Two Ways to Practice Reading

4259120807_0673304b76There are two main ways to work on your reading:

  1. Intensive Reading
  2. Extensive Reading

You are probably most familiar with Intensive Reading.

When you read intensively, you’re given a difficult text and work out every detail of it. You look up the words you don’t know. You answer comprehension questions. You feel like a scholar (though often a miserable one).

You usually do this in school.


Extensive Reading is much different.

Actually, some of my students don’t like it because it sounds lazy: have fun reading easy books.

Seriously. It helps. This is supported by research!

When you read extensively, you (the student) choose an interesting text that’s pretty easy for you. On the first page, there shouldn’t be more than 3 or 4 unfamiliar words.

Read it. Enjoy. Repeat.

If you don’t like the book, stop reading it and pick something else.

When you’re finished, choose another book. No questions, no book reports. The idea is to just read a lot of high-interest, low-difficulty English.

You *might* choose to keep a simple list of the titles you’ve read. It could be useful for your teachers to see your interests and progress. It might help you see your own accomplishments, too. Your choice!

Have you been making time for extensive reading? If not, visit your local library and pick out some books! Do it this weekend! Have fun!

Listen to Emily read this post. (a new window will open)

Photo Credit: Indi Samarajiva on Flickr



Writing Prompt Wednesday


Talk About It: How do you feel about rain? Does rain ever change your plans? How?

Level 1: Write what you see: nouns (things), verbs (actions), and adjectives (descriptive words).

Level 2: Write six sentences about what this person is feeling and doing right now. Use Simple Present and Present Continuous to describe the person’s actions and states. Write two more sentences about what the person is going to do when s/he gets home.

Level 3: Imagine that this is a picture of your friend. Use modals to write at least five pieces of advice for your friend.

Creative Writing: Write at least one page of a dramatic action story. Imagine that you are the photographer. Who are you? Why are you out in the rain? Who are you photographing and why? Aim for a lot of excitement in this story!

Academic Writing: Write an essay to compare and contrast the picture in this post against last week’s writing prompt picture. Organize your thoughts using either the point-by-point or block method.


Photo Credit陳 冠宇 on Flickr

Writing Prompt Wednesday


Talk About It: When does spring usually come in your country? What do you like about spring? What do you usually do each spring?

Level 1: Write what you see. Write simple sentences. Use prepositions (on, in, etc.).
Example: The glasses are on the ground.

Level 2: Write five sentences about last spring (2016). Write five sentences about this spring (2016). Write five sentences about next spring (2017). Be careful of your verb tenses!

Level 3: Imagine that you took this picture. Write a story at least 10 sentences long. The story should be about the five minutes before this picture was taken.

Creative Writing: Write a poem inspired by this picture. Focus on one element to carry your theme (i.e. cat, glasses, green, etc.)

Academic Writing: Write a five-paragraph essay that argues why spring is (or isn’t) the best season. Be sure to include a paragraph that refutes your imagined opponents.


Photo Credit: Marina del Castell on Flickr

Tech: Microsoft Word

I’ve noticed while teaching at the college that some of my students don’t know a lot about computers.

If you’re reading my blog, maybe you’re very comfortable with computers… but maybe not.

Just in case it helps you, I’m going to write a few posts with information about really helpful computer skills. I will tag them “technology.”

Today, here are basics on using Microsoft Word. Word is most often used to write papers for school or letters that you want to print out.

(I did not make these videos! I’m just linking to them here.)

Videos – Microsoft Word Help

  1. Cut, Copy, and Paste – how to select text, put it somewhere else, and make copies of it
  2. Undo, Redo, Repeat – how to fix your mistakes or repeat things you want to do again
  3. MLA Format – how to set up your academic paper correctly in MLA 2017 format





Writing Prompt Wednesday


Talk about it: Have you ever been to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.? If you lived nearby, would you go? Why or why not?

Level 1: What do you see? Write down the objects you see. Write down the season, time of day, and weather.

Level 2: Write down what you do not see in this picture. Write at least five full negative sentences. Simple Present or Present Continuous would both be good choices.

Level 3: This is a picture of the famous cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. Does your country have any special trees or festivals? Write a paragraph that tells us about what they are and why they are special.

Creative Writing: Imagine that there are no people in this picture because the world has ended. Write a short post-apocalyptic story about this situation. Carefully consider who your narrator and characters are. What is next for them?

Academic Writing: 

For USA-based learners: Write a well-organized essay that describes three crucial elements of Washington D.C.’s National Cherry Blossom Festival. Here is one resource that may help. Be sure to cite your sources!

For internationally-based learners: Write a well-organized essay that describes three crucial elements of a festival from your country. If you do research for this essay, be sure to keep track of and cite your sources!


Photo Credit: Geoff Livingston on Flickr

Helping Verbs

6207557180_44a06c846fThe key to success with English verb tenses is in helping verbs, or auxiliary verbs.

In most of our verb tenses, we use more than one verb in a sentence to show:

  • time
    (past, present, or future)
  • aspect
    (simple, continuous, perfect, or perfect continuous).

We string the verbs together like a strand of beads.

The helping verb(s) always go first. The main verbs always go last. It’s a very reliable pattern!

Most students learn Simple Present first, and then Simple Past. Unfortunately, these are misleading. They do not always use helping verbs.

All of the other verb tenses (12 total) use at least one helping verb every single time.

Building Verb Tenses

In general, the main verb provides the dictionary meaning (and sometimes time and aspect also).

The helping verb(s) do not provide dictionary meaning – they just give the full picture of time and aspect.

Example 1:

I ran.

Verb = “ran” – shows meaning “run” and the past time and simple aspect


Example 2:

I did not run.

Helping Verb = “did” – shows past time and simple aspect

Verb = “run” – shows meaning “run”

Example 3:

I am running.

Helping Verb = “am” – shows present time and continuous aspect

Verb = “running” – shows meaning “run” and continuous aspect

This is how we build verb tenses in English.

This is the pattern. Right here, in this short post, is the key. You’ll see it again and again as you study the twelve verb tenses.

If you’re getting confused by the details, go back to the basics. Remember that in English we like to string our verbs together to build verb tenses. We always put them in a predictable order, with the helping verb(s) first.

Look for the pattern and you’ll find it!

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

  1. The verb ends in -ing. Does that mean Present Continuous?

    It may or may not.

    Present Continuous depends on two verbs: am/is/are + verb-ing.

    It is not enough to look at one verb alone! You need to see what is before it.

    Other possibilities are that the -ing verb is a gerund or part of a different Continuous or Perfect Continuous verb tense.

  2. How is it possible for “I have had” to be correct?

    Firstly, yes, this is correct. For example, “I have had a headache all day.” Sad, but grammatically correct Present Perfect. It sounds normal to native English speakers.

    The helping verb goes first, then the main verb. So even if they’re the same word, it’s simple to identify which is which.

        Helping Verb = have – shows present time and perfect aspect

    Verb = had – shows meaning (possessive) and past time

  3. What is the difference between Present Continuous and Past Continuous?

    The only difference in form is the helping verb.

    Present Continuous has a present helping verb. It means the time is the present.

         I am running.

    Past Continuous has a past helping verb. It means the time was in the past.

         I was running.


Photo Credit: Sarah Joy on Flickr

This post appeared first at English with Emily.


Writing Prompt Wednesday



Level 1: Write down what you see in each picture. Which one is your favorite place to live?

Level 2: Write 4 sentences describing Picture #1. Write 4 sentences describing Picture #2. Write 2 sentences explaining which one is most similar to your home in your country.

Level 3: Write a paragraph describing Picture #1. Describe what is there, what is probably nearby, and also what is not there. Then do the same for Picture #2. In your third paragraph, tell which picture you would rather live in and why.

Creative Writing: Write three haikus – one about Picture #1, one about Picture #2, and one highlighting how they are similar or different.

Academic Writing: Write a compare and contrast essay between rural life and city life.

Photo Credit 1faungg on Flickr

Photo Credit 2: Aurimas on Flickr