English with Sarah Melanson

Hi everyone and welcome to my page! I'm posting a daily (or almost daily) mini-lesson based on the Wordle solution from the previous day. Thanks for visiting!

Wordle is a word game from the New York Times. I don't work for the New York Times, and I don't choose the word of the day. I'm doing this for fun, as a hobby. I enjoy the creative challenge of writing a lesson every day based on one word, and I'm happy if it is helpful to English language learners around the world. I will respond to questions and comments on my posts, but I'm not able to reply to private messages. I am not offering private lessons, as I already have a full teaching schedule.

Operating as usual


HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! I haven't kept up with my daily posts for the past few days because as you can see in this picture, I've been busy enjoying time with my family. However, I will start posting again soon. In the meantime, I hope you've had, or are still having, some lovely family celebrations of your own. I'm looking forward to helping you work on your English language skills some more during 2023. We don't know yet what words Wordle will give us this year, but whatever they are, I'll try to give you a daily lesson that will be interesting and helpful for you. I also look forward to reading your questions and comments -- it means a lot to me to know that I'm reaching English language learners around the world :)

You be the judge: should my boyfriend clear out his hundreds of old CDs and DVDs? 27/12/2022

You be the judge: should my boyfriend clear out his hundreds of old CDs and DVDs?

Wordle for Monday December 26, the word is JUDGE. Judge is used as both a noun and a verb. As a noun, a judge is the person who directs the proceedings and makes decisions in a court of law. The judge needs to make sure that everything that happens in court is fair. A judgment, another noun, means the decision that is made by the judge.

'Sober as a judge' is an idiom that means very serious, not under the influence of mind-altering substances like alcohol.

As a verb, to judge means to make a decision about a person or a situation. A person who criticises other people can be called judgmental (an adjective).

We make decisions about other people all the time, but we should be careful not to judge based on incomplete information, or appearances.

A proverb I'll share with you today is 'don't judge a book by its cover.' This means we can't make decisions about things or people based on what they look like on the outside. It's what's inside that matters.

The Guardian has a regular feature called 'You Be The Judge' where they tell you about a disagreement between two people, let each person explain their side, and then you, the reader, have to decide who is right. Here's a recent example:

You be the judge: should my boyfriend clear out his hundreds of old CDs and DVDs? She says clear the clutter and start streaming, he prizes his collection for its nostalgia value – and you are the remote controller


Wordle for Sunday December 25, the word is EXTRA. Extra can be a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. It means more than what you would normally expect. I’ll give you some examples:

(1) It’s Christmas today, so we are having dinner with all the extras (special food that is in addition to what we usually have).
(2) You need to be extra careful when the roads are icy (more careful than usual).
(3) You’d better take some extra money in case you need it (more money than you would normally take).
(4) If you want the package delivered tomorrow, you’ll need to pay extra for delivery (more than the normal delivery charge).

As we discussed a few weeks ago, language is always changing. I recently heard ‘extra’ used in a way I hadn’t heard before, as a noun to mean something very luxurious or special. So, for example, we might hear ‘she baked a Christmas pudding and it was so extra!’

An idiom I’ll share with you today is ‘to go the extra mile’. This means to do more than necessary in your job, or when helping someone, or, if you are a business, to make a customer happy. ‘We go the extra mile’ is a popular slogan used in advertising.

In England, we expect the weather to be cold in winter. However, this year, it has been EXTRA cold. At the beginning of December, where I live, in Cambridgeshire, we had a couple of weeks where the temperatures never rose above freezing. At night they went down to -6 celsius (21 fahrenheit) and during the day they stayed around 0. Everything in the garden stayed frozen, day and night. Here’s a picture of a tree outside my window at 2 p.m. in the afternoon of December 11. What are winters like where you live? Warm, mild, cold, or extra cold?


Wordle for Saturday December 24, the word is POISE. The word ‘poise’ always makes me think of ballet dancers. It’s a noun, meaning a state of perfect balance and suspension. It can also be a verb, for example ‘the ballet dancer poised perfectly on her toes.’ In addition, we use it as an adjective, to say that a person is poised. This could mean balanced in a graceful position, like a ballet dancer, or it could just mean that the person is calm, staying emotionally balanced, perhaps while in a difficult situation. So for example, we might say ‘the witness remained poised while being questioned by the police.

A gymnast also has poise, so this brings me back to the book about Nadia Comaneci, that I mentioned a few days ago when the word was ‘excel.’ As I think I mentioned, I gave the book to both of my granddaughters last year for Christmas. It just so happens that one of them was showing me her handstands and cartwheels yesterday, and I got some pictures. Here’s one showing good poise.


Wordle for Friday December 23, the word is AORTA. The aorta is the largest artery in the human body, starting in the heart, and taking oxygenated blood all around the body. The adjective is aortic. So in medical terminology, we might have aortic stenosis (narrowing of the aorta), aortic aneurysm (a bulge in the wall of the aorta) and aortic valve (one of the four valves of the heart that control blood flow).

There isn’t too much more I can say about the aorta, as I don’t feel like giving a lesson in anatomy and physiology, even if I was qualified to do so! Also, as it’s the Christmas period, I’m traveling and spending time with family and friends. So my posts here may be a bit shorter for a few days. Here’s a picture of a woodpecker in Orlando, Florida. Orlando is one of the places that has been spared the worst of the winter weather affecting most of the US, although even in Orlando, temperatures have now gone down to freezing. This picture was taken a few days ago, when it was sunny, and 21 degrees C (70 F).


Wordle for Thursday December 22, the word is EXCEL. To excel at something means to be very good at it. Most of us are familiar with the Microsoft’s spreadsheet program, called Excel. But how many of us can claim to excel at using it? Not me ...

Excel is a verb, with a related noun (excellence) and adjective (excellent). They all have the meaning of being very, very, good. To ‘excel yourself’ means to do even better than you normally do. Here are some examples:

Your results on the exam were excellent! Well done!
If you excel in my class, you can apply for a job as a teaching assistant.
Christine has created a lot of wonderful recipes, but this time she really excelled herself!
The company is known for the excellence of its customer service.

Can you think of a company known for the excellence of its customer service? Due to recent experiences that I’ve had, as well as other people I know, I am really struggling to come up with any examples.

Last Christmas I gave both of my granddaughters a book about Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, called ‘Nadia, the girl who couldn’t sit still.’ In the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Nadia made Olympic history by scoring a perfect 10 in her gymnastics routines. We can definitely say that Nadia excelled at gymnastics.


Wordle for Wednesday December 21, the word is LUNAR. Lunar is an adjective that means related to the moon. So for example a lunar eclipse is an eclipse of the moon, when the Earth passes in between the moon and the sun. This puts the moon in the Earth’s shadow, and causes part of the moon to disappear from view. In a total lunar eclipse, when the whole of the moon is in the Earth’s shadow, it turns a deep red colour. This phenomenon is also called a ‘blood moon.’ In the picture you can see the stages of a lunar eclipse.

A lunar month is different from a calendar month because it contains approximately 29.5 days, and is measured by the time it takes the moon to complete a cycle of waxing (getting bigger) and waning (getting smaller). So a lunar month is measured from new moon to new moon.

In space exploration, we talk about the lunar surface (the surface of the moon), the lunar module (the part of the spacecraft that landed on the moon) and the lunar orbit (the path the moon takes as it moves around the Earth. I remember when I was 9 years old, my Dad woke me up to watch the moon landing on television. I remember hearing the announcement that Neil Armstrong had left the lunar module and was walking on the surface of the moon. My Dad thought it was a big deal, but I was a 9 year old who liked to read and write stories, and I hadn’t completely learned to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. So I didn’t really understand why he’d got me out of bed!


Wordle for Tuesday December 20, the word is THIRD. It can also be written 3rd. It refers to the number 3, but the meaning is different depending on whether you say ‘the third’ or ‘a third.’ The third is number three in a series (the third child in a family, for example). A third (or one third) of anything is one part of something that has been divided into 3 equal parts. For example, if you want to divide a cookie between 3 people, you divide it into thirds. Each person gets one third.

Here are some more examples:

This is the third time you’ve been late, it’s causing a problem.
In the Olympics, medals are given to the athletes who finish in first, second, or third place.
This is your pilot speaking. We are currently third in line for takeoff.
I’ve eaten about two thirds of my dinner, but I can’t eat the rest. I’m full!
What is a third of 15? (answer at the bottom)
What is the third day of the week? (answer at the bottom)

There are a couple of common expressions/idioms that use the word ‘third’ that I’ll share with you today:

‘Third time lucky!’ We say this to encourage someone to try again. For exampe, your friend might tell you she’s applied twice for a promotion but was not successful. You want to encourage her to try again, so you say ‘third time lucky!’

To give someone ‘the third degree.’ This expression means to ask too many questions, or to ask questions in an aggressive way. For example, your friend keeps asking you where you were last night, who you were with, what you were doing, etc. You might ask your friend ‘why are you giving me the third degree?’

Autumn is the third season of the year, so today I’m giving you a picture of autumn in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, from 2018. I'm actually a bit stuck now because I can't figure out if people all over the world think of autumn as the third season. If you're in the Southern Hemisphere, how did you learn the four seasons when you were a child? Were they spring, summer, autumn, winter, or did you learn them in a different order? Please share in the comments!

Answer to the questions:
(1) One third of 15 is 5. To get one third, you divide by 3.
(2) The third day of the week depends on whether you consider Sunday or Monday the first day of the week. Most American calendars show Sunday as the first day of the week, with Tuesday as the third day. English calendars start with Monday, so the third day is Wednesday.


Wordle for Monday December 19, the word is SLATE. Slate is a type of grey rock which can be made into tiles and used to tile roofs, floors, or walls. If you like the look of natural stone in your house, it’s an excellent choice.

Here is a picture of an old slate quarry in Abereiddy, Wales, which I visited in 1992 with my father and my two oldest children. I visited it again this past October while walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path with a friend. Quarry is a word that will never come up on Wordle because it has six letters, but I’ll explain it anyway – it’s a place where rocks, sand, and minerals have been dug out of the ground to use for building materials.

In olden times, a slate was a tablet – usually made of slate – that you could write on. We have a couple of idioms that come from this time. First, a ‘blank slate’ refers to a slate on which nothing has been written yet. So when a baby is born, for example, we can say his life is a ‘blank slate’. A ‘clean slate’ is a slate that has been written on but then erased. So, we use it to mean a fresh start, the erasing of any past mistakes. I gave you this idiom a few weeks ago when the word was ‘clean.’ Did you remember it?


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Wordle for Sunday December 18, the word is TAPER. This can be a verb, a noun, or an adjective (tapered). To taper means to gradually narrow, or to gradually decrease something. For example, long candles often have tapered ends (ends that get narrower). As a noun, a taper is a long narrow candle, or the thin stick used to light candles.

In medicine, if a person has been taking a medication for a long time and needs to stop taking it, the doctor may prescribe a ‘tapering’ schedule to reduce the medication gradually before stopping it completely. We call this to ‘taper off.’ This is because when you take a medication every day, your body gets used to it. Stopping it suddenly could cause a serious reaction. We can use the phrasal verb ‘taper off’ for anything you are decreasing gradually, whether it is intentional or not. Examples could include drinking coffee (intentional: you want to drink less coffee), exercising (unintentional: you want to exercise but don’t have enough time or motivation) or working (perhaps you would like to work less as you approach retirement). The opposite of tapering off is called ‘going cold turkey.’ This means suddenly stopping something. Most people I know who have quit smoking, myself included, went ‘cold turkey.’ However, others have succeeded by tapering.

Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, the Shard in London is a building that tapers to a point at the top. As it happens, I had dinner there a couple of nights ago! The views over London are spectacular! Here’s a picture of the Shard at night, taken from Tower Bridge.


Wordle for Saturday December 17, the word is CHORD. In music, a chord is two or more notes (usually three or more) played together. If you play the guitar or the ukelele, you’ll know about chords. I’m learning to play the song Daniel by Elton John on the ukelele, and the chords include C, F, G, E7, G7, A minor, D minor, and F minor (not in that order). There are also other systems for naming chords, such as the roman numeral system which gives chords a number depending on where they are on the scale, and a letter depending on their ‘inversion’ (i.e. the note that’s on the bottom). There’s also the system of ‘figured bass’ which just gives you numbers and you have to figure out what the notes are. I’ve been learning about all these systems in a music theory class I’m taking in Cambridge.

Chords (whichever naming system you use) are all about the notes, and the intervals between the notes. I’ll give you one example: In a C major chord, the notes are C, E, and G. The interval between C and E is a major third, and the interval between E and G is a minor third. The interval between C and G is a perfect fifth. That combination of intervals makes a major chord – in this case, the chord of C major. Different combinations of intervals and notes give you different chords. Sometimes chords add a 7th note (for example, C7 would contain C, E, G, and B flat). Which chords to choose, how to play them (notes together or separately), whether to add a 7th, etc., are all artistic decisions made by composers and performers.

Last Christmas, I gave all my grandchildren ukeleles for Christmas (although the boys were only three years old so they got toy ones). I taught the girls to play a couple of very easy chords, C and A minor, which require only one finger each and happen to be the first two chords of a little song I wrote for them, called ‘She’s Cross!’ There are only two more chords for them to learn, D minor and G7, and then they’ll be able to play the whole song!

Finally, I’ll share with you the idiom ‘to strike a chord.’ This means to remind you of something, or to be meaningful in some way. For example, ‘the movie really struck a chord with us because we have lived through a similar experience.’

English with Sarah Melanson

Hi there, I’m Sarah, I’ve been an English language teacher for the past 22 years. Now that there is no more classroom teaching, I am creating this online space in order to connect with students all over the world. Originally from Wells, Somerset, I recently returned to the UK and am now living in Cambridge. My qualifications include CELTA and MA in teaching EAP/ESP (English for Academic/Specific Purposes), and my experience includes teaching in four countries (UK, Spain, USA, and Germany). For 15 years I was a Professor of EAP at Valencia College, Orlando, Florida, where I taught students from all over the world who were preparing for academic studies in the USA. At Valencia I also taught in the Teacher Education program and developed course content for both classroom and online courses in EAP, Teacher Education, and Faculty Development. Most recently, I was living in Munich, Germany, where I taught Intensive English, Business English, General English, English for Seniors, and Conversation classes. I’ve also taught IELTS and OET test preparation. So whatever you are looking for with your English lessons, together we will find a way to make it work online.

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