Idioms for Speaking and Informal Writing 1: Free-Time Activities



Speaking Part 1 – FCE, CAE, IELTS. Most common topics – Free-Time Activities (sports, hobbies, friendship, music, films, parties), Home Life, Family, Travel and Holidays, Ambitions and Future Plans (school, job, business, future career), Health (food and diet, exercise), Likes and Dislikes,  Fashion, Clothes and Appearance…these are the most common topics and there’s a wide variety of questions related to them that you could be asked in any of these exams.

Idioms do make the difference between natives and non-natives and it’s sometimes not that easy to use them naturally when your mother tongue is not English. Still, using them a lot in your speaking preparation sessions before the exam (and in a quite controlled way, you’ll see what I mean) would actually help you reactivate them on the exam day and use them…naturally.

All you have to do is have your lists of idioms in front of you when you answer different questions on the same topic and try to include them in your speech, even if that means adapting the answer so that you could use as many idioms as possible (this is the controlled way and it may seem awkward to you, at least for a while.But, keep in mind-you won’t have these idioms in front of your eyes on the big day so, obviously, you won’t be using as many as on those practice days, just those that you will activate naturally as part of your response to the question).

So, if the topic is Travel, there could be questions related to your past, future and ideal trips, journeys and holidays, the way you like to travel, accommodation, places you go to, means of transport…Since there’s a list for that, feel free to use it.

Now, talking about writing, all the topics I’ve mentioned above could be met in an informal letter (FCE, CAE), an article (FCE) or a Review (FCE, CAE). Again, idioms will improve the quality of your informal language.

You can improve your English with more items of idiomatic language, so download, print and use this list of Idioms for Speaking and Informal Writing – Free-Time Activities

 Well, this just another resource  designed to boost your confidence so that you could say Yes To Exams! 



Academic Vocabulary 3



If you’ve already used and got used to the words on the previously published lists, then it’s time for  some more academic vocabulary. Students usually look for ‘ items of vocabulary to impress teachers’ and, although these words may seem alien to them at first, they start to like some of them and ask for more. For example, some students told me that ubiquitous sounds really nice to them and so does quintessential

My advice for you is to find as many contexts as possible for these academic words, to see how you can make meaningful sentences that sound natural.

So, here’s the new list:

Academic Vocabulary 3



REPETITION MAKES MONOTONOUS A great number of essay topics, especially those for the FCE exam, deal with the relationship between teachers and students, parents and children, children and society…and most of these essays, regardless of the topic or level, ask you to come up with advantages, downsides, solutions or recommendations. That’s why you should avoid repeating keywords. You can start with this list of synonyms and, obviously, they will be useful for other types of writing as well, such as reports or proposals.

10 Synonyms in Action for Writing


IELTS Essay Topic – Alternative Energy/ Minimising the Use of Fossil Fuels



IELTS Essay Topic –  Alternative Energy / Minimising the Use of Fossil Fuels


Exam tasks

  1. Fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) are the main sources in many countries, but in some countries the use of alternative sources of energy (wind energy and solar energy) are encouraged. To what extent do you think it is a positive or negative development? You should write at least 250 words.
  2. The exploration and development of safe alternatives to fossil fuels should be the most important global priority today. To what extent do you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer. You should write at least 250 words.
  3. Renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, have shown great promise. However, they have often disappointed in practice. What are the advantages and disadvantages of these forms of power generation compared to fossil fuels?

Brainstorming information is vital for any candidate and originality is a must, that is why no essay models will be provided, as learning them by heart is going to affect the exam results seriously.

Information for the essay

A. Alternative sources of energy:

renewable:  solar power (photo-voltaic systems – solar panels), wind power (wind turbines), hydro power (hydroelectric power plants), geothermal energy (geothermal power plants, pumps), tidal power, biomass ;

limited: nuclear power (uranium);

Renewable sources:

-used for: electricity generation, heating and transportation (bio-ethanol, biodiesel fuelled vehicles, electric vehicles);

– contributed  around 19 % to humans’ global energy consumption (a 2016 report);

– Denmark is planning to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2050;

-advantages: energy security, economic benefits; it would reduce environmental pollution (CO2 emissions), improve public health, reduce premature mortalities, save associated health costs, reduce climate change and global warming concerns;

-downsides: generally variable or intermittent, the visual (aesthetic) impact and other impacts of some wind farms, with local residents sometimes fighting or blocking construction;

Nuclear power:

-provides around 14% of the world’s electricity;

-potentially dangerous radioactive contamination, highly hazardous to people and wildlife (the Chernobyl disaster, Ukraine, 1986)

B. Traditional sources of energy-Fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas):


-increase global warming (greenhouse gas emissions)  and cause more severe climate change, combustion leading to acid rain (monuments and sculptures vulnerable to it), coal also contains radioactive materials,  offshore oil drilling – a hazard to aquatic organisms.

Download the PDF

IELTS Essay Topic – Alternative Energy-Minimising the Use of Fossil Fuels







One of my main concerns is teaching students how to write a good quality essay. Maybe because I’ve always been a big fan of writing. The hardest part about being the teacher in the process is accepting the fact that not all students find writing easy. This time it’s not about the layout or the vocabulary or some smart structures that can be learnt by heart and practised until they become familiar and easy to use. This time it’s about writing a high quality essay that means a lot more than shallow good looks. So, what is it all about?

Creating content that would make the reader say ‘oh, finally, something worth reading…’-how difficult a task can that be? Well, believe it or not, for most teenagers and very young adults it is very difficult… at least here, in Romania, where students rarely get the chance to practise essays at school, written in their mother tongue, dealing with a variety of topics that would require general knowledge about the world.

The question is: Which essay would get a higher mark? A dull one, still correct, coated with  beautiful academic vocabulary, precious complex structures and containing all the other ingredients used by connoisseurs or one written in rather simple words, but giving the reader the feeling they were taken on a journey they’d so much enjoy …My answer to this is- I don’t know. What do you think? But what if that essay had both? Would that be too much to ask from a student who usually has so many other things on their mind and in their weekly schedule? Hmmm…let’s give it a try, shall we?

I think there are two types of problems students may be facing when dealing with IELTS Essay writing. The first one is related to difficult topics, that require specific knowledge. I’d mention some examples, such as space research, alternative medicine, green energy, globalization or social welfare. Opinion is not enough in these cases. General knowledge and real examples, combined with the ability to prove a mature approach and some originality would be appreciated. So, let us read and learn some information about these topics… What about the second problem? Well, that is rather a trap. When dealing with easy, familiar topics, students might feel too relaxed and write a lot about nothing, really…I’ve seen that many times and the authors were students who had great knowledge about science, geography, politics, economics, literature, psychology…So, a familiar topic could make one fall into the trap of dealing with it in a very unsophisticated manner. Like long-married couples wearing the same old threadbare clothes at home and picking their nose when watching TV together because why bother? And the adjective in both cases (essay reader and partner) is, probably, bored. Is a bored essay assessor exactly what you need?

Exploration is essential. Be it space exploration or  some specific essay topic research, acquiring information, filtering and processing it is a must for evolution.

Let’s first see some past space exploration IELTS exam essay examples:

  1. Many people think that the government should spend money to explore the outer space, while others believe that it’s a waste of public money. Discuss both views and include your own opinion.
  2. It has been more than 30 years since man first landed on the moon. Some people think that space research is a waste of money. Discuss your opinion.

Before writing about this topic students should first read articles and watch videos about some benefits and drawbacks of space exploration and they may find out about:


1.Spinoffs –technologies used on Earth that were first pioneered in space exploration:

-Memory Foam (first used for airline crash protection)

-Magnetic Resonance Imaging

-Smoke Detection

-Infrared Ear Thermometers

-Artificial Limbs

-Firefighter Gear

-Portable Cordless Vacuums

-Harnessing Solar Energy

-Water Purification

2.Education and Job Creation

-encouraging students to pursue STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)


-fuel costs

-expensive failed missions

-endangering the lives of astronauts

– pollution in space –  debris that space missions leave behind, such as satellites or rocket launch boosters

More information related to the topic:

Top 5 countries spending on space exploration: USA, China, Russia, Japan, France

Historic moments in  space exploration:

And last, but not least,

 Why We Need the Explorers

a brilliant Ted Talk by Physicist Brian Cox.

We’ll now focus on this first step of writing high quality essays on difficult topics that require opinion based on specific knowledge. Students will move on from ‘I don’t really care’ to ‘I actually like this’ and ‘I’d like to know more’. That’s the point. And this is the PDF with the same suggested information and links:

IELTS Essay Topics – Space Exploration


List of Formal and Informal Connectors

bowtie-formal-funny-classy-t-shirts-men-s-premium-t-shirt What about neutral?

I was looking for such a list online some months ago, as my FCE students seemed to be a bit confused when they had to switch registers…and their specific connectors. After trying in vain to find a compared list, well, there might be one somewhere but I guess wasn’t lucky or patient enough to discover it, I gave up searching and started to make my own compilation.

As an English teacher,  I tend to insist on developing my students’ formal/ academic exam writing skills (and I am sure I am not an exception), so it does not come as a surprise to me when they start using ‘therefore’ or ‘furthermore’ in their informal letters after writing so many formal tasks. Consequently, this list seems to have helped them organize and use connectors appropriately.

Again, feel free to download it and improve it, if you like.




Here’s one of the lists some ( read it most) teenage students take a look at just once before they drop  it somewhere among other photocopies in a huge pile of school stuff. Then find it the night before the exam or rather when they clean up the mess at the end of the school year. Find it and think…well, that could’ve saved me…

So, why use phrases like these? I mean…

Do they guarantee a high score?

No. Obviously, not. Academic writing for Cambridge English Exams is a lot more than just some fixed phrases inserted here and there, to make you look smart, mature and well-prepared. Plus, they could look really awkward when they are  mixed with an informal tone, if grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors abound, if content is poor or ambiguous or if they occur so frequently, that the reader becomes  tired and bored.

Do they replace talent and good quality ideas?

No. Nothing can replace talent and high-quality content. I remember a few past CAE students of mine who wouldn’t care about any writing rules, suggestions, layout or carefully chosen structures. Those very few (wish there had been more like them) kids passed the exam with an excellent score in their writing paper just because they were naturally able to create great content.

Then, why use them?

Well, you might just like some of them. As you clearly don’t use them in conversation, ’cause people would run away instantly, they may sound odd to you at first. Just try to get used to them and if, let’s say, you lack inspiration when you have to write your paper or if you are generally  not a fan of writing, using some of them could guarantee a better mark than not using them at all. But, remember, don’t exaggerate!

Here’s a list of suggested phrases you may want to use. You can also download them here:

Academic Writing – Formal Phrases 1

  • This…is primarily provided/fulfilled/achieved through…
  • It is rather hard to believe that…
  • There is a far higher proportion of…who…
  • It is expected that…
  • This is not an incidental pattern, unique to a particular space and time.
  • This measure is likely to cause an unprecedented change
  • These measures largely reflect the needs of…
  • This phenomenon is not unique to…
  • This might prove to be a sustainable and responsible solution to…
  • There seems to be an ever-increasing rate of…
  • This could be a solution that any responsible person would be prepared to contemplate.
  • This is one of the prevalent issues in the modern society.
  • Some of the decisions originally perceived as rather unwise have proved a stroke of genius.
  • There can be little doubt that…
  • Unmistakably,/Unquestionably/Undeniably, this is…
  • Although the measure’s implementation chances of success appear to be ribbon-thin, statistics have shown that…
  • Though it may appear to be a time-consuming process, it has its obvious benefits
  • This…may well represent the very beginning of a fruitful process.
  • The proposed solution is audaciously simple and simply audacious.
  • Perhaps more importantly,…
  • Rules and policies, regulations and stipulations are innovation killers.
  • Scientific evidence can be invaluable, but it has to be used cautiously and in tandem with historical research.
  • This…may add more weight to the growing consensus that…
  • An idea that is sure to have sparked some lively debate refers to…
  • There is relatively thin evidence that…
  • There may have been erroneous opinions on this issue; fortunately, recent studies are now setting the record straight:…
  • One of the latest studies takes the argument further, claiming that…; however, it seems to be clearly just scratching the surface of a big issue, that is, …
  • This may be, nonetheless, a further step in the right direction in terms of…







pinterest funny IELTS question

As you already know, REPHRASING the task is a must for writing a suitable report INTRODUCTION in the IELTS exam.
That should be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, piece of cake, no rocket science…
Oh, never use idioms in an academic exam written task, by the way! Unless you can make them look academic…

So, here’s an example of a task taken from here:

You should spend about 20 minutes on this task.

The line graph below shows changes in the amount and type of fast food consumed by Australian teenagers from 1975 to 2000.

Summarize the information by selecting and reporting the main features and make comparisons where relevant.

Write at least 150 words.

You need to rephrase this: The line graph below shows changes in the amount and type of fast food consumed by Australian teenagers from 1975 to 2000.

Tip: use as many synonyms as you can. Where this is not easy, omit unnecessary words or change word order, if possible.

Example of rephrasing the above sentence:

The (line) graph (below) (shows) illustrates changes in the (amount) quantity and type of fast food (consumed)eaten by Australian (teenagers)youngsters (from) between 1975 (to) and 2000.

What you see in the brackets should obviously be out. Youngsters is not a perfect synonym for teenagers, but the aim of the exercise was to show you that there are many changes you can make to the sentence. Of course there are more and better academic ways of rephrasing the sentence than this example.

Now try this:

The table shows the Proportions of Pupils Attending Four Secondary School Types Between Between 2000 and 2009. You can find the task here:


2. QUANTITY=AMOUNT, VOLUME (in some cases)

For a longer list of useful synonyms and any questions you might have contact me here:

Good luck!