Monday, September 30, 2013


My friend and fellow teacher Füsun Savcı has discovered a wonderful site for listening practice which is unlike anything we have seen before:


We all know that rookies, in other words those who are new to the business world or those who are doing internships have a tough time but what is meant by tough? Does it mean these unfortunate individuals do a little over time and are landed with grunt work or torture and death? Read the text below and write a response or reaction essay:

A reminder: a response or reaction essay is based on a text that excites strong emotion and is composed of four paragraphs the first of which is the introduction, the second of which is the summary of the text, the third of which is your reaction and the last of which is the conclusion.


My friend and fellow teacher Oya Özağaç has discovered a wonderful text to exploit while teaching passives and process descriptions: "The Surprising History of the Pencil; What Medieval History Has to Do with the Atomic Structure of Carbon" by Maria Popova. The little text is rivetting; i.e., has a most definite wow factor and looks as if it was written for the purpose of introducing passives and contrasting them with active forms. The bonus is that it is also a narrative. What more could one want?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


The Purpose
The purpose of this blog is to provide free help to anyone aspiring to improve their reading, writing and to a certain extent, their listening skills. This blog will, by raising the standard of your English, provide valuable assistance in efforts to pass any English proficiency exam as well.
This Blog Is Aimed At
This blog is aimed at teenagers and adults from all walks of life with a variety of interests. The material in each reading file comes under different headings – business, science and technology, psychology and the like – in order to satisfy different interests. The blog material, though mainly designed for self study, can also be used in class.
The Blogger
To find out more about me, check my complete biography.
The Material
All the tasks on this blog are based on material that is easily accessible on the internet. For this reason, there is no beginner level material. Two factors have been taken into consideration in selecting the texts: whether the text has a wow factor and whether it lends itself to questions. It is hoped that you will enjoy using this blog while also becoming more proficient.
Reading: Overview
The reading tasks have been grouped under five headings: level of difficulty * to *****. Level * is early intermediate and is suitable for intermediate students at the start of an intensive course and for pre intermediate students soon after. All the material in each level is listed in a table of contents to make selection easier. For instance, all reading material in the file marked “Level of Difficulty *” is listed in the file titled “Level one reading tasks by theme”.
The Questions
The questions have been designed to help you understand the text by drawing your attention to key points as well as test your comprehension. In doing so, they will help cognitive skills associated with reading to develop and make you competent readers. It is suggested that you read question one and then start reading the text; otherwise, the text will seem too difficult. There are also a wide variety of question types to accustom you to standard tests and encourage detailed comprehension.
The Writing Tasks at the End of Each Worksheet
It is my firm belief that nothing helps commit vocabulary, grammar and structures that have been learnt in a reading task to memory better than a reading related writing task. The writing task serves a second purpose as well: it guarantees that you have understood the text as it is, in essence, your last reading question. With all this in mind, there is no need to tell you how important it is to do the writing task immediately on completing the questions.
The Key
The answers to all the questions are provided with notes where necessary. There are also examples of the writing tasks under sample essays.
Reading Material by Guest Bloggers
This file includes reading material sent in by fellow teachers and I welcome contributions
Writing Material: Overview
All the writing material on the blog is neatly categorized according to the type of writing: advantages and disadvantages essays, argumentative essays, cause and effect essays, classification essays, comparison and contrast essays, definition essays, narratives and other grammar related writing, problem solution essays and response essays. There is also a separate file marked writing exercises which will help with any problems of organization.
How to Prepare for Writing
When you access a writing activity, you will be faced with links to videos and links to reading material concerning a specific issue. You are required to watch the videos, make notes on the texts and then sit down and write your essays. In most cases, there are no points although writing tasks of this sort have also been included.
 Why Reading and Video Related Writing?
Writing cannot exist in a void; it requires opinions and ideas, which in turn require knowledge; hence, the texts and videos. One added bonus is that this is by far the quickest way of learning vocabulary, revising grammar and generally raising the level of your English. The second bonus is that you will be developing your listening skills as well. There is a third bonus: you will be widening your horizons.
Summary Writing
Summary writing is by far the most complex and educationally valuable reading and writing activity. For this reason, there is a file marked summaries where you will find examples of summaries written according to the Cornell Method. This easy way of writing summaries involves making notes on a text and then basing the summary on these notes. You will find the examples on the blog pretty self explanatory. Examples have also been provided for some of the summary tasks linked to reading activities.
Sample Essays
The sample essays and paragraphs have all been written by professionals in the field some of whom, like myself, are native speakers. There are, therefore, no grammar mistakes in the essays unlike certain other material on the internet.
Tips from the Experts
This section involves teaching tips from fellow professionals. I always welcome more so write in if you want to contribute.
The papers, most of which have been published or are waiting to be published, target professionals who are interested in ELT.
Papers by Guest Bloggers
This file includes a paper by a fellow teacher whom I greatly admire but I welcome contributions so write in.
This file includes a list of my published papers and articles.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
This section covers a variety of issues and targets professionals as well as students.
Letters from the Basement and More Letters from the Basement
This section is just a bit of fun and is completely fictitious.
This file includes feedback I have received from those who have used the blog.
Last of all, for suggestions on how to exploit the material, read ‘The Autonomous language learner at work’ in the file marked ‘How to use this blog’

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Current events have once more turned attention to chemical agents such as sarin, mustard gas, VX and the like as weapons of war. The world agreed in the 20th century that such weapons should be banned and many signed an agreement agreeing to do so. However, there are some who disagree claiming among other things that conventional weapons do just as much damage. Do your research and determine where you stand then write an argumentative essay on the topic. This time round, start with the videos so that you may get some background knowledge concerning these nerve agents.

Videos to watch and make notes on
  1. “Deadliest Weapon: VX nevre gas”
  2. “Chemical Weapons in World War I”
  3. “Nerve Agent History WWII”
  4. “Chemical Warfare”

Reading material to read and make notes on

1.       “Why  is the use of chemical weapons taboo?”
2.       “The chemical weapons taboo is worth protecting” (A reminder: in order to read the whole article, you need to subscribe but it is free and just a formality.)

3.       “Chemical Weapons: Fact and Fiction” (This article will give you arguments in favor of using chemical weapons as well)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


This highly topical and very controversial debate on the Economist website can form a wonderful basis for an argumentative essay. Access the site where you will find the arguments for an against neatly displayed along with support, read and make notes to determine your own position. Once you have done so, write an argumentative essay. The link is as follows:


This debate topic out of the economist concerning a very controversial topic forms a wonderful basis for an essay. You will find all the arguments for and against very neatly displayed on the website along with plenty of support. You will need to read them carefully, make notes and determine your position before you write your essay. The link is as follows: 

Sunday, September 15, 2013


Social networking has come a long way since the first internet chat rooms many years ago with Skype and similar applications becoming firmly entrenched in our lives. The benefits of such technology are undeniable but it is not without disadvantages. Do your research and write an essay discussing the advantages and disadvantages.
Reading material to make notes on
1.       “How Social Media Changed the Way We Communicate”
2.       “Skype: How the Online Chat Revolution Has Changed Our Lives”
4.       “Skype: Advantages and Disadvantages”
5.       “Using Skype to Help Your Practice”
Videos to watch and make notes on
1.       Yochai Benkler  “The New Open Source Economics”
2.       “How Big Brother Effects Your Everyday Life” 
3.       Sherry Turkle “Connected but Alone”


“Mounting evidence shows how city living can harm our mental health”

By: Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg

Published: Scientific American Mind; March / April 2013 issue; and click on mind. Alternatively, search for the following on Google: “Big City Blues, Scientific American Mind, March / April 2013 issue”. This will get you the issue and when you click on “see inside” you will get the full list of articles. Titles of articles in the online edition and the print edition are, on occasion, different (don’t ask me why) so I have provided the subtitle to help.

Level of Difficulty: ***

·         Do you believe that city living can increase stress levels and tendency to depression and anxiety?
·         Why do you think this is so?
·         Bar relocating to the country side, how can the problem be addressed?
1.       It is implied in paragraph one that the current trend of rapid urbanization will result in…………………………………………….because…………………………………………………………………….
2.       What misconception does the writer touch upon in relation to urban migration?
3.       What two aspects of city life are now blamed for the increased incidence of mental and emotional disorders in urban environments?
4.       What is the specific finding of the Mannheim study? What is the general conclusion?
5.       Why did the writer and his colleagues feel the need to resort to MRI scans to ascertain the effects of city living?
6.       Read the 2011 study involving 32 German college students and the later study involving 70 additional test subjects. The general finding in both experiments is significant because………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
7.       What social problem is also connected to an overactive amygdale?
8.       What does “This finding” in the sentence “This finding was not a total surprise” refer to?
9.       The discovery concerning pACC is significant in terms of the treatment of schizophrenia because ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
10.   What effect does city living have on the brains of urbanites?
11.   The study conducted by Lisa Feldman Barret and her colleagues proved that …………………They based this conclusion on the fact that ……………………………………………………………………………………
12.   What is the ultimate significance of all the studies recounted in this text? They indicate that…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Use the information you gleaned from the text and your own experience to discuss the causes of “The Big City Blues”. Remember the purpose of your essay is to pinpoint causes so that depression, anxiety and mental illness can, in future, be prevented before it happens. The causes as indicated in the text are as follows:
·         Greater competition
·         Weaker community ties
·         Environmental factors (noise, lack of green space)
In your conclusion, you can suggest designing cities better so as to prevent depression, anxiety and mental illness. Suggest concrete solutions
This text covers a very familiar problem yet due to its source, it provides the opportunity to introduce students to real comprehension questions. Like all articles out of this magazine, it is stylistically and organizationally very good indeed; a feature which is worth analyzing. It is a little bit of a hassle finding some Scientific American Mind texts because for some inexplicable reason an article in the print edition may be published under a different name in the online edition; don’t ask me why. The writer and subtitle remain the same though so I have provided them. Another thing that happens is that an article which you have to pay for may later become free. I will be adding links to all these articles over the next couple of weeks.
1.       Stupendous changes; it brought about the Renaissance, the industrial revolution and globalization in the past.
2.       That it is a trade up.
3.       Greater competition and weaker community ties
4.       The social strain of urban living engages specific stress circuits in the brain; circuits known to go awry in mood disorders and other mental illnesses; Social stress is especially harmful.
5.       Because other research relies on a coarse metric: the frequency of clinically diagnosed psychiatric patients.
6.       An amygdale in high gear is also observed in patients suffering from depression and anxiety.
7.       Violence
8.       Subjects who spent the most time growing up in cities showed the highest levels of p ACC activity under pressure.
9.       If the adult were sheltered from social strain, the pACC might never be damaged (and would thus not fail to quell the….)
10.   The longer a person lives in a city, the less communication occurs between their amygdale and pACC.
11.   A close network of friends and family can insulate us from the most damaging effects of stress; the hormone resopressin reduces activity in areas of the cingulate cortex including the pACC and boosts feedback to the amygdale.

12.   We might take aim at the real goal of psychiatry which is to prevent serious emotional disorders not just treat them.

Friday, September 13, 2013


“Impulsivity arises from a tendency to want small imminent rewards more than big future benefits. How can we correct our skewed values to care for our future selves?”

By: David H Freedman

Published: Scientific American Mind; March / April 2013; 
To Access the Article copy paste the following: 
Level of Difficulty: ****(this is an easy level ****)
·         Do you have strong willpower?
·         Can you resist temptation or do you give in?
·         Have you tried to control yourself? How do you do it?
1.       What does “this foolish exchange” at the beginning of paragraph two refer to?
2.       Why do we possess such a seemingly harmful tendency as temporal discounting?
3.       If the effects of temporal discounting could be eliminated, our quality of life could be seriously improved because ………………………………………………………………………………………..
4.       How can impulsivity be controled? There are two answers; find them both.
5.       How does perception of time impact temporal discounting?
6.       You are going to go out to dine with your friends and you decide you will have a salad and avoid dessert. But as you approach the restraunt, all your good intentions seem to melt away. Why does this happen?
7.       You see a pair of very attractive shoes in a shop window. You don’t really need the shoes and money is tight. How can you resist temptation? Why does this method work?
8.       What conclusion can we draw from the paragraph discussing the students in McClure’s laboratory?
9.       What general conclusion can we draw from the University of Toronto study?
10.    Read psychologist Michael Cameron’s methods carefully. For what general, underlying reason do his methods work?
11.   Read the example of the expensive car. Why does the advice to the buyer work?
12.   What does “this aversion” in the phrase “we might be able to circumvent this aversion” refer to?
13.   Read the example of the Stanford faculty and staff members. Why did the second group increase their pension deductions?
Use any notes you made while reading the text and your own experience to write a problem solution essay on the following topic: How to avoid temptation. Use the points below but remember to provide examples and supprt.
·         Giving people specific information about the consequences of their action and asking them to repeat it out loud.
·         Asking people to delay for five minutes
·         Asking people to focus on future benefits to people dependent on them
·         Avoiding fast food restraunts
This is a text that will appeal to almost everyone as resisting temptation is a challenge we all have deal with. The science behind temptation and why we give in is really fascinating and should go very well. An added bonus is that the text provides the opprtunity to write a good problem solution essay.
1.       The exchange of long term health and self image problems for a few minutes of pleasant mouth feel and belly comfort.
2.       It may have been programmed into us by evolution at a time when the environment, with its meany threats to our survival, favored those who grabbed whatever they could whenever they could get it.
3.       We would be more likely to eat more healthfully, exercise, stay out of debt and even avoid drug and alcohol addiction.
4.       By shifting activity in the brain from the limbic sysytem to the prefrontal cortex; by making the sooner, smaller reward seem less compelling and getting the larger, later reward to attract more attention.
5.       The ability to estimate spans of time becomes skewed when comparing sooner versus later rewards.
6.       The perceived gap between the value of sooner and later rewards grows as the time to the sooner reward approaches.
7.       By waiting five minutes before you shop; it cuts the appeal of the gift in half.
8.       Certain environmental cues can also trick the brain into judging time in ways that mitigate temporal discounting.
9.       The sensory cues of fast food establishments may serve to speed up our internal clocks.
10.   Our brains tend to grasp events that are further in the future in vaguer terms than events close at hand. The doctor helped his patients gather specific information about more distant rewards. He, therefore, helped far off goals effectively compete for attention with immediate goals. The whole thing is the best answer but the last sentence on its own is acceptable.
11.   Because it is information specific to the individual and directly connected to that particular decsion.
12.   The fact that we don’t want to think about our older selves.

13.   They tapped into our sense of obligation to people who depend on us; they evoked a moral obligation to take care of a future self who was dependent on them.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


“Scientists have compiled evidence based tactics for building resilience. Among them: rethink adversity, forge close friendships and tackle novel challenges”

By: Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney

Published: Scientific American Mind, July / August 2013;   

To access the article copy paste the following: 

Level Difficulty: ****

1.       Is resilience a characteristic one is born with or can one become more resilient?
2.        What factors build resilience? Why are some people more resilient than others?
1.       Read the story of Jerry White to the end. What characteristic lead him to first found the Landmine Survivors Network and ultimately win the Nobel Peace Prize? What would have happened if he’d lacked this feature?
2.       Fostering resilience is important because lack of it
·         Causes health problems
·         Causes psychological problems
·         Causes success
·         All of the above
·         None of the above
·         Other: please specify
3.       What conclusion can we draw from the paragraph discussing Dean M. Becker’s article?
4.       Is the following paragraph optimistic or pessimistic in tone? How do you know?
5.       What popular misconception concerning stress does the writer mention?
6.       Why exactly is the above a misconception?
7.       On reading about the factors that determine resilience – both inherited and environmental – we get the impression that resilience is mutable / immutable. However, this is not the case for the following specific reason: …………………………………………………………………………………………
8.       A student who fails a standardized test and passes it the following year sees the year not as a loss but as an opportunity to improve her skills and knowledge base. In this example, how does the student benefit? Prove your answer.
9.       The Vietnam prisoners of war reported their results because they were ……………………………….
10.   The purpose of mindfulness meditation is to prevent people from …………………………………and thus enable them to achieve …………………………………………………………………………………………………
11.   Activation in the left prefrontal cortex of the brain proves that ……………………….(Use your own words).
12.   The experiment involving 180 nuns proved that …………………………………………………………………….
13.   Imagine a close friend snaps at you for a simple mistake. How can you learn not to be offended?
14.   Why exactly does exercise seem to benefit psychological health in rats and humans?
15.   What long term benefit does exercise have on the brain?
16.   What is stress inoculation?
17.   The training of firefighters, police and soldiers all follow the general principles of ………………
18.   A. The 1998 study by Lynda A. King proved that ………………………………………………………………………
B. This is the case because ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..
       19.  Do you think social support has a stronger influence in Turkey or The UK? Why?
       20.  Why does the writer feel Southwick is an example to us?
       21.   What is the stylistic significance of the last paragraph?
Use the information in the text and notes from any additional research you do write a problem solution essay on how to build resilience. It is suggested you seek out both texts and videos on the subject, make notes and then write.
This brilliant and highly positive text provides information concerning important skills to help withstand all life throws at one and turn it all into a positive experience. It also happens to be a very well organized piece of writing and should be examined through outlining.

  1. Resilience; he would have broken when confronted with adversity.
  2. 1 and 2
  3. Success appears to hinge on resilience
  4. Optimistic; the last sentence.
  5. Stress is bad
  6. Difficulty that can be mastered facilitates growth, self esteem, self efficacy and resilience
  7. Immutable; virtually anyone can become more resilient through disciplined, consistent practice.
  8. There is improvement of mood; there are changes in the brain.
  9. Individuals who frequently used cognitive reappraisal as a way to alter their emotional reactions.
  10. Living in the past or future; an improved ability to focus, more flexible thinking, greater psychological wellbeing and better ability to cope with depression, anxiety and stress.
  11. This person has practiced mindfulness meditation and training in cognitive reappraisal
  12. Optimism and positive emotions are strongly associated with good mental and physical health, even longevity.
  13. By using a technique called cognitive bias modification
  14. It boosts levels of endorphin and serotonin; it suppresses the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
  15.  It activates genes for proteins such as BDNF that promote the growth and repair of neurons, which prolonged stress can damage.
  16. Deliberately taking on increasingly difficult challenges to learn to handle higher levels of stress; OR carefully calibrating your exposure to stress.
  17. Inoculation
  18. A. High levels of social support are associated with better psychological outcomes after many types of trauma. B. Backing from others increases an individual’s self confidence, provides a safety net if we should fall and bolster our belief that we can overcome obstacles.
  19. Turkey; It is a collectivist culture
  20. Because rather than going it alone in times of stress, she reached out for support from those who care about her.
  21. It is the concluding paragraph but more importantly like the best conclusions, it ties back to the introduction pulling the whole text together as a unified whole.

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Vegetarianism has been around for a long time in the east but has gained popularity in the western world in recent years but how far should parents go in persuading their offspring to follow in their footsteps? Check out the link and write an opinion essay.

Reminder: a response or reaction essay is based on a topic that excites strong emotion and is composed of four paragraphs the first of which is the introduction, the second of which is the summary of the text, the third of which is the reaction paragraph and the last of which is the conclusion.


Crowdsourcing is, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary quoted on Wikipedia, a revolutionary means of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by seeking contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community. It is a novel way of conducting business and a natural culmination of all that the latest trends. Research the topic, make notes and discuss the advantages and disadvantages.

  1. “Crowdsourcing: Pros, Cons And More” By: Darren Stevens;
2.       “Crowdsourcing Offers Valuable Benefits for Small Businesses Needing Design Work”
3.       “The Ups and Downs of Crowdsourcing” By Paul Sagget;
4.       “Crowdsourcing: 9 Hidden Pitfalls of This New Method of Generating Business Name” By Marcia Yudkin;

1.       “Crowdsourcing: Harnessing the Collective”

2.       “The Rise of Crowdsourcing: Power to the Crowd” This video is really special because it is a panel discussion covering the pros and cons 

Friday, September 6, 2013


The actions taken by the Dutch during the terrible Yugoslav conflict in Srebrenica has long been viewed with disapproval but do you actually blame the Dutch and are they liable. The text the link to which is provided below gives you the court ruling and the full story. Read it and write a response or reaction essay. The link is as follows: (Listening and reading providing background)
A reminder: a response or reaction essay is written in response to an article that excites strong reaction and is composed of four paragraphs the first of which is the introduction, the second of which is the summary, the third of which is the reaction and the last of which is the conclusion.


In the modern world, marriages do not necessarily continue until 'death do you part'; divorce is becoming more common and acceptable in the case of incompatibilty. However, what do you tell the children? How do you explain? Access the article the link to which is provided below and write a response or reaction essay. The link is as follows:
A reminder: a response or reaction essay is written in response to an article that excites strong emotion and is composed of four paragraphs the first of which is the introduction, the second of which is the summary, the third of which is the reaction paragraph and the last of which is the conclusion.

Monday, September 2, 2013


I have discovered that articles which are published under a certain name in the above magazine are sometimes posted on the internet under a different name; something Google and the Scientific American search section are not aware of! This makes some articles hard to find. Another point worth mentioning is that articles you could only access through purchasing may later be made public. I will add links to problem articles but I need you to let me know of any developments you discover. The rule of thumb is to search for articles in Scientific American Mind and Scientific American as follows:
"Name of article + Name of Magazine + The issue (for example: August - July 2013 issue)"
This formula will get you the issue. Then you click "see content" and look through the list of articles. You will see a note attached to articles providing the previous names the article was published under.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


India has been rocked by news of gang rapes in the preceding months the perpetrators of which have been caught. One of the attackers, who was 17 at the time, will only get a slap on the wrist. Is this fair or do you agree with the verdict? Read the following text and decide:"Delhi Gang Rape: Teenager Found Guilty". When you have done so, write a reaction or response essay. The link to the text is:
Suggestion: For a more challenging writing task, read the articles listed under "Case Time Line" and write a collective reaction essay.
Reminder: Response or reaction essays are based on emotive topics that excite strong reaction and are usually composed on four paragraphs: the first is the introduction, the second is the summary, the third is the reaction and the last is the conclusion.


Vietnam's new policy concerning social networking sites has come into effect. The law is discussed in the following article: "Vietnam's internet restrictions come into effect". The link is below; read the text, make notes, think about it and write a response or reaction essay.
Reminder: a response or reaction essay is based on an emotive topic that provokes reaction and is composed of four paragraphs the first of which is the introduction, the second of which is the summary, the third of which is the reaction and the last of which is thje conclusion.


Every year many brave the seas and pay smugglers a fortune to get them to the shores of Australia where many find refuge. Now Australia is changing its policy in response to public reaction. Are they right to do so? Read the text and write a reaction or response essay. The link is below:
Reminder: a response or a reaction essay is based on a cotroversial topic that excites strong reaction. It is composed of four paragraphs the first of which is the introduction, the second of which is the summary, the third of which is the reaction paragraph and the last of which is the conclusion