Festivals and Celebrations in Oxford and the UK. January

Burns Night 25th January

This is a big Scottish celebration of the Scots poet Robert Burns (25th January 1759 – 21st July 1796). He wrote poetry and songs in both Scots and English, his most famous Scots language poem is probably ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which is sung at New Year’s celebrations around the world.


Traditionally the Scots eat haggis (see above), ‘neeps’ (swede) and ‘tatties’ (potatoes), recite Burns’  poetry and drink on this day. If you’re in the UK, it should be quite easy to find a pub celebrating Burns night, you might even find a Ceilidh (Scottish party, usually with dancing and folk music) somewhere near you.

If you’re in Oxford, you could go to: BrewDog on Cowley Road, The Holly Bush, Bridge Street or St Aldates Tavern, St. Aldates or get tickets for the Burns Night Ceilidh at Exeter Hall in Kidlington (http://www.oxfordpipeband.co.uk/ceilidh-2020/) 

Make Your Own Burns Night Supper

Haggis (Main Dish)

Unless you have your own sheep to butcher, you’ll probably have to buy this as it is made of the liver, heart and lungs of a sheep mixed with suet, oatmeal, onion and spices, packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled. You can buy it at Waitrose. They also sell a (nicer) vegetarian version.


Salmon smoked or baked, maybe in a salad, or ‘Cullen Skink’ (delicious smoked haddock soup) or ‘cock – a – leekie’ soup.

Side Dishes

Roast swede and potato. Mashed potato with cream or quick fried leeks or cabbage.


Whisky (or Irn Bru, which is non-alcoholic, if you can get it). 



570 ml double cream

85g porridge oats

7tbsp whisky

3 tbsp honey

450g raspberries

1.Gently toast the oats in a frying pan.

2.Lightly whip the cream and fold in honey, whisky, oatmeal & berries.


125g butter, 55g caster sugar, 180g plain flour.

1.Heat the oven to 190C

2. Beat the butter & sugar together until smooth

3. Stir in flour. Take out of the bowl and put on the table, gently roll until about 1 cm thick.

4. Cut into circles or ‘fingers’ and place on a baking tray. Sprinkle caster sugar on top and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

5. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until pale golden-brown. Let cool.

Notes Someone should read Robert Burns’ ‘Address to a Haggis’ when you bring the haggis to the table https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5f_yDLZBaA , you can find an English translation here: https://inews.co.uk/culture/address-to-a-haggis-robert-burns-poem-words-translation-burns-night-2019-146960

Put on some traditional Scots music https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFM7iH9lwQw and maybe dance around a sword or two https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUFR4LcSKrs

Chinese New Year 25th January 2020

Marking the beginning of the Year of the Rat. The biggest celebration in the UK (and the largest outside Asia) will be in and around Chinatown and the West End in London on Sunday 26th January. There will be parades, performances and displays (https://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/event/4733685-chinese-new-year-in-london)

If you’re in Oxford, you can buy tickets for the celebration at the Town Hall on Sunday 2nd February (https://www.cheney.oxon.sch.uk/student-news/invitation-to-chinese-new-year-celebration-on-sunday-2nd-february-2020-9th-day-of-the-chinese-new-year/).


January 2020 Newsletter:

The Life Game

NOTE: This ‘game’ has grown organically over the years as various teachers have made observations & contributions (I don’t claim sole authorship).

The Life Game is my favourite ‘getting to know you’ type activity because it:

  • requires few resources
  • is easy to set up
  • is based on students’ real experiences
  • is actually interesting
  • is genuinely ‘bonding’ & establishes a nice class atmosphere
  • gives me a good idea of the students’ speaking level/ability to communicate
  • gives me a good idea of the students’ interests
  • with adjustments can be made to work with any level post beginner.
  • works well with one-to-one classes as well as larger groups.
  • can last anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 1/2 hours with pre & post activities.

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The Word Box

What is a word box?

It is class specific. You will need a different box for each class. During, or at the end of each class, someone needs to transfer each new item of vocabulary (word, collocation, phrase) onto a slip of paper and put it in the word box. You can either transfer the words yourself or ask a student to take responsibility for it.

Each word or phrase should have number of syllables, stress, phonemic transcription, and word class marked on one side of the paper. On the other you will need to write a definition, an example sentence and, if you’re teaching a monolingual class, a translation.

word box word


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Teaching Teenagers

I’ve recently been working with a non-native English speaking English teacher from Spain on a home stay English refresher course. She’s taught English to adults for many years in a language college but in September will be teaching High School students. Like most of us who’ve become comfortable with a certain age group, she’s feeling some trepidation. We had a lot of conversations about teaching teenagers.

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East Oxford

Although East Oxford is only a short walk from central Oxford over Magdalen bridge, it is a world apart. While Oxford may seem like a dusty old don steeped in centuries of tradition fussing about dress code and behaviour, East Oxford is like an errant globe-trotting gap-year student. 

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English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 10

British Novels Which Have Added To The English Language

No. 10 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

This is the last in my series of British novels and it is by far the most recent. As this book (the first of seven) was only published in 1997, it would be surprising that it has already given a word to the language were it not such a hugely popular series.

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English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 9

British Novels Which Have Added To The Language

No. 9 Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

This is a much-loved children’s classic about a boy, a bear, a little pig and various other animals who live in a wood. It has been translated into many languages since it was written in 1925 so, chances are, you already know the characters and stories.


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English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 8

British Novels Which Have Added To The Language

No. 8 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift

Gulliver goes on a series of sea voyages. On the first trip he’s shipwrecked and ends up on the island of Lilliput where he is imprisoned by tiny little people who are at war with their neighbours over which end of a boiled egg is the correct end to crack. After he escapes and returns home he goes on a second sea voyage. This time his shipmates abandon him on the island of Brobdingnag, an island of giants. On Gulliver’s third sea voyage his ship is attacked by pirates and he visits four more fictional places and Japan, he meets magicians, ghosts of famous historical figures and an Emperor. Undeterred by his previous misfortunes, once Gulliver returns home he decides to go to sea again. He is given the post of ship’s captain but his crew mutinies and abandons him on an island ruled by talking horses and peopled by deformed savage humans called ‘Yahoos’. Eventually he returns home where he spends the rest of his days talking to his horses. Published in 1726. You might like to try an abridged version as the language is rather archaic (see excerpt below).

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English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 7

British Novels Which Have Added To The Language

No. 7 Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

This is a short novel published in 1886. Part horror, part detective story, I can’t say any more about the plot in case you don’t already know the story.

Themes It is about good and evil, the conscious and unconscious mind, Victorian respectability, and an early interest in multiple personality disorders.

Words & Phrases

Jekyll and Hyde \ˈje-kəl-ən-ˈhīd also ˈjē- or ˈjā-\ used to describe a person who changes completely from one situation to the next: The rally was the latest example of Trump as a Jekyll and Hyde public performer, coming just 24 hours after a sober speech to the military setting out future strategy in Afghanistan.


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English Novels Every Proficiency Student Should Read No. 6

British Novels Which Have Added To The Language 

No. 6 Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

The story of a man – Robinson Crusoe – shipwrecked in the Caribbean. Much of the action centres on his efforts to survive on a deserted island, while much of the narrative is concerned with Crusoe’s relationship with God and the possibility his predicament is punishment for being a slave trader.

At some point Crusoe rescues a man from cannibals and the man stays with him as a servant). Crusoe names the man ‘Friday’ and teaches him English because it doesn’t occur to Crusoe to learn the man’s actual name or language.

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