Video: Structuring an essay for an American audience

Get a quick tutorial on how an academic essay for an American (North American / Western) audience is structured in this 4-minute video lesson from Teacher Amanda.

(Check out the Teacher Amanda YouTube page!)

Learn more about academic English reading & writing

Learn more about university-level English reading and writing in my (upcoming) 9-unit course on Teachable! The full course launches in April 2018, but the first module is available for free!

Click here to access the first module and learn more about the course.

Questions? Contact me!

It’s the Olympics! Let’s talk sports idioms

Last week we talked about a few American football idioms, and in honor of the Olympics, let’s keep the ball rolling (continue) with more sports-related idioms!

Read the idiom / phrase, followed by the example. See if you can guess the meaning of the idiom before moving on to reading the definion.


1. neck and neck

I’m not sure which company we will hire. In terms of cost, the two of them are neck and neck, but we like the selection from Company A.

“Neck and neck” refers to when a competition of some kind is equal or even. There is no clear winner. It refers to when runners stretch their necks out over the finish line to “inch out” their competitors and win.


2. bat(ting) a thousand

He got every question right on the test. He’s really batting a thousand.

If you are “batting a thousand,” it means you are doing very well or performing almost perfectly. It comes from baseball; a perfect batting average (which is impossible) is 1,000.


3. (to clear) a hurdle

You have to take a big test before entering graduate school. Once you clear that hurdle, you can see what schools you can get into.

A hurdle is a problem or difficulty. To clear a hurdle is to overcome or “figure out” or solve your problem. It some from track and field; a hurdle is an obstacle that a runner jumps over.


4. to throw a curveball

My boss really threw me a curveball yesterday when she had me give the presentation instead of Lisa. I was so surprised and nervous, but I did ok.

A “curveball” is something surprising and unexpected and usually, something not welcomed. A common way to express this is when you are the receiver of the curveball (surprise): [He/she] threw me a curveball. It’s another baseball idiom. A curveball is a type of pitch that is surprisingly deceiving and hard to hit.


5. to tackle (something)

I have 4 loads of laundry to fold! Can you help me tackle this?

In American football (and perhaps other sports around the world), players tackle each other – bring each other to the ground – so that the other team does not score. To tackle something is to try and solve it (usually a problem), or to undertake something.


6. to jump the gun

Don’t jump the gun! We need to talk before we start the project.

To rush; to begin too quickly. It comes from the beginning of a race, when the runners start when they hear a gun shot. Players who “jump” before the gun are penalized.


7. to throw in the towel

She could not figure out the the problem and threw in the towel after three hours of trying.

To quit; to stop an activity. It comes from boxing, where, when someone throws a towel in the ring, the match is stopped.


8. (in the) home stretch

There’s only 10 minutes left of class – be strong! We’re in the home stretch.

The final or last part of an activity. The last part of a runner’s race just before the finish line is called the home stretch.


9. the ball is in your court

You can choose what restaurant we go to. just let me know what you want to do. The ball is in your court.

It’s your turn; it’s your move, and you need to take action. From tennis.

10. (keep your) eye on the ball

You’re almost finished with your homework, so don’t turn on the TV yet. Keep your eye on the ball and you’ll get done quicker.

Stay focused; don’t “lose sight” of what you should be doing. Another one from baseball, where the batter must keep his eye on the pitcher in order to hit the ball.


11. to drop the ball

She really dropped the ball at the meeting. She was not prepared and the boss was upset.

To fail / not succeed; to not complete your responsibilities.

Get more lessons like this in your email!

Sign up for the Teacher Amanda email list and get a free e-book, “33 Everyday English Expressions” in your first email!



American Football Idioms

If you’re not a fan of sports – or at least American sports – some common American idioms might confuse you! And so, in honor of yesterday’s Super Bowl, check out these idioms related to American football.


“kick off”

The kick off is the beginning of the game, and as you might guess, to “kick something off” means to begin.

“Welcome! Let’s kick things off with introductions.”

“Monday morning quarterback”

While professional football is played several days of the week during the season, Sunday is the most traditional and well-known day. And the quarterback is the position on the team that controls the defensive play. So someone who is a “Monday morning quarterback” is someone who criticizes actions after they are done, or who uses hindsight to evaluate a situation.

“Jim was furious about the meeting and blamed his co-worker for not being prepared, but that’s not fair. He’s just being a Monday morning quarterback. His co-worker couldn’t have been prepared for everything that went wrong.

“to run interference”

In football, when offensive players try to block players of the defensive team from tackling the player who has the ball. If you “run interference” for someone, you intervene for someone to help or assist them in some way.

“There were so many questions from the audience and Jenny couldn’t handle them all. I ran interference for her and helped her answer some of them.”


What other American football expressions do you know? Leave a comment!

Want more lessons like this sent directly to your inbox?

Sign up for the Teacher Amanda email list and you’ll get a free e-book of 33 Everyday English Expressions in your first email!

“Used to” vs. “Am used to”

I used to live in San Francisco.

I am used to living in San Francisco.

Take a look at the two sentences above. They are very similar, but have very different meanings!

What’s the difference?

First: Notice how the two sentences are different.

Sentence 1 says  “used to live,” while sentence 2 says “am used to living.”


“Used to” refers to a past situation or habit that continued for a period of time in the past, but is not happening now.

“I used to smoke.” = In the past, I had a smoking habit, but now do not.

“I used to live in San Francisco.” = In the past, I lived in San Francisco, but now do not.


“Am used to” means to be familiar with it accustomed to something.

“I am used to riding the train to work, not driving.” = Riding the train to work is familiar and normal to me, but driving is not.

“I am used to living in San Francisco.” = I live in San Francisco and it is familiar and normal to me.


An easy way to remember this is that “am used to” uses the “-ing” form of the verb, similar to present continuous, and is referring to a current, normal situation.

Want more tips like this?

Sign up for my email list and get a free gift!

Get the e-book “33 Everyday English Expressions” in your first email when you sign up for the Teacher Amanda email list!

Laughing at vs. laughing with

Maybe you’ve heard the expression:

Are you laughing *at* me, or *with* me?

Considering that prepositions can be challenging (to say the least!), this phrase might be extra confusing for English learners. Here’s a quick look into what this means.

to laugh at

laughter directed toward a person or action; sometimes, laughing at someone can be considered rude (but not always)

The little boy tripped down the stairs and his schoolmates laughed at him. He was very sad. (They are being rude or cruel.)
I laugh at his jokes all the time. (This meaning is not rude or cruel, since jokes are meant to be funny.)

to laugh with

laughter in a group of people; laughing together with others about something everyone finds funny

They were laughing with me as I was trying tell the story.

So what does that original sentence mean?

“Are you laughing at me, or with me?”
“I don’t think you’re laughing *with* me…”

Usually, this means the speaker has done something funny…but maybe embarrassing. The major difference between the two is that “laughing with” means that everyone finds something funny, but “laughing at” means that everyone *except* the main person involved finds it funny, and the laughter is directed toward that person.

This is a friendly and lighthearted way to ask someone: Are you making fun of me? Are you laughing at my mistake/embarrassing moment?

Learn more expressions like this in my free e-book!
“33 Everyday English Expressions”

Submit your email address and get access to my new e-book of useful and practical phrases you can use in every day conversation, complete with definitions and examples.

Click here for your e-book