Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

This blog is for Intermediate and Advanced Students who want to learn and improve their English. Each PAGE above contains thousands of free English lessons and practice exercises to help you learn and improve your English grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, writing and editing. On the right hand side, is a list of links of resources grouped by category. Although I am constantly checking on the links, please let me know if you find any that don't work.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance Day Song Quizzes

Enjoy the following Remembrance Day Songs.

A Pittance of Time 

On November 11, 1999 Terry Kelly was in a drug store in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. At 10:55 AM an announcement came over the stores PA asking customers who would still be on the premises at 11:00 AM to give two minutes of silence in respect to the veterans who have sacrificed so much for us.

Terry was impressed with the stores leadership role in adopting the Legions two minutes of silence initiative. He felt that the stores contribution of educating the public to the importance of remembering was commendable.

When eleven oclock arrived on that day, an announcement was again made asking for the two minutes of silence to commence. All customers, with the exception of a man who was accompanied by his young child, showed their respect.

Terry's anger towards the father for trying to engage the stores clerk in conversation and for setting a bad example for his child was channeled into the following song called  work called, A Pittance of Time. 

A Soldier Cries 

Monday, November 10, 2014

25th Anniversary of Fall of the Berlin Wall

 More than a million Germans and people from around the world gathered in Berlin on the weekend to celebrate the the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The celebrations included the release of 7,000 illuminated helium balloons strung along a 15 kilometer (9 mile)  section of the former wall, which had served as a border between East and West Germany until November 9th, 1989 when the walls came tumbling down. 

Berlin Wall Built (1961
In August 1961, East German troops began to build a wall to create a border between East and West Berlin.  The 12 foot high wall eventually continued for 66 miles along with an extra 41 miles of barbed wire  fence. It separated families and towns that had always been part of a unified Germany. 
No one one either side of the wall was allowed to cross to the other side without the permission of the East German government.  Armed guards along the wall prevented any East Germans from escaping over the wall. Over the years  many people died while they were trying to cross the wall.  

Fall of the Berlin  Wall 
In 1989, more than 13,000 people in East Germany managed to escape through Hungary. They later went to West Germany and protested against the East German government. That sparked a protest within East Germany, known as “The Peaceful Revolution.” 
After several weeks of civil unrest, on November 9th, 1989, the the East German government announced that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. Crowds of East Germans crossed and climbed onto  the wall, joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory

25th Anniversary Celebrations
At the 25th anniversary ceremony, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the fall of the Berlin Wall sent, “a message of hope and that dreams can come true. Nothing has to stay as it is, even if it’s difficult.”

Most of the wall is now gone, but 2.2 kilometres of it still stands  as a monument in Germany. Some parts of the wall were sent to other countries, such as the United Nations in New York, as a monument.

Divisions still exist
But 25 years after the Berlin Wall crumbled, divisions between countries persist and there are fears of new psychological barriers replacing the physical ones. 

Watch the video as many times as you need to. Then, answer the following questions

Comprehension Questions  

1. What happened in  East Germany after the fall of the Berlin wall? 2. What happened in   
     the Soviet Union? 
3. How many people lined up at McDonalds?  
4. What happened after the final euphoria died down?  How were things different?  
5. What could America have done? What did it do? 
6. What caused increasing distrust of the west? 
7. What was the disapproval rating of the U.S. in 1991?     What is it now? Why?
8. What  is replacing the sale of American t shirts and sweatshirts in Moscow these days?  Why? 
9. What new "barriers" may be built soon?

To learn more about the story of the Berlin wall watch the following videos: 


Monday, November 3, 2014

Remembrance Day: Why the Poppy?

In Flanders Field 

by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
between the crosses, row on row  

that mark our places, and in the sky 
the larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard  amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago 
we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
loved and were loved, and now we lie
in Flanders fields .  

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
the torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die.
we shall not sleep 
  though poppies grow 
in Flanders fields.

Why the Poppy? 
For almost 100 years, people from Canada, the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries have worn the red poppy as a symbol of Remembrance Day.

This simple red flower continues to be one of most visible ways  people can show that they remember and thank the millions of men and women who gave up their lives for their countries in World War 1, World War 11 and all other wars. 

The the association between the poppy and war dead goes back to the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s  when  soldiers noted how poppies seemed  to flourish on the graves of soldiers who had died in battle in Flanders, a region of northern France and Belgium.

In 1915, McCrae, a medical officer serving near Ypres in Belgium, made the same connection between the fields of poppies and  the young soldiers who had been killed in  battle.  This inspired the immortal poem, In Flanders Field, which he wrote during a break from working with the wounded. 

The poem, one that almost every Canadian, British, Australian and New Zealand  child can recite from memory, reflects what he McCrae  saw and heard with his own eyes and ears while working to save dying and injured soldiers during a particularly deadly battle in Ypres, Belgium.

The Story Behind the Poem 

On April 22, 1915, the Germans used deadly chlorine gas against Allied troops  in a desperate attempt to create on one movement on one side or the other. Even though the effects of the gas were  terrible, the Canadian soldiers continued to fight without giving up, and held the line for another 16 days.
In the trenches where he was caring for hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers, McCrae was so deeply affected by the battle and its devastating results that he wrote a letter to his mother. 

The letter to his mother 

"The general impression in my mind is a nightmare. We have been in the most bitter of fights. For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots, except occasionally. 

In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds...And behind if all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way", (Prescot, In Flanders Fields: The Story of John McCrae, p.98 

The day before he wrote his famous poem, one of McCrae's best friends was killed in the fighting and buried in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross. 

Wild poppies were already beginning to bloom between the crosses  marking the many graves. Although he couldn't help his friend, or any of the others who had died, McCrae spoke for them in this poem.  It was the second last poem he was to write. 

Listen to In Flanders Field being read out loud. Follow along, or read it at the same time - slowly and solemnly as it is meant to be read

How the Poppy Became an Official Symbol 

In November 1918 as the armistice ended World War 1, Moina Michael, an American teacher working at the YMCA Overseas War Headquarters in New York, read McCrae's poem. She took in McCrae's appeal  "to keep faith with the dead" and vowed that she would always wear a poppy as a sign of  remembrance.  In 1920, the United States proclaimed the poppy as its national emblem of Remembrance. 

The following year, Madame Guerin, a Frenchwoman, sold millions to raise funds for rehabilitation in areas of France. She also sent women to London to sell poppies and persuaded Earl Haig to adopt it for the British Legion.

In 1921 the Canadian Legion joined its British counterpart and officially adapted the poppy as its symbol of Remembrance. 

Why Should You Wear A Poppy? 

First, wearing a poppy is one very visible way to show respect and admiration for the men and women who  sacrificed their lives in order to help us retain the freedom and rights we take for granted.

Also  when you buy and wear a poppy, you will be helping military families, former veterans in need and their families. 

Where does the money go in Britain? 

Last year the poppy campaign in Britain raised £40 m ( that's about about $70 million Canadian).  The Royal British Legion said it spends £1.7m a week on care and support for military families, including grants, employment advice and funding, emotional support, tribunal and inquest advice, care homes and family breaks. This includes  the families of veterans returning from Afghanistan.

Where does the money go in Canada? 

It is difficult to get an accurate figure for the total amount raised in the Canadian poppy campaign, but a 2008 post on the Salvation Army's blog put it at about $16.5 million.

The legion distributes about 18 million poppies a year via its members, veterans, military cadets and through direct mailings. Assuming all are given out to Canadians, it amounts to average donations of less than a dollar per available poppy.

The basic purpose of Poppy Funds is to provide immediate assistance to ex-servicemen and women in need. This may include food, shelter or medical attention for them or their families. Also, education bursaries are granted to children and grandchildren of ex-service personnel.  

Poppy funds can be used for low-rental housing and care facilities, community medical appliances and medical research, drop-in centres, meals-on-wheels, transportation and related services for veterans their dependents. Facilities and services are often extended to the elderly or disabled in the community as may be available. 

Is the poppy relevant to the veterans of today? 

The recent role of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, and the creation of the Highway of Heroes Highway of Heroes as a sign of respect Canadians have shown for the families of the more than 160 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan would seem to indicate that the poppy is still relevant. 


Write your answer in he comment box below 

1.   Do YOU think it is still important to wear a poppy?  Why or why not? 
2.   What else should people do instead?  Explain 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween in TV Comedies Listening Quizzes

The Big Bang Theory characters wearing "Flash" costumes.
Many regular television situation comedies  have a complete Halloween episode where the whole story revolves around some kind of Halloween theme. Sometimes they are funny. Sometimes they are meant to be spooky, but they are usually entertaining . 

Thanks to the advent of long running series you can watch, enjoy and and practice your English with listening quizzes from The Big Bang Theory , Modern Family , How I Met Your Mother,    Friends and Frasier .  All of these TV shows have something to offer in helping you to improve your listening skills - especially if you watch short clips several times to get used to  the "fast English" real English speakers actually use.  

Tune in tomorrow for more clips from another Friends episode, the Simpsons, Glee, Family Guy and Buffy. 

Watch as often as you need to. Then try the quizzes to see how well you understood.  

The Big Bang Theory 

The characters in the Big Bang Theory love Halloween because of the parties, the "tricks" they can play on each other, and simply because it is an excuse for "dressing up. One of the most popular television situation comedies in the U.S. The Big Bang Theory is a pleasure to watch because even if you don't understand everything, you understand enough to have a good laugh.  For more information on the what the show is about, and its characters go to The Big Bang Theory  
Modern Family 
In this Modern Family episode, the whole family plans to frighten children who come
 trick or treating with many creatures. Watch and see how much you understand. For more information on  the show and its characters go to Modern Family 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

10 Great Halloween Song Activities

Halloween is coming up fast on October 31st. But, celebrations are already well underway here in Vancouver, and anywhere else in North America. 

People take Halloween seriously here with some people even preferring it to Christmas. As a result  both adults and children start celebrating it with a variety of events and activities for the whole family well before the "big day" itself. 
Although there are many TV specials and Halloween movies  aimed at children. There are just as many "classic" horror horror movies and spooky, scary songs that delight adults of every age. 

Many of these songs have been around for more than 25 years, but they are some of the most popular songs in North America during the Halloween season. 

From classics such as " Ghostbusters"  and Monster Mash to  "Marilyn Mason's  scary "This is Halloween"   to very singable Werewolves  of London,  time, there are plenty of songs out there to make the holiday both scary and memorable. 

Make sure you prepare those zombie  moves for Michael Jackson's Thriller. This is MUST if you want to celebrate Halloween.     

Here are  ten of the most popular Halloween songs for you to practice your listening to.  
There is a LOT of useful scary vocabulary in all of these songs, so be prepared.

In the next day or two I will post a list of scary Halloween vocabulary along with some practice activities.

Listen to all of the songsTry the listening activities.Then discuss them with your friends or classmates
  • Which one was the easiest to understand? Why?
  • Which one did you like best? Why? 
  • Which one did you like least? Why? 
  • Which one had the best video and graphics? Why? 
  • Which one told a real story? 
  • Which one will still be played in 20 years? Why?  

 # 1 :   This is Halloween
This is Halloween by Marilyn Manson is one of the few songs with the word Halloween in it.
It has become extremely popular at Halloween even though it was originally written for a movie about a Christmas Nightmare.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ESL Reading: Canadian History Week

144 Things Canada Has Given the World
A Skimming and Scanning Activity 

Canada might not be very old, but during its 147 years, it has made a number of contributions to the world.

In honour of Canadian History week, here's a Canadian trivia reading quiz to test your knowledge.  First, try the pre-reading activity to find out how much you know already. Then, see how many questions you got right.  

Later, discuss and write about some of the most important inventions ever made. Would your life be any different without them? 

From Anne of Green Gables  to the zipper, hockey to the hydrofoil hydrofoil, here's a list put together by The Hamilton Spectator. Some things that are precious to Canadians may cause others to scratch their heads.

You may not have eaten poutine unless you’ve traveled to Quebec or Ontario, while Timbits  and double doubles  may sound like gobbledygook  outside our borders.  Have a look.

Read more 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Love Letters to Canada on Canada Day

Most Canadians have their own unique reasons for knowing how lucky they are to live in Canada.  All of us have our own  "Canadian  moments" - moments when truly experience what it is to be Canadian. That's when we realize that we have won the jackpot.

Yes, like any other country in the world, Canada is not perfect. It has its flaws. But, it is still the best country in the world to live in - high taxes or not.   

Every year on Canada Day, I write a post on the many reasons I love Canada.... and there are too many to count.  Here is my post from last year on  Why I Love Canada
147 Reasons we Love Canada
This year,  I'm letting others do the talking.  They all have something important to say - things I often feel in my heart, but am unable to voice. 

Sit back and enjoy reading some of these love letters to Canada. You'll be happy you did, AND if you are a new Canadian, or thinking about moving here, you might learn something.