Verbs worth spreading or how I work with TED talks

In this post, I am showing how I bring powerful verbs to my students’ attention with the help of TED talks. The post includes an exercise you can try doing here and now.

I have inexplicably taken a special liking to verbs recently. What’s inexplicable is why recently. Verbs are a powerful part of speech and deserve special attention.

Verbs are one of the reasons why English is so easy to start speaking. I am talking about basic verbs, like do / get / have / make. You can often substitute any verb with one of these and construct a correct, meaningful sentence. However, as you move along in mastering the language, these verbs turn into an obstacle. Because you can express almost anything using the basic ones, your brain resists using any others. These are, after all, correct. As a result, you get trapped – you want to progress to the next level, but your language lacks any verbal variety whatsoever and sounds disappointingly simple.

But enough chit-chat. Let’s see some powerful verbs in action.

I work with TED talks a lot. I work with advanced students a lot. Here is what I started doing with both recently.

I choose a TED talk for my students, we watch and do the usual listening for gist / listening for detail stuff. But then I give them a portion of the talk with gaps and say, “Try to fill in the gaps from memory. All the missing words are verbs, by the way.” They remember the ideas so what happens is they come up with verbs that suit the sentences, but the verbs are ‘bland’, like do / get / have / make / give / say. We then listen to check and our jaw drops at the diverse verb choices the speakers go for. To make sure the verbs remain engraved on my students’ minds, I ask them to give me the main idea of the passage using the verbal phrases* from the talk. After a couple of such jaw-dropping exercises, my students are on the constant lookout for powerful verbs and even engineer them into their speech.

 Now you try. Here is a ted talk by Ben Cameron “Why the live arts matter.” He is talking about the changes that live arts are undergoing due to technological progress. First, listen to the talk to get some context. Then read the two portions of the text and think of verbs you would use in the gaps. (Alternatively, you can try to fill in the gaps without listening first). Then listen to compare.

Portion 1 6:23-7:18

This double impact is occasioning a massive redefinition of the cultural market, a time when anyone is a potential author. Frankly, what we’re seeing now in this environment is a massive time, when the entire world is changing as we move from a time when audience numbers are ____________. But the number of arts participants, people who write poetry, who sing songs, who perform in church choirs, is ____________ beyond our wildest imaginations. This group, others have called the “pro ams,” amateur artists doing work at a professional level. You see them on YouTube, in dance competitions, film festivals and more. They are radically ___________ our notions of the potential of an aesthetic vocabulary, while they are challenging and ___________ the cultural autonomy of our traditional institutions. Ultimately, we now live in a world defined not by consumption, but by participation.

Portion 2 10:37-12:15 

Especially now, as we all must confront the fallacy of a market-only orientation, uninformed by social conscience; we must seize and celebrate the power of the arts to ___________ our individual and national characters, and especially characters of the young people, who all too often, are subjected to bombardment of sensation, rather than digested experience. Ultimately, especially now in this world, where we live in a context of regressive and onerous immigration laws, in reality TV that ___________ on humiliation, and in a context of analysis, where the thing we hear most repeatedly, day-in, day-out in the United States, in every train station, every bus station, every plane station is, “Ladies and gentlemen, please ___________ any suspicious behavior or suspicious individuals to the authorities nearest you,” when all of these ways we are encouraged to __________ our fellow human being with hostility and fear and contempt and suspicion.

The arts, whatever they do, whenever they call us together, invite us to look at our fellow human being with generosity and curiosity. God knows, if we ever needed that capacity in human history, we need it now. You know, we’re bound together, not, I think by technology, entertainment and design, but by common cause. We work to _____________ healthy vibrant societies, to ____________ human suffering, to ____________ a more thoughtful, substantive, empathic world order.

How many verbs did you get right? Did you come up with some powerful verbs? Was your verb use diverse?

*I am focusing on verbs in this post, but verbs should be memorized as part of a phrase, in combination with a noun. I have highlighted the examples of such phrases in Ben Cameron’s talk.

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The phone that transformed the way I work

In this post, I am giving insights into how Blackberry PRIV has transformed the way I work.

I used to be very old-school. I used to own phones that could only make calls and send messages. I used to think that smartphones were just toys. That was until January 2017, when I got a new phone – a smartphone, which has completely transformed the way I work. Please give it up for my current phone – BlackBerry PRIV!

What has changed?

First and foremost, PRIV comes with a physical keyboard, thanks to which I have started writing consistently. The physical keyboard is so convenient that I can easily type long texts. I have never written so much in my entire life, even though I have a blog which dates back to May 2013. Writing used to to require a lot of discipline because I had to sit in front of the computer and focus. I now enjoy the freedom of writing in any place and at any time – on the metro (sitting at off-peak times or standing in the rush hour), at an airport (killing time waiting for my flight), on the plane (when there is absolutely nothing to do without internet connection), you name it.

Second, PRIV comes with Android OS, which means that all Google services are pre-installed and ready to use. As a result, I have started writing on Google Docs, which means everything I write on my phone is available on all my other devices and vice versa. Additionally, I collaborate with students on their writing on Google Docs. More often than not, I do it on my phone. I encourage my students to write a lot and they do. Collaborating with them on Google Docs saves me masses of time.

Third, PRIV and Google Docs allow me to create beautifully-formatted documents with portions of texts underlined, put in italics, highlighted, or changed in any way I need. Text formatting is of paramount importance for me because I create my own handouts for class on a regular basis. Let me give you an example of how I do it on my new phone. Say, I have a Ted talk in mind for my students. On the way to the office, I go to ted.com, copy the script, paste it into a Google Doc, type several listening-for-gist questions at the beginning, create a gap-fill exercise, type a wordlist, type several discussion questions at the end, and by the time I get to the office, I have a handout that is completely ready to be printed out.

Last but not least, PRIV is helping me to go paperless. I used to print out a ‘teacher’s copy’ of every handout I was using (a copy with all the answers, for my own use). I don’t any more. Most of ‘teacher’s copies’ are on my phone and I don’t have to carry around or store piles of paper.

I didn’t expect a smartphone to revolutionize the way I work. But there is no denying that it did. I absolutely love my Blackberry PRIV. It allows me to do more and be more.

 

Photos by Irina Lutsenko

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Proudly presenting my student’s essay

In this post, I am presenting an IELTS essay my student wrote in response to an article we discussed. He did such a great job that I couldn’t help sharing.

 

Remember last week I wrote a post about how I tried walking in my student’s shoes and wrote an essay I gave him for homework? Well, the student did his homework (which I didn’t have a shadow of a doubt he would). In this post, I want to share it with you.

First, let me introduce the student. His name is Nikita Videnkov, he is a 21-year old engineering student, who has been having one-to-one classes with me for about 3-4 years. His primary purpose is to improve his language skills, but he is also thinking of taking IELTS, so we do IELTS-format tasks on a regular basis.

Second, to those of you who aren’t my students I have to explain that my homework worded “write an essay” is usually followed by homework worded “rewrite your essay.” I believe that writing is 90% rewriting and make my students rewrite their work.

Third, let me give you some context. We were discussing the article called “Phoney war” (New Scientist, 25 January 2017), which deals with end-to-end encryption and its importance in the ‘privacy of communications vs. public security’ debate. As a follow-up task, I came up with the following essay topic for Nikita: “Some people believe everybody must be granted total privacy of online communications by default, while others argue that such privacy undermines public security and authorities should therefore be able to get access to private data. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.”

Finally, I am proudly presenting two versions of Nikita’s essay in this post:

1) Version 1 – ‘as is,’ completely intact; I have highlighted the parts I wanted him to edit.

2) Version 2 – revised based on my comments; I have highlighted the edited parts.

You are now all set to read the essays.

Version 1

Some people claim that total privacy of communications must be provided for every user, while others believe that such freedom compromises public security and private data should be accessible for authorities through backdoors in software. I shall discuss both these views and provide my own opinion.

Naturally, everybody wants to keep their secrets safe. It results in people’s desire to use services with encryption, which keep data safe during transmission. Nobody wants their private photos or business ideas to be hijacked and shared to the net where others can use them against owners. Banks also use meticulously developed encryption algorithms to maintain security of people’s assets and transactions.

Nevertheless, total privacy by default may affect public security since terrorists can use encrypted connections to organize attacks. There were several cases, when terrorists used messengers with end-to-end encryption which resulted in many deaths among citizens. Authorities could not prevent it since they didn’t have back-doors in messengers’ software which could help them to intercept terrorists’ data. Those attacks provoked reasonable discussion between authorities on mandating companies to lessen the encryption level and to give the government the access to private data stored in people’s devices.

In conclusion, I believe that every person has a right to keep their personal information secured. To fulfill that right government should give IT-companies the permission to encrypt data so users feel confident about their private life. However, the government has to provide public safety, which means that in extremis authorities should be able to crack data of any suspicious person to prevent attacks that can lead to many deaths of innocents.

266 words

Version 2

Some people claim that every user must be guaranteed total privacy of communications, while others believe that such guarantee compromises public security and private data should be accessible to authorities through backdoors in software. I shall discuss both these views and provide my own opinion.

Naturally, everybody wants to keep their personal information safe, which results in people’s desire to use services with encryption that keep data hidden from third party. Nobody wants their private photos or business ideas to be hijacked and shared to the net because others can use them against owners. Banks also use meticulously developed encryption algorithms to maintain security of people’s assets and transactions.

Nevertheless, total privacy by default may affect public security since terrorists can use encrypted connections to organize attacks. There were several cases of terrorists using messengers with end-to-end encryption to organize attacks, which caused many deaths among citizens. Authorities could not prevent those since they did not have backdoors in messengers’ software which could help them to intercept terrorists’ data. Those attacks initiated the discussion between authorities and software companies about mandating the latter to lessen the encryption level and to give the government access to private data stored in people’s devices.

In conclusion, every person has the right to keep their personal information secured. To protect that right, the government should give IT-companies the permission to encrypt data so users feel confident about their private life. However, I believe that public safety is more important, which means that in extremis authorities should be able to circumvent the encryption to prevent attacks that can lead to many deaths of innocents.

269 words

Nikita did a great job on both versions, didn’t he? If you have any questions for him, you can contact him on Facebook or Vkontakte.

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I try walking in my student’s shoes and write an IELTS essay

In this post, I am sharing an essay I wrote in IELTS format. I make my students write a lot of essays, but I myself don’t often practice what I preach. So I decided to walk in my student’s shoes and wrote an essay I gave him for homework.

I have a question to all the teachers out there – how often do you write essays in English? I mean essays in IELTS / TOEFL / GRE or any similar format. (Please message me – I’d love some kind of statistics). I have to confess, I don’t*. But I make my students write a lot. Which might be a little unfair, don’t you think?

That’s what I thought when I was on a bus from my home town back to St Petersburg yesterday (a 4-hour journey). I had nothing to do, so my mind began to wander until suddenly it stumbled upon the essay topic I gave my student on Thursday.

We were discussing the article called Phoney war (New Scientist, 25 January 2017). The articles deals with the questions of end-to-end encryption and it’s importance in the ‘privacy of communications vs. public security’ debate. As a follow-up task, I came up with an essay topic for my student (a very diligent, Advanced level student who is going to take IELTS in the future).

Anyway, my mind stumbled upon this topic and started working frantically. Since I had nothing to do on the bus, not only did I decide to write this essay, I actually went through with it. The result is just a couple of lines below.

The essay is in ‘as is’ condition, which means I haven’t edited it since I got off the bus. Neither did I use dictionaries, Google or other resource outside my brain when writing it. Honestly.

“Some people believe everybody must be granted total privacy of online communications by default, while others argue that such privacy undermines public security and authorities should therefore be able to get access to private data. Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.”

It is commonly believed that people must have the right to unlimited privacy of communications. However, it can also be argued that exercising this right can lead to detrimental consequences in terms of public safety and officials must therefore be granted access to all online communications. In this essay, I shall discuss both these views and give my own opinion.

On the one hand, expectation of privacy is intrinsic to different spheres of people’s life, including online communication. Whenever people send private messages, they expect them to be read by the recipient only. Private messages are a safe environment, in which people feel free to express the views that they might not feel comfortable expressing publicly for reasons such as fear of discrimination or political oppression. If people do not resort to means of public communication, they must be granted the right to keep their communications secret.

On the other hand, authorities take a dim view of not being able to read private communications as it prevents them from ensuring public safety. The reasoning behind this view is compelling since end-to-end encrypted messages open up a range of opportunities for terrorists to plan and execute terrorist attacks. Having access to messages of terrorists or crime suspects would enable law enforcement to prevent crime and save people’s lives. Privacy can therefore be sacrificed for the sake of security.

To conclude, both approaches in the ‘privacy versus security’ debate are valid. While granting the authorities keys to open any communications would violate people’s rights, not doing so might result in deaths of innocent people. In my opinion, the decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, with the responsibility of evaluating each case lying with the court.

286 words

Disclaimer: This essay was written as a response to a task and does not fully represent my personal opinion.

I now have two questions:

How did I do?

How often do you think teachers should write essays?

*In my defense, I write a blog in English and I actually wrote a lot of essays one week before each IELTS / TOEFL test I took.

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Give editing the attention it deserves

I decided to strike while the iron was hot and wrote a post based on my student’s guest post. In my post, I am talking about the editing part of writing.

Give editing the attention it deserves or the joy of collaborating with Nadya Borisova

This post is inspired by the guest post Nadya Borisova wrote for me “Academic IELTS without a degree in linguistics” (Part 1 and Part 2). She wrote the whole thing, while I got to comment and edit. Editing is a critical, yet underestimated part of writing. In this post, I want to give this part the attention it deserves and talk about how Nadya and I collaborated on editing her post.

The guest post idea.

Being a teacher, I write about exams and language learning from a teacher perspective (naturally). I claim to know the right thing to do and demand that my students do what I say. But my students don’t always do what I demand or recommend. One reason could be that, as a teacher, I am not always able to put myself in my students’ shoes and adequately assess their needs. Additionally, to be brutally honest, IELTS 9 (my score) is out of reach for most students, so my success story might not be particularly inspiring. At the same time, most test takers or potential test takers will relate to my students’ success stories. So I thought, “Why don’t I share them on my blog?” and offered my IELTS 8 student to describe her success story (in English, naturally).

She did!

The mere fact of a student writing 5(!) pages of original and meaningful material in English was already enough to make me go ecstatic. But I actually derived even more pleasure out of it – the pleasure of editing.

The editing procedure.

Stage 1. 

I read the whole piece to get the main idea. As I was reading it, I paid attention to the title, the sections, the way the informations was organized, and the length. I commented on those aspects and Nadezhda replied.

Stage 2.

I gave the piece a second read, paying attention to the content this time. I wanted to cut the piece by about 1 page and looked for things that could be sacrificed or expressed more concisely. I also tried to figure out whether the information was clear to the potential reader (people who have never taken IELTS or those who have but didn’t get the required score). I made some suggestions, which we discussed.

Stage 3.

When I was completely satisfied with the content and the organization, I turned my attention to the language. I tried to keep Nadya’’s piece as “hers” as possible and did not correct all of the mistakes or inappropriacies. In terms of grammar, I mostly corrected articles, prepositions, and tense use a couple of times. We fixed some sentence structures. The vocabulary is mostly untouched, I didn’t want to mess it up. Here are some examples of Nadya’s vocabulary use that I liked:

  • You have to keep in mind that you cannot achieve overnight success in learning a language.
  • But hey, IELTS is a language test after all!
  • Remember, you’re on a tight schedule.
  • All teachers always say: planning is a must.

By the way, these examples show that Nadya learned English from authentic resources and didn’t use a Russian-English dictionary when writing her post. How? Well, this fascinating topic actually deserves a post of its own. Let’s continue with our story now.

Stage 4.

Nadya and I each gave the document a final read, resolving any final comments and edits.

The time it all took.

The work was thorough on both sides and therefore time-consuming. I first messaged Nadezhda on 28 December, I received the first draft on 9 January and we finished editing on 22 January. Choosing the title took the longest and looked like this:

The title that we decided to stick to with was the version that Nadezhda came up with 1 day before we published the post, completely out of the blue.

The joy and power of collaboration.

Here is why I enjoyed working with Nadya immensely.

First and foremost, she met the challenge fearlessly and responsibly.

Additionally, Nadya was open to my suggestions and didn’t take offence at my edits. Nor she didn’t expect me to just correct or rewrite her sentences (which many students do, but no, I don’t rewrite students’ works). I actually wrote all of my suggestions in the comment boxes and she corrected everything herself.

Finally, we were both invested in this post and both worked consistently to improve it. The end result is more concise, understandable, and relatable.

The takeaway.

I know there are a lot of you out there who face writing university or grant applications every once in a while. My advice to you is:

If you write something long and important, give it a month, have somebody else read it, take their suggestions into account and be ready to rewrite your piece multiple times. Give editing the attention it deserves!

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Academic IELTS 8 without a degree in linguistics. Part 2.

This is the second part of the guest post by my student Nadya Borisova. This time she is going to talk about Writing and Speaking, as well as share online IELTS preparation resources.

Part 2. Writing and Speaking. Resources.

In Part 1, I talked about my background, preparation time, reading and listening skills. Now I want to talk about the active sections, Writing and Speaking.

Writing

Here comes the tough one. Last time I got 7.0 for Writing. I used Irina’s help, and I can’t stress it enough, you need a look from another person to tell you what you do right and wrong.

In Task 1 the hardest thing for me was to decide what’s important and what’s not. I practiced a lot with Irina, and now I feel more comfortable with distinguishing meaningful information from the less important on the graph or pie chart.

The best tip I got for Task 2 is the way you brainstorm ideas. Sometimes I got a topic and I was stuck as I didn’t know what to say. IELTS essay questions are in a formal style, so I tried to think about my arguments and reasons academically, which is, of course, not easy. But then I read about “the cafe technique”. The point is, imagine yourself in a cafe with a friend talking about this topic. What are you going to tell them? I’m pretty sure, you’ll come up with a couple of ideas fast enough. Now the only thing left is to structure your ideas and write them down.

And here goes the most important part: planning. All teachers always say planning is a must. If you’ve made a plan, you’ve made the whole essay, and all you have to do is to write down your sentences. Some are afraid that if they waste five minutes on planning, they will not be able to finish the actual writing in the given time. You don’t need to worry about being late. Let’s count:

You are supposed to spend 40 minutes on Task 2 and write 250+ words. You also need to check your writing in the end. Say, you spend ten minutes on planning and five on checking. This leaves you with 25 minutes to write 250 words, which means you have one minute to write ten words, six seconds for each one. That’s a lot of time, really. Don’t take my word for it, just try to see how much time you need to write a sentence.

Speaking

I didn’t do very well in the first exam, I panicked and really couldn’t say a word, even though I practiced hard. The second time was easier, I got 7.5 for Speaking in 2016. Actually I think I could have got 8.0, but in the middle of Part 2, when I was talking about Andy Weir’s The Martian, I forgot the English word for “эксперименты”. Happens :).

The examiners are not your enemies, nor do they want to give you a lower score. Their job is to evaluate your performance, nothing more. So look at them as friends or neighbors you’re talking to on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Speaking’s all about you, your passion and emotions. One of my friends got a topic about travelling. In Part 2 he was asked to talk about an auto or moto trip he had been on. And in real life he’s a hopeless motorcycle lover. Guess what? He got 8.0 for Speaking. I know that his grammar is not quite perfect, but I can imagine the passion he talked with.

And TED Talks again. You know, many times you get a topic like “climate change” and you have absolutely no idea what to say. Now, with TED Talks you can learn something new on topics that are common in IELTS in an easy way, because the info in talks is easy to digest, compared to reading an encyclopedia. For example, here is an inspiring talk by Al Gore on climate change.

Do you need to insert a phrasal verb, proverb or a fancy expression into every sentence you say? No. Definitely no. Your speech would sound unnatural, meaning you’re not actually able to command the language properly. If you want proof, go talk to your friend in a cafe and try to saturate your speech in your native language with proverbs and fancy expressions. The look on your friend’s face will tell you everything.

To sum up

Practice. Practice. And practice a little bit more. You can do tremendous work on your own. You probably don’t need help to prepare for Listening and Reading, but in Writing and Speaking you do. I suggest you have a teacher to help you with these two sections.

Top 5 free resources to prepare for IELTS

BBC radio — several online radio stations. And yes, they speak proper British English.

engvid.com — about 1,000 videos on how to take IELTS, how to master grammar and enlarge your vocabulary. My favorite teacher is Adam.

eslpod — podcasts brought to you from beautiful Los Angeles, California. The host explains new vocab as well as tells stories about american history and famous people.

TED Talks — short inspiring talks on various topics: culture, climate, equal rights, arts and everything else.

IELTS Advantage with Chris Pell — free lessons and paid classes from an experienced teacher.

That’s my IELTS journey. Please feel free to ask questions, if you have any, as I love sharing IELTS tips and can talk about the test for ages. You can contact me on VK or Facebook

This was a guest post from my student Nadya Borisova, which I think she did a tremendous job on! Kudos and thanks, Nadya!

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My Fulbright application or a teachable moment on essay writing

In this post, I want to share two excerpts from my Fulbright application essay and give you some tips on essay writing.

I did it on 30 May 2014. I submitted my Fulbright application. Now, 1 year and 2 months later I am going to the USA as a proud Fulbrighter! Yay!

The program I am participating in is called Foreign Language Teaching Assistant or FLTA for short. As a participant of this program I will be teaching Russian and studying at an American university for an academic year.

When my students heard the news, they asked, “What did it take to get this grant?” And I replied, “Well, there were several stages. First, I had to write a lot of text. Then, I …” And one student said, “I am curious to read what you wrote.” I suppose many are, so I am going to let you in on one of my application essays.

One of the essays I wrote is called “Objectives and motivations”. What I wrote is too long to upload here (1274 words, no less!), so I am only going to show you my introduction and conclusion. Oh, and I see a teachable moment here, which I just can’t help using. Ok, let’s get cracking!

Here is my introduction:

lutsenko_fulbright_intro

Let’s have a look at how I choose to structure my introduction:

1. I start with a quote. (Admittedly, starting an essay with a quote is a bit of a cliché. But it’s still not a bad way to start. To avoid sounding too clichéd, I expand the quote and add a personal touch.)

2. I explain what my job is and what I am like.

3. I speak about my main objective.

Here is my conclusion:

Lutsenko_fulbright_conclusion

Let’s have a look at how I choose to structure my conclusion:

1. I repeat what my job is and what I am like (point 2 from the introduction).

2. I repeat my main objective (point 3 from the introduction).

3. I connect all the information to the quote and my addition to it (point 1 from the introduction).

And here is the teachable moment:

– Make your essay personal and unique.

– Address the topic directly and clearly.

– Organize your ideas logically.

– Be consistent.

– Unite the ideas.

Essay writing aside, I want to emphasize that everything I wrote is absolutely true. They are not beautiful words I wanted to impress the readers with. I do want to keep moving, but stay focused.

So, students, don’t be sad I’m going away for so long. You now know why I’m doing it. I’ll return.

I’ll return and do what I do at a new level and with a new mind. See you in a year!

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Paraphrasing made easy!

In this post, I am exploring paraphrasing as it is an essential skill for international exams in English.

With English being the language of international communication, there are now plenty of tests of English for non-native speakers  – IELTS, TOEFL, KET-CPE, to name but a few. Seemingly different, such tests often assess pretty much the same skills and abilities. Paraphrasing is one of them. The ability to paraphrase is vital in Speaking and Writing parts of any test of English. Why? Because it shows that you actually understand the information you are given and, more importantly, it allows you to demonstrate your knowledge of English! Many people struggle with paraphrasing. Yet, it’s not rocket science and in this post I am going to talk about very simple paraphrasing techniques. Bear with me…

First, a word of warning: Don’t get too obsessed! There are words you don’t have to and shouldn’t paraphrase! There is no need to say conventional words in a different way, like chair or passport. Nor should you try to rephrase specialized or scientific vocabulary, like genetically-modified food or greenhouse gases.

When you do need to paraphrase, here are the techniques that will help you:

1 Use synonyms.

It will have a negative effect on the economy. / It will have a harmful effect on the economy.

This looks pretty straightforward. However, you have to be careful and keep in mind that very few words in a language are completely interchangeable and the synonym you find might not suit your sentence as well as you think.

2 Use antonyms.

It is hard. / It is not easy. It’s the cheapest. / It’s the least expensive.

3 Explain a word.

Violators will be ticketed. / People who break the law will receive a ticket.

Obviously, it only works with words that can be explained in a short way.

4 Change word forms.

Many words have several grammatical forms, for example, compete (v) – competition (n) – competitor (n) –competitive (adj) – competitively (adv). Use a different one when you paraphrase.

Competition for quality jobs at postgraduate level is fierce. / Postgraduate students have to compete hard for quality jobs.

This approach is useful not only because it helps to avoid copying the original word, but also because it involves changing sentence structure and thus helps you to create a completely different sentence.

5 Change sentence structure.

This one includes several sub-techniques:

– Change the grammar.

Active / Passive: Trained scientists performed this research. / This research was performed by trained scientists.

Infinitive / Gerund: It’s easy to use it. / Using it is easy.

Subject + verb / Participle: After he left the company, he couldn’t find a job for moths. / After leaving the company, he couldn’t find a job for moths.

– Change sentence connectors.

Although the scientist spent years studying gorillas, their behavior would still surprise her.

Despite years spent studying gorillas, their behavior would still surprise the scientist.

/ The scientist spent years studying gorillas; however, their behavior would still surprise her.

– Change the order of ideas.

The spread of GM trials led to a series of protests. / A series of protests resulted from the spread of GM trials.

Ideally, in order to create top-notch paraphrases, you should use a variety of techniques and combine them.

Now let me try a little paraphrasing. Here is an essay topic (IELTS Writing Task 2) and below is my introduction for this essay.

Lutsenko_paraprasing

At present there is no doubt that smoking is detrimental to people’s health and causes a range of diseases, including terminal. In an effort to reduce the harmful effects of this bad habit, some countries have prohibited smoking in public places. Some people believe that this approach should be implemented worldwide. I completely agree with this opinion and shall argue that smoking should not be allowed anywhere on public premises except a number of designated areas.

You see, paraphrasing is a piece of cake. By the way, which techniques did I use?

Before I finish another word of warning: Don’t get too excited and don’t forget that your sentence must retain its original meaning!

Now paraphrase to your heart’s content.

 

Main sources used to write this post:
The Complete Guide to the TOEFL Test
Oxford Grammar for EAP
Express to the TOEFL iBT Test

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The Beast or how to write essays

When I was on holiday this summer, I went to my hometown to visit my parents. They asked me to sort out my old papers and books and get rid of the ones that I didn’t use any more. As I was doing that, I found one great picture illustrating the core of essay writing. It’s from a writing workshop I took part in about 10 years ago when I was working at school. Here it is:

the-beast

This picture, called “The Beast,” shows the structure and the essential parts of an essay in a very simple way. Now, this cute beast has 3 parts – the head, the body, and the tail. Similarly, any essay has 3 parts – the introduction, the main body and the conclusion.

The introduction leads the reader into the topic and has a clear thesis statement. A thesis is the main idea or opinion of the speaker or writer who then attempts to prove it. Just like this cute beast has a very visible blue horn, your introduction must have a very clear and direct statement of what you are going to talk about in your essay.

The main body of an essay, which is usually 2-4 paragraphs long, explains and proves your thesis. Just like the body of this cute beast is separated into segments, the body of an essay must be separated into paragraphs.  And just like this cute beast’s body has smaller yellow horns, each of your paragraphs must have a clear topic sentence. The topic sentence, as its name implies, introduces the topic of the paragraph, which you then develop / explain and exemplify.

The conclusion goes over the same ground as the whole essay. In your conclusion you must restate your thesis and summarize your main points.

Ok, that’s theory. Now look at how I put it into practice. This is an essay I wrote one week before I took IELTS last year and got 8.5 for Writing. It’s on one of my pet topics =).

languages_task

Lutsenko_languages_essay

This is an essay I wrote for IELTS that’s why it only has 2 body paragraphs. I usually write 2 body paragraphs for IELTS and 3 for TOEFL. The word count is 259 words. I try not to go more than 10-30 words over the word limit.

Now that you have “The Beast” and my essay, essay writing should be easy-peasy!

Oh, by the way, it’s totally wrong about 70 words for “snow”, but I didn’t know it at the time of writing this essay. The truth is in this Wikipedia article.

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