jueves, 5 de marzo de 2015

The path of the Ebola virus outbreak

A look at how Ebola spread far beyond Meliandou, Guinea in just a few months, through a New York Times video.

Watch the video and answer the questions below. The activity is suitable for Intermediate 2 students. You can self-correct the activity by reading the transcript.

  1. When did the first victim of Ebola die?
  2. What’s the distance between Meliandou and Guéckedou?
  3. How many people have died across the region within weeks?
  4. How do families cross from Guinea to Liberia?
  5. What do clinics lack in this part of the world?
  6. What happened on March 21st?
  7. Why did some international organizations relax their operations?

This is Meliandou, a small village tucked into the forest of south-eastern Guinea. It is home to a few dozen families. It has no electricity and no running water. Here, in (1) December 2013, a one-year-old boy named Amil is thought to be the first victim of the Ebola outbreak. By the end of March eleven people would have died in the village.
The boy’s grandmother is linked to two people from the nearby village of Dawa, who get the disease. A relative of Meliandou’s midwife takes Ebola to yet another village, Dandou Pombo. (2) It takes about thirty minutes to drive on a dirt road from Meliandou to the largest town nearby Guéckedou. The midwife is taken to a hospital there. In Guéckedou a health worker also becomes ill and is taken to Macenta. Soon after, a doctor dies there. The doctor is buried in Kissidougou. (3) Within weeks more than sixty people will have died across the region.
The outbreak starts at the intersection of three of the poorest countries in the world. The area is home to the Kissi ethnic group. There are few official border crossings from Guéckedou into the neighbouring country of Liberia, but extended families cross easily (4) by foot and dug-out canoe. I this part of the world the few existing clinics and hospitals often lack (5) running water and hand soap. The region had little familiarity with Ebola since nearly all of the previous outbreaks were in Central Africa.
Making matters worse, Ebola symptoms resemble endemic diseases in West Africa like malaria, cholera and Lawson fever.
By February people connected to the first patient’s family are thought to have died in Conakry and in Kekehou, Sierra Leone. This indicates that the virus probably travelled far and crossed borders early in the outbreak. (6) But the first confirmed cases of Ebola in Guinea came only on March 21st. Days later an Ebola case is confirmed in the capital, Conakry, a city of more than 11/2 million people.
Still, (7) reports of new infections decline in late April, a statistical plateau that resembles the historical outbreaks that burnt out after a few months. Some international health organizations began to relax their operations. Meanwhile, weak contact tracing and local suspicion towards foreigners and national authorities allows the disease to spread outside the clinics.
Ultimately the virus resurfaces. In Sierra Leone, unconfirmed cases of people dying in the village of Kpondu with Ebola-like symptoms start as early as March. But the first confirmed case comes only in late May. In July Ebola is confirmed in Freetown, the capital. The patient is a woman living in a Kissi neighbourhood of the city. At this point, the outbreak is surging out of control.

miércoles, 4 de marzo de 2015

Talking point: Crimes in today's world

This week's talking point is crime in today's world. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below, so that ideas flow more easily when you meet up with your friends and you can work out vocabulary problems beforehand.

Are the activities below against the law in your country?
Do you think they should be illegal?
How do you think they should be punished?
  • Illegal downloading of music, books and films.
  • Hacking into someone else's computer.
  • Posting aggressive or threatening tweets or messages.
  • Photographing someone and posting the photo on the internet without their permission.
  • Using false identity online.
  • Creating a computer virus.
  • Owing an aggressive breed of dog.
  • Squatting in an unoccupied house.
  • Getting on strike without having previously agreed / announced it.
  • Painting attractive graffiti on a wall or fence.
To illustrate the point, you can watch to the BBC 6-minute English  segment Botnets, on cyber crime.

martes, 3 de marzo de 2015

Madrid Teacher: Chatting about The Shining

In our weekly Madrid Teacher video three teachers talk about the film The Shining, which gives us a great opportunity to get familiar with some of the features of spoken English native speakers use.

First of all, watch the video through to get the gist (the main idea) of the conversation.

Now watch the video again, paying attention to the following characteristics of the language the teachers use:

- Conversation fillers: Well; you know
- Reacting to what someone has just said: What?; echo questions (The Exorcist?)
- Introducing personal opinions: I personally think; for me
- Use of vague language: or anything like that
- Emphasizing what we are saying with adverbs: just; pretty; really
- Paraphrasing what we have just said to make ourselves clear: I mean
- Showing agreement: Yeah; Oh, yes, of course

Now it's over to you. If possible, get together with a friend or relative whose level of English is similar to yours and discuss a film that has made an impact on both of you. If you're the lone ranger sort of student, it would be a good idea that you recorded yourself talking about the film for, let's say, three minutes, and then go over the recording to try and spot any mistakes or any segments in which the words and sounds are not properly articulated.
Well, I’ve just read this article about how The Shining got voted as the best horror movie ever.
I personally think it's, well, it’s my favorite horror movie. I can’t watch anything else, it’s gory or anything like that. For me The Shining is just great, it’s just that atmosphere.
I liked it [Yeah.] a lot too, I mean the acting was pretty good.
Yeah, Jack Nicholson he’s great, isn’t he?
Oh, yes, of course, Jack Nicholson is fantastic, and don't get me wrong, it's good, but the best? Such a superlative award for The Shining, with all the other films that are out there? Stephen King writes books for people who are flying or sitting in the park and they turn that into a film adaptation. It’s just one step further from the source. They…
So what, what film would you suggest or…?
The Exorcist.
The Exorcist?
The Exorcist.
That’s pretty good, that was pretty good.
But for me, for me The Shining just creates that atmosphere of tension and fear and it’s not explicit. I don't like these films, you know, that show a lot of blood and cutting of limbs and disgusting things… For me that’s not horror, that’s just disgusting.
That’s certainly catering to a specific audience.
Yeah but The Shining is… it’s the atmosphere it creates, you know, alone in the hotel and in the mountains with snow and… for me… I watch that film and I just feel like I’m really on edge…
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
… whereas another type of horror film with a lot of blood I just, I can’t watch that it’s just a, you know.
I can’t either. It’s disgusting.
I would say of all the films I've seen The Shining is probably the best.

lunes, 2 de marzo de 2015

Listening test: Stereotypes

Listen to a BBC radio programme and choose the option A, B or C that best completes each sentence. 0 is an example.

0 Neil says that men’s existence will be
A longer.
B shorter.
C the same.

1 The Y chromosome
A is responsible for men’s intelligence.
B has 10,000 years left.
C still has all the vital functions.

2 Jennifer Hughes has said that
A it is very unlikely that the Y chromosome loses any more genes.
B natural selection is failing to preserve the genes.
C only the mother’s genes pass characteristics to a child.

3 Men's sex chromosomes are
A more sophisticated than female ones.
B less sophisticated than female ones.
C as sophisticated as females ones.

4 Rosie’s boyfriend
A has not used the washing machine in 30 years.
B is 30 years old.
C wasn’t used to doing household jobs.

5  Women
A are more afraid of spiders than men.
B run away from mice.
C take longer in the bathroom.

6 Rosie
A hates the fact that men are stronger than women.
B thinks that men are less violent than women.
C says that women usually try to find a solution to problems.

7 The ratio of men to women in the world is
A 100 males to every 100 females.
B 100 males to every 105 females.
C 101 males to every 100 females.

Neil:Hello I'm Neil and with me today is Rosie.
Rosie:Hi there.
Neil:Well, today we're talking about men.
Rosie:That sounds interesting.
Neil:It is very interesting especially if you're a man because it seems we've had our existence extended.
Rosie:I'm sorry?
Neil:Well, some previous scientific research had suggested that the Y chromosome, which is responsible for men's sex organs and hormones, is rotting away!
Rosie:Oh dear. Are you going to make it till the end of the programme, Neil?
Neil:Ah yes – even the most pessimistic findings suggested that men had 100 thousand years left. Scientists compared the decline in the male human's Y chromosome with that of the monkey.
Neil:And their conclusion was that the Y chromosome still got all of the vital bits.
Rosie:Lucky you! Well, here's Jennifer Hughes from the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge Massachusetts. She was in charge of the research:
Jennifer Hughes, Whitehead Institute in Cambridge Massachusetts
I think that the odds of the Y losing any more genes are pretty slim. It appears that it's been stable for 25 million years and that is a good indication that's it going to be stable for many many millions of years to come and the genes that remain on the Y probably have very important functions and therefore natural selection is doing a very good job of preserving those genes.
Rosie:She said the odds of the Y chromosome losing any more genes are pretty slim – meaning it's unlikely. Genes are the parts of cells which have the information which passes characteristics from a parent to a child.
Neil: So it sounds like us males are safe for many millions of years to come.
Rosie:She also added that natural selection is doing a very good job of preserving the genes.
Neil:Now here's an interesting fact, Rosie. Did you know that men's sex chromosomes are not as sophisticated as female ones?
Rosie:No I didn't know that, but it doesn't come as a surprise to me!
Neil I thought you might say that. But you know what – I'm happy having less sophisticated chromosomes if it means men continue to live for a little longer. Now there's only one way to end this programme, Rosie, and that is to imagine a world without men.
Rosie:OK, well for a start more would get done.
Neil: Are you suggesting that men are lazy?
Rosie:Well, they can be. My boyfriend, for example, had never used a washing machine until he was 30 years old.
Neil:Right, well we're getting into stereotypes here! So how about this one – if there were only women in the world, you'd never get into the bathroom.
Rosie:OK, I'll give you that one. I agree that women do spend longer in the bathroom than men.
Neil: And who's going to catch spiders and mice for you?
Rosie: Ah, now that is absolutely not true! My boyfriend is terrified of mice. In fact he ran away from one in the kitchen just last night.
Neil:Well, to be honest, I don't really like mice either, I must say. But what about lifting heavy things? I am always expected to do heavy lifting, which I hate by the way.
Rosie:Yes I confess that men are useful for that. And on a more serious note, I think there would probably be far fewer wars if there were only women. I think women would be more likely to talk problems over than resort to violence.
Neil:Well you might be right there but it's difficult to say because most of the world's leaders are men of course. OK Rosie, this entertaining debate must come to an end. We need an answer to the question. I asked what the ratio is of men to women in the world. What was your answer?
Rosie:I said 100 males to every 105 females
Neil:And you were completely wrong. It's 101 males to every 100 females. Bye for now!
Rosie:Bye bye!

1C 2A 3B 4C 5C 6C 7C

domingo, 1 de marzo de 2015

Extensive listening: Wild weather

In the first episode of this BBC documentary series Wild Weather Richard Hammond focuses on the wind and how it actually starts. He visits one of the windiest places on the planet, walks into the centre of a man-made tornado and creates a 10-metre high whirlwind - made of fire!

Along the way he is part of a world first when he joins up with an American meteorologist called Reed Timmer and a bizarre vehicle known as The Dominator III. Their aim is to succeed in doing what no one has ever done before, fire a probe into a tornado to measure its speed where it is at its fastest - right next to the ground. As Reed explains, 'near the base of the tornado is one of the biggest mysteries of tornado science and it's also the most important to understand because those are the wind speeds... that cause all the destruction'. To put that right, Reed and his team take The Dominator into the middle of a real live tornado and attempt to fire a probe into the very heart of it.

Richard also visits one of the few places on the planet capable of duplicating a real-life tornado. The Wind Engineering, Energy and Environment Research Institute (or WindEEE for short) in Ontario in Canada, hadn't even opened its doors when Richard asked them to take part in an experiment. The 23 million dollar facility is one of the the world's first hexagonal wind tunnels. As Richard says, 'I've got goosebumps. And that's not just because it's cold in here!'

Richard braves the winds and temperatures of -50 degrees fahrenheit to take a trip outside on top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. On April 12th 1934, that station measured one of the highest wind speeds ever measured on land - 231 mph.

You can read the transcript for the first ten minutes of the programme here.

sábado, 28 de febrero de 2015

Reading test: Learning shouldn’t be a competitive sport that only a few can succeed at

Learning shouldn’t be a competitive sport that only a few can succeed at is the title of the article Holly Welham published in The Guardian in mid January this year. We are going to use it as a springboard for our bi-weekly reading test. This time it is a multiple choice task.

Read the text by clicking on the link above or here and choose the option a, b or c that best completes each sentence. Only one option is correct. 0 is an example.

0 The school being built
a) is a new college on the campus.
b) is exclusive.
c) is intended for the residents of the town.

1 The school has
a) a flexible attitude to learning.
b) all teaching spaces outdoors.
c) connected classrooms.

2 The headteacher of the Cambridge school
a) firmly believes in the students running the school.
b) has already developed his ideas elsewhere.
c) is Hindu.

3 Biddulphm, the headteacher,
a) thinks religion is central in the students’ life.
b) thinks the students should plan the school’s routine.
c) feels many of today’s children are unprepared for the world.

4 Biddulphm, the headteacher,
a) decided not to work in education again after his experience in his previous school.
b) thinks it’s difficult to set a school in motion from zero.
c) wasn’t encouraged enough in his previous school.

5 Biddulphm says that in his previous school
a) he didn’t trust his staff enough.
b) he was authoritarian.
c) he was unprepared to deal with a school that attracted so much public attention.

6 Biddulphm’s experience in Nepal
a) changed his views on education.
b) didn’t pay him much.
c) taught him how to run a school.

7 Biddulphm wants students
a) to decide what to do.
b) to go to school with their parents in the evenings.
c) to write their own marks.

8 Biddulphm thinks
a) competition has a place in education.
b) society must change its ideas of what education is about.
c) sports make children unnecessarily competitive.

9 In the Cambridge school
a) a new educational model will be tested.
b) research will be part of the teacher’s work.
c) the relationships with the schools in the area will be a priority.

Photo: The Guardian

1a 2b 3c 4b 5a 6a 7a 8b 9c

viernes, 27 de febrero de 2015

Holiday Inn® Hotels: Scott Rigsby

This is the story of Scott and the way an accident changed his life forever.

Self-study activity:
Watch the video and answer the questions below. The activity is suitable for (strong) intermediate 2 students.

1 How old was Scott when he had the accident?
2 What question did he ask the doctor while he was recovering?
3 What addictions and health issues did he fall into as a result of his condition?
4 What does ‘3 times a day’ refer to?
5 What adjectives does the doctor use to refer to Scott?
6 How does Julie, a member from the staff from Holiday Inn in Panama City, Florida, describe her grandma?
7 What analogy does Scott use to describe Julie’s contribution to his recovery process?


My life radically changed in nine seconds. I was an 18-year-old kid (1) sitting on the back of a pick-up truck. This 18-wheeler clipped our vehicle, I got knocked off. That was the last day that I had my legs. I was thinking about girls and going off to college and being with my friends. I asked that doctor if I'd be able to run ever again (2) and he told me, "No." Then, I was gripped in a state of fear and doubt and uncertainty.
This is the prosthetic foot, and I'm going to take it off...
Here's a young guy that lost his leg, so it's really critical, it's a big deal. And Scott was having kind of a hard time.
Depression and alcoholism and drug addiction (3). I really didn't want to live anymore.
Scott just needed someone to come along and say, "It's going to be OK."
My rehab nurse checked me in to their Holiday Inn in Panama City, Florida. My legs were getting made here, and when I met Julie, her staff at the Holiday Inn Resort, they became my family, they became my rehab center.
Scott had so many strikes against him, many times over, he just kept getting up.
I was in a wheelchair, so I ate meals here 3 times a day (4). All my clothes were washed here. I continued to stay week after week after week until it was thousands of dollars. Now, I didn't have enough money, but Julie never put any pressure on me. If Julie had not helped me, then I would have been homeless.
We really didn't know what was in store for Scott.
I sat in this hotel room and I dreamed about running, swimming in the ocean again, thinking about being able to ride a bike.
Scott was always a winner. He grabs life with gusto. He's very eager, he's very motivated, he's not afraid. He's a very strong (5) individual.
I was the first double amputee in the world to ever finish the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon when I never was supposed to run, ever. I got the right team to help me on this journey of hope and healing and restoration.
All people who've achieved great things don't do it alone. You have help along the way. Perhaps, it goes back to my grandmother who was a real people person (6). That's what this business is all about. You can have all the beautiful buildings in the world, but if you don't have people who really care and express that to others, then you really have very little.
Hey, Scott.
Hey. You look good, yeah.
I'm glad you're here.
Scott is an inspiration to all of us.
You've seen fathers take their young kids and hold the bike while they're trying to ride it (7). They held me while I was trying to live life. Julie allowed me the opportunity, and sometimes, that's all we need is an opportunity because that produces hope.