Category Archives: B2 – Cambridge English: First

-ing form and infinitive – Homestudy for First MW – 11/3/15

Here are some links to short online activities (with answers) to practise verbs in the -ing and infinitive form.  You don’t have to do all of them at once or even all of them.  Work through them gradually until you think you’ve mastered* this aspect of grammar.  Make a note of any questions you have about any of the exercises and bring them to class next week for us to look at.

*to master something = learn or understand something completely

  1. Add a missing word to each sentence (from Natural English Upper-Intermediate, OUP)
  2. Gerunds (or nouns) after prepositions – choose the correct word (More 4, CUP)
  3. Choose the correct answer (multiple-choice) (from New English File Upper-Intermediate, OUP)
  4. Correct the mistake (from English Result Upper-Intermediate, OUP)
  5. Choose the 6 verbs which can go with both the infinitive and -ing (FCE Result, OUP)
  6. Choose between gerund and infinitive (with and without to) WARNING – this is a rather violent game!

Leave a comment

Filed under B2 - Cambridge English: First, B2 - First, Grammar

After the mock – Ideas for improving your performance in the Writing paper

International House Santa Clara students at B2 (First), C1 (Advanced) and C2 (Proficiency) levels take mock exams during their courses in order for us all to gauge how everyone’s preparation for the relevant Cambridge English exams is going.  We believe that this experience is an important step as it gives students and teachers a clear picture of both their strengths and areas to improve on.  In other words, we see the mocks as great opportunities for learning and improving your performance.  As such, the aim of this post is to suggest some things that you can do as learners when you get feedback on the writing papers.

When you do a mock at International House Santa Clara, you receive some feedback on your writing which details your marks in the four areas we evaluate when assessing your texts (content, communicative achievement, organisation and language).  You can use this feedback to assess where your strengths and areas to work on lie. What do you need to work on to improve your grades in these areas?  For instance, for organisation, you might be advised to widen the range of linking words and phrases you use to order, add and contrast ideas in your texts.  If so, then you can look back in your course book to refresh your memory on linking phrases you have studied in the past.  Don’t foget to be sure you know how to use them.  Maybe you can practice by writing some example sentences.  Then, next time you do a piece of writing, set yourself the aim of paying attention to how you signpost your texts in order to bring about greater cohesion.

Another thing you can do after the mock and with any piece of writing you do on the course, is to look at the notes your teacher has made on your text.  Sometimes we’ll correct things by suggesting better ways to express them.  At other times, we’ll leave some of the work to you by only identify the error and giving you a hint as to the type of mistake it is (using our correction code).  In this case you can have a go at making the correction yourself.

It’s a good idea to keep a record of the mistakes you make either in a notebook or on an electronic document. Write down what you originally put and then your attempt at correction.  Later, check your correction with your teacher.  This is a great technique for helping you realise the kinds of mistakes you make and hopefully learn from them so you avoid repeating them in future!  Here’s an example of how you could organise your correction record: Original sentence:  Thank you for the time and attention you take to this letter. Type of mistake:  Collocation Correction:  Thank you for the time and attention you pay / give to this letter.  (pay / give + attention to something).  As you start to build up a collection of the kinds of errors you regularly make, you’ll be in a better position to edit your writing more efficiently as you’ll know what to look out for. 

Here are some of the most common codes we use to classify the errors in written work (if your text has other marks which you don’t understand, just ask your teacher for clarification). Use it to go through your texts and try to correct some of your own mistakes.

  • WO = word order.  There is a mistake with the order of the words you used (e.g. a cat black)
  • WF = word form.  You have used the wrong type of word for this part of the sentence; maybe a noun where you should have an adjective, for example (e.g. The exercise was very difficulty)
  • VF = verb form.  The verb needs to be in a different form (e.g. I am very glad hearing from you)
  • VT = verb tense. The verb is not in the correct tense (e.g. She was very embarrassed when she realised she forgot his name)
  • Prep = preposition.  An inappropriate preposition has been used. (e.g. They met on 5 o’ clock)
  • Col = collocation. Some of the words you have chosen don’t sit naturally together (e.g. I hope you all had a merry holiday)
  • WC/Voc = Word choice/vocabulary selection. The word you’ve chosen isn’t ideal in this context. (e.g. The chairs on the plane were very small and didn’t give much legroom)
  • WW = Wrong word.  The word used is incorrect in this context (e.g. I can’t imagine how life was like 100 years ago… (what)
  • Reg = register.  Your level of (in)formality is not appropriate to this text type (e.g. I look forward to hearing from you, hugs and kisses)
  • Sp = spelling. This word is not spelled correctly (e.g. His Oscar aceptence speech was very funny)
  • Agr = agreement.  Your subject does not match the form of the verb or other dependent words (e.g. This people is friendly)
  • Art = article. There is an error with the choice or use of an article (e.g. In Portugal today, most people use the computers every day)
  • MW = missing word.  There is a word missing from the sentence (e.g. After John got his black belt in karate, he decided was time to take a new sport.)
  • XW = extra word(s).  There is an unneccesary word which you should remove (e.g. The media it‘s a powerful force in modern society)
  • Org = confusing use of linking word/phrase/discourse marker (e.g. Mobile phones are very useful.  On the other hand, people tend to like them…)
  • ?/clarity = meaning not clear.  It is hard to understand what you are trying to say. (e.g. Potato topic had was is too fizzy)
  • P = punctuation.  You need to rethink how you’ve used punctuation or use some!

For both grammar and vocabulary error correction, don’t forget how useful the information provided in dictionaries can be.  Here are some links to online dictionaries you can use for free:

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries:

Cambridge online dictionary:




Leave a comment

Filed under B2 - Cambridge English: First, B2 - Cambridge First Writing, C1 - Cambridge English: Advanced, C2 - Cambridge English: Proficiency

B2 – Fantasy Interview: James Dashner

If you had the chance to interview anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, famous or unknown, who would you choose?  What would you ask them and why?

This was a question we put to some of our students preparing to do the Cambridge English: First exam in December 2014.  Here is one of the responses we got from a big fan of the author James Dashner.

Dear editor,

I saw the advert in your magazine asking about who it would be my dream to interview and decided to write to you with my choice.

There are tons of people I would love to interview.  Some of them are dead, others are alive, but all of them have been inspirations to me.  However, since I can only pick one, I would have to choose the writer of one of my favourite series of books, The Maze Runner.  The writer’s name is James Dashner and he has an incredible imagination.

The main reason behind me wanting to interview him is that I think he has a way with words that not many have.  In my view this sets him apart from other writers.  If I were given the chance to ask him some questions, the first one would be where James found the inspiration to write such a story as The Maze Runner.  Other things I would like to know are how he came up with the characters, whether they were based on real people or entirely fictional and, if he could only read one book for the rest of his life, what it would be.

Interviewing James Dashner would be a dream come true and I sincerely hope it happens some day.

Yours faithfully,


Want to know more about the subject of this text?  Here are some links that might be of interest:

Leave a comment

Filed under B2 - Cambridge English: First, B2 - Cambridge First Writing, Fantasy interview

B2: Review – Iron Maiden in Concert

One of the texts that candidates doing the Cambridge English:  First exam may be asked to write in Paper 2, Part 2 is a review.  Review tasks ask you to describe and express an opinion about something you’ve experienced.  You could be asked to review a variety of things such as a book, a film, a website or a product.  Students in our B2:  First classes recently practised writing concert reviews and we thought we’d share one of these with you on our blog…

Iron Maiden rock Portugal

One of the most amazing concerts I’ve ever been to was when Iron Maiden came to Portugal last year.  If you don’t know them, they are a rock/metal band with a career going back over 30 years.  The concert I saw celebrated the band’s past as it was actually a remake of an old tour: The Maiden England Tour of 1982.

One of the first things I noticed was how the concert brought both older fans, some wearing original ’82 T-shirts, together with younger people like me.  This shows that their music and appeal is timeless.

As far as the concert itself goes, it was magnificent.  The sound was completely mind blowing as were the special effects, with lights and fire that really flared up the emotions of members of the audience.  On top of that, an enormous robot appeared on stage and its moves were synchronised with the music.  It was just stunning and it really brought the crowd to life.

To make things even better, the band played all my favourite songs.  I’ve always loved their older songs and they didn’t let me down with their set list.  It was perfect.  There was no particular highlight, I loved it from start to finish.

Overall, I liked pretty much everything.  The fact that the venue was packed, the atmosphere and, of course, the music.  I’d definitely recommend anyone who likes rock/metal music to see one of their concerts.

Leave a comment

Filed under B2 - Cambridge English: First, B2 - Cambridge First Writing, Reviews

Summer Writing Ideas 2014: an Article – 24 hours in Coimbra

This is the third and final post in our series of writing tasks for our students to try out over the summer.  For the other tasks, click here:  Task 1, Task 2.

This post sets up an article writing task in which you’ll write a travel feature about your city giving suggestions for how visitors can best spend 24 hours there.  It is based on these authentic texts found online:

Here are the task instructions:

An international magazine for travellers has asked readers for articles for a series entitled 24 hours in…

24 hours in Coimbra

What should visitors to your city do if they only have 24 hours to spend there?  We’d like to hear about how you think visitors should spend their morning, lunchtime, afternoon and evening in your city.  Your article should give suggestions about what to see and do and where to eat.  You can target your article towards a specific groups of travellers if you wish (e.g. Visitors with family, travellers on a tight budget, backpackers, culture  lovers, party animals etc.) or keep it general if you prefer (note:  if you choose a specific group, state who you’re writing for early in the article).  When you suggest places to visit and things to do, you should also give plenty of reasons about why visitors should do these things.

24 Hours in Coimbra - How should visitors spend a day in your city?

24 Hours in Coimbra – How should visitors spend a day in your city?

 Advice to writers

Some suggestions for those of you who’d like to try this task out…

  • Follow the links above to the texts from The New York Times and Time Out to get an idea of how to organise and lay your text out.  Brainstorm possible headings for different sections of your text.
  • Think about the content of your text and your reader.  Decide who your text is aimed at and think of places to visit, eat, relax and things that your reader would enjoy doing.
  • When you have some ideas of things to do, try your day out!  Do part of your itinerary and get a fresh insight into things your reader would experience and write down ways to describe it in an interesting day.
  • Think about the language you’re going to use.  Do you need to look up any translations of key words for your text in an online dictionary?  Think about descriptive language that you can use to make your article as interesting as possible.  Think about the style you’re going to write in;  Are you going to address the reader directly or just describe your itinerary in a more general way?  If you’d like to explore some texts in which travel writers write about Coimbra, visit our pinterest board.  You can pick up some ideas about the styles you could use to write your text and some interesting vocabulary for describing places and experiences from these texts.

  • Be ambitious with the language you use when writing.  Try out different ways to say things until you feel you’re pushing the language level beyond the basic.  Watch our tips video for some advice on how to do this.

Candidates taking Cambridge English:  First, Advanced (up until Dec ’14 but not from Jan ’15) or Proficiency could be asked to write Articles in Part 2 of the Writing paper.  To make the task more exam-like, aim to write within these word limits:  First:  around 190 words, Advanced:  around 260 words, Proficiency:  around 320 words.

So, why not take this opportunity to practise your Writing skills?  We’d love to read the results.  International House Santa Clara students can even get feedback on their texts.  All you need to do is type them and send to us at  Happy writing!

Leave a comment

Filed under B2 - Articles, B2 - Cambridge English: First, B2 - Cambridge First Writing, C1 - Advanced, C2 - Cambridge English: Proficiency

B2: Essay – Is hosting a major sporting event worth the cost?

The World Cup in Brazil, the European Football Championships in Portugal, the 2012 London Olympics.  Whenever major sports events take place there is inevitably a debate about whether the huge expense it takes to host them is justifiable.  Towards the end of June, students in our B2 group debated this hot topic and some of them followed up this up with an Essay discussing this statement:

Spending vast amounts on sporting events such as the World Cup or the Olympic Games is a waste of money

Essay 1

Football is one of the most popular sports in the world and to find out which country has the most powerful team, a World Cup is organized every four years by FIFA.  This year the event is happening in Brazil, a under-developed country with many issues related to poverty, social injustice, a shortage of housing and criminality.  One of the demands which FIFA made on Brazil before the event was that the country must invest in new stadiums and other infrastructures.  As a result, the Brazilian government spent millions of Euros on new structures.  As a result, many people started to protest on the streets against the expense.

On one hand, those in support of hosting such tournaments, argue that these types of the events promote the country worldwide.  Not only do they attract more tourists during the event, but they will also bring more in over the next few years.

On the other side, people are protesting that the money spent on such events is outrageous. They support the point of view that the money would be more usefully invested in education, health and public transportation.

In my opinion we have to arrive at a compromise.  Firstly, it’s true that these events promote a country worldwide. Take the example of Portugal, host of the European football championship in 2004, tourism has risen over the years since this event and this year it has beaten its record for the number of visitors.  However, at the same time, the majority of public money should be invested in those areas which citizens need the most:  Education, Health or Public Transportation.  What’s the point of having sophisticated stadiums, if the country has the highest illiteracy rate in the world or the worst hospitals?

In conclusion, I strongly believe that the Brazilian Government could have been more cautious in the investment it made for the World Cup, perhaps building fewer stadiums and more schools and hospitals in order to promote the country as both a nation of football fans and as a developed country.

Essay 2

Is spending vast amounts on sporting events such as the World Cup or the Olympic games a waste of money?

Many people feel that spending money on events like these is wasteful because there are other priorities like health, education, or security for example.  They agree that in countries where some people don’t have anything to eat, it is unbelievable that governments inject public money into infrastructures that will not give a justified return.

From another point of view, others argue that events like these bring visibility to the host countries and employment. They think that the stadiums could have other uses after the events so they can take advantages and benefits from the investment.

In my opinion, on one hand, the money invested is excessive in countries with economic problems.  However, on the other hand, although the employment created is often only temporary, sports tournaments can create lasting jobs too.  Especially if the spaces are used in a way that the stadiums become profitableThis was the case in my city, Coimbra, which had a stadium built for a football competition.  It has a mall, a gym, a pharmacy, a medical clinic and other services in it.

In conclusion, I think that this is a complex issue with many pros and cons.  Taking everything into consideration, I honestly do not know if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

 Essay 3

I am under the impression that being a host for a big sports event, like the football World Cup, may bring benefits to the country but that it can also have drawbacks.

For instance, such events are invaluable in terms of providing opportunities for cultural exchange, promoting the country as a tourist destination, and they may also boost people’s sense of patriotism.  However, in some cases, like Brazil 2014, that effect can be reversed.  Especially when the nation feels the money invested in facilities and infrastructure could have been spent catering to the populations’ basic needs like health and education.

Back in 2004, the Euro 2004 football tournament was hosted by Portugal.  Although at first most of the people were enthusiastic about it and how it would benefit the country’s economy, in the years following the event, people have seen downsides.  Many people realised that most of the stadiums built for the championships were not being fully taken advantage of after the tournament.  Add to that fact a severe economic crisis, and nowadays many of those who were in favour of hosting the games at first, now claim it was a waste of money.

In conclusion, I believe that these kinds of events, like everything in life, have good sides and others that are not so beneficial.  Everyone has a choice to try and see how they can make the most of an opportunity and it is my view that local people in countries which host sporting events, should try and give a new life to the underused facilities that remain in place when the fans and sports stars have left.

Further reading and listening:

World Cup Boom and Bust.  Will the World Cup improve life in Manaus?  by Chris Feliciano Arnold in Harpers Magazine.

Brazil’s expensive World Cup stadiums could become housing complexHuffington Post

London 2012:  Lords report warns of faltering Olympic legacy, BBC Sport

Will the World Cup leave a positive legacy in Brazil?  by Jorge Knijnik and Ramon Spaaij in The Conversation

FIFA World Cup ‘hits the poor hardest’ by Bill Wilson, BBC News

Key vocabulary from the debate lesson:

Spending money:  to run up huge debts, to get into debt, to invest heavily in stadiums, allegations of corruption, to cut back spending on something, inject money into a sporting event, to misspend money, private/public money/investment, sponsorship revenue, rising costs,

Sports event related vocabulary:  a tournament, a championship, build stadiums, the eyes of the world are on Brazil, fans

Benefits of hosting sports events:  to boost tourism, to develop a sense of national pride / patriotism, to attract visitors from abroad, to leave a positive / lasting legacy

Drawbacks of hosting sports events:  lack of a legacy (e.g. no long-term benefits to people living in the country), with the benefit of hindsight we can see that money was misspent

The situation in Brazil at the start of June:  Ahead of the World Cup in Brazil, we’ve seen people taking to the streets in protest at a number of perceived social injustices such as a shortage of housing, schools and hospitals.  In other cases, there has been industrial action taken by transport workers who feel they are underpaid.  All these grievances might lead us to question whether it is right to spend huge amounts of money on building stadiums for an international competition when there may be more pressing needs for the local population.

Leave a comment

Filed under B2 - Cambridge First Writing

Summer Writing Ideas 2014: an Article and an Essay

This is the second post in our series of writing tasks for our students to try out over the summer.  (Click here for the first post).

This post sets up two writing tasks based on some survey results about important modern inventions.  In a recent survey, British people were asked to which inventions or gadgets had most changed their lives.  You can read the results of the survey by clicking this link:  ipad, washing machine and toaster named as life-changing gadgets

Do you agree with the results?  Was there anything you consider to be important that was missing?  Which of the technological gadgets do you find most useful and why?

If you’re interested in this topic, why not try out one or even both of the writing tasks below…

Task 1:  An Article

An English magazine for students is publishing a series of articles on technology called…

Life-changing gadgets I couldn’t live without

Write an article about one or two inventions that play a key role in your life.  In your article you should explain:

  • why it/they are so important to you
  • how often you use it/them
  • what you use it/them for
  • what life would be like without this piece/these pieces of technology


Task 2:  An Essay

You’ve recently been discussing modern technology in your English class.  Your teacher has now asked you to write an essay about a gadget or invention which has profoundly influenced people’s lives for both the better and the worse.

To complete this task you need to:

  1. Choose an invention which has brought both advantages and disadvantages to our lives
  2. Talk about ways in which it has influenced life for the better
  3. Talk about ways in which it has influenced life for the worse

Interested in giving one of these tasks a go?  If so, get writing!  If you’re an International House Santa Clara student, you can send your text(s) to us by email: and we will write back with feedback on your text.  We’ll also publish the best texts on our blog!

Notes for learners on writing Articles and Essays

Candidates taking Cambridge English:  First, Advanced (up until Dec ’14 but not from Jan ’15) or Proficiency could be asked to write Articles in Part 2 of the Writing paper.

Essays will be the compulsory Part 1 Writing task at Cambridge First from Jan ’15 and a possible option in the Part 2 section until Dec ’14.  They are also the compulsory text type for Advanced (from Jan ’15) and Proficiency.

For details of the Advanced exam Writing paper from 2015, check out this video from flo-joe:


1 Comment

Filed under B2 - Articles, B2 - Cambridge English: First, B2 - Cambridge First Writing, C1 - Advanced, C2 - Cambridge English: Proficiency