TOEFL Essay #9 – Should students evaluate their teachers?

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Schools should ask students to evaluate their teachers. Do you agree or disagree? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Agatha Trunchbull

Agatha Trunchbull (Pam Ferris), headmistress of Crunchem Hall, where Matilda goes to school for the first time. A case supporting the idea that students should evaluate their teachers (and sometimes fire them directly). Form the book “Matilda”, by Roald Dahl.

During my last high school year, it happened that one of my classmates sued the Math teacher. He claimed he had been discriminated against by the rest of the class. His marks, he added, were significantly lower than the score he deserved. After having heard five witnesses among the school staff, judge declared the teacher was not guilty.

This experience revealed me that students cannot be objective judges of their own teachers, because of two reasons. Firstly, they are too personally involved in the teacher’s work. Even a simple bad mark could be interpreted by the student as “The teacher hates me”, which is – in my opinion – a totally subjective conclusion. Secondly, teachers could easily assign no homework to students in order to obtain a positive evaluation. In other words, students – especially bad ones – are not reliable, because they could easily be manipulated.

The case of my classmate Luca is a telling example of what I mean. Even if I write seven years after I got my high school diploma, I remember clearly that during that period he was not doing Math homework, used to be absent the days of the written texts and to interrupt teacher’s speeches with useless considerations. Therefore, what else could the teacher have done, instead of giving him bad marks? However, my classmate Luca conclusion was totally different. He used to think that the Math teacher was not able to do his job. On the other hand, he had a strong preference for the English teacher, who was never present in class. As a consequence, we had never to do English homework. Only for this reason Luca was convinced that the English teacher was exceptional.

To summarize, schools cannot ask students to evaluate their teachers. Unless they want to obtain totally unreliable results, indicating the contrary of the truth: that bad teachers are the good ones, and that good teachers are the ones who do not feel like doing their job.

Three websites you need to know to improve your English

Last time, we spoke about the best resources to improve your listening ability. In this post, I’ll present a list of extra resources matching them with one of the following different goals: learning, speaking and pronouncing English. As far as I am concerned, these three websites are the best resources available on the web.

1) QUESTION: Where should I go, in order to STUDY English?

ANSWER: On EngVid.com

EngVid

English Videos is a wide free lessons collection. Over 800 videos about grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation tips, each one from five to 15 minutes long.

The best free tutorials I’ve found on the web, indeed. In addition, teachers are extremely funny, and the topic coverage is complete and not taken for granted. Examples? How to talk about crime (which explains the difference between being robbed and being mugged), and How to talk about your period (for ladies).

2) QUESTION: Where should I go, in order to SPEAK English?

ANSWER: On Fluentify.com

Fluentify

Thanks to this website, you can get in contact with an English native speaker teacher. Even though this is not for free, prices are extremely moderated.

On Fluentify you can book a Skype session with an English native speaker teacher. You can choose him or her accordingly to your accent preference – teachers are from US, Australia, Scotland and so on – and plan your personalized syllabus. A session lasts half an hour and costs an average of 10 Euros (approximately 11$).

3) QUESTION: Where should I go, in order to IMPROVE MY PRONUNCIATION?

ANSWER: On RachelsEnglish.com

RachelsEnglish

Go to “Sounds” and “Consonants” sections: they are for free!

Rachel is a former Opera singer who now teaches American English pronunciation on the web. Her website offers over 300 free videos about American English pronunciation and spoken English. You don’t know how to pronounce a Flap T? Rachel can help you.

TOEFL Essay #8 – Luck versus Hard work

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Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? When people succeed, it is because of hard work. Luck has nothing to do with success. Use specific reasons and examples to support your opinion.

JK Rowling

Joanne Rowling is the British novelist known as the author of the “Harry Potter” series. I’ll use her story as a source of inspiration to answering the task in the following essay.

“I had the chance to be the right person in the right place at the right moment”, my friend Alessandro told me when a national all-news channel hired him as a video journalist. And I strongly agree with him that luck plays a huge role in success. I believe this because of two reasons: British writer J. K. Rowling’s story and my personal experience.

First of all, let me explain to the reader what is the relation between the topic and the author of Harry Potter novels saga. As it is widely known, there are four kinds of students in the world of Harry Potter: brave ones, smart ones, ambitious ones and finally hard-working ones. As J. K. Rowling declared in an interview, these four qualities – respectively bravery, intelligence, ambition and hard work – are essential to the same extent in order to succeed. “However, without a bit of luck they are absolutely useless”, the English writer pointed out. I have to side with her, because she really knows what she’s talking about. As it is widely known, Harry Potter‘s manuscript was refused by eight different publishing houses before “Bloomsbury Publishing” brought its publication’s rights and the novel became a worldwide best-seller. Even if this circumstance may seem a point in favor of hard work (if Rowling had ceased to persist, the book would never have been published), the key point is the following: when Bloomsbury bought Harry Potter, business was close to bankruptcy. They decided to print a small amount of copies as exit strategy, planning to end the fiscal year. Things turned out differently, and book’s profits actually saved the company. However, it was a matter of luck that Rowling presented her novel to Bloomsbury in that precise moment. She did not know anything about Bloomsbury’s financial crisis. As a conclusion, this anecdote shows clearly how the power of luck could overtake even the most stubborn hard-working attitude.

Furthermore, an experience I had on the job just a few months ago clearly explains that luck influences success. In that period I was an internee in a company. Even though my boss appreciated my qualities, he said to me that at that moment there was no room for new assumptions. I finished my internship and came back home. Right after that, an employee of the company suddenly died of a heart attack. And who was offered his position to? The new student who had just started the internship right after me. That demonstrates that luck plays a more important role than hard work.

To summarize, paraphrasing the initial statement “Luck has nothing to do with success”, my conclusion is that luck has everything to do with success. Even though you work hard, a misfortune can always destroy your efforts.

3 expressions to talk like Frank Underwood in House of Cards

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As soon as Netflix released the third season of House of Cards, my social life ended in change of watching television while having dinner, staying up late, and eating junk food. I am the definition of “couch potato” these days.

For those of you who don’t know, House of Cards is an American TV-series starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Claire Underwood, two spouses craving for power in Washington, DC. Their attitude is cynical and unscrupulous. As a consequence, their words are often telling examples of political pragmatism.

House of CardsThe fine print, or small print, is a legal or commercial expression which indicates the words printed in little types at the end of a selling contract or an advertising offer. Often they add details which make the offer less favorable than it appears. Therefore, the sense of this quote could be paraphrased as “Be aware of the details. They are more important than the big picture”.

House of CardsTo be in the same boat is the idiom that indicates “to be in an unpleasant situation as well as other people are”. The implication is, if the boat sinks, every passenger would be in trouble. And to tip over means to overturn, upset, or incline.

House of CardsIn this occasion, Frank is referring to the proverb Do not look a gift horse in the mouth. A smart person, like Frank, would doubt everything gifted, and surely will check the horse’s teeth out. Instead, an ingenuous person would throw a saddle on the horse, being instantaneously ready to ride it.

Word of the day #3 – Happy as a clam

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Although Academy Award Best Original Song winner Under the Sea, from Disney’s animated movie The Little Mermaid, taught us that «down here all the fish is happy», smiling clams are hard to imagine. In addition, why would clams be happier than, say, shrimps? Or jellyfishes? Or sea stars? Or peacocks, for all we know?

The song composed by Alan Menken won the Oscar in 1989.

This expression becomes clearer considering the complete sentence, which should be “happy as clam at high tide”, or “in high water”. When tide is high, clams cannot be located by predators, such as seagulls. Surely, high tide (or high water) is the happiest circumstance in clams’ little shellfish wet world.

Next time my readers are really happy, they can use this nice idiom.

Happy as a clam

TOEFL Essay #7 – Is progress always good?

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Do you agree that progress is always good? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Progresso Soup

No, “Progresso” Soups are not good. I mean, Traditional Beef is ok, but all the Vegeterian line of products is awful. However, the Creamy Mushrooms… Ok, let’s focus on TOEFL.

My grandmother considers computers as magical objects. While I was watching her talking with her sister in Australia through a popular instant messaging service, I was pondering on the fact that progress has always strongly and positively influenced our everyday life. History books confirm the positive evolution progression of humanity since the Stone Age to the Contemporary Age. This is true in a large spectrum of aspects, but particularly in two ones: technology and education.

First of all, it is widely accepted that progress and technology improvement are almost synonymous. Nowadays humanity can count on a long list of inventions, which would have been hard to imagine in the past. Two thousands years ago wheels did not exist, and now is part of every means of transportation. One hundred years ago people could die due to a flu, and now we have vaccines and national health systems in several countries. Fifty years ago only few people could buy a portable phone, and now people own more than one. All these examples demonstrate without a shadow of a doubt that thanks to progress humanity has improved her condition from a wide range of points of view.

Secondly, as far as I am concerned, progress also means improvement in education. According to some statistics, the number of high-educated people have been constantly rising in every part of the world during the last years. Furthermore, even young boys from developing countries have now the possibility to learn to read and write. Besides, women can now go tho school in almost every part of the world. This is another clear benefit due to the progress.

As a conclusion, I strongly agree with the statement that the progress is always good. My belief is so strong that I cannot wait growing up in order to discover all the positive things provided by progress to my life.

(Dear Italian reader, yes, this is me. You know, the girl who loves the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, the man who taught mankind how much silly is trusting future. However, TOEFL essay needs strong opinions. Remember: you can always lying. Therefore… Sorry, Giacomo)

Beyoncé Knowles and her passion for McDonald’s

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Beyonce Knowles

Beyoncé in August 2014 (Credit Ferderic J. Brown / Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

«The great thing about McDonald’s is that they have a lot of different things on their menu. I love their salad», former lead singer of R&B group Destiny’s Child and now successful solo artist Beyoncé Knowles, 33, declared. And her words triggered the debate.

Healthy lifestyle is a sensitive matter in the US, where the 69% of adults is overweight or obese. And McDonald’s is not only the recognized lead chain of hamburger restaurants, but also the well-known symbol of “junk food”, according to its reputation.

Knowles’s statement got several reactions. The first one by the Parent-Teacher Association, which pointed out that Beyoncé’s declaration was a bad example for billions young and too fat fans. The second reaction arrived by the Vegetarian Association. «Salads are not a healthy alternative of the McDonald’s menus», a spokesperson said, referring to the salads mentioned by Beyoncé. «They are not green heads of lettuce with a few drops of olive oil and vinegar. On the contrary they are enriched with toasts, bacon, cheddar cheese, grilled chicken and a lot of sides and toppings. In a few words, they are full of calories». Beyoncé did not bother about it. Instead, she admitted eating daily at McDonald’s restaurants.

The turning point of the story came out when the agreement between the star and the advertising office of McDonald’s became public in the US. Knowles would have been the new testimonial of the Ronald McDonald’s Charity Houses, a project launched by the company in order to fight childish malnutrition in the developing world. «I am proud to be part of it, and I am happy to use my music in order to reach my fans, McDonald’s customers», declared the singer, born and raised in Houston, Texas. The «fattest city in America», as defined by a Men’s fitness online article.

(Morgan Spurlock’s “Don’t eat this book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America” is the main source of this article)

The most embarrassing moment of my life – And how I overcame it

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On January 23, 2013, I was in a huge meeting room in Novi di Modena, a little city in the Centre of Italy, with my parents, my friend Carlo, the President of the Italian Young Football Association and about five hundred football players aged 10 to 14.

The reason I was there is that I was about to receive a journalistic prize dedicated to the memory of the Italian sport journalist Roberto Stracca. The event was organized by the Young Football Association and consisted of 2.000 Euros, and a cup. I was the award winner, and my friend Carlo the runner-up.

As I learnt by experience, there is nothing to be embarrassed of in such occasions. If you are the winner, you have usually to smile, to shake hands, to thank people, to cash in the money and that’s all. So I was very relaxed when Youth Football League President Mario Macalli called Carlo and me on the stage. Wearing a big smile, he gave me the cup. And here came problems.

Shaped as a football player in the act of kick a ball, the brassy and multicolored cup was about twenty kilos of weight, not to mention its packaging. It was inside a blue box together with a plastic support and a giant golden lock. All the stuff was almost higher than me, and surely harder.

Despite my smile, I was truly embarrassed.

Despite my smile, I was truly embarrassed.

Let’s summarize the picture. I was trying to hold the cup in front of five hundred people, and there wasn’t any table to lay the cup on. President Macalli had begun a very long speech, and photographers were taking pictures. So, what could I possibly do? If I had blatantly let the cup go, it would surely have been broken or damaged. In addition, if I had lost the grip, I would have interrupted the ceremony with a giant “crash”. On the other hand, if I had continued to sustain that weight, my arms would have moved away from my body.

I was about to give up and lay the cup on the ground when Carlo realized I needed help. He came close to me and took one side of the box. I smiled at him and I moved on the other side. Thanks to him, I arrived at the end of the ceremony with no damages.

From that moment on, Carlo and I refer to the Roberto Stracca Prize as “our” prize. Meaning that we lifted up the cup together – literally.

If losing a competition teaches something about the future of journalism

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Around March 2014, my colleagues and I took part in a journalistic competition called “Guido Martinotti Prize”. The work we submitted – a 3-minute video and an article regarding the struggle of a group of Milan citizens to re-open an abandoned tunnel in their neighborhood – did not obtain the prize. However, this experience taught me a few things about journalism. Here’s the story.

As soon as the video selected for the first prize began on the screen of the crowded meeting room, I realized that we hadn’t won. «We lost». The second thought I had was about all the labor and the Sundays my team and I had spent on our video project. We decided to take part in the competition six months before, just after the official release of the rules. The first edition of the Martinotti Journalistic Prize seemed to be a great occasion to become known and to get a little money, not to mention its appealing subject: The care of a specific neighborhood of Milan taken by a group of citizens.

For a person such as myself, who loves city reporting above all other journalistic specializations, this topic was perfect. However, I knew I would have to work on a team in order to win. As I learned by experience, when you have to achieve a journalistic inquiry for TV you have to work with a colleague at least. The reason in simple. One person carries the video camera and the other one holds the microphone.

In order to participate, we had to present a video and a written text. My team was composed by Enrico, who is good at video editing, Silvia, who has any phone number you need in her agenda, and Silvia, who has a special ability in getting in touch with strangers and interviewing them. Last but not least, there’s me. As the writer.

Our story was about a group of citizens from northwest Milan, who were trying to re-open an abandoned tunnel which split up their neighbourhood. Before the selection, I believed we had some likelihood.

The prize went instead to a group of students from the Cattolica School of Journalism. They made a great video filmed in almost every part by night, about the homeless soup kitchen in the Milan city centre. Their work deserved the first prize. I admit it with no envy or rage.

After the selection, I had a little conversation with one member of the jury. He remembered clearly our work. He gave me the following: we presented a very good text and a not outstanding video. On the contrary the winners presented a not outstanding text and a very good video. «So we favored Cattolica’s students because their journalism is more modern». What have I l learnt from this? That’s the future press, baby. The future press! And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Deadline USA

“A free press, like a free life, sir, is always in danger”. Another quote from the movie Deadline U. S. A. (1952), starring Humphrey Bogart as Ed Hutcheson.

TOEFL Essay #6 – Taking risks

Some people like to do only what they already do well. Other people prefer to try new things and take risks. Which do you prefer? Use specific reasons and examples to support your choice.

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (519–430 BC), Roman statesman

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (519–430 BC), Roman statesman, the man who took the biggest risk in Roman ancient history

Did Cincinnatus hesitate when he was offered the role of commander-in-chief of the Ancient Rome Empire? No. Even if he was a politician without military experience, he accepted the fact that he was leaving his house, his wife and his garden in order to lead the army. After thousands years, he is remembered not only as one of the best strategist of History, but also as the man who preferred taking risks instead of going on with his everyday life.

I always found Cincinnatus’s story powerful and inspiring, because in the same situation I would have done exactly the same choice. In my opinion, the learning capability is what makes the difference between a smart person and a stupid one. And what is the learning capability all about? As far as I am concerned, it is trying new things and taking risks.

As a consequence of this personal belief, I try to have new experiences every moment of my life. For instance, I like going on vacation always in a different place. I also like starting the new year attending a course in a subject which is totally new to me. During my life I’ve had classes about cooking, sewing and dancing. I have never regretted doing this, because I have always learnt something unexpected.

Besides, reasons in support of trying new things are over the personal satisfaction. There are also health benefits regarding memory loss prevention. According to some data published by The Journal of Neurosciences, trying a new experience every day could improve our Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and prevent brain diseases, such as Alzheimer syndrome. This does not necessary imply that you have to do particularly difficult things. On the contrary, in order to stay mentally active it is sufficient, for example, to learn how to cook a new plate, to change the mean of transportation when we go to work, or to have a conversation with a stranger.

As a conclusion, I strongly prefer to do new things, even if sometimes this means taking risks. As far as I am concerned, trying new things is always a source of positive changes, and a leisure activity by itself.