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Six steps to writing transactional letters in the FCE Exam – Part 2

Young woman working and smiling in classroomIn Part 1 of this article, Michael Duckworth shared his first three steps towards writing the perfect transactional letter in the FCE Exam. In this second installment, he shares steps 4-6 and a useful summary.


When it comes to the exact words and phrases that you use, you should avoid copying too many words and phrases from the original letter.  If you can use your own words and phrases, then you will demonstrate your ability to use a range of structures and show your breadth of vocabulary.


Another way of doing well in this part of the paper is to make sure that you use the appropriate style.

If it is an email to a friend about a party, you will want to keep the language informal; if it is a letter to a company, you will need to keep the language formal or neutral.

Sometimes it is difficult to remember the differences between formal and informal English, so here is a short checklist of how to write informal English, for example in an email to a friend.  A lot of these differences are very small, but if you use all of them together, they make a big difference.

In informal English:

a) Use short forms like isn’t, won’t, it’s, I’ve instead of is not, will not, it is, I have, etc.   This is because we tend to use these forms when we are speaking, and using them in written English makes it sound more informal.

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Six steps to writing transactional letters in the FCE Exam – Part 1

Young woman thinking in examMichael Duckworth, a teacher and author of several courses for preparing students for Cambridge ESOL examinations, gives a two-part guide to writing the perfect transactional letter in the FCE Exam. Part 2 explores steps 4-6..

The first question in Paper 2 of the First Certificate in English (FCE) Exam is one that all candidates have to answer. This is the transactional letter or email – the word transactional simply means that it is a response to a letter or email and some notes.

I’ve found it helpful to give students a checklist to go through when they write their answer in the exam, and to give them key vocabulary for the types of reply they may need to write. Here are the first three steps of my six step process that will help your students write their best answer. There will be a summary at the end of the next post.


Before you do anything, read the question carefully and find out the following:

  • who you are writing to
  • why you are writing (e.g. to ask for information, to complain, etc.)
  • what you are writing about

When you have worked out what the purpose of your letter or email is, you should be able to work out what kind of style you will need to use.


Remember that the transactional letter needs to be between 120-150 words, so can be quite short. Take advantage of this and use the extra time for planning – a well-planned answer will be much easier to write and will get a much better mark.

There are three things to consider when you are thinking about a plan:

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Classroom Management and Young Learners (Part 2)

Children raising their hands in classRoutine! Routine! Routine!

by Naomi Moir, author of Starting and Ending Lessons, part of the Oxford Basics for Children series.

In my first blog about classroom management, I mentioned the importance of creating a safe and secure learning environment – one way of doing this is through establishing clear routines. There are 3 points in a lesson where routines are particularly important:

  1. Starting the lesson
  2. Transitioning between stages/activities
  3. Ending the lesson

Starting lessons:

The obvious reason for using a routine to start your lessons is of course ‘start as you mean to go on’! If you want a calm, well-managed class, this expectation needs to be conveyed from the very beginning. There’s also another reason…when exercising the body it’s important to warm up, if you jump right into the main physical activity you might hurt or strain your muscles, and this can stop or discourage you from doing more exercise later. Well, learning is like exercising the brain! Without a proper warm up, the brain will feel the strain, which can put children off learning – the last thing we want to do!

Here are a few practical suggestions to help ease students into their English lessons:

  • Have the children make a line outside the classroom door, greet and make eye contact with each one as they enter the room. If lining up outside the class isn’t possible, get them to form a line down the middle of the class instead. Then walk along the line, greeting and making eye contact before directing them to sit down.
  • Ask the children to sit/stand in a circle on the floor and to greet each other in turn.
  • Start the lesson with an activity that’s familiar and relatively easy, such as a game they particularly like.
  • Put a word or number puzzle on the board for students to sit down quietly and try to solve as they come into the class.
  • Ask a different child each lesson to write the date on the board.
  • Encourage the children to be involved in any set up that’s required (moving furniture, handing out supplies etc.)
  • Establish a routine for where they should put their books, pencil case and bag etc. Children are easily distracted by ‘things’, so it’s better if they can be somewhere out of sight/reach until they need them (e.g. along the back wall, or the windowsill).

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How can you find a good job?

Woman's hands typing on a white laptopAs part of our series of posts exploring a “question-centered” teaching approach, we asked Phil Taylor, recruitment manager at OUP, to give us his thoughts on the above question, featured in the new course Q Skills for Success.

As a recruitment manager, I spend a lot of time looking for good candidates. Here is some advice I would give to anyone looking for a job in today’s competitive jobs market.

You need to know where to look first. Digital media has had a huge impact on recruitment advertising. Many organizations now focus all their attention on candidate attraction through online job boards or social media sites.

LinkedIn is one such site where you can view current vacancies, and also network with fellow industry professionals.

Joining networking groups allows you to make contact with potential employers within your current profession. In some cases it provides an opportunity to discuss the role further before even submitting a formal application.

When you find a suitable role, it is essential that you tailor both your resume and covering letter to the specific job criteria.

Where possible you should give examples of when you have used specific skills and abilities. You can draw on elements from any aspect of your life, such as education, work, home or community life—as long as you focus on its relevance in comparison to the needs of this job.

If the job requirements are not present in the advertisement, request a full job description from the recruiter.

At interview the recruiter(s) will ask for specific examples of demonstrating these skills. So be prepared to talk about them in detail.

Feel free to share your tips by adding a comment below.

Find out how you can use questions like “How can you find a good job?” in class.


Phil Taylor is Recruitment Manager for Oxford University Press.

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Classroom Management and Young Learners

Group of oriental children crowding around a model globeClassroom management is more important than English. Discuss!

by Naomi Moir.

I believe the above statement 100% – without good classroom management you have no chance of teaching English successfully! A new school year is about to start for many teachers, so it seems to make sense to focus on this topic. However, it really is too big an area to cover in one blog, so I’m going to split it over three:

  1. The benefits of a well-managed classroom and a few tips
  2. The importance of routines and some practical suggestions
  3. Dealing with problematic situations

So what are the benefits of a well-managed classroom? Here are a few from me, but I’m sure there are more, please feel free to add to this list by leaving a comment below.

1. Children learn best in a safe and secure environment:

It’s important to create an atmosphere where the children feel sure, confident and relaxed, thus lowering the ‘affective filter’ (Krashen). This means students having an idea of what to expect when they’re in class, it’s the shy, quiet one knowing that they won’t get drowned out by the boisterous, rowdy ones and it’s about receiving praise not only for succeeding but also for trying and making an effort.

2. More time for the teacher:

If less of the lesson time is spent on ‘crowd control’, there’s more time for you to take stock during the lesson, to see where you need to go next and also to interact with the individual, find out how they’re doing and provide more support or challenge where needed.

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