Saturday, 24 October 2015


     We have been involved over the last three years in an exciting project set up by the Instituto de Ciencias de la Educación (Education Science Institute), a centre of the University of Seville whose mission is to offer extended academic and professional training to the university staff. This specific project aims at providing English language teaching to a group of university professors and researchers whose purpose is to get the ECFRL C1 accreditation in English by taking the Trinity College London’s ISE III exams. This academic year 2014-15 is the third edition of the course at the University of Seville, the first two editions having been highly satisfactory as far as teaching/learning experience and exam results are concerned.

   The ECFRL C1 Trinity College London’s ISE III exam is a thorough evaluation/accreditation tool applied to assessing the candidates’ command of the four communicative skills of the language: reading, writing, listening and speaking. In fact, the acronym ISE stands for Integrated Skills in English, attempting to consider the different skills as linked and interdependent. Besides, the examination assesses their ability to use different conversational functions in a variety of topics, mainly educational.

        We have organised the material accordingly. A set of files have been produced, each one dealing with a subject matter from the official Trinity College London syllabus, i.e. The media, Lifestyles, Advertising, The arts, The school curriculum, among others. With the general subject matter as a consistent framework, each file provides students with direct four-skill practice of the tasks in the final exam, which is divided into two broad sections: reading/writing and speaking/listening, adapting so to the official ECFRL requirements for the C1 level.

        One important section in the exam under discussion is the so-called Extended Writing, which consists of a 250-word-long writing task in which the candidate responds to a prompt. The output genre in this task can be one of the following: a descriptive essay, a discursive essay, an argument essay, an article (magazine or online), an informal email, an informal letter, a formal letter or email, a review and a report. As pointed out above, the different theme files offer the students in our groups a wide range of exercises proposing different written tasks that follow the format and requirements of the exam so that the potential candidates will be familiarised with the type of writing exercises and trained accordingly. In fact, it is usual to receive a written task every other week from the students who are given the corresponding feedback.

        There is a period, however, coinciding with the month of February, in which the number of these written tasks submitted for practice decreases, the reason for this being found in the exam period that the members of the groups are involved in. And this has happened all the three years. We should not forget that the components of the groups are mostly university professors and exams are administered (and marked) for the students of the University of Seville during February. 

        Knowing that English is not likely to be the priority for these groups, but wanting it to be one of the first three priorities for them in their academic sphere this year, we tried an idea to motivate them to write at least an essay or any other text type during that period. The idea was to encourage them not to stop writing in English at advanced C1 level for a long time. It had to be something attractive enough to make them think that it was necessary for them to comply with it.

         After studying the profile of the students and adapting the teaching/learning principles to this, we customised an exercise that would be in line with the competitive nature of the group members. The idea of a ‘prize’ was essential, even if it was an immaterial one. Once the motivation was achieved, we had to take advantage of it by setting a series of rules to comply with. These rules arose from the requirements of the real exam, namely:
-   the official word length should be taken into account (although we were flexible in this as it ultimately was a class exercise);
-  text organisation is of paramount importance: number of paragraphs (3-5), paragraph organisation (topic sentences and supporting sentences), introduction, development, conclusion;
-    signposting devices must be used to give coherence and cohesion to the text;
-    proper vocabulary of the level must be used depending on the chosen topic;
-    use of phrasal verbs and collocations of the level;
-   use of the set of grammar points as suggested in the ISE III syllabus: 2nd, 3rd and mixed conditionals, should/must/might/could + perfect infinitive, verb patterns after hope and wish, verbs followed by gerund and or infinitive, complex forms of passive with modals, structures to convey emphasis (inversion, fronting, cleft sentences).

         With all those considerations, we explained the activity and our intention with it in class and presented our Creative Writer Extraordinaire contest. First, students had to write a text (any genre or text type) showing creativity to be submitted in class the following week. All texts had to begin with the sentence It had been raining all morning (or finish with the sentence I had never been so surprised in all my life, for the first two years). After that, the teacher would check all of them and make the corrections on the expression mistakes, but respecting style and approach. So the following week, all the texts would be read out loud in class and all students would vote for the three best creative texts in an involving voting session. The winner would be appointed Creative Writer Extraordinaire of the group/year.

           We then sent an email to all the members of each group reminding them of the contest and especially informing those students who could not attend the class in which the contest had been presented. The email was aimed at reinforcing motivation to participate and it read as follows:

Dear group.
In class today, we have called for a writing competition in which all of you can (will, should) participate due to its interest and its benefits for our purposes.
The winner of this writing competition will be awarded the title of Creative Writer Extraordinaire, a unique distinction which will be the pride of the whole class.
The topic to write about is:
(Creative writing task) 
Write a story (approximately 250 words) for a writing competition beginning with the words ‘It had been raining all morning.’
Papers will be handed in on Tuesday, March 10 by 18:00 in the classroom. Depending on the number of assignments, these will be read out in class either on Tuesday 17 or Thursday 19 and then the jury will decide on the best one according to the following criteria: accuracy, vocabulary and structures of the level, and task completion.
This information has been given in class and is especially addressed to those of you who didn't turn up.
Should you require any further information, it'll be a pleasure to provide it.
Have a good week.

         The outcome was just extraordinary, with more than 90% participation rate and a really enjoyable class, not less enjoyable was the process of creating the text, most of the times a short story. We are proud to present those texts for the reader’s enjoyment.

Andrés Sánchez Ortega
Philologist. English teacher

Autumn 2015
This story is my little, humble homage to Woody Allen’s Manhattan, one of my favourite movies. Although in its final scene it is not raining, the prompt for this composition made me immediately recall some of its details and below you may find the result. I hope you forgive me for ruining Allen’s marvellous love story.

Homage to Manhattan
by Antonio Prados Montaño

It had been raining all morning.

            When the alarm clock rang at seven o’clock, he realised that it was Saturday. Seldom did he forget to switch off the alarm clock at weekends but, when it occurred, he inevitably felt a bit depressed. Moreover, the sound of heavy rain disturbed him, but he couldn’t help getting up once the alarm clock had gone off. Nevertheless, he always knew that it would be difficult for him to overcome his current laziness during the whole day.

            Two hours later, he was sitting in his couch while idly playing with a small object, which rotated slowly between two of his fingers. It was the mouth-organ that she had given him as a present some time ago. He appreciated that the break-up was his fault, but only today did he become aware that he was beginning to fail to remember her face.

            Suddenly, he just knew. Had he been less insensitive, he would have done the right thing a long time ago. He picked up the phone but her line was busy. He tried again a couple of times, with no success. Raining still it was and he had to make a decision: only a minute after, he took his overcoat and made for the street.

            It was raining heavily and his pace was quite slow. Neither was he able to take a taxi nor her line was free when he tried to phone her on the way. Then, abruptly, he stopped. The street door was ajar, so he sneaked in and took the lift to the seventh floor. Somehow, her doorbell rang and, as soon as the door opened and a frank smile appeared on her face, he knew (in fact, both of them knew) it didn’t matter that it had been raining all day.
By María José Charlo Molina

Once upon a time, Peter told me that Anne had spent her life working very hard.  It was not an easy job having in mind that she was very young and too small. Not only had she taken care of her big family, but she had also built a place to live. Moreover, she had everything tidied up. Besides that, she had carried lots of weight at work every day.

In spite of all that, it couldn’t be said that she wasn’t happy. In fact, she did what others thought she had to do; that is why she felt satisfied.

However, she wanted to travel all around the world. In essence, travelling was the only thing she really greatly wished.

One day, a salesman arrived at the village and she realised that she had a great opportunity to carry out her dream. She didn’t want to tell anybody about what she was going to do. Despite the possible problems, she decided to run the risk and therefore got on the truck as soon as she could. It wasn’t difficult for her to hide from him.

Since that day Anne has spent the rest of her life travelling all around the world and not even the salesman has known about her. At that point, I couldn’t understand the way anybody could remain unseen for so long. I asked Peter but he couldn’t stop laughing. “Anybody?” he asked me smiling. If you had listened to the story carefully, you would have understood that Ann was not a person but an animal. Her name was Ant instead of Ann.

Believe it or not, it wasn’t my fault. It was the horrible pronunciation of my dear German friend. Now, I understand the reason why I had never been so surprised in all my life

The Door in the Attic
by María del Carmen García González

It had been raining all morning. Just like every year, the whole family had gathered at Grandma’s house to get the awaited gifts. Despite the weather, everyone’s face reflected excitement. Above all the children, they were thrilled, running and shouting in the house since they could not play in the garden.

However the kids lost interest in their toys and started to be frustrated for not being able to play on the street. But the most disappointed child was Angela. Although she had got the best present that she could have never imagined, she couldn’t ride her bicycle.  All her cousins could play with their new toys while she waited impatiently for the sunrise.

In spite of having visited her grandmother since he could remember, she had never noticed there was a door in the attic. This door was almost invisible as it was covered with the same paper as the rest of the wall. But it was possible to see a small lock. In this moment, Angela forgot her bicycle and the little door drew all her attention. Even though her grandmother had never spoken about this door, she knew that she should not open it. For this reason, she crept slightly because she didn't want her family to realise that she was going to go into the attic.

She was about to get it when she awoke from her sleep.
Italian Capriccio
by Jesús Vallejo Fernández de la Reguera

“Have you noticed that the waiter stutters?” asked Julia when we were sitting down for dinner in that tiny, charming restaurant. “Poor fellow…! He’s a lucky man, anyway. If his wages depended only on his way of speaking, he wouldn’t be able to save his job”, she added. “Who knows”, I said; “my grandfather once told me that a friend of his, who had a stutter like our waiter’s, made up his mind to be a broadcaster… and he achieved it!”  “How did he manage?” she inquired. “It’s a real mystery”, I replied, “but in fact, when he had the microphone close to his mouth he was the best of the newsreaders. He had the gift of the gab. Surprising, isn’t it?” “Definitely. Your story reminds me of something somebody told me years ago. It’s a case even stranger than yours”.

She gave me a sweet smile and continued: “In your story the surprising event would have been the dismissal of your grandfather’s friend, don’t you agree? He broadcast wonderfully, didn’t he? Why shouldn’t he be hired?” She paused to light a cigarette and went on speaking: “Two years ago, in Italy, three lecturers applied for a chair at the university. Two of them belonged to rival groups, both having defenders in the tribunal; the third one was almost dumb. The members of the tribunal couldn’t agree on one of the two real candidates. Therefore, they voted for the dumb, who is teaching right now, to his students’ despair, in an Italian university. That is what I was told. I had never been so surprised in all my life”. When she pronounced this last sentence, it was me who smiled: “Oh, come on…, surprised? We both work at the university!”

A Christmas Tale in Liverpool

by Luis Valencia Cabrera

It had been raining all day. James had been waiting for hours to go fishing with his younger sister Lily. As any other 8-year-old child of fishermen from Albert Dock, he loved fishing. Unfortunately, their father had not been going through a good time since he lost her wife the previous winter, and stormy days only made things worse. It was 5 p.m. and there was nothing to suggest that something special would bring them out of boredom and sadness.

Suddenly the brightest lightning they had ever seen startled them, and they ran to the garret. It did not look like the best place for two small kids to flee from danger, but it was safety that they felt there, it was love that they breathed there. Their mother had been preparing that room for them before Lily was born, and they always went there when they felt frightened. It seemed that her spirit was somehow there protecting them.

Had not they reached the attic window on time, they would not have witnessed the greatest scene any child could imagine. The light was even shinier than before, a colorful rainbow remained suspended before their eyes, but it was not that what impressed them the most. It was a great winged ship that left them perplexed.

The boat flew next to their window and the captain, John, kissed James and Lily on the cheeks, and whispered a few words of wisdom: let it be. Then he turned from the window and talked to a wonderful woman: ‘Get back, Emily, you are at home’.

…A year had passed since the sea snatched Emily from her family, but John imagined a winged ship getting out of the rainbow, he made it come true, and Emily was given a second chance to see her children grow.
by María Gloria Romero Romero

Being a teacher at University, I decided to apply for a grant to go abroad. Lublin, a Polish city near the Ukrainian border, was to be the final destination. I was excited and nervous about the adventures that were waiting for me in this unfamiliar country.

The first day after my arrival, I decided to go to a bank to get some money exchanged. I thought it wouldn’t be difficult to understand the local people. While I was standing in the line, I heard a loud noise. Suddenly, four men with black balaclavas stormed into the bank office. Everybody was terrified and started screaming. We were told to lie on the floor and keep quiet. I don’t know how many minutes it took but it seemed like an eternity. All my family, my friends, my childhood and whole life flashed across my mind.

I thought that it would be the last few minutes of my life. I started to regret ever having applied for that scholarship. I didn’t understand anything they were saying. They were speaking in Polish as you would expect and I only knew English. Why hadn’t I studied Polish?

I was so petrified that I hadn’t noticed a group of people surrounding me. Slowly, I stood up and realised that everybody was wearing a broad grin on their faces. Furthermore, there were five or six men dressed in a kind of uniform. I had initially thought that they were police uniforms but, they were talking to the masked men!

It had been a robbery drill all along.  I had never been so surprised in all my life.