Culture Club

Top 10 things to do at Christmas if you’re in London

So it’s Christmas time again, the presents are under the tree, the mistletoe is up and the mulled wine is brewing. But if you want to add a little more excitement to your festive season beyond the usual turkey dinner, Queen’s speech and inevitable EastEnders festive mayhem, then the good news is that there are plenty of ways to celebrate it in the capital – whatever your age. Whether you want to take advantage of the school holidays and have an outing with the kids, snap up a few festive bargains, show off your skating skills or find another way to spice up the season, there’s more than enough to while away the time between the first batch of mulled wine and the last ditch moments of celebration as we prepare to enter 2016.

10 Enjoy Christmas at Kew Gardens

If you’ve never been to London’s famous horticultural heaven, then now’s your chance, with certain free activities inside the grounds to keep all the family entertained. For the younger visitor there’s a Victorian-style carousel, face painting and the chance to see Santa in his woodland grotto (until December 23); after Christmas they’re offering you the chance to take your tree for recycling. Failing that, you can just take a wander through the grounds in a bid to walk off all that turkey.


9 Take a festive trip to the cinema

Christmas is traditionally a time for blockbuster movies to make their cinema debut – not to mention the appearance of the ‘awards season’ films which might just go on to win Oscars – and this year is no exception. If it’s blockbuster fun you’re after you could check out Star Wars: the Force Awakens or James Bond’s Spectre, currently showing at cinemas all over the UK. Or you could wait until Boxing Day to watch Snoopy and Charlie Brown: A Peanuts Movie or The Good Dinosaur with children.

8 Check out a pantomime

Everybody loves a bit of pantomime at Christmas (Oh no they don’t! Oh yes they do! etc), and as usual London is stuffed to the gills with famous faces putting on silly costumes and acting out some thinly disguised fairytale for the benefit of their shouty audience. Highlights this year include an enchanting and timeless trip to Neverland, with Hollywood star Verne Troyer, comedians Marcus Brigstocke and Jarred Christmas plus dance troupe Flawless starring Peter Pan at New Wimbledon Theatre. Stars of stage and screen Hayley Mills and Matthew Kelly will appear in this year’s panto Cinderella at the Richmond Theatre (until Sunday January 10) Jo Brand, making her panto debut, in Aladdin at the New Wimbledon Theatre (also until January 12), and Jack and the Beanstalk at the Beck Theatre in Hayes (until January 2).

Continue reading “Top 10 things to do at Christmas if you’re in London”

Classroom Resources, Sing along

Top 20 Christmas Songs

There’s nothing to get you quite in that holiday mood like a good old santa-inspired playlist. Spread the cheer by turning your speakers up and blasting some of our top 20 Christmas songs. Check out our Top 20 picks for the best Christmas songs to pump up the holiday cheer and make even gift shopping on December 24th enjoyable!

1.Carpenters – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

2.Mariah Carey – All I Want For Christmas Is You

3.Bing Crosby & Frank Sinatra – White Christmas

Continue reading “Top 20 Christmas Songs”

Cineclub, Classroom Resources

How to use TV series, trailers and films in language class


How many ways are there to use moving images in the classroom? English language teacher Svetlana Urisman, who won last month’s British Council Teaching English blog award, shares her advice. Comment below this post if you have further tips.

Why TV series are sometimes better than films
One of my favourite things to watch are series – they are shorter, they let you come back to the characters again and again and predict what will happen to them next. They often reflect real life, which means people in them use real language and grammar.

As for the grammar, I’ve always liked films and series as a great source of that – ‘real’, spoken grammar. My dream for several years already has been to make a kind of grammar workbook or even a video based on film examples. I keep collecting suitable extracts (send me more in the comments, please). Just to give you an idea, here’s an example of ‘neither do I’ in the BBC series Sherlock (episode 1, season 2):

Mycroft Holmes: My brother has the brain of a scientist or a philosopher and yet he elects to be a detective. What might we deduce about his heart?
Dr. John Watson: I don’t know.

Mycroft Holmes: Neither do I. But initially, he wanted to be a pirate.

Or tag questions, such as this example from Mad Men (season 2, episode 1)

Driver to Betty: ‘It would be, wouldn’t it?, or ‘… I could say no, couldn’t I?

I find that showing a short extract (up to about two minutes) out of a film when characters use a structure or a grammar point you are working on brings a whole new perspective to your class – students see that the grammar you are introducing is not just something they have to study because it’s in the book – they need to study this because people who speak English as their native language use this, as they have just seen on a film. And, as a positive side effect, students might get interested in series and start watching in their free time.

How do you make business English interesting? Watch the right films!

Some films are great for business English, an area where you wouldn’t think of watching films as a first choice. But films do help – to generate a discussion, to compare how business used to be done and how it is done now, to set a business-like atmosphere, and so on. Try Wall Street (1987) for all the stock exchange atmosphere and vocabulary, Other People’s Money (1991) and even What Women Want (2000) for brilliant presentation skills and speech examples. When, together with my students, we feel we’d like to watch a film, or make this into a regular feature of a course, we usually decide on a film to watch, they watch it at home, and then a discussion part follows.

How to get your classroom to choose: Trailers

At this stage – when choosing a film – I find trailers a great thing to turn to: instead of telling your students about a film, you can just show a trailer and so give them a general idea of a film to watch; they bring suspense and generate interest in your class. Once, when I didn’t know what film would be more interesting for my group, I set up a small ‘trailers’ parade’ – we watched several trailers and then chose one film to watch and discuss.

However, the only downside to trailers might be that the speech in them is often very quick, and the language is less contextualised, so some learners at lower levels can experience difficulty understanding trailers. In this case, you could always use pictures (several screenshots of a film’s important moments would do) or – an intriguing option – show a trailer with the sound off, letting your students guess the content.

Reviews make classroom discussions richer and more focused

One more ‘real-life’ thing to use at a lesson is film reviews – online or offline. If you are planning to discuss a film that students watched prior to your class, find several reviews and ask students if they agree or disagree with them. This would make a discussion richer and more focused. You can find a lot of good reviews on the IMDb Opens in a new tab or window. website, both from ordinary viewers and from critics.

Subtitles: on or off?

It’s also important to decide if you want to use subtitles, and if yes, how to go about them. I usually prefer not to use subtitles (if we watch a film or parts of a film in class – which is more possible in our teaching-learning situation), but to prepare my students for the difficulties they might encounter: pre-teach some vocabulary, set the scene to make understanding easier, discuss the plot before they watch, etc. On the other hand, if I ask my students to watch the film on their own at home (quite a frequent option for us), I suggest they use subtitles to make understanding easier – but only if they really need to.

By Svetlana UrismanBritish Council Voices

Cineclub, Just for Fun

Holiday Movie Marathon: 15 Favourite Festive Films for the Season

Complete with classics, new favorites, and even some romantic options, our list has every option you need for a fun, binge-worthy holiday season. So grab some popcorn, and get ready to indulge in some festive holiday flicks!