Describing graphs

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My students will have to write about visual information in their end of year exam and that is the reason for today’s post. I am always looking for good pages online which can help students write about graphs and tables and although I have mentioned this one before I’m pretty sure my students won’t know about it.  We did some writing practice in class recently and the main thing I noticed about my students’ writing was that many of them were confusing NOUNS and VERBS. I wrote this on the board:

       Using a VERB as the main word        Using a NOUN as the main word
The rate of inflation increased quickly in 2008. There was a big increase in inflation in 2008.
The rate of inflation slowed in 2009. There was a dramatic slowdown in inflation in 2009.

 If you use these basic sentence patterns you can’t go far wrong. If you can put two short simple sentences together using a connecting word to make a longer sentences in which you use both patterns then you get something like this:

The rate of inflation increased quickly in 2008 but there was a dramatic slowdown in 2009.

which will get you a very good mark!

You need to practice phrases like ‘a dramatic increase’. There are lots of these with illustrations on this page from the Higher Colleges of Technology. This brings back happy memories because I spent a few years working at HCT in the United Arab Emirates and had a great time there. Improve your graph language with their page here.

A Welcome Message from the Principle

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Oops! I am delighted to be sharing my daughter’s excitement as she prepares to head off to university. She has been getting lots of things through the post, including A Welcome Message from the Principle of her college. Principle?? My children say that I am pedantic when it comes to punctuation and spelling but even I was surprised to see a spelling mistakes in the first line  of her university booklet! Words like ‘principal’ and ‘principle’ are a nightmare for British students as well as international students and of course things like spellcheckers may not pick them up. But there are some simple spelling rules that you can use to help you in your spelling on a day to day basis.  I have always found sayings like: ‘i before e except after c’  very useful (so you know how to spell ‘believe’ and ‘receive’). And I learnt whole sentences as a child to remember difficult spellings: Big Elephants Are Ugly Take It From Uncle Len (beautiful!). I’ve found a handy little spelling guide with seven useful rules on it fitting nicely onto one side of an A4 page. Print it out and put it over your desk! Teachers – print it onto an A3 sheet and stick on it your classroom wall. The Cambridge Vocabulary for IELTS by Pauline Cullen Spelling Rules is here.


Writing essays in exams – practice before the exam!

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Many university students will be starting to prepare for examinations that are looming after Easter. Last week I got my students to do a practice exam in which they had to sit and write for two hours, as they will have to do in the real exam. I nearly didn’t do this exam practice because I thought it might be a waste of class time. I thought the students could just do it at home as homework and give it to me to mark…but then when I said this to my colleague, she said “But if you don’t do it in class, they won’t do it!” and I realised she was right. Afterwards I was pleased that I had given my students the practice exam. There are some really useful things that I can tell them to think about when they do their real exam and now they know what the real thing will be like. Your teacher may not give you a practice exam in which case you’ll have to give yourself one. But I am convinced that doing one or two practice exams will be beneficial to you. I’ll be saying more about writing essays in exams soon (and getting my students to read the posts!) and meanwhile I’d like to recommend this page of advice from Melbourne University here.

Linking words

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Spring came to Devon in England today! The good weather and longer days means that it is time for students at our university to look ahead and think that in a couple of months they will be taking their exams and often that means writing essays. For this reason I am going to spend a few weeks thinking about essay writing and what is it that makes a good essay.

Here’s an example of a short text with linking words used well:

“An essay comparing and contrasting University education in the USA and Australia

The Western style of education has gained popularity over the last decade. Many foreign students come to countries like Australia and the USA to study at university and improve their employment prospects. In this essay I will briefly compare and contrast these two countries in terms of their appeal to foreign students.
There are many similarities between the two countries. Firstly, they both have a very multicultural population so it is possible to enjoy food from your own country when homesickness arises. Also, as they are both large countries it is possible to find an institution in an area with a climate that suits you. Another similarity is that their tertiary institutions have a reputation of quality and excellence in academia.
On the other hand, there are some appreciable differences. The main one is that education in the USA is much more expensive than in Australia. However, many students think that it is worth paying the extra money as some American universities have a world-wide reputation. Furthermore, as the USA has a much larger population there are a wider range of institutions to choose from and naturally, a wider range of courses.
To sum up, America offers more choice and a more acknowledged reputation, but at a higher cost. Australia offers similar quality but is cheaper if you can find the course that you want.”


Good, isn’t it? One of the reasons it is good is the linking words it uses: Firstly, Also, Another similarity is that, On the other hand, Furthermore…

You can improve your mastery of linking words consciously and subconsciously. You should do some exercises which focus on these words and you should read as much as you can in English to see how these words behave in their ‘natural habitat’!

Further reading and exercises: from RMIT University in Australia here.