Stuart Mill English

How to Learn, How to Teach English

Learn English–British Council

Website Review: Learn English—British Council

In Short: The best site on the internet for learning English. It’s multilevel. It’s really big. It’s really helpful.

First: Low-level, intermediate-level, and high-level students will all find great stuff.

Second: The site is really big. You can watch and listen. You can read and write. You can practice grammar. You can play games. You can make friends.

Third: The activities are helpful, interesting, and modern. The site is easy to use and looks great.

For Students: Here are three things you might really like on the site. For listening, Big City, Small World is great. Studying for the IELTS? Check out this section. Or, you might join the virtual community Second Life so you can speak and listen to real people in English all the time.

For Teachers: Send your students to the site and have them write their own reviews. Ask them to answer three questions: (1) What can you listen to on this site? Describe it. (2) Is this a good site? Why/Why not? (3) Would you recommend it to a friend? Why/Why not?

May 1, 2011 Posted by | Website Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teaching English British Council

Website Review: Teaching English

In short: The best site for English teachers on the internet. If you only have time to visit one site a day, this should be it. What do you need? Activities for you classroom? They got ‘em.  Training to make you a better teacher? Oh heck yeah. A worldwide community to bounce ideas off of, get help from, and have fun with. Si. Da. Nae. Hai. Tak. Yes. Yes. Yes.

For students: This site is mainly for teachers, but if your teacher isn’t using it, you might tell them about it. Also, check out their sister site for students:

For teachers: If you can’t find what you’re looking for, they also have links to tons of other sites. Oh, and make sure to like them on Facebook…

April 21, 2011 Posted by | Website Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Website Review:

In short: For $39-$129, you can access lot of good writing advice and have a teacher look at your stuff. You’ll definitely improve.

This site is half pay stuff, half free stuff. You can pay for writing courses. They look like they’re best for really advanced students, so some students might like a book that’s a little simpler. Still, the content seems strong. The Business Writing course looked especially good. You can also take these courses: “Essentials of Writing”, “Technical Writing”, “Research Essay Writing”, and “Resume Lab”. (The “Essentials of Writing” course would be best for lower level students.)

For free, you can listen to cool conversations with nice supporting materials. You can also check out daily vocabulary, idioms, and grammar points for free.

For students: Once you sign up for a writing course, you can access forums. If lots of people put stuff there, they’ll be great.

For teachers: Why not recommend this site to your students? Paying for a course, could be just the motivation they need to take their skills to the next level.

April 15, 2011 Posted by | Website Reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments

No Plan. No Problem.

No plan. No problem.

Teachers: What would you do if you got to your classroom and realized that you’d forgotten all of your materials? How about if a colleague gets sick and you have to step in without a plan? Or imagine you start teaching and realize two minutes in that everyone already knows everything you were going to teach that day.

It happens and it’s good to be prepared. Here are five ideas for teaching a lesson without materials. Do you have any more ideas? It’d be great to read them in the comments.

BreakingNewsEnglish If you’re the really prepared type (or want to be), go to Choose two lessons that look good, print them off and make some copies. When your bad day happens, you can just whip them out and go like it was your plan all along.

Vocab Review Celebrity” requires no prep, is very educational, and super fun to boot.

Moving Lines After having students come up with some questions on a theme, put them in two lines. Have them ask all their questions and then slide half the students down one spot and repeat the questions again, and again, and again. (For a fuller description, go here.)

Dialogues Tried and true. Write dialogues on a theme, review them in pairs, edit them, write them again, and present them to the class.

Descriptive Essays Or, set them to writing essays. Choose a big theme like “Your Friends” or “Your Hometown” or “Vacation Spots”. Have them describe things in detail: a paragraph on each friend, all the places they go in their hometowns, each vacation they’ve taken. The more details you ask for, the bigger the topic, the longer it’ll go on. Done right, work on descriptive essays can last years.

September 10, 2010 Posted by | Teaching Strategies | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Thoughts on Correcting for Style

Some Thoughts on Correcting for Style

When correcting essays, a teacher will often see something that is technically correct, but which sounds wrong. Here’s an example:

If I have children, I will give building blocks to develop their ability or creative thinking like the Loge.

A thorough correction of this sentence might look like this:

If I have children, I will give them building blocks, like Legos, to develop various abilities and creative thinking.

But does the student need all that? Other than the spelling “Loge” instead of “Legos”, there is nothing strictly wrong about the sentence.

Yes, the student should know that after give, we usually put an object pronoun. Yes, we normally specify which ability or indicate that we’re being non-specific.  “Or” makes it sound like there’s a choice rather than both being developed. And if you’re going to give an example of something, you should probably put it right after the thing.

But look at that previous paragraph. “We usually…we normally…you should probably.”

So, what to correct? As in last week’s post, it depends. Level certainly matters, though. A student who’s working on mastering the present simple can be forgiven if they don’t write like Shakespeare (or even Nicholas Sparks). That is, spare them style suggestions.

Level matters because you don’t want to bog the student down studying the wrong things.

On that same note, the objectives of the class and the student matter. Was the point of the essay to practice the present real (first) conditional? Then A+ to the student for writing a proper sentence and stretching themselves to do a little more than what was needed.

Finally, will there be an opportunity to reinforce the style suggestions? Will you be teaching object pronouns later on in the term? Then, definitely correct it.

What do you think? Comments are most welcome.

September 3, 2010 Posted by | Teaching Strategies | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking about Essays

Thinking about Essays

For teachers of writing, correcting essays presents problems. First, there are so many. Second, how can you get students to remember those corrections?

Jason Renshaw argues on English Raven that students expect too many corrections. More than that, they don’t get much out of the corrections. He does an experiment where he asks students a week later to remember any of the corrections he’d made. The students do a terrible job. Jason’s test might be a little unfair, but the idea is that if a student sees a paper full of red marks, they don’t look at anything. On the other hand, if they have just a few red marks, they examine them more closely.

Is this true? Maybe. A good study would be useful, but here are some important variables:

  • How many essays will they write and how often will they write? If they write more essays and have everything corrected every time, then the simple errors will decrease.
  • How motivated are the students? If they’re pouring over their essays, rewriting all the mistakes, etc., more corrections should help them more.
  • What is their level? Are the corrections teaching them new things or just reviewing old material? If a student makes a mistake with the Cauasative Have at lower-intermediate level, you don’t want them spending their time learning it. There are bigger fish to fry.
  • What are the students’ goals? Do they just want to be able to communicate or is style important to their future writing?

Anyway, from a serious student’s perspective, all their mistakes are at least interesting. And the important mistakes might surprise teachers. Sometimes a student has struggled over a sentence, but the teacher doesn’t realize it. If you don’t let them know where their mistakes are, they may never know if they were successful with a particular sentence.

On the other hand, students need to understand the time constraints teachers have. If you don’t have the time to give each essay detailed corrections, then you don’t have the time. There’s no changing it.

The Stuart Mill English business corrects all the mistakes and then we note key mistakes. For the busy teacher, maybe a better strategy would be to simply underline all the mistakes (so that your students know that you know) and then to add three key mistakes at the end of the essay. You could explain those errors—why they are wrong, the grammar principle behind them, and suggestions for practice. If the student wants more work, suggest that they rewrite the essay and try to find a way to rewrite anything that was underlined.

One last point: one of the keys to learning is repetition. If a student spends two minutes with their essay, one correction or fifty won’t matter. Follow-up exercises are more important than anything else.

August 27, 2010 Posted by | Teaching Strategies | , , , , | 1 Comment

Post Writing Exercises

Post Writing Exercises

OK, so you’ve corrected the essays, now what? In many ways the hard part is over. You and your student have something to work with—a personalized tool to help the student improve. The goal now is to reinforce those corrections. Here are some ways you might do that.

Rewrite For the next class, ask the student to rewrite their essay.

Rewrite (No Looking) For the class after that, ask the student to rewrite their essay without looking at the first one.

Sharing is Good Rather than peer editing, how about peer bragging? Partner up the students and tell them to choose a couple sentences from their essays that were difficult for them to write, explain how they wrote them, and why they’re correct.

Peer Editing But let’s not forget this tried and true method. Give the students a rubric and that will help them correct each other’s essays.

Use Those Mistakes Choose three key mistakes in the essay. Now, give a new topic and have them include sentences that practice the structures they had trouble with. Did they write “I have eaten there yesterday”? Tell them to include present perfect sentences in the next essay.

Use Those Corrections Again, target three key mistakes. Have students copy the corrected versions of those sentences. Then, give them a new topic, but tell them they need to use those same three sentences in the new essay. For instance, if they wrote “I have eaten there yesterday” and you corrected it to “I ate there yesterday”, their next essay should include the sentence “I ate there yesterday.”

Grammar Games Sites like,, and seemingly have practice exercises for everything. Do a bit of a web search and you’ll be able to direct your students to some sites where they can practice the stuff that troubled them in their essay.

Pair Students Up If a student makes an error with, say, the passive voice. Look for a student who wrote good passive voice sentences. Match them up and have them write an essay together. Students are often better at explaining things to each other than you are.

Straight Memorization Students rarely memorize full sentences, but they should. Full sentences are just as important to memorize as vocabulary. Highlight some of the corrected sentences from their essays and make them memorize them. Then, give them a quiz later.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | Teaching Strategies | , , , | 1 Comment

Fun Dialogue Activity

Fun Dialogue Activity

An easy way to make writing dialogues fun and memorable for your ESL students.

The most common way to teach material in an English class goes like this.

  1. Explain the new stuff.
  2. Easy practice with the new stuff.
  3. Free practice with the new stuff.

Easy Practice is stuff like fill-in-the-blank or matching exercises. It’s simple. Even students with a shaky understanding of the material should be able to succeed.

Free practice is harder. The students practice using the material in a way that mimics how they might use it in the real world. This is a very important stage to reach. If all they’ve ever done is fill-in-the-blank worksheets, they’re not going to succeed on the mean streets.

One of the best, and most popular, ways to do free practice is by having the students write dialogues.

Here’s a way to spice up dialogue creation. They’ll be useful, personal, memorable, and funny.

First, ask the students for two celebrities. Then, ask them for a city, a place in that city, a season, the time of day, and why the two celebrities are meeting. You should end up with something like this on your board:

Lady Gaga and Barack Obama


A restaurant



To tell a secret

Now, the students should write the dialogue. In it, they should use the grammar or vocabulary you’ve been working on in class. (For example: “Use the Present Perfect five times.” or “Use the 10 new vocabulary words in your dialogue.”) Guaranteed great learning.

July 23, 2010 Posted by | Teaching Strategies | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments