Category: Uncategorized

Practice with Paraphrasing

•When you paraphrase, you write or say something that someone else has written or said, in your own words.

•Paraphrasing is an important skill for you to practice because it shows your ability to express the idea of another person using different words, without copying the exact text or speech.

•When you paraphrase properly, you avoid plagiarism, which is a form of academic theft that is considered unethical.

•Paraphrasing can be done in the following ways: by substituting keywords with synonyms, by changing the sentence structure, and by transforming the parts of speech of certain vocabulary words in the sentence.

•Regular practice paraphrasing helps you build your overall ability to use a range of vocabulary and practice varying your sentence structure.

•Paraphrasing improves your ability to restate the gist of the passage, which helps you better grasp the meaning of the passage.

•You become a better speaker and writer because you practice playing with grammar, sentences, and words.

Is the HERD framework hitting home with you? Herding wild horses! Think of the HERD strategy when you need to quickly paraphrase an academic text.

I’m in the midst of designing some free paraphrasing lesson plans for teachers at varying levels. Let me know if you or your students need practice with this skill.

Here are some paraphrasing tools you can use: Quillbot, an online paraphraser, Thesaurus, online dictionaries, Grammarly, and wordreference.

Get your free Paraphrasing practice lesson!


Additional Resources:

UW Madison’s Writing Center

Purdue on Paraphrasing

An Unforgettable Harry Potter Vocabulary Quiz

Harry Potter Hogwarts express
Illustrated by Jonny Duddle
get lost in harry potter this summer

I literally couldn’t put Harry Potter down when I was reading it because the pages were full of suspense, magic, and mystery. I was transported to another world and it felt like a great escape, where the creative twists and turns literally blew me away.


To get a full sensory experience of the books, consider also listening to the audio books on audible; the American version is read by Jim Dale and The British version is read by Stephen Fry.  In addition, there is a fun, quirky band called, Harry and the Potters, which plays music about the book and has brilliant lyrics that are entertaining. I also highly recommend the Philosopher’s Stone Illustrated version.

One huge Potter fan named Helen Haggerson, grew up in California reading the books, watching the movies, and listening to the audio books. She tells us all about her experience in a heart-warming interview, which you can listen to on youtube at the link below.

In this post, we’ll be looking for advanced vocabulary in context from the Harry Potter books.  I’ll provide the word, the definition, the sentence in which J.K. Rowling uses it with the page number of the book that it comes from. 

rap on the door definition
  1. Rap= (verb) strike (a hard surface) with a series of rapid audible blows, especially in order to attract attention.


“Up! Get up! Now!”

Harry woke with a start. His aunt rapped on the door again. (The Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 2)


sallow definition
  1. Sallow=(adjective) (of a person’s face or complexion) of an unhealthy yellow or pale brown colour.


“Professor Quirrell, in his absurd turban, was talking to a teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin.” (The Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 7) 


  1. To Waft=(with reference to a scent, sound, etc.) pass or cause to pass gently through the air.

“On Halloween morning they woke to the delicious smell of baking pumpkin wafting through the corridors.” (The Philosopher’s Stone, chapter 10) 


brandish definition
  1. Brandish=(verb) wave or flourish (something, especially a weapon) as a threat or in anger or excitement.


“Read it!” he hissed evily, brandishing the letter the owl had delivered.  “Go on–read it!” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets-Book 2, pg. 21). 


haphazardly definition

  1. haphazardly=(adverb)in a manner lacking any obvious principle of organization.  


“Mrs Weasly was clattering around, cooking breakfast a little haphazardly, throwing dirty looks at her sons as she threw sausages into the frying pan.” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets-Book 2, pg. 35). 


  1. raucous=(adverb) making or constituting a disturbingly harsh and loud noise.


Harry ate breakfast each morning in the Leaky Cauldron, where he liked watching the other guests: funny little witches from the country, up for a day’s shopping; venerable-looking wizards arguing over the latest article in Transfiguration Today; wild-looking warlocks, raucous dwarfs, and, once, what looked suspiciously like a hag, who ordered a plate of raw liver from behind a thick woolen balaclava. (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, p.52)


  1. Ominously=(adverb) in a way that suggests that something bad is going to happen.


“Uncle Vernon swelled ominously.  His sense of outrage seemed to outweigh even his fear of this bunch of oddballs.” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix-Book 5, p.766)



  1. Pompous= (adjective)believing oneself to be grand and important, conceited.


“Teachers and Percy Wesely [were] tailing him everwhere like an extremely pompous guard dog. (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban–book 3, p. 175)


  1. Euphoria=a feeling or state of intense excitement and happiness.


“Harry’s euphoria at finally winning the Quidditch Cup, lasted at least a week.” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban–book 3, p. 334)


  1. fervently= (adverb) passionately 


“Yeah,” said Harry fervently, looking over at the Ravenclaw table.  (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix-Book 5, p.50


Harry Potter Advanced Vocabulary Quiz

In this quiz, you will test your overall ability to use these advanced words from Harry Potter in sentences.


Top 3 Reasons To Master Phrasal Verbs

What are Phrasal verbs?

Phrasal verbs are phrases that have a verb and another element, typically either an adverb, as in break down, or a preposition, for example, sleep in, or a combination of both, such as break up with.

What kinds of phrasal verbs are there?

There are four different kinds of phrasal verbs. Some of them have prepositions or adverbs that can move and change position, falling right after the verb, or at the end of the sentence. In addition, some phrasal verbs require objects while others do not. 

Examples of Phrasal Verbs in Sentences: 

(preposition moves around)

  • I called up Joanna/ I called Joanna up.  To call up, means to give someone a ring or to call someone, but in an informal way. 
  •  I handed in a paper/ I handed a paper in.  To hand in a paper means to submit a paper to a teacher or a professor.
  •  I checked out a book/ I checked a book out. To check out means to take a book from the library for a scheduled period of time.

More Examples of Phrasal Verbs in Sentences:

(preposition doesn’t move around)

  • I bumped into Jim. (To bump into means to meet someone by chance on the street). 
  •  She got over the illness quickly. (To get over means to recover from).
  • He picked on me about my strange outfit. (To pick on means to make fun of).

3 Reasons to Master Phrasal Verbs for TOEFL

Phrasal verbs are a useful tool to use on the TOEFL speaking exam because they often provide students with a much more efficient, exact way to communicate their opinion about a topic or to clearly express an idea.  

Reasons #1 For Using Phrasal Verbs on TOEFL 

phrasal verbs help you communicate more efficiently and accurately

  • Phrasal verbs are more efficient and express ideas with greater precision. 

Sometimes, when you say something in English without using a phrasal verb, it could take 5-6 words to say it, while a phrasal verb could express the same idea in merely a few words. 

Let’s look at some examples: 

First, let’s analyze a sentence without a phrasal verb: 

One of the most disappointing experiences of my life was when my partner decided to finalize our relationship.

We can create the same sentence with a phrasal verb: 

One of the most disappointing experiences of my life was when my partner broke up with me.

The sentence with the phrasal verb expresses the idea much more efficiently and in a more exact, natural way.  The sentence with the phrasal verb is also shorter and expresses the idea faster. 

Let’s study another example: 

A sentence without a phrasal verb:

  • I enjoy being with my friends so that we can talk about what we have been doing and share our experiences with each other.

The same sentence with two phrasal verbs:

  • I enjoy hanging out with my friends and catching up with them about their recent adventures. 

There is nothing wrong with the first sentence, but it takes longer to express and doesn’t sound as natural and fluent as the second sentence.  

Since you only have 45 seconds on the first part of the TOEFL speaking exam, it is important to express yourself and provide details and reasons to support your arguments.  Therefore, the more efficient and natural you sound when you give your reasons, the better you will score on the exam.  If you try to say something using a long complex sentence, sometimes it takes you too long to communicate your idea, you waste time, and then your score drops because you didn’t have enough time to justify your argument. 

Reason #2 for Using Phrasal Verbs on TOEFL Speaking

Phrasal verbs help you expand your vocabulary and improve your ability to communicate with a wide range of words.  

When you learn another language, it is useful to study vocabulary, synonyms, and phrases.  

For the TOEFL speaking exam, your score will increase if you paraphrase what the professor explained in the lecture.  You can use a wide range of phrasal verbs for academic purposes to do this.  

Here are a few examples:

The professor points out that stink bugs invade homes over the winter months.  (To point out means to clarify or show).  This is a phrasal verb that you could also use in your writing and TOEFL essays because it is used in academic papers and in more formal English.  

Another example of a phrasal verb is, “to consist of,” which means to be formed by or made up of.  To describe a study that a lecturer mentions, you could say, “The investigation consisted of a series of trials with a control group of rats.” This phrasal verb is also commonly used in academic English, which is truly the kind of English you need to hone for the TOEFL speaking exam.  

Also, when you describe research, you can use “carry out,” a wonderful phrasal verb that is used consistently in academic research papers.  For example, “A team of scientists carried out a study in Norway about global warming.”

So, therefore, the greater variety your response is in terms of rich, academic vocabulary, the higher you will score.  Therefore, it is important to study phrasal verbs used in academic contexts and also collocations for research and writing reports. 

Here are a few collocations (words that naturally fit together and that are commonly used together) you should be aware of when it comes to talking about research:

  • To carry out research (to DO research not Make)
  • Research indicates that….(research shows that…)
  • The professor provides a full explanation of the historical account of the battle (a complete explanation)
  • The professor provides a rationale for his argument (a justification for his argument)
  • The lecturer makes the case for his new theory of environmental protection (defends their position)

Reason #3 for Using Phrasal Verbs for TOEFL Speaking

If you want to sound as natural and as fluent as possible, it is a great idea to incorporate phrasal verbs into your spoken English.  

Although they are tricky, you can’t run and hide from them because they will inevitably find you and you eventually will find them. 

So, take some steps forward to start using them in your day-to-day conversation.  

Set up a routine to review phrasal verbs and how they are used in sentences.  You can use the Anki application for reviewing phrasal verbs with spaced repetition, a brain-based learning methodology. 

The first thing to do is download the Anki application to your desktop.  Then, you can download some phrasal verb decks to study.  Once you see this screen, click on “Get Shared Decks.”

Then, you can find popular decks by searching for “Phrasal Verbs.”  If you want exam prep specific decks, you can find “TOEFL Barron’s” or “Essential TOEFL IBT vocabulary.”

Then, you can download one of the decks that has great reviews and that has sample sentences so you can study the phrasal verb in context.  Some of the decks even have audio to practice pronunciation. 

Then, you can begin studying some common phrasal verbs on a daily basis while waiting for a bus or while riding a train or even while going to the bathroom.  Instead of opening your social media apps, you can open the Anki app and study for 5 minutes a day.  

Another great option is to take my phrasal verbs email course. You will feel much more confident expressing yourself and will find yourself sounding more natural as well.  The course has a video, where I explain what each phrasal verb means and I give you a few example sentences so that you can practice pronunciation.  Then, I give you an audio dictation to practice the phrasal verb.  The course is a fantastic way for you to improve your fluency and your ability to use phrasal verbs effectively.  

which phrasal verbs do you know?
Common phrasal verbs you should know for TOEFL


these are some useful fluency tips

5 Useful Fluency Tips

Do you feel like your speaking skills are getting rusty?  Are you looking for some fluency tips to help you sound more natural and confident when you speak the language you’re studying?  I am going to give you some examples from my own study routine.  

As many of you know, my first language is English and I am learning Spanish and Galician and I also speak Portuguese, so fluency is something I work on regularly.  When I don’t practice, I feel my speaking skills become weak and it quickly becomes tough to remember words and have good pronunciation.  Here are some tips I’ve come up with that you might benefit from. 


repeat the pronunciation of a native speaker
Repetition is key to improving your pronunciation


#1 Repeat Quickly to Improve Pronunciation 

Repetition is essential when you are learning new words.  You need to repeat the word and say it many times before you become able to remember it and use it in conversation.  

Listen to a native speaker say the word and then practice saying it slowly, then speed it up to mimic the intonation of the native speaker.  Try to repeat the native speaker’s musicality.  You can do this with audio books, podcasts, TV series, or with the audio that comes with language textbooks. 


For instance, I recently took a 1v1 Skype Spanish class with one of my Spanish teachers on italki, Salvador in order to practice vocabulary for an interview.  After the class, my notes looked like this: 

write notes from a 1v1 lesson and then listen to the audio to practice your speaking skills.
Ask your teacher to make an audio for you to listen to and practice during the week.

I was staring at my notes the next day and realized that it wasn’t going to be too useful to study these notes in order to improve my speaking.  So, I asked the teacher if he could make an audio for me in order for me to practice the sentences and possible answers on my own.  

That way, I could practice the sentences while I walk the dog and keep listening to the sentences over and over again.  I listen to a sentence, pause the audio, then repeat, first slowly, then more quickly. The technique was effective, efficient, personalized, and highly motivating because it applied to my situation, my level, and my needs.  My friend Shayna offers wonderful courses to improve your pronunciation on her site, Espresso English. 

speak with native speakers and non-native speakers
Speak as much as possible with as many people as you can.

#2 Speak with Native Speakers and Non-Native Speakers

I recently spoke to a student who told me she didn’t like to practice speaking English unless it was with a native speaker.  I truly disagree with this mentality because, despite who we are speaking with, we learn by speaking. 

So, the more you speak, whether it be with a native speaker or a non-native speaker, you will improve your fluency.  You may be surprised that you learn more from non-native speakers than from native speakers because they understand the language from a different perspective. In my opinion, we should copy the intonation and pronunciation of native speakers, but when it comes to practicing our skills, it is best to practice with anyone you can, as often as you can. 

A young girl came to live in my city in Spain from the United States and she wanted to speak Spanish with me, instead of English because she wanted a true immersion experience and really wanted to improve her speaking skills in Spanish.  I thought this was a smart decision on her part because most people would speak with me in English if that was their first language.  

So, I came to this realization while participating in a Spanish-speaking club.  In the club, we speak with a partner in Spanish and practice weekly vocabulary about a theme we are focusing on.  While working with partners, I got to speak with Alex, a guy who lives in the United States, but who speaks Spanish very well.  So, I actually became even more inspired by speaking with him because I realized you can become fluent even if you don’t live in a Spanish-speaking country. 

One thing to keep in mind, though is that you might find yourself comparing yourself to other non-native speakers.  If someone speaks much better than you, you might find yourself getting down on yourself and feeling frustrated because you wish you spoke that well.  Before you start getting stuck in that mentality, you have to realize that comparing yourself to others only impedes your language growth.  You don’t know how long that person has been studying that language or what their situation is.  Try to cultivate an energy of hope and of positivity.  Look at the person and think to yourself, “That is awesome and they speak so well!”  Then, envision yourself speaking the language really well and getting compliments about your speaking abilities.  It is better to think about how much you have grown and on your own goals.  Think about what steps you need to take next in order to improve your language goals. 

write first, then speak
Writing can be an entry point into practicing speaking with more confidence.

#3 Write first, then Speak to Improve Fluency  

I’ve written a long blog post about the “Write Speak, Speak Right” method that I’ve coined from working with one of my students.  The method helped my student break through the C1 barrier to reach the C2 level. She has been able to process information through writing and translate the words to her spoken English.  She told me that the writing method we used gave her time to think about how she wanted to express herself. Our focus during class was on writing, but she also said the sentences out loud and noticed an impressive jump in her fluency.  Writing can be an entry point into clear, effective communication.  

The “write first” method can be especially useful when it comes to exam preparation because you have a chance to brainstorm vocabulary from a variety of topics that will surely help you on the speaking and writing sections of your exam under pressure.  

You can write a paragraph response based on a writing prompt, potential ways to respond to questions at a job interview, or practice telling a story in your target language.

read comics out loud
Since comics have natural language, they are useful tools to practice speaking.

#4 Read Comics Out Loud for Greater Fluency

Reading comics out loud is a brilliant language learning tip that you probably have never thought of.  Comics show real dialogue and the characters use slang, common expressions, and authentic language. If you practice reading what the characters say out loud, your fluency will see a big leap forward. 

I thought of this while working on Galician.  I have a book that shows some natural, colloquial dialogue between characters in comics.  I started reading the sentences out loud and I realized how nice the method was to improve my Galician fluency skills.  Then, I tried it with Spanish and Portuguese and I found a comic in English and looked in the speech bubbles and mimicked what they were saying.  I started using this skill more with students in my English classes and it worked incredibly well. My students started feeling emotions while they read because comics show sadness, happiness, joy, anger, and surprise. 

netflix can help your fluency and speaking skills
Watch series in your target language, pause the audio, and repeat phrases and sentences with better intonation and pronunciation.

#5 Pause the Audio on Netflix, Repeat

 Recently, I got a great fluency trip from a friend who uses an approach that seems obvious, but that few people actually use.  He said he watches his favorite show in Spanish, La Resistencia with subtitles, pauses the audio, and practices saying the expressions out loud.  I find this to be extremely motivating and brilliant. I started trying it in my target languages and realized how effective it is because, first of all, you’re learning real expressions that are commonly used. Secondly, you’re repeating the intonation and pronunciation just like native speakers.  Thirdly, it is a fun way to improve your fluency because it is pleasurable to watch Netflix. Below, you will see a recent Reel on instragram I made using this method!


These five tips will help you move towards speaking more naturally and confidently in your target language.  Don’t forget that you actually have to open your mouth and speak to improve your fluency.  Listening isn’t enough.  In fact, think of ways you can transform a listening activity into a speaking activity or a writing activity into a speaking activity.   Finally, try to design your study routine where everything you do leads to speaking. 

language learning integrating all of the skills
Make an effort to integrate the four language skills into your training and connect every activity with speaking and fluency

If you’re looking for more information about the conversation club I offer in English, you can find it here! 




IELTS and TOEFL: What Kind of Traveler Are You?


Now that it is summertime, we are all longing for a vacation and to travel. Are you going anywhere fun this summer?  Maybe we can start talking about travel plans and preferences again, even if we simply remember some of our best trips and discuss our top 5 destinations.

🇺🇸In American English, we spell “traveler” with one “l” and in British English, 🇬🇧it is spelled with two: “traveller”. In American English, “traveling” is the common spelling, whereas in British English “travelling” is the preferred spelling of the word.  This travel post is for B2 (upper-intermediate) or C1 (advanced) English speakers.  However, if you would like a lesson on travel that is designed for A1 to B1, I recommend downloading this fabulous worksheet. 

Take the Quiz to Find Out What Kind of Traveler You Are!

Welcome to your What Kind of Traveler Are You?

My ideal trip is…

More than anything, while on vacation, I love….

To find my way around when I travel, I…

When I travel, I feel most comfortable wearing…

For me, the most relaxing thing to do on vacation is….

In the evenings, I love…

I’m mostly like to travel…

When I travel I prefer…

On my journeys, I most love smelling…

When I travel, I pack…

I typically…

At night, I love…

5 types of travelers

Common Expressions about Travel:

  • To take a trip= To go on a vacation
    • Salma and Jim took a trip to Iceland last month, which was a dream come true.
  • Peak season= The high season when there are more tourists. 
    • We try to avoid traveling during peak season because the airplanes and the hotels are too crowded. 
  • To miss a flight=to not be able to catch a flight due to various circumstances
    • They missed their flight because the taxi driver was late picking them up.
  • To miss out on something=to not be able to experience or fail to take advantage of an opportunity or chance
    • We missed out on the picnic because we had to take Seth to the hospital.
  • To get away= To go on vacation and take a break from your daily routine
    • When I went to Brazil last summer, it was wonderful to get away for a while, relax and unplug.
  • To unplug= To disconnect and switch off.  This is often used when people go on vacation and want to turn off their phones, screens, and stop checking email.
    • When they traveled to Turkey last winter, they truly unplugged and took a nice break from work.
  • To have a special charm= When a place is attractive and appealing. 
    • The city where I grew up, Stone City, has a special charm because the houses were built out of limestone in the early 1900s.
  • An arduous journey= A difficult trip. 
    • The trip through the Peruvian mountains to Machu Pichhu proved to be an arduous journey because we faced severe weather conditions.
  • Unexplored territory= A place that is remote and isolated and where few humans have been. There is so much unexplored territory in the Andes mountains and we have to have a lot of specific gear to travel to those remote places.
  • pristine= perfect and in its original condition, We went to a pristine beach on a remote island. 
Grab this great lesson plan to use with your students!


Travel Reading Passage: 

A Half-Naked Trip to Iceland

Jim and Salma took a trip to Iceland last summer during the peak holiday season.  They had a few disastrous things happen to them on the journey.  First, they missed their flight because they arrived at the airport late and the security line was long and slow.  They had to wait three hours for the next flight, which, luckily had only a few seats available.  Then, when they finally arrived at their destination, they went to get their suitcases at the baggage claim and realized their bags hadn’t come with them on the plane.  They were furious.  However, they had a well-planned itinerary for their week-long vacation and they didn’t want to miss out on anything, so they decided to wear the same clothes until their bags arrived at the airport.  

The next day, they wore the same stinky clothes to visit Lake Myvatn and its charming surroundings.  For Jim and Salma, it was a euphoric experience because they saw steam coming off of the lake at sunrise while a great variety of duck species quacked in front of them.  However, they were astonished when one of the ducks approached them and actually attacked and ran off with Salma’s left flip flop.  They returned to the hotel with even fewer clothes after the duck assault. 

Their main goal was to unplug and get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. So, they went to the spa in their hotel and relaxed in the hot tub.  They turned on the high-powered jets and were finally able to let go of their worries and release all of the stress from work.  The spa even had showers that gave off the smells of lavender and mint.  Although it was blissful, one of the jets was so strong that it ripped off Jim’s bathing suit.  He threw a towel over himself and ran back to the hotel room half-naked. The hotel concierge saw him and gave him a strange look.

The next day, they planned to go off the beaten track and visit a waterfall that was located 3 hours north.  They had very few clothes to wear and had to go barefoot.  Fortunately, they had a tour guide who led them up a rugged mountain with jagged cliffs and despite the arduous journey, they appreciated the peace and quiet.  As they were trekking through the lush, unexplored territory, they felt a sense of adventure.  What could they expect to find at the peak of the mountain? They were blown away when they reached the top.  They could see a gorgeous waterfall flowing down the side of the mountain.  It was the most pristine place they had ever been. Despite their bleeding toes, the hike was well worth it.




Conversation Questions about Travel

  1. Do you prefer to travel by train, car, bus, plane, or on foot?
  2. What kind of shoes do you like to wear when you travel? Flip flops, mountain boots, sneakers, or high heels? 
  3. When you travel, do you prefer to use a guidebook to help you get places and understand the history of the landmarks, or do you like to play everything by ear? 
  4. Do you love to go off the beaten track or do you prefer to visit well-known places?
  5. What is your opinion about guided tours and travel guides? Do you deepen your understanding of a place when you go on guided tours? 
  6. When you travel, do you enjoy meandering and wandering around the city streets with no particular plan? 
  7. Are you a museum lover? What kind of museums do you enjoy exploring: history museums, science museums, art museums, or cultural museums? 
  8. Do you like to sleep in a tent or a caravan and experience more rustic conditions or would you rather get a spa treatment in a 5-star hotel? 
  9. Do you like to learn the local language before you travel to a place and practice some of the words you have studied in bars and restaurants?
  10.  Are you a fan of outdoor adventure sports like hiking, rock climbing, bungee jumping, skiing, surfing, and rappelling? 
  11. Are you the kind of person who could spend an entire vacation sunbathing on the beach with a cold drink in one hand and a book in the other?
  12. Do you usually take a travel journal with you and take note of your adventures?


Sample IELTS CUE CARD Answer About Travel:

I recently visited London with a group of High School students from Spain.  We traveled by plane and the flight lasted around 3 hours.  Next, we took a train into the city and stayed at a comfortable hotel downtown.  To be honest, we had a very well-planned itinerary and visited all of the well-known landmarks in the city.  I found the London Bridge to be spectacular and unforgettable.  We tried fish and chips in a local pub, but the meal didn’t blow me away and the beer was warm, which I wasn’t used to. 

I have to admit that the British people were very friendly to us and talkative. One notable cultural difference between Spain and England is the way people cross the roads.  In Spain, cars will stop for pedestrians because pedestrians have priority when crossing the road at zebra crossings.  In London, cars stop when the lights are red.  So, one of the students tried crossing the road when the light was green, and she got hit by a car.  Fortunately, it hit her hip and she fell safely on the sidewalk without being majorly injured, but we quickly learned to follow the traffic rules carefully in London.  Despite this unfortunate event, we had an incredible time and even saw the city from the London Eye.  Overall, I found London to be one of my favorite cities of all time.


Would you like to hear a British accent? Listen to this man with a British accent speak about the benefits of travel




To sum up, travel transforms us and deeply changes our way of life, perception, and worldview.  Certainly, when we are tired, the best thing we can do is travel to a new location.  Suddenly, our focus and attitude change when we are out of our comfort zone.  Also, we can learn about our own culture by traveling.  I remember what it felt like to return to supermarkets and malls in the USA after living in Brazil for many years. It was so different and I looked at everything with a changed perspective.  In the comments below, please tell me about your favorite trip of all time.  I will comment and respond to you!

Get these fun vocabulary activities in Google Slides

5 Brilliant Writing Tips for TOEFL

Improving your TOEFL Writing Score

You are in the right place if your TOEFL writing score is lower than 25 and you don’t know why.  If you WANT to score 25 or above on the writing section of the TOEFL IBT exam, these 5 writing tips for TOEFL will help you increase your score. One of my students went from a 21 to a 27 on the writing exam using these easy, clear strategies. Read these brilliant ideas and put these techniques into practice to skyrocket your writing score and help you get into the university of your dreams.

A TOEFL IBT test taker writes down her sentences and uses variety and sentence variation
Utilizing sentence variation in your essays will strengthen your writing and your overall score on exam day.

Writing Tip for TOEFL #1: Vary Your Sentences

Avoid boring the reader by following the same, monotonous sentence pattern every time.  Study different ways to structure your sentences and practice varying your sentences in your introduction and body paragraphs. 

There are four different types of sentences in English: simple, complex, compound, and complex-compound.  

  1. simple sentences (one subject and one verb):➡️People ride bikes to work.
  2. compound sentences (a compound sentence has two or more simple sentences that are connected by one of the following conjunctions: and, or, or but) ➡️In Copenhagen, employees commute to work by bike, and cars are slowly disappearing from the roads.
  3. complex sentences (A simple sentence with an independent clause and a subordinate clause. A subordinate clause is indicated by “when, because, since, if…” and can’t stand alone in the sentence.  ➡️ Many citizens take the bus because they get to work faster.
  4. compound-complex sentences (a compound-complex sentence has two or more simple sentences (independent clauses) and one or more subordinate clauses.➡️Although the majority of people ride their bikes to work, some people take the bus, and other people go to work on foot.  

Test takers often think that in order to get a high score, they should use more compound-complex sentences because they perceive them as more impressive.  Why do they think this? One reason is that many people translate the sentence structure from their own language.  For example, in Spanish and Russian, longer sentences with multiple commas are standard.  However, when translated, those sentences are too long in English and need to be broken into multiple sentences.  

In English, it recommended to use sentence variety and vary between simple, complex, and compound, and keep the number of compound-complex sentences to a limit.

Sentence Variation within Paragraphs

Don’t write sentences in a  paragraph like this: ⛔️ 

Cars, long considered valuable by the human population, although expensive, are valuable assets to citizens, not only as great transportation methods but also because they are comfortable and luxurious (compound-complex). Firstly, cars help people, young and old, get safely from one place to another, and additionally are safer than bikes, especially for the elderly population (compound-complex) Vacations, on the other hand, require a lot of planning, by both family members and teenagers, making it difficult to make an action plan and foresee all of the unexpected risks, which can sometimes make traveling an exhausting endeavor for everyone involved (compound-complex). In this essay, I will defend these key arguments about cars (simple).

What is wrong with this essay? The sentences are too LONG, full of commas, and the ideas become convoluted and unclear when there are too many compound-complex sentences. 

Now, consider writing a paragraph following a pattern like this:

If I had to choose between spending money on a car and spending money on a vacation, I would invest in a vacation (complex).  Firstly, vacations create lasting memories (simple). Although vacations are sometimes expensive, they are transformative, and they help people unplug (compound). Cars, on the other hand, need constant maintenance (simple). In this essay, I will explore both sides and give reasons to support my opinion that vacations are the most worthwhile investment (complex). 

What did you notice about the sentence variety? How could you improve your sentence structure in the next essay you write? 

Exercise: Write a paragraph about the following essay topic and vary your sentence structure as much as possible. You could try writing 5 sentences using this structure: simple, complex, simple, compound, complex.

Some people prefer to prepare meals at home while other people prefer eating out at restaurants and food stands.  Which do you prefer? Use reasons and examples to support your answer: 

(suggested answer at the end of this post)


Using transition words on the TOEFL IBT helps guide the reader and creates more flow in your writing
Transition words are essential to guide your reader from one idea to the next.

Writing Tip for TOEFL #2: Use Transition Words in your TOEFL Essay

A well-crafted essay that is coherent uses transition words to help guide the reader.  These words help the reader stay interested in the essay and understand what arguments are coming next.  

Here are some transition words to use: 


  • An example that illustrates this point is
  • Specifically
  • For instance
  • In other words
  • To clarify

To Compare: 

  • Similarly
  • Likewise
  • Also
  • In a similar fashion
  • As well as

To Contrast: 

  • Nevertheless
  • Although
  • In contrast
  • On the other hand
  • However

Cause and Effect 

  • Consequently
  • As a consequence
  • Thus
  • Hence
  • For this reason

Adding more Information

  • In addition
  • Furthermore
  • What’s more
  • Moreover
  • As well as

Practice Using Transition Words in a Paragraph

Let’s practice! Add some transition words to the following paragraph to make it sound more natural and have better flow: 

People often say that loyalty is the most important quality for a good friend to have. (1) _______________, in my opinion, a good sense of humor is more important than loyalty.  I say this because sometimes loyal friends are too serious. (2) ______________ loyal friends are too clingy and call too often.  (3)________________ friends with a good sense of humor can turn a bad day into a joyful, silly day. (4) _____________ I would rather have a friend with a good sense of humor than a loyal friend.  

Exercise: Go through one of the practice TOEFL essays you have written in the past and add some transition words from the above list to the essay. Are you always using the same transitional language? Try to use a variety of transitional words in your word bank so that on exam day, you will easily remember them and won’t draw a blank.

A woman writing with an active voice in her TOEFL IBT essays
An active voice is my dynamic and emphasizes the agent who carries out the action.

Writing Tip for TOEFL #3: Use an Active Voice More Than a Passive Voice

Generally speaking, an active voice is used when the agent does the action and a passive voice is used when you don’t know who did the action or when the agent isn’t important.

🔥Active: Children learn manners from their parents.

🏬Passive: The building was constructed in 1899.

In your essay, you can vary your sentences by adding a passive sentence to your paragraph. In the social sciences, writing with an active voice is recommended more than writing with a passive voice because the writing is more dynamic. Sometimes in articles that describe science experiments, the passive voice is used more to describe how the research study was carried out.

An Example of Active Voice

Here is an example of a series of sentences you could write in the TOEFL essay:
Foreign movies depict the life of a country and they show us a little bit about the culture, the language, and the lifestyle. Movies that are made in Spain, for example, are interesting to watch because they show how people give two kisses when they greet each other. In addition, when I watch Spanish movies, I learn how people celebrate festivals in Spain.

Notice that all the sentences in the paragraph are active and the verbs “depict,” “watch,” and “learn” show a clear agent who carries out the action.

One Passive Sentence is Fine
*However, there is one passive sentence, “Movies that are made in Spain…” In that sentence, the director who made the movie isn’t important, hence, the passive voice is used. So, you could have one passive sentence in the paragraph to vary the structure to make a general claim.
Practice: Use the following prompt to craft your introductory paragraph. Use the active voice and experiment with one sentence with a passive construction.

Some people prefer watching foreign movies while others prefer watching movies that were made in the country they were born in. Which do you prefer? Use reasons and examples to support your answer:


three different types of adverb phrases that can be used to show strong, somewhat strong, and weak opinions about a topic
These adverb phrases are useful in your TOEFL essay because they are more formal and can be used to clarify your opinion.


TOEFL Writing Tip #4: Use Adverb Phrases in your Independent Essay

The TOEFL is testing your ability to use varied, rich vocabulary and academic language. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a notebook with synonyms and adverb phrases for your essays that you can easily reference and use in your practice essays. The more you use them, the more natural it will become to use them on the day of the exam and in your future academic writing assignments at the university of your dreams. Think about these phrases like frosting on a cake. The frosting makes the cake taste more delicious. These phrases make the sentences more pleasing to read.

Adverb Phrases in Use
Here are a few example sentences with adverb phrases that you could use in your TOEFL independent essay:

  • Perhaps some students prefer to live on their own in college, while others conceivably prefer having roommates. (expresses an opinion that isn’t very strong). ➡️Notice there is no comma after perhaps.
  • Presumably, other students prefer to live with a roommate so that they can have someone to talk to at the end of the day. (indicates a somewhat strong opinion)
  • The best experiences from college are definitely celebrated with other people rather than by yourself. (communicates a very strong opinion)
  • Undoubtedly, technology is changing the way the human brain works. (communicates a very strong opinion)


Paraphrasing is an important skill on the TOEFL IBT writing and speaking exams
There are many ways to practice your paraphrasing skills to prepare for the TOEFL exam.


Tip #5: Paraphrase on the TOEFL IBT Writing Section

It is crucial to learn how to paraphrase effectively on the TOEFL IBT writing and speaking exams for two main reasons:

    1. Putting sentences in your own words shows your advanced language skills.
    2. Paraphrasing is an essential skill to have for communication at the university level.

What you learn in this section will not only help you raise your score on the exam, but it will also help you excel in your academic program. Some people rely on apps like Quilbot to paraphrase in their day-to-day academic writing, but you can’t use your phone on the TOEFL exam, unfortunately.

paraphrasing should follow a specific protocol and this is a list of the dos and don'ts of paraphrasing
If you want to learn how to effectively paraphrase, make sure you follow these important steps to put the TOEFL passages into your own words.

If you say word for word and copy exactly what the lecturer said or if you repeat the words that are in the reading passage, you will lose points and your score on the TOEFL IBT will suffer. You could also get a zero on the exam. Check out UW Madison’s Writing Center’s great tips on paraphrasing! Also, you might find Purdue’s Online Writing Center’s example of paraphrasing useful as well.

Paraphrasing Means Putting Things in Your Own Words

If you can restate the text or the lecture in a slightly different way and use a variety of language and grammatical structures, you will get a higher score on the TOEFL. Paraphrasing requires practice and if you follow a clear, simple structure for paraphrasing, it will become so much easier and you will be ready to implement your paraphrasing skills on exam day.

To paraphrase, you can substitute the key words with synonyms by focusing on the most important information expressed in the sentence. It might help you to identify the subject and verb of the independent clause to get started. You can change the word order, change the voice from active to passive, and even eliminate some words if they aren’t essential to the meaning of the sentence.

this shows one way to paraphrase for TOEFL, which is to substitute key words with synonyms
The first step is to paraphrase is to underline the key words in the sentence. Then, you can substitute those words with synonyms.


Paraphrasing Practice Exercise 1a:

The first step in paraphrasing is to underline the key words in the sentence. Then, you can substitute the key words with synonyms. For this reason, it is helpful to generate some lists of synonyms as you write and prepare for the exam.

1a. “People tend to be healthier than they used to be because they are more aware of ways to follow a healthy diet.”
Step 1: Underline the key words:
1a. “People tend to be healthier than they used to be because they are more aware of ways to follow a healthy diet.”
Step 2: Generate a list of synonyms for the underlined words:
Step 3: Substitute the key words with synonyms:
“Members of society are likely to enjoy better health than they did in the past because they are more conscious of sticking to a well-balanced diet.”

this resource is available to help you practice paraphrasing for the TOEFL IBT exam
This is a google slides presentation with 44 slides that allow you to practice and master the skill of paraphrasing.


Practice with Paraphrasing for TOEFL: YOUR TURN

Practice paraphrasing the following sentence:
1b. Underline the key words in the sentence and paraphrase them:
“Parents take their children to museums in order to teach them about humanity and the history of our world.”

👀✏️An Important Tip: Some words can’t be paraphrased!!! Some words are absolutely essential to the meaning of the sentence and can’t be paraphrased. Words like “literature, math, the moon, keystone species…etc.” Also, proper nouns can’t be paraphrased. These words have a very specific meaning and there are few if any synonyms to replace them. For that reason, it is important to focus on finding synonyms for some, but not all of the words in the sentence.

This image shows ways to paraphrase the sentence by changing the sentence structure
Change the sentence structure and express the second idea first in the paraphrased sentence.

Step 1: Change the structure of the sentence
In this case, you can move the second clause to the beginning of the sentence and perhaps start with a transition word or start with the “ing” form of the verb.
Here is an example paraphrasing exercise using this method:

2a. Public transportation is an effective and cheap form of transportation because the costs are lower than owning your own vehicle.
Use transitional language to start the sentence such as:
As a result of….
Due to the fact that…

Start with the second idea first:
Due to the fact that many drivers have additional expenses that come with owning cars, public transportation is a viable and less expensive option.”

Paraphrasing Exercise with Answers 2b
Now, try to paraphrase the following sentence by changing the order of information in the sentence:

“Nowadays, people ride their bikes to work more than ever because bikes are a healthy option and an efficient form of transportation.”
(answer key at the end of the blog)

Paraphrasing Practice Exercise 3a: Change the Parts of Speech
Step 1: Change the parts of speech of words in the sentence.
These kinds of tables are really helpful for paraphrasing tasks on the TOEFL exam. Why? Because one way of paraphrasing a sentence is to use the same word, but in a different part of speech.

Why is this Rich Vocabulary Important for the TOEFL?

Knowing different parts of speech can help you describe a concept in a similar way by making small changes to the sentence.
Let’s practice:
Paraphrasing Practice Sentence 3a
“There is little scientific evidence that there are life forms on other planets.”
Let’s refer to the table above to help us use the adverb “scientifically” and substitute it for scientific.
For example,
“Life on other planets can’t be scientifically proven.

Paraphrasing Exercise 3b
Try using a different part of speech from the table above to paraphrase the following sentence:
“For women, the biological clock indicates when to have children.”
(answer key at the end of the blog)


Use these Clear Writing Templates:

Many TOEFL coaches recommend using a template to help you organize your answer. It is a great idea to follow a clear structure so that your essay is easy to follow and has a well-supported argument.  For the independent essay, create a thesis sentence that clarifies what you are going to argue in the essay. Then, create an outline sentence that describes what you are going to discuss in the body paragraphs.  The independent essay needs to be at least 300 words and you have 30 minutes to write it.

General overview sentence+ thesis statement + outline sentence:

➡️ Living alone or living with roommates is an important decision college students have to make. Some people think that it is best to have the support and companionship of roommates, while others believe people are more productive when they live alone. In my opinion, living with roommates helps students develop social skills, adjust to the university lifestyle, and prepare for life after graduation. (In the outline sentence, list the 3 main ideas you will discuss in your body paragraphs)

⭐️Each body paragraph should address 1 main idea with supporting details about that 1 main topic.  If you digress from the main topic or if your examples don’t match the topic of your paragraph, you will get a lower score.

Body Paragraph 1: (Living with roommates helps students develop social skills) + details and evidence

    • students learn to share chores
    • living with others pushes students to communicate with roommates about doing chores

Body Paragraph 2: (Adjusting to the university lifestyle) + details and personal example

    • roommates help each other adapt to the changes of going to school
    • friendly support to carry out tasks didn’t overwhelm me when I had roommates’ help

Body Paragraph 3: (Preparing for life after graduation) + details and explanation

    • entering the job force requires good social skills
    • working with others is a skill people strengthen by living with others

Conclusion : (Transition language … To summarize, to conclude, in summary….restate the thesis statement and the outline sentence by paraphrasing the key ideas you argued in the essay.

Transition words for the conclusion : To conclude, In conclusion, In summary, In closing, To sum up…


THE TOEFL Integrated Essay Template

The Introduction

  • The reading and the lecture both address _____.
  • The author of the article holds the opinion that ______.
  • The lecturer refutes the claims made in the article.
  • The lecturer upholds the argument that_____.

The Body Paragraphs

Use the following templates for the body paragraphs:

  • As stated by the author of the reading passage,   _____.
  • The article supports this with an example of____.
  • The lecturer opposes this specific argument and claims that ____.
  • Furthermore, the lecturer explains that ______.

  • Additionally, the author mentions ______.
  • In the article, the author posits that _____.
  • The lecturer, on the other hand, contends that ______.
  • He/she delves into this point by asserting ______.

  • Finally, the author claims that _____.
  • To support this point, the author explains that ____.
  • Nonetheless, the lecturer’s point of view is  _____.
  • He/she mentions that _____.

You don’t need a conclusion.

Your TOEFL integrated essay should be about 280-300 words in length and you have 20 minutes to write it.

    • Summarize the reading passage, then transition by explaining if the lecturer supports or disagrees with each point in the reading passage.


Watch An Instagram Live on the Independent Essay with Marina @wikimarina and I @movingenglish.



The Best TOEFL Writing Template for Any Prompt
TOEFL Writing Integrated Task Youtube Tutorial


It is essential to learn how to paraphrase effectively to succeed in the TOEFL writing and reading sections. If you follow some of the tips on this blog post, you are sure to get a higher score and avoid repetition. The truth is that nobody wants to read a boring essay. Remember you can: 1) Substitute the key words with synonyms. 2) Change the structure of the sentence and bring the second idea to the front of the sentence. 3) Use a different part of speech of the same word to creatively paraphrase the sentence.

Overall, if you take these five tips into account and start using these strategies to write a clear essay, it will help you tremendously to achieve your goals. Here are some more tips from the official ETS website about improving your writing skills
Do you have my freebie yet? Download the 2021 TOEFL speaking exam guide:


Sentence Structure
Some people regularly cook at home (simple). Others prefer enjoying the culinary options around town because they believe it is more adventurous (complex). I prefer making my own food at home (simple). Going to the local market with friends and looking up inspiring recipes motivates me to take care of my health (compound). Therefore, I will explain why it is more convenient and healthy to eat at home and why I use food preparation as an excuse to take care of my friends and family with the added benefit of socializing around the dinner table (compound-complex).

Transition words:
People often say that loyalty is the most important quality for a good friend to have. (1)However, in my opinion, a good sense of humor is more important than loyalty. I say this because sometimes loyal friends are too serious. (2) In addition, loyal friends are too clingy and call too often. (3) On the contrary, friends with a good sense of humor can turn a bad day into a joyful, silly day. (4) For this reason, I would rather have a friend with a good sense of humor than a loyal friend.

Practice question 1b)
“Parents take their children to museums in order to teach them about humanity and the history of our world.”
Here is a sample paraphrased sentence, although it isn’t the only option:
“Parents accompany their children to museums for the purpose of educating them about human society and global history.”
: Practice question 2b)
“Nowadays, people ride their bikes to work more than ever because bikes are a healthy option and an efficient form of transportation.”
Despite the fact that this isn’t the only option, is a sample paraphrased sentence:
“Due to the fact that bikes are fast and help riders stay physically fit, people are currently commuting to work in greater numbers.”
Practice Question 3b.
“For women, the biological clock indicates when to have children.”
Considering the fact that there are millions of ways to reword this sentence, this is one potential option:
“Biologically speaking, women often feel a sense of timing for having children.”

Check out these great links below related to ESL and education:

How to Develop Amazing Personal Connections

How to make Grammar Practice Fun in English

Ways to Make English Language Learners Feel Comfortable in your Classroom

Interested in blogging? Here are 7 Helpful Tips on How to Blog Like a Boss 




Talk about your Favorite Movie IELTS Cue Card

One of the strategies I use with my students who are preparing for the IELTS exam is to create vocabulary lists related to the topics that they will surely encounter on the IELTS speaking exam.  One of the topics that could potentially come up is about films and movies.  Here is a great list of words that will help you crack the IELTS speaking exam.  You might get a cue card that asks the following:


Take Notes to Prepare your Answer

How could you better prepare for this question?  I would suggest taking the following steps to take notes and improve your response:

    • Step 1: Brainstorm your top 3 movie choices and quickly choose one that you could talk the most about.
    • Step 2: Write down the genre of the movie (science fiction, romantic comedy, drama…etc)
    • Step 3: Write down three key events from the plot and a few charming or memorable characteristics of the main characters.
    • Step 4: Use some of the adjectives on the above list to talk about why you love the movie so much
    • Step 5: Train your pronunciation and fluency with a language partner or with a teacher.

You could even consider creating a word web or using a table with columns to organize your keywords and notes that correspond to each of the questions on the cue card.

Sample Answer

“The best movie that I have ever seen is “The Shape of Water,” which won an Oscar in 2018.  The movie falls into the “romance” and “fantasy” genres and is about a mute cleaning lady who works in a high security government office.  She ends up falling in love with an amphibian creature that is held captive for research study in the government building.  She thinks of a plan to rescue the creature and help set him free. The main character is played by Sally Hawkins and she is gentle, caring, and determined.  The movie left a lasting impression on me because it showed the nature of human beings and their desire to research the mysteries of the planet.  However, these mysterious creatures and animals have feelings and we have to treat other beings with respect. The loving bond the cleaning lady and the creature develop is intense and beautiful and kept me on the edge of my seat.  I love movies with suspense and I also enjoy movies that are unpredictable. In conclusion, the Shape of Water held all the qualities that I look for in a good movie and more: mystery, fantasy, and love.”


Vocabulary about Movies and Films

The resource I have designed is a wonderful way for you to study advanced vocabulary for the IELTS test on your own.  These digital task cards are ideal for B2 (upper intermediate) and C1 (advanced) adult ESL language learners. These digital task cards help you learn common expression, collocations, and important vocabulary words for talking about movies. You can also listen to the audio recording of the word to practice pronunciation and select the correct definition.

vocabulary-cue-cards-ieltsWAYS TO TALK ABOUT FILMS


IELTS Speaking Part 3 Questions about Films

  1. Have movies become increasingly popular or decreasingly popular in recent years?
  2. Do you think movies will be replaced by television series?
  3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of basing movies on books?
  4. How important is it for a movie director to be creative and inventive when making a movie?
  5. Should movies be censored or should be we free to choose what we watch?
  6. What is your opinion about downloading movies illegally from the internet. Should there be a fine for this?
  7. What makes movies so appealing to watch?
  8. Do you think people will stop going to the cinema in the future?
  9. How has technology like CGI (computer generated imagery) improved movies? What are the disadvantages of too much technology in movies?
  10. How have films changed since you were a child?

Conversation Questions about Movies


Ways to Talk about Movies and Watching TV:



6 Animal Idioms with their Meanings



Animal Idioms With their Meaning

Idioms are a wonderful way to study the English language and sound more natural and fluent in conversation.  Also, these idioms are playful, creative, and they make learning language more exciting.

To let the cat out of the bag means to reveal a secret.
For example, “Jessica let the cat out of the bag and told everyone about the surprise birthday party.”😼

An elephant in the room is something that is everybody knows about, but nobody wants to talk about.🐘For example, “The fact that sam was caught for theft was the elephant in the room at all of the family dinners.”

To be a chicken can mean to be scared of things. 🐓To “chicken out” means to be too scared to do something and to back out. For example, “Sam is such a chicken.  Last week he chickened out and didn’t go into the cave with us.”

To stop something cold turkey is to abruptly quit doing something. For example, “Suzy quit smoking cold turkey.” 🦃

A person who wouldn’t hurt a fly is a harmless person.🪰For example, “Jennifer wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s so sweet.”

A rat is a person who is considered sneaky and who might tell others about someone’s mistakes or wrongdoings.🐀To rat someone out is to tell on them or tell the teacher/ authorities about what they did wrong.  For example, “Jim ratted me out and told the teacher that I stole his pencil.”

Your turn! What other animal idioms have you heard? Do you work like a dog? Are you a night owl or an early bird? Do you watch people like a hawk? Have you ever felt like a fish out of water? How do you kill two birds with one stone? Write down your favorite idioms in the comments.


Animal Idioms with their Meanings

Take this quiz to test your knowledge of the animal idioms.🐓