paid David Beckham a lot of money to ____________ their credit cards.
    a) give the hard sell for
    b) drum up business for
    c) plug

    All I did was ask for a price list and a salesman started ____________.
    a) drumming up business
    b) generating buzz
    c) giving me the hard sell