English Idioms? A piece of cake! (book review)

One of the books I usually use in my classroom (sooner or later) is the one on English idioms. It’s quite difficult to make a nice lesson on idioms because you have to find some nice examples, create some fun exercises and set everything in context. But lo and behold! For there is a book with 60 units full of idioms that are ready to go. If you want to make a nice gift for a student (or a teacher) of EFL – here it is.

English Idioms in Use by Michael McCarthy and Felicity O’Dell is a great book that may be used both in the classroom and for self-study purposes. There are 60 nice units organised so well that everything is already set in various contexts. What is even better, the first chapter explains what idioms are and how important it is to know them.

Idioms to Talk About

The first part of the book deals with idioms according to the topic area that the are used to talked about. For example, there are idioms connected with anger (e.g. to be out for blood or ruffle someone’s feathers), dealing with problems (e.g. make do or bring to light), even structuring and talking about arguments (e.g. a can of worms or the acid test). I use this part when I see that the Use of English part in my coursebook might need some supplementation.

Idioms from the topic area of…

The second part focuses on idioms according to the image they are based on. Here, you can find idioms referring to colours (e.g. red tape or green with envy), weapons and war (e.g. bite the bullet or stick to your guns) or food (e.g. be the greatest thing since sliced bread or have a sweet tooth). I use this part when the topic of the lesson requires some invigoration (like combining idioms with, for example, the dreaded topic of environment).

Idioms using keywords

It’s quite easy to guess what this part deals with – you can find a lot of idioms referring to words like heart (e.g. someone after my own heart or have a change of heart), line (e.g. draw the line at something and draw the line under something) or ground (e.g. prepare the ground for something or suits me down to the ground). I found this part a nice idea for a last resort when my students don’t want to work on the lesson, I’m absolutely discouraged and the weather is really disastrous – that’s a nice way to break the routine and introduce something new.

Unit structure

Each unit is divided into two parts – theoretical explanation of idioms along with some exemplary uses, and exercises where one can practice the idioms. Naturally, there is the answer key to double check all the doubts, useful for self-study approach… and for lazy teachers, too.


There are a lot of idioms in English and some of them may be quite obsolete, however it’s always better to know them all, rather than not – especially if your linguistic level is quite high. To be honest, I find this book rather interesting to study myself, there is usually something new I come across. If I were to recommend an educational Christmas present for a good student or a teacher who needs more resources, I would certainly go for this option.

But maybe it’s good to add something more to such a gift, like a good novel, chocolate or a pair of socks, of course… 

Idioms in Use
McCarthy, Michael and O’Dell, Felicity
Cambridge University Press, 2002
ISBN 978-0-521-78957-8


How to Organise Phrasal Verbs? (book review)

How to Organise Phrasal Verbs_ (book review)

One of my most vivid memories from summer schools in England is the Arrival Day, when new students were picked up by young and happy people (usually 18-22 year old native speakers) from the airport and transported to school. Often it was an experience baffling for both parties – foreign kids couldn’t understand English teens and the latter couldn’t understand the fact someone didn’t get them. They thought they were perfectly understandable, but for those kids “alright, pick up your stuff and move along” was not the English they were used to.

Admit it, teaching phrasal verbs isn’t the most pleasant experience in the classroom. First of all, there are so many of them, they tend to be so illogical and a different preposition changes the whole meaning of the sentence. It makes learners believe the best way to deal with the wretched phrasal verbs is to avoid them, but we know that won’t do.

We need to be brave, though – we, the teachers, are meant to teach not only the adorable Present Perfect or crime-related vocabulary, but also the phrasal verbs. And if you – like yours truly – are not the greatest fan of those expressions that seem to be randomly mixed words with an extra weird meaning, I have a great solution for you!

Phrasal Verb Organiser is a great book written by John Flower who had apparently seen too many students suffering because of this ridiculous phrasal-verbish-conundrum… or maybe he had seen too many teachers struggling? Whatever inspired him to write the book brought us one of the most useful books ever.

Who is the book for?

Originally the book was designed for students, especially those who learn English on their own (“it is better to do a little at regular intervals, rather than a lot at one time, and then nothing for weeks”). However, I got myself a copy when I was a teacher and I found it a great help when teaching students on B2 level – it has helped me to provide the appropriate amount of phrasal verbs to help them move beyond the learning plateau.

How is it organised?

Surprisingly, you don’t start with the exercises – first you get started with the whole idea of a phrasal verb, with some sweet lies like “it is often possible to understand what a phrasal verb means by looking at its particles”.

As if I didn’t know that phrasal verbs are fragments of an ancient ritual of summoning demonic creatures from the deepest abyss of hell!

And then you may enjoy nine chapters titled e.g. verbs with down/up/off/out/two particles etc. Then you may enjoy common verbs (be, get, go etc.), phrasal verbs with nouns or adjectives and even phrasal verbs by topic (business, feelings, travel or even colloquial expressions). If you’re not sure about the meaning, the book provides a useful mini-dictionary.

How can I use it in the classroom?

Each chapter has the same organisation – you start with matching verbs and particles so that they can be used in sentences; there are also funny pictures illustrating some of the verbs. You can always check your answer with the answer key, so no worries! If you need a greater challenge, after each chapter there’s a summary where you need to use one phrasal verb matching a couple of sentences.

You can simply use it in the classroom once in a while, bringing in random chunks of phrasal verbs (“this week we’ll work on the verbs with up“).

Ideas for extra activities

But wait, there is more! If you want to create a real combo, you can use one of the ready-made tests (seriously, tests on phrasal verbs – that is evil!). You can also use the verbs in some classroom games (bingo?) or races. I found the topic-selected chapters really useful for my adult students, but I guess you might use the book in many creative ways (using a meme generator and making one meme per day with a phrasal verb sounds like a great idea for a competition!).


The book practises over 700 phrasal verbs with more than 1000 meanings. Truth be told, I don’t think I would be able to recall all of them, so I admit I still find it useful, not only for my students, but also for self-study. If your students are just a wee bit too formal, or if you feel your language skills are soon going to be used by the BBC – go for it!

And have a blast!

How To Teach for Exams (book review)

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One of the best groups I’ve ever taught was an IELTS preparatory group of teens who consider studying abroad (best of luck, mates!). I was lucky to teach this particular group, as exam-prep courses have a justified opinion of the most boring classes. While I believe a lot depends on the coursebook (I used Ready for IELTS by Macmillan and can happily recommend it), there is also a specific approach an exam-oriented course requires. I’ve found my first exam-preparatory course quite challenging (it was a group of people after the Callan Method course who wanted to pass FCE – and yeah, I was too young to know better), so when I got a book on proper teaching for exams I read it immediately and I can recommend it to everyone, not only those teachers who start their adventure with exam-oriented classes. Let me share the review of How to Teach for Exams by Sally Burges and Katie Head.


The book starts quite promising with the chapter on “How to be a successful exams teacher” and the following chapters take you through the course planning process (along with choosing materials), teaching particular skills for the exam and – something I find quite important as not many publications cover this aspect of teaching – teaching for low-level exams. Moreover, the book includes the Task File so that you can use it as a form of exercise, either to think about on your own, or to discuss with your fellow teachers.

I’ve read some books about teaching for exams, but I must admit this is one of the most user-friendly one – the language is simple and the organisation seriously inspires the reader to stop after each part and reflect on the ideas (e.g. three short paragraphs about differences between the weak class, the average-to-good class and the strong class gave me quite some food for thought).

Questions… and answers

What I enjoy immensely when it comes to book organisation is that on the margins you have questions and catchphrases, from the most common (“what is special about teaching an exam class?”), to more complex ones (“encouraging familiarity with genres”). All of the chapters are divided into logical parts, with theory, examples, conclusions and some additional food for thought you can find in the Task File.

What makes it even better is that all the cases are really down to earth and highly relatable (“how to help learners do their best on the day? Imagine that a close friend or relative of yours is taking an exam tomorrow. What advice would you give them?”) or great ideas for overcoming the stress factor during listening exams.

Task File

Each chapter, which focuses on teaching a particular skill, contains examples of activities and lessons that are designed to help teachers introduce the exam-oriented approach, however,
undoubtedly the most valuable part of the book for me was the Task File.

The exercises relate to the topics discussed in the book, and while some of them require a definite answer, some are useful as inspirations and topics to discuss. You can photocopy the exercises, so if you are a DoS who needs to train teachers before they start the exam-prep classes, this book may be perfect for you.

Some exercises are good to think about before you start actual teaching (e.g. “make a list of differences between exam classes and non-exam classes” followed by some interesting questions “if a student fails an exam, is it the teacher’s fault?”). Others are really useful when you want to focus on the particular skill (developing task and strategy awareness for reading or developing coping strategies for the exam room during speaking exam).


I don’t think I need to recommend anything written by Sally Burgess, but in case you wonder whether you should invest some money and buy this book: yes. Whether you are an experienced teacher, or a person new to the job, you will definitely find something useful.

You may be a person who’s taught exam classes for years and still find some inspirational ideas (e.g. linguistic and cultural contexts as factors influencing exam course planning).

If you begin your adventure with exam classes, you will love the chapters on teaching particular skills as they not only briefly revise various kinds of tasks, but also discuss abilities that are measured during the tests (e.g. in which tasks you need to apply skimming or scanning etc. along with useful tips on improving reading speed or a great subchapter on developing sound discrimination skills).

Overall, I believe every teacher should at least browse this book – one soon realises that “right, I’ll take a quick look just to revise some stuff” attitude changes into “Ooooh, I didn’t know that!”. And, last but not least, the book is full of tips on training students to become independent learners – something that gives exam classes more purpose than just preparing for the test.


Burgess Sally, Head Katie “How to Teach for Exams”

Longman, 2005

ISBN: 978-0582429673

Edward de Bono “Lateral Thinking” – how to make your life more creative (book review)


If I were to name my favourite things in the classroom, that would be triple C – creativity, communication and Cthulhu. Lateral thinking is something I really enjoy – thinking out of the box is fun for students, but for teachers it’s a necessity: how can you survive teaching the same stuff over and over again without being repetitive and, even worse, without getting tired of the monotony that goes with it?

For our own sake we should set our mindshift on the change, on creativity, on new ways of approaching old problems – that is how we will adjust our classes to various groups and students and ultimately make our lessons more varied and personalised and ourselves better professionals.

A short yet very inspiring book everyone should read is “Lateral Thinking” by Edward de Bono, who created the term lateral thinking, wrote the book Six Thinking Hats and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools. Naturally, for people mad about the research the fact that there is no bibliography in de Bono’s book might be somewhat disturbing, however it is an inspiration worth reading.

The book, as every good book, starts with a story – a riddle about a small black stone and about a fresh perspective on a problem. It’s a good tale and it shows you various ways you can use a new approach to tackle an old problem. Obviously, it is quite difficult to start thinking creatively, so de Bono explains the way people conceive ideas in a surprisingly understandable manner, presenting visual element to explain quite difficult theory.

For example, de Bono declares the “obvious” solutions as the “dominant” ideas – and he proposes to put them aside while tackling the problem. We cannot blind ourselves with the obvious, if we want to achieve a more creative and uncommon idea. The danger of such thinking is that we may end up stuck with the obvious because there is no certainty of finally coming up with a new, fresh idea that will prove as useful as the old one.

De Bono mentions also the importance of the doubt and of the accident – sometimes it’s one or the other that inspire us to creative thinking (like the Isaac Newton and the famous apple that fell down from the tree right to the field of physics). The thing about lateral thinking is that in a way we let our mind wander trying to find something that will help us solve the troublesome issue. However, there is nothing certain about this process and yet, sometimes a random encounter may help us see a new and wonderful idea.

Why do kids stop playing, asks de Bono and answers: because the world stops being a new and wonderful place full of discoveries and adventures. Leaving dominant ideas and practising lateral thinking may help us enjoy the process of thinking as truly creative, enjoying the new challenges our life gives us – and make everyday problems part of extraordinary life.

If you look for inspirations – you may start with this book.


de Bono, Edward “Lateral Thinking”

Penguin Books Ltd., 2016

ISBN: 9780241257548


500 Activities for the Primary Classroom – when you look for inspirations (book review)

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We all know that teaching kids requires not only knowledge and patience, but also wild amounts of ingenuity and creativity – the younger the learner, the more creative the teacher must be! And since I’ve professionally come back to dealing with young learners and teens, the book I felt like browsing through really carefully addressed the needs of the youngest learners – especially knowing the author.

I met Carol Read when I was a rookie teacher in a primary school – she was invited by Macmillan, visited Rzeszów and clearly wanted to observe a typical English lesson. I was only happy to deliver – and I found her one of the nicest people ever; also, she was the first native speaker my students had seen and they loved her.

What is the book about?

You would probably say – it’s 500 activities for children… and you’d be almost right, because it’s far more than this – each chapter starts with really useful methodological content that will help you understand the approaches behind various activities along with “reflection time” – section where you can think over your ideas. Moreover, each activity is followed by comments and suggestions, and with years of experience Ms. Read has a lot of useful tips to share!

Who is the book for?

As the dedication states – the book is for every teacher who tries to bring out the best in every child. If you’re a fresh teacher who hasn’t ever taught a kid – it’s for you! If you’re an experienced educator who has spent more time with the adults and now wants to start again with younger learners (like your truly) – you’ll find it a great source of inspiration!


The book is divided into ten sectionslistening and speaking, reading and writing, Vocabulary and grammar, Storytelling and drama, Games, Rhymes, chants and songs, Art and craft, Content-based learning, ICT and multimedia and Learning to learn. Each activity goes with an awesome description reminding me of my favourite book ever – level (from A1.1 to B1.2), age, organisation (groupwork, pairwork etc.), aims, language focus, materials and procedures. So, apart from mere ideas you have a lot of material you can adapt to your own groups and their needs.

My favourite activities

Naturally, the first part I read was the one focussed on storytelling – and the first exercise is called “words in the story” where kids create a story about a Kraken. My cthultistic heart appreciates such an excellent beginning! I really enjoyed the exercise “story stepping stones” where children learn to identify and use key episodes in the story – a very useful skill when it comes to storytelling.

But there are more activities than this – you will find activities you may use in a classroom on a regular basis – listening grid, follow the route task or wall dictation. I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll love.


This is one of those books I can recommend for everyone – even if you don’t teach children it may still prove useful; perfect when you need to cover for a colleague… or when your own (or your friends’) kids want to have fun and expect you to come up with a creative idea – 500 Activities is a great help, as young learners develop their skills unconsciously, simply having fun.

And having fun is something not only kids like!

Read, Carol “500 Activities for the Primary Classroom: Immediate Ideas and Solutions”

Macmillan Books for Teachers 2007

ISBN 978-1-4050-9907-3


Role-Playing Teaching (Part 8 – making classes SuperBetter)

Role-Playing Teaching

It’s a really strange feeling, when you read a book in April and you realise you’ve just read your Book of the Year. Also, it’s hard to believe I hadn’t heard of Jane McGonigal before my Prince Consort picked her book during our monthly book hunt and said “You will love it”. He was right, naturally.

If you wonder why I would write a book review in my Role-Playing Teaching series, you need to watch a TED-talk by McGonigal herself who says things that make my little, black, rotten heart swell with happiness:

If the video hasn’t convinced you, you should read McGonigal’s bestseller “SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games”. I’m not a fan of self-help books (I read Faber and Mazlich’s How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, tried to use it while communicating with my parents and failed miserably – I was 13 by that time and lost faith in such publications), but I cannot describe SuperBetter as a self-help book, and one of the reasons is the emphasis on cooperation and social relations helping us grow.

The book begins with a moving story of Jane’s happy life, misfortune and final success in overcoming obstacles and reaching a happy, yet full of challenges, life. Frankly, so many books written to inspire others follow the similar pattern, so being the Villain I am, I was somewhat sceptical – but what followed the personal story, was a flood of data from various research – and this was something I love (yay, research!). Have you heard of Snow World, a game used in burn centres to alleviate the pain using phenomena called spotlight theory of attention? And that’s just the beginning of the motivating story where you create your own game-like life in which you can assume a role of a superhero to overcome any obstacles.

How do games help in our development?

Playing video games releases as much dopamine as an injection of a drug. Why is it useful apart from sudden exhilaration? Simple – the research show that dopamine “shots” while we play games make us more determined to achieve goals and less frustrated in case of the failure. It was proven that players are more dedicated and resilient, moreover, games help you try out various tactics and approaches without real-life consequences which encourages you to be more daring, open and ready for opportunities. Playing games also help you learn proper prioritising your own goals.

How to wake up a gamer in oneself?

Even if you haven’t played for a good while you can recall the mentality of a gamer – think of your obstacles as challenges or quests, whether it’s a visit to the dentist or becoming an entrepreneur. From the neurological point of view, McGonigal explains, there’s no difference whether you feel “real” excitement or “make-believe” feeling, your brain is ready to go! If you read the book, you will learn how to “power up” positive experiences and build your inner game-world (for example, by giving names to the obstacles – if your goal is getting fit, your main enemy might be a Scheming Local Pizza Place, where they seem to have great deals exactly when you’re hungry and passing by… coincidence? I think not!). You will also learn how to plan your aims realistically and how to avoid procrastination (to which some of us, like yours truly, are really susceptible).


Apart from theory, the book includes three quests: the first is for those looking for True Love (which, as all of us fans of The Princess Bride know, is the best thing in the world except for cough drops), the second is for people who want to become ninjas (or at least Mulan), and the third one is created for those who feel their days are too short and want to work on time management.

Why should you read it?

You may sensibly ask: so far so good, but what does it have to do with teaching? Well – everything! With games, you have the perfect tool to make yourself and your students motivated, ready for a challenge (because Dreadful Grammar Drill looks like a perfect name for the obstacle on our quest to Purrfect English!) and, first and foremost, to make all the educational process fun, even within the strict framework of public educational system.

I believe in games and teaching complementing each other to make education fun, so if you’re a member of a facebook group of Polish Teachers of EFL and you’re interested in this topic, you will have an opportunity to attend my workshop on RPG and TEFL as well as take part in a RPG session during Zlot this summer.

I hope to see you there!

Jane McGonigal: SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games

Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 13, 2016)
ISBN-13: 978-0143109778

Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers (book review)


The best thing about teaching children is that you’re working on unspoilt minds that are so eager to learn and have fun. While teens seem to be at least slightly nonchalant when it comes to their educational process, while adults are so self-aware and need to get feedback on every step, children are wonderfully easy to please and literally only ready to grow and flourish. Some claim childhood is the only period when we actually acquire knowledge with ease, others believe childhood should be mainly fun and parents encouraging their offspring to learn another language can end up as innocent victims of the predatory educational market only fishing for easy money.

As usually, I find myself somewhere in the middle, believing children should have fun being kids, but at the same time we should encourage them to learn, especially when classes include games, songs and a lot of fun activities. Trying to broaden my horizons on the topic, I read a book by Jayne Moon “Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers”. As the author mentions in the introduction, “the book will help you to build on the knowledge and skills you already have, become aware of your beliefs about children and about teaching, re-assess your practice in the classroom, provide fresh ideas and new insights (…) and deepen your commitment to and enthusiasm for teaching children.”

You will find various topics discussed, starting with students’ attitude to learning English, managing the learning process, introducing effective teacher-pupil interaction, creating, adapting and evaluating various activities, planning, organizing conducting and assessing learning and teaching etc. Apart from the book itself the bibliography looks really inspiring, as it leads you to more publications on the topic (and each chapter has its own set of books).

What I really appreciate about this book is that it not only discusses the areas I mentioned, but also provides strategies for potential difficulties and actual procedures to deal with various issues (e.g. action plan to find out how raised expectations affect children’s behaviour and attitude to learning English). One of my favourite parts is the whole chapter focused on introducing and carrying out pairwork and groupwork (as mixed-gender pairing happens to be quite problematic at a certain age) which gave me a lot of ideas and activities on how to deal with this particular problem.

Yet another useful chapter I enjoyed was on creating own resources. Apart from practical ideas, the author encourages teachers to answer some questions first, like setting up and organizing educational and developmental criteria on preparing resources, which makes it easier to not only create own materials, but also adapt the ones we observe during other teachers’ work. We are surrounded by so many online resources now, that I really loved the short checklist to make sure the material we’ve chosen is not only fun, but also appropriate and suitable.

The book is a great source of information for all those who have just started their work with children, or who have had a longer break and return to educating this particular age group. I found myself nodding approvingly over some details I once knew but now forgotten, having been teaching mostly teens and adults for the past decade. I really enjoyed revising the basics and learning new things, that’s why I believe all of you who might be in a similar situation, will find the book equally useful. After all, children and their education is the area that gives many opportunities and possibilities for all teachers, so we shouldn’t neglect it just because it’s easier to work with the adults.

I’m sure you’ll find the read quite interesting, regardless of your present teaching groups – some ideas are relevant for all ages, and being a teacher means you can’t be too sure as to what groups you’ll teach next time.


Jayne Moon, “Children Learning English: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers”

MacMillan Books for Teachers

ISBN-13: 978-1405080026