Month: July 2014

Introductory Paragraphs: How to teach and write them

When writing academic essays in English, students need to be aware that they will not only need to focus on their language accuracy (as well as tone, register, etc), but also that there may be differences in conventions of structure and logic. In EGAP, the introductory paragraph is an important part of any essay, and it is here that some of these differences may become apparent. Below is a brief guide to teaching learners how to write a good introductory paragraph for an EGAP essay – the guide can be used by students themselves, or by teachers who need some tips and examples for teaching this aspect of essay writing. 


First, we need to be clear on the functions of an introductory paragraph

  • Attracts readers’ attention
  • Gives a BRIEF background of topic
  • Includes NO detail of support/evidence/examples
  • Narrows down the topic
  • Hints at the organisation of the essay
  • Guides the direction of the essay
  • Controls the essay’s scope
  • States the essay’s main message/point in the THESIS STATEMENT (more on this later!)

To encourage learners to ‘notice’ these features, it might be a good idea for the teacher to provide some good examples. These can be found in EAP course books, or from published essay-like articles, or by using previous students’ essay which had a particularly good introductory paragraph. Once this has been clarified, it makes sense to start at the beginning of the paragraph and walk through how the features can be realised.

The first couple of sentences are important for introducing the topic area as a whole and gaining the reader’s attention and interest.

There are various ways to open the introductory paragraph:


General statement

e.g. Every day, the newspapers, and television and radio news programs are flooded with stories about the tragic results of drug addiction.


e.g. Are standardized tests a fair measure of academic potential?


e.g. The latest census shows that 75% of the population of the USA are Christian, but only 12% send their children to religious schools. 

Quote (famous person)

e.g. “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”  Mark Twain’s famous quote highlights the heart of the debate about home-schooling in the USA.

Relevant anecdote

e.g. The British Queen finished her recent tour of Australia today by meeting a survivor of the Indian Ocean tsunami, whose story prompted a discussion of the precautionary measures that are appropriate for protecting the population from such natural disasters


To practise interesting opening lines, students can either look at example paragraphs and identify which approach the writer has taken, and/or pick one topic and practise writing opening lines using various techniques from the list above. Topics can be of general interest (like the examples above), or specific to the students’ fields of study. Of course, EAP teachers are not always experts in all of the fields of study their students are working in, but a quick look over the contents page(s) of an introductory textbook can provide a nice list of topic areas – or ask the students themselves for input here.

After the opening sentences, we need to structure the rest of the paragraph.

I find one of the easiest ways to present the structure of an introductory paragraph is showing that its shape mimics that of a funnel, filtering down from the general opening to the specific focus of the essay, and culminates in a thesis statement, which states the overall message of the essay and answer to the task question. This can be demonstrated in a number of ways which can be memorable for students, either visually (see below), or with hand gesture (rather like a flight attendant!), or by bringing your kitchen funnel to class as a prop!



Whichever technique is employed to demonstrate the shape of a paragraph, it will probably be necessary for students to see the ‘funnel’ form in action, so to speak. To do this, example paragraphs which can be analysed into component parts are the most effective. Here are some examples (from general EAP) of how this “funnel” can work in practice (my own work – not necessarily amazing, but clearly demonstrating the ‘funnel’, and I’ve analysed the component parts to exemplify what I mean by this activity).





Students should notice in the examples that there are usually a few sentences between the opening ‘attention catcher’ and the thesis statement. These narrow down the topic, giving more information about the context and the rationale  – They include information to answer the following questions:

Why is this an important / interesting topic to write about? Who is involved in the topic? Whose are the strongest voices in discussions on this topic? Which aspects of the topic are the focus of this essay?

And then we reach the final sentence of the introductory paragraph –

arguably the most important in the whole essay: the THESIS STATEMENT. 

Of all  of the functions on an introductory paragraph, the thesis statement can take over most of them, but the vital thing for students to do in their Thesis Satements is to state the essays’ overarching message or argument. If worded expertly, the thesis statement can also hint at the organisation of the essay and the kinds of evidence that are going to be presented.

Depending on the discipline the essay is being written in, it may or may not be a good idea for the author to state what you are going to do in the essay to ‘prove’ the argument expressed in your thesis statement. As an EAP teacher, this may be a point where some input from a subject teacher may be helpful! Nonetheless, I think it is important to make students aware that trite phrasing such as ‘This essay will attempt to” or “This paper aims to” is rather dull to read, and some of the readers’ attention the opening sentences so dynamically attracted may be lost. Students can be guided to try replacing them with statements such as “It is important to” or “An interesting approach is to” – OR, and this is what I personally prefer, they can include information about what they’re going to do whilst stating the overarching thesis or argument. That means that they would not explicitly state your intention (as you would in, say, a longer term paper or dissertation), but hint at it through some clever phrasing. Here are some good examples of thesis statements which employ this strategy:

  • An evaluation of the validity of the evidence for this view demonstrates that it is questionable, and highlights that the Supreme Court is right to ban the teaching of the Christian creation story as a part of the biology curriculum.
  • From the analysis of examples of countries throughout the world, considering economic, social and psychological indicators, it becomes clear that the division of countries into ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ needs re-examining. 

To practice formulating this kind of Thesis Statement, I would ask students to first think about what they are planning to do in the essay, e.g. evaluate, analyse, compare, etc – and then use these words to lead in to the overall message/point they are trying to demonstrate within the essay. I think it is clearly exemplified above, but again subject-specific examples could be a help here. Also, teachers could devise practice tasks which include a topic and two verbs for what the writer aims to do, and then ask students to write the Thesis Statements for those essay. For example: Devise a Thesis Statement for an essay that aims to do the following:

  • evaluate evidence for critical period hypothesis (for learning languages)
  • focus on examples of deaf and feral children
  • argue overall: there’s probably a sensitive period, but not stringent critical period

–> Example Thesis Statement –> An evaluation of the evidence supporting the critical period hypothesis, primarily that provided by case studies of deaf and feral children, demonstrates why it may be more appropriate to talk of a ‘sensitive period’ rather than a stringently restricted critical period for the acquisition of language. 

Another good hint is to remind students that the thesis statement should summarise their answer to the task question in just one sentence. Here is a clear example:

Task/Question: Why has use of the English language expanded so much over the last 1000 years?

Thesis statement: Following key periods in the expansion of the English language over the last 1000 years highlights how these coincide with major world events and trends, including the British Empire, globalisation, international cooperation and the advent of the Internet, which can be identified as causes for the expansion of the language to a world language.

Once the introduction has some opening lines to attract readers’ attention, and some ‘narrowing down’ including information on the rationale, scope, etc, and a clear Thesis Statement, it is basically finished – although it might be a good idea to remind students to review the introduction once they have finished writing the essay, to make sure that the body fits to what they introduced!


One example task would be to provide examples of short essays, and two-or three introductory paragraphs on the topic: Students should pick the introductory paragraph that best fits to the body of the essay and justify their choice. To do this task well, they will need to know that:

The thesis statement should be supported by the information given in the body paragraphs of the essay. To ensure that the organisation is clear and flows logically, the aspects mentioned in the thesis statement should be discussed in the order in which they are presented there. For example, in the essay about the second example thesis statement above (about ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ countries), we would expect body paragraphs first on economic factors, then social and then psychological aspects. The concluding paragraph should then weigh up all of the evidence given in the essays’s body (brief summary!) and then draw a conclusion that reflects the overarching message as it was presented in the thesis statement.

Finally, I would end any lesson(s) on writing introductions with the reminder that 

It is vital to have a good introductory paragraph for any essay – but having a good introductory paragraph is not a guarantee for a good essay!


Teaching the Passive Voice – A Lesson Idea

GUEST POST BY EVA, SARAH, THERESA & JANA (my trainee-teacher students).

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content interaction media used

time (min)

introduction Ask the learners what they know about the Romans in Britain – key words, facts, etc.  (Can also be done as think – pair – share) Student-teacher 5
working phase I Learners read text “Hadrian’s Wall” and underline unfamiliar grammatical constructions Individual work Text Hadrian’s Wall – worksheet 10
consolidation Collect and structure underlined phrases on the board. (T should write examples on board in a layout that enables a table to be drawn around them to demonstrate the patterns of forming the passive voice in various tenses. See below. Student-teacher BlackboardText Hadrian’s Wall 15
working phase II/consolidation II Controlled practice (gap filling exercise) Individual workStudent-teacher worksheet 8
Transfer(optional) Productive task (transferring from active to passive) Partner work Worksheet 7


Text: Hadrian’s Wall (click here for downloadable worksheet: Passive voice worksheet hadrians wall)

Hadrian’s Wall
In the year 122 AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian visited his provinces in Britain.On his visit, the he was told by Roman soldiers that they had been attacked by Pictish tribes the weeks before. Many people were killed during the fights.So Hadrian gave the order to build a protective wall across one of the narrowest parts of the country. After 6 years of hard work, the Wall was finished in 128. It was 117 kilometres long and about 4 metres high. The Wall was guarded by 15,000 Roman soldiers who were told by the Emperor of Rome.If the Wall was attacked by enemies, the soldiers at the turrets ran to the nearest mile castle for help. In 383 Hadrian’s Wall was abandoned. Even today, Hadrian’s Wall is visited by a lot of people. In guided tours the tourists are shown the beauty of Hadrian’s Wall.


Consolidation: After examples from the text have been extracted and written on the board, the learners can be asked to figure out the pattern of how to build the passive voice. To make sure everyone has good notes, this information should be presented in writing on the board. It could look something like this:

is visited
was told
had been attacked
are shown
were killed
was finished
was guarded
was abandoned
  am/is/are +                                            was/were +                                  had been +
past participle                                    past participle                                    past participle


Then the controlled practice task asks learners to fill in the blanks in sentences by conjugating the verb given in brackets according to the pattern shown on the board.

Use the verbs to fill in the blanks – make sure you use the patterns you discovered in the text above.
  1. Hadrian’s Wall _____________________________ (to build) many centuries ago.
  2. During the construction years, many people ________________________ (to kill) because it was dangerous to build such a wall.
  3. After the wall _________________________________ (to finish) in 128, it ______________________________ (to use) to guard people from the Pictish tribes.
  4. Today, Hadrian’s Wall ____________________________ (to call) one of the most interesting Roman attractions in Great Britain.
  5. The beauty of Hadrian’s Wall _______________________________ (to show) to many people every day.

And finally, once the class has checked their answers to the gap-fill task together, the learners can complete a sentence transformation task to consolidate their knowlegde of the verb form:

Transfer these sentences into passive voice.
  1. The Roman Emperor Hadrian visited his provinces in ritain.
  2. Before that Pictish tribes killed a lot of people from the provinces.
  3. Hadrian gave the people the order to build a wall.
  4. Today, many tourist magazines mention Hadrian’s Wall as a famous attraction.

Of course, they will need further practice and productive tasks… but as a lesson that introduces the passive voice whilst focusing on an interesting topic, this lesson should provide the first step in this learning process!

Teaching Second Conditional – A Lesson Idea

GUEST POST BY NINA, ANNA, FREDERIKE & JENS (my trainee-teacher students).

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Context SettingImage of man with money

Use a picture to introduce the topic of the lesson, for example “Winning the lottery”. Learners describe the picture and try to guess reasons why the man has so much money.
(Teacher-student talk, OHP, 5 mins)


Presentation Phase

Students are given the text “Winning the lottery” to read, make sure they understand the text (vocabulary, content).

Here’s a downloadable version of the text: WINNING THE LOTTERY

Winning the Lottery
Most people, if they are asked, say they would love to win a fortune, on the Lottery for example. But I’m not so sure that lottery winners are really to be envied.
What would you do, if you won a really big sum on the Lottery – five million euros, say? Would you give up your job? Probably you would, after all, you wouldn’t need the money any more. But then what would you do? And how would you explain the fact that you no longer needed to work to your friends? It probably wouldn’t take them long to guess the truth, and people would soon start phoning you up and sending you begging letters. The only solution would be to change your life completely – go away to a new town, or even a new country. And if you didn’t have to worry about money, you’d probably start worrying about other things –your health or the faithfulness of your partner. No, on the whole I don’t think I really want to win the Lottery. So why do I continue to buy a ticket every week?

Once they have finished reading, ask students to underline all the sentences that include “if” – this makes them notice the new grammar structure. Then ask what they would do if they won the lottery, collect answers on a transparency, (even if they include grammatical mistakes)

Work out formation with the students, the first part (condition clause) with simple past should be less of a problem, but the“would”-problem has to be pointed out. At the end of this stage, write the following notes on the board for everyone to copy:

(Teacher-student talk, OHP/ Board, 40 mins)


Unlikely Situation

Imaginary Result
If + simple past would(n’t) + verb
If I won the lottery, /  If you did not have to worry about money,   I would buy a new car for myself. /  you would start worrying about other things.


Functions of second conditional: used to talk about situations or actions in the present or future which are not likely to happen or are imaginary or hypothetical  – but still theoretically possible (like winning the lottery).

Controlled Practice Phase

Gap-filling text (Individual Work, Worksheet, 15 mins). Remind learners to use the structure you have just discussed when they fill in the blanks in the text! Here’s a downloadable version of the gap text: Gap Text 2nd Conditional

Did you hear about that guy who won 180 million dollars in the lottery? If I _________________ (win) that much money, I _________________ (quit) my job the next day. I _________________ (travel) around the world and _________________ (stay) in the most luxurious hotels. If I _________________ (want) anything, I _________________ (buy) it. If I _________________ (see) a beautiful Mercedes that I wanted, I _________________ (buy) it. If I wanted to stay in a beautiful hotel and the hotel _________________ (be) full, I _________________ (buy) the hotel and make them give me a room. I _________________ (can) do anything in the world if I _________________ (have) 180 million dollars… Oh, I am starting to sound a little materialistic.,. Well… I _________________ (do) good things with the money as well. If anybody _________________ (need) help, I _________________ (give) them some money to help them out. I _________________ (donate) money to charities. I _________________ (give) money to help support the arts. If I _________________ (won) that much money, I _________________ (not keep) it all for myself. I _________________ (help) as many people as possible.

Productive Task

Learners prepare to survey their classmates: They are asked to develop questions for their classmates, based on the structure
“What would you do, if…”

When they have their questions ready (you can set a certain number, based on learners’ ability and class time), they ask their classmates and write down all of the answers. (Student talk time, Worksheet,  30 mins)

As homework, learners can prepare to present their findings to the class in the next lesson.

Teaching Present Progressive – A Lesson Idea

GUEST POST BY LAURA, MATHIAS, PASCAL & MARIUS (my trainee-teacher students).

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Here is a downloadable version of the lesson plan: Lesson Plan Present Progressive

Phase I: Context
Oral examples of present progressive: First presented by teacher based on what learners are doing in the classroom at that moment.

Marius is holding his pen. Laura is drinking a coffee.

Then students phrase their own sentences using the present progressive to describe what others in the class are doing. (Interacton form: Teacher – Student Talk, Timing: 10 mins)

Phase II: Presentation
Teacher writes the examples from phase I on the board, using colour coding to provide an overview of the “Form and Function” of Present Progressive. Students should copy down the notes. (Interaction form: Teacher Presentation, media: Blackboard, Timing: 15 minutes). Here is an example:

Form and Function of the Present Progressive

I/You/He/She/It am/are/is holding a pen at the moment.right now.
Noun/Pronoun To be Verb + ing Time expression


How to ask a question with the Present Progressive

What/How/Why am/are/is I/you/he/she/it doing?
 Question word To be  noun/pronoun Verb+ing



Students fill in gaps of a close text using the new forms. (Interaction: Individual Work, Media:  Worksheet, Tiiming: 10 minutes).

Here is a downloadable version of the worksheet: Worksheet PresentProgressive

TASK: Read the text and fill in the gaps with the correct form of the verb using the present progressive!
Tim __________ (walk) his dog Struppi. Suddenly, he sees his best friend Debbie. She __________ (cross) the street so they can talk. “Oh, you __________ (walk) your dog,” she says. “Yes, I am,” Tim replies. “What __________ (do), Debbie?” – “I __________ (go) to the cinema with my friends. They __________ (wait) over there.” – “Oh, you are lucky! I still need to do my homework. Struppi and I __________ (go) home now. Bye Debbie!”


Students describe a picture showing people performing specific activities (see below, also on the worksheet) (Interaction: Student Talk, Media: Worksheet, Notebook, Timing: 10 minutes).

classroomPicture from:

Teaching Reported Speech – A Lesson Idea

GUEST POST BY DANIEL, MARC & MARIUS (my trainee-teacher students).

If you like this lesson idea, please leave a comment, share, or ‘like’ the post using the buttons below! You can help Marc, Marius & Daniel win a prize 🙂


First of all, here is the worksheet that you can print out and give to your learners: Indirect Speech – Material for Students

With the first two texts, ask the learners to highlight all of the verb forms they find. Next, the should highlight any other words or phrases that change between the two texts (hint: They should look at time references and locations).

Here are the answers:

A) Mandy is sitting in the café where James works. He tells her: “I work in this café almost every day. But yesterday I saw a famous TV presenter here for the first time. She ate an ice-cream at the table where you are sitting now.”
B) A week later, Mandy is speaking to a friend on the phone and reports what James said: “I saw James at the café last week. He told me that he worked in that café almost every day, but that the day before he had seen a famous TV presenter there for the first time. She had eaten an ice-cream at the table where I was sitting at that moment.”
Task: What is the difference between the verb forms in the first and the second text? Are there any other differences?

Students should be guided to notice the changes in the tenses of the verbs, adverbs and determiners. Then ask concept check questions: When are the two conversations happening? Why are the verb forms different in the second text? Why are the time phrases and location phrases different in the second text?

–> ANSWER: Because in the second text Mandy is reporting what was said, it is one week later, and she is not sitting in the café anymore!

Once learners understand the context, the new grammar forms can be presented.

!!! – introductory sentence has to be past tense (e.g. He said…)

If so, verb showing the actions being resported undergo a backshift of tenses:

Direct speech                                                       Indirect speech
Simple present                                                Simple past
   Present progressive                                   Past progressive
   Simple past                                                         Past perfect
   Present perfect                                                  Past perfect
   Past perfect                                                         Past perfect
   is/are going to                                                was/were going to
   will                                                                            would

– Shift of pronoun:
o He said: “I am going to school”
o He said he was going to school

– Shift of time and place adverbs/determiners:

Today  –> That day
Now  –> Then/at that moment
Yesterday  –> The day before
Tomorrow  –> The next day
Here  –> There
This  –> That
These  –> Those

Once learners have noted these rules and noticed how they affected the text above, they can do the controlled practice task.Here are the ANSWERS

Task: Convert the direct speech into indirect (reported) speech!
1) Two weeks ago, he said, “I visited this museum last week.”
→ Two weeks ago, he said that… he had visited that museum the week before.
2) She claimed, “I am the best person for this job.”
→ She claimed that… she was the best person for that job.
3) Last year, the minister said, “The crisis will be overcome next year.”
→ Last year, the minister said that… the crises would be over the year after. 
4) My riding teacher said, “Nobody has ever fallen off a horse here.”
→ My riding teacher said that… nobody had ever fallen of a horse there. 
5) Last month, the boss explained, “None of my co-workers has to work overtime now.”
→ Last month, the boss explained that… none of his/her co-workers had to work overtime at the moment.

The final part of the lesson, or the homework following the lesson should then be used for a productive task. Here are some suggestions:

1. Write a fictional interview with your role model / a famous person of your choice. Afterwards, transfer it into indirect speech using the backshift of tenses.
2. Interview one of your friends about his/her last holiday. Afterwards, transfer it into indirect speech using the backshift of tenses.
3. Listen to the news on TV/radio and summarize what the reporter said using the backshift of tenses.


Sources used for this lesson plan:
Lingolia, Indirect speech (reported speech),, Date of access: 16/07/2014.

Introducing Present Perfect – A Lesson Idea

GUEST POST BY JULIA, JENNIFER & KATHARINA (my trainee-teacher students)

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Show a picture of an old colonel and let the pupils describe the picture. colcoco copy(Here is an example picture, from


Get learners to read the text below about “The Old Colonel

a)      Pupils first read the text on their own

b)      Pupils read the text out loudly (together in class)

c)      Pupils underline the verb forms in the text .

d)      Collect answers together in plenary

The Old Colonel
I think I have had a very interesting life. I’m 73 now and I don’t work anymore. I was in the army for 51 years. I retired when I was 69. I have visited so many countries that I can’t remember all of them. I’ve travelled to Australia six or seven times and to South Africa three times. I have also been once to Russia but I didn’t like it at all: much too cold for me!
They say that love is the greatest thing and I agree. I’ve been married four times but never for more than five years. I don’t think women really understand me!
I’ve never been on television, but I’ve been on the radio once. It was a program about life in the military about twenty years ago. I met the Prime Minister on the same day. Actually, I’ve met a lot of famous people: members of the royal family, famous politicians and also famous cinema and television personalities. I’ve never shaken hands with the American President though which is a pity.
Because I’ve travelled a lot, I’ve seen a lot of wonderful things and have also eaten and I have drunk some strange foods and drinks. I ate cat and rat in India and drank something called Mirto on a little island in Italy many years ago.

Adapted from:


As a class, write the most important points on the board – the following procedure is suggested:

a)      teacher choses two examples and writes them on the board

b)      pupils think about a rule “How to form the Present Perfect

c)      teacher underlines the examples (colors) to help them identify ‘have’ and past participle.

d)     pupils try to explain “When to use the Present Perfect

e)     teacher writes the basic rule on the board (e.g. started in the past and continues to the present)


After this stage, the board should have the following information on it (which the learners can copy down into their notebooks)

Present Perfect

  1. I have had a very interesting life
  2. I have met a lot of famous people

have/ has              +          Past Participle             =         Present Perfect

use: action or time period began in the past and still goes on (not finished)



Learners are given five pictures with two words underneath and have to create appropriate example sentences in the present perfect.

travel / planeplane






eat / burger


swimming   swim / sea

bike    repair / bike

rio visit / Rio de Janeiro

As a further productive task (can also be done as homework), learners can be asked to write 10 sentences about things they have and have never done in their lives.

Teaching the Third Conditional – A lesson idea

GUEST POST BY WOLFGANG, DAVID & CHRISTINA (My trainee-teacher students).

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CONTEXT: World Cup 2014



Show the picture and ask learners to brainstorm what they know about the World Cup – vocabulary, facts, etc.


(Picture from: )


Write the following sentence (which will probably refer to one of the facts they have brainstormed!) on the board, using the colour coding:

If Germany had lost the final, Argentina would have won the World Cup.

Ask concept check questions for clarification: When was the final of the World Cup? Who played? Who won? Can it be changed now?

Ask learners to identify verb forms that they recognise (e.g. past perfect, past participles). Then write the grammatical structure of the sentence on the board as well – using the same colour coding as above:

If +         past perfect         ,                   would have + past participle

And show how the answers to the concept check questions highlight the function of the grammatical form:

  • Past situations
  • Not possible anymore, can no longer be changed


Use the following fill-in-the-blanks exercise as controlled practice. (Add colour coding for extra help for the learners, if required)

  1. If Neymar_____________ (not injured), he__________________            (play) in the semi-finals.
  2. If the temperatures in Brazil________________ (not that high), the players___________________ (have more energy).
  3. There_________________(be) a big party in Rio, if Brazil_____________(win) the final.
  4. If Mario Götze_________________(not be sent) onto the pitch, he __________________(not score) the winning goal.

As a productive task, give the following instructions (this can be done in class orally or as homework in writing).

Imagine you had been a player on the German team, what would you have done to help Germany win the World Cup? (Write at least five sentences using the new grammar form. (You can use the examples in the box for help)

Result clause


–          Run faster-          Defend

–          Score more goals

–          Train longer

–          …

–          Play against Brazil-         Be sent onto the pitch in the second half

–          …