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©Natalie Murray, 2015. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.

Has it been a good year?

Well, I have to say that my year has been pretty good!  We came back from Abu Dhabi and settled back into our life here in Spain.  Mike has got on with putting the finishing touches to the house and land. We have a pool! The landscaping is coming along slowly but surely.  And we’re decorating the house to our liking and comfort.

As planned, I have gone freelance. Originally, I thought I would do proofreading and did the necessary training. ELT (English language teaching) was to be my USP (Unique Selling Proposition/Point).  However, I’ve found that my experience in ELT has equipped me well to become an editor, both content and copy, within the ELT publishing industry. Therefore, most of my projects thus far have been editing.  And I love it!  I already have projects lined up for the new year. So professionally, life is good!

Winter has descended on the mountain but, as usual, this brings great variety in the weather. This morning, for example, we are sitting in cold grey wet cloud:

Winter cloud

Winter cloud

Sitting in the clouds...

Sitting in the clouds…









It’s feeling very Christmassy!

However, three days ago, we had a pre-Christmas trip to the coast for fish and chips, and the weather was gorgeous!


Yacht, anyone?

Yacht, anyone?

The Marina, Garrucha

The Marina, Garrucha









We had a browse around Garrucha market…

Garrucha market

Garrucha market

Last minute Christmas shopping!

Last minute Christmas shopping!









Then headed along the coast road to Mojacar, where we had fish and chips at the Irish Rover.  I know, not very Spanish! Then we had a stroll along the promenade…


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As you can see, it was very quiet. It’s the winter season – only residents around.  The perfect time to visit!

So, who knows what the weather will be like on Christmas day? But, you know what? I don’t mind at all! I’ll be with friends and family, and yes, that does include our dogs!

Wherever you are this Christmas, we wish you the happiest of times and a hopeful, healthy and inspiring 2015!

From our little corner of the mountains…



©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.

Covering an unexpected class?

Being called to cover a class for an absent colleague is something every EFL teacher experiences, I would say, on a fairly regular basis.  If you’re clever, and organised, you will have a special folder of activities up your sleeve ready to run off photocopies and march into the classroom unperturbed! I would highly recommend you try to be this organised.

However, we all have bad days, weeks or just times when our colleagues have one too many hangovers, and we run out of things to do, or are simply unprepared.  An activity which I have fallen back on often, and which I consider one of my emergency activities is poetry writing.

Every single class I have done this with enjoyed it immensely and it can be adapted to suit any level.  How you approach it is also flexible.

One way is to ask students to look out of the classroom window and then to write down two or three words to describe what they see.  Next, ask them to close their eyes: what can they hear? Again, two or three words to describe it. Open the classroom window: what can they smell? Then, how do you feel? You can have as many or as few prompts as you like. The idea is to get key words from the students; words which come from them and their experiences. Then, you ask the students to make sentences using the words and to  put them together in a poem:

I see skyscrapers tall and unyielding

I hear traffic loud and intrusive

I smell fumes and pollution

I long for tranquility

You could also transport your students to an imaginary place: ‘Imagine you’re lying on a beach; what can you see/hear/smell etc.’

When you tell students they’re going to write a poem, they often get stressed and say they can’t do it. But, if you tell them that they can write whatever they want, that it doesn’t have to rhyme, you will find they become very creative.  Maybe what they come up with isn’t technically a poem, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are using the language, being creative and enjoying themselves.

Another way I have done this was by brainstorming the names of flowers. Then, each student picked a flower from the selection and thought of five adjectives to describe it. They used those adjectives as the basis for their poem about the flower. After writing the poem, they either found pictures or drew pictures of the flower and put it all together in a poster. We then displayed the posters on the classroom walls for all to see. This approach could work with any object or person: five words to describe your mum, five words to describe your car, etc.

You don’t need any special resources for this activity. Just writing materials and imagination. So it’s perfect for that unexpected class!

I didn’t come up with this idea originally. I think I read it somewhere early on in my teaching career. But I have adapted it to suit different students and situations. And I highly recommend it! Give it a go and let us know how you get on.

If you were the original ‘inventor’ of this activity – all credit to you! And let us know in the comments!

©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.

Are you using multimedia in the classroom?

I consider myself to have a fair amount of experience using multimedia in the ELT classroom. In previous teaching posts, I have been lucky enough to have an interactive whiteboard, and laptops and iPads for student use.  See one of my previous posts on iPads and teaching here.  As a result, in class my students could view movies, make movies, do research, record audio, complete online quizzes and exams, make interactive flashcards, use ebook versions of course books, and a whole load of other great stuff!  But we all need a refresher or an injection of new ideas from time to time, so yesterday I attended one of the talks at the Macmillan Education online conference.

The talk was entitled ‘Using Multimedia in the classroom’ and was presented by Robert Campbell, an ELT author. It was an interesting and informative talk, especially for those new to using multimedia and mobile technology in the classroom.  As well as discussing different ways of using multimedia, Robert also considered issues such as students knowing more about the technology than their teachers, and the misuse of smartphones and other such devices in class.

I was particularly pleased with some of the non-teaching trivia which I picked up.  For example, the term ‘tech-savvy’ was only included in the Oxford dictionary this summer! I was surprised; seems to have been around awhile. If you want to know how tech-savvy you are in comparison to a 14/15 year old, who, apparently are the most tech-savvy age group, visit to take the test.

And, before yesterday, I’d never heard of Raspberry Pi.  Have you? Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer which can be connected to a monitor or TV, keyboard and mouse, and away you go. Apparently, the idea is to help educate children in the use of technology and programming skills. Read more about it here.

I also learnt a new acronym: BYOD.


Can you guess?


Bring Your Own Device!




Are you using multimedia in the classroom? As with anything it has its benefits and drawbacks, but I think the benefits win out.

If you’re thinking about it, I believe all the webinars on the Macmillan conference have been recorded and will be made available to view, so I suggest you have a listen to Robert’s talk.  It might help you make that first step.  It’s worth it!




©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.


In the heat of summer here in Almeria, which has a hot arid climate and averages between 30° and 40° during these summer months, it can be difficult to find the motivation needed to work for oneself. It’s especially hard when our three dogs, after their morning walk, spend the whole day lying around the house avoiding the incessant heat and blinding light outdoors. Why can’t I do what they do?


Sleeping baby... shhhhhh

Sleeping baby… shhhhhh



Leader of the pack...sleeps with one eye open!

Leader of the pack…sleeps with one eye open!



Jilly dreams of stones... Why? Because she spends her waking hours collecting them!

Jilly dreams of stones… Why? Because she spends her waking hours collecting them!



Why can’t I just spend the day by the pool?


Because the landscaping isn’t finished; that’s why not!  And someone has to pay for it!


Seriously, though, I LOVE my new occupation!  I have all the dedication and motivation that I need.  Being able to work how I want, when I want,  is invigorating.  If you’ve ever thought about working for yourself, think no longer. Do it!  Now!

Currently, I am working as an ELT (English Language Teaching) Resource Developer.  It’s something that I’ve done as part of my teaching for the last 14 years, but now I have the time to really get my teeth into it.  I’ve always enjoyed the creative aspect of teaching; thinking of innovative ways of developing and using resources in the classroom, of creating a more exciting and enjoyable learning environment for the students, of designing assessments tailored to a particular set of students.  So now I get to build on that without worrying about getting to the classroom on time!

Of course, it’s still early days for me, and too soon to tell whether this lifestyle is sustainable. You can be sure, though, that I will give it my all.

Back in March, I told you about a proofreading course which I was completing.  After struggling a little with widows and orphans, I am finally on the last unit of the course.  Up to now, I have enjoyed it immensely and, although I have the final and toughest assignment to get through, I believe (hope?) that I will successfully complete the course and go on to enjoy a new dimension to my business.

So, dedication?  At the moment, I have it by the truck load: even in the heat of August!  Who knows,  maybe next August I’ll have a big enough client list that I can take the month off!  Here’s hoping!

Enjoy your summer!






©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.

Storytelling with Puppet Pals HD on the iPad

As many other EFL teachers do, I encourage my students to participate in storytelling to practise the narrative tenses.  Some students don’t find it easy to let their imagination run wild.  This may be due to the limitations of their English language skills, or a personality trait; perhaps they’re shy, or it may be down to their cultural background.  To help students overcome these obstacles I like to give them prompts.  These will usually be photos or pictures taken from one of the many EFL resource books or cut out of a magazine or newspaper, for example. I ask the students to work in small groups and to find a way to connect the pictures to create a story.  This first part of the task is strictly oral.  I encourage them to let their imaginations run wild and to work together to come up with an interesting story.  Of course, I also encourage them to think about which tenses they should be using, but I prefer to encourage fluency rather than accuracy at this stage.

Once they have worked through their story, I ask them to appoint a ‘secretary’.  The others in the group use the pictures to remind themselves of the story they came up with and narrate it for the secretary to write down.  This is when accuracy comes in to play.  Students are encouraged to help each other use the correct tenses when telling the story, and I monitor and help with the grammar.

The text then becomes the script for the Grand Production!

Puppet Pals HD is a great app for creating animations of your students’ stories.  There is a free version and a paid version.  Of course, you can do more with the paid version but the free one will suffice.

So, what can you do with the free version? This version includes seven fairy-tale characters and three backdrops. You choose the characters you want and the backdrops, and then you press ‘record’, move the characters around and bring them to life by telling your story!

The paid version has more characters and backdrops, on different themes. It also allows you to make characters and backdrops from your own photos. So much more flexibility. If your department has a budget for student apps, it’s worth adding this one to the list. There is lots of fun speaking practice in it! If not, as I said, you can still work with the free version.

My students got very creative and had a lot of fun. They even added a soundtrack to the story by playing music in the background on another iPad!

The finished productions were then shown on the big screen (interactive whiteboard!) for all the class to enjoy!


Puppet Pals




©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.

Project-based learning on the iPad

I wanted to give my students a ‘real-life’ task to do to develop their English language skills; reading, writing, listening and speaking, and also their critical thinking skills.  Planning a holiday is something which many people, in developed countries, do at some time in their lives. So, this is the task which I set.

I used Pages ( to outline and describe the task, and sent a link to the document to my students so that they would each have a copy to refer to.

The task was aimed at Pre-intermediate level (CEFR B1, and above.  The amount of guidance and support needed would, of course, depend on the particular group of students.

The outline included:

  • A description of the family who wanted to go on holiday.
  • The areas they were interested in visiting.
  • Their budget.

The students were then given prompts as to what they would need to think about and organize:

  • Destination and duration
  • Type of holiday; adventure, city, beach, etc.
  • Preparation; vaccinations, visas, etc.
  • Modes of transport; hotel transfers, etc.
  • Accommodation type
  • Activities and excursions
  • Spending money; food, souvenirs, etc.

Students were told that they must stay within the allocated budget.

The whole project needed to be completed on their iPads, so suggested apps were: Safari for finding out information or photos/videos, Google Maps for deciding on destination, and Notes for collecting and organizing their findings.  Students were, though, free to use other apps if they wished.

The students worked in small groups and, generally, shared out the work between them.  They were free to organise the work in any way they wanted.  Cloud storage apps such as Box or Dropbox are great for students to share work and build projects together remotely.

The project culminated in the students presenting their planned holidays to the rest of the class using Keynote (  Students were encouraged to make their presentations visually stimulating by including pictures/photos and videos.  We discussed referencing in some detail.  The students I worked with at the time were not particularly good at making their own videos or taking their own pictures, so they tended to just find them on Google!  This is something to watch for.  Some students can be very imaginative and creative, and will develop their own multimedia, but, if not, they need to be made aware of copyright issues when taking things from the internet.

How much class time is spent on this project depends on you, the teacher.  After the initial introduction, discussion and clarification, students should be able to work alone. Just make sure you set a time limit, and date for the presentation!

The students were very motivated by and interested in this project. I caught one girl on the phone in class.  When I asked her who she was speaking to she said she was speaking to a travel agent about flight costs!  Everyone loves a holiday!

Buddha beach c                            cocktail c


Beach cafe c





©Natalie Murray, 2014. Copying strictly prohibited. Extracts and links may be used only with full and clear credit given to Natalie Murray/English in Andalucia with appropriate links to the source material.