Reading: Girl Scouts

BEC Vantage Reading Part 3

Read the text and then answer questions 1-6.

The idea that a sales team can learn something from Girl Scouts will come as a surprise to many.  What has this out-dated organisation got to do with the fast-moving, corporate world of today? But in the girl scouts’ annual cookie drive, two hundred million units are sold per year, and their revenues exceed $700 million. And these figures are achieved only in a three-month period in the spring.

True, the organization has changed greatly in latter years, ever since the appointment of CEO Kathy Cloninger in 2003. Her mission was to revitalize a 95-year tradition-bound icon, famous only for camping, crafts and cookies. She has worked on instilling leadership qualities in the girls, developing new funding opportunities, creating an efficient organisational structure and developing a reinvigorated brand which is relevant to the modern world.

And nowhere are these changes more noticeable than in the annual cookie sale.  No longer relying on neighbourhood door-to-door sales to obtain a meagre revenue, the organisation now utilises a wide range of savvy, modern methods which businesses worldwide can learn from.

Firstly, the girl scouts organization focuses on providing the girls with life skills.  By investing in the girls, the organization creates a team with strong leadership and communication skills.  ‘Cookie College’ training courses develop the scouts’ business acumen, providing them with presentation, marketing and money management skills; skills which will be invaluable in their future lives.  Through role-playing, case studies and tasks, the girls become inspired and passionate about their role as a salesperson.

And the proof of the pudding – or should I say cookie – is in the eating. These well-trained salesgirls can turn out exceptional results. Scout Markita Andrews sold over $80,000 dollars worth of cookies in the twelve years she was a girl scout.  Her success is for the most part due to the incentive. By selling the greatest number of cookies, Markita won a trip around the world.  Rewards are not only given to the lucky winners, however.  Scouts earn reward points as they sell more cookies. 1,500 cookies gets the scout a Wii game system.

But Girl scouts are not only training and motivating their workforce, but they are also changing their tactics.  Gone are the days when girls went door-to-door around the neighbourhood selling to family and friends.  They now go in for the bulk sales strategy.  They sell to large organisations and businesses, where cookies can be offered as sales incentives or part of corporate gift baskets. This way, girls are able to shift a greater number of cookies and maximise their sales time.


Answer questions 1-6.

1. When do the Girl Scouts sell cookies?
a) all year round
b) for three months per year
c) Every three years
d) Every spring since 2003

2. What was the view of the girls scout organisation before Kathy Cloninger became CEO?
a) not well-known
b) old-fashioned
c) efficient
d) surprising

3. Which of the following is not taught at ‘Cookie College’?
a) how to look after finances
b) how to promote your products
c) how to bake cookies
d) how to speak in front of other people

4. A girl scout can get a trip round the world if she…
a) gets a certain number of reward points
b) sells cookies for twelve years in a row
c) sells $80,000 worth of cookies
d) sells more cookies than anyone else

5. A new selling strategy used by girl scouts is…
a) Selling cookies outside local businesses
b) Giving scouts free cookies as an incentive
c) Selling from door to door
d) Selling large amounts of cookies at once

6. Which of the following sales techniques is NOT mentioned in the passage?
a) motivating the sales team
b) finding new avenues for sales
c) offering discounts for bulk orders
d) training the sales team


Reading: Men outnumbered in Spanish government

Women are on the rise in Spanish politics. Spain’s newly-formed government consists of eleven women and six men. The newly-elected socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has put women in some of the biggest positions in his cabinet, including head of defence, economy, education and finance. Spain now has the highest proportion of women in top government positions than anywhere else in Europe. In a televised statement, Mr Sanchez said his new government consisted of people who wanted to move Spain forward. He said: “All are highly qualified and bring a vocation for public service and reflect the best of Spain. [They are]…open to the world but anchored in the European Union.”

Rajoy failed to remain in power after his controversial handling of recent situations.

Mr Sanchez seems an unlikely leader. His Socialist party holds just 84 of the 350 seats in Spain’s parliament. He took office on Friday, replacing the unpopular conservative leader Mariano Rajoy. Ex-prime minister Rajoy was the focus of a corruption scandal and had become unpopular because of his austerity measures. Sanchez promised to bring change to Spain. However, he has to work quickly to turn Spain’s economy around. He has promised to call elections in less than two years, which may not be enough time to amend the outgoing government’s budget for 2018. One of his biggest challenges will be rebuilding relations with the northeastern region of Catalonia.



What can you say about these words and your life: politics / government / socialist / cabinet / education / statement / public service / leader / parliament / unpopular / conservative / corruption / scandal / challenges


Comprehension Questions:

  1. How many women were appointed to top government posts in Spain?
  2. Which European country has the highest ratio of women in top posts?
  3. What medium did Pedro Sanchez use to make his statement?
  4. What did Pedro Sanchez say his government brings to public service?
  5. What did Pedro Sanchez say his government was anchored in?
  6. How many parliamentary seats does Pedro Sanchez’s party hold?
  7. What kind of scandal is Spain’s ex-prime minister involved in?
  8. What did Pedro Sanchez promise to bring to Spain?
  9. When did Pedro Sanchez say he would call the next elections?
  10. What does Pedro Sanchez have to build relations with?


Try to recall how these words were used in the text:

  1. seems
  2. 350
  3. focus
  4. bring
  5. call
  6. region
  7. rise
  8. elected
  9. head
  10. else
  11. move
  12. open

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Reading: Australian Woman Marries Bridge

Many countries around the world are discussing same-sex marriage. No country is discussing the rights and wrongs of marrying a bridge. But that is what an Australian woman has done. Artist Jodi Rose fell in love with the 600-year-old Le Pont du Diable (the Devil’s Bridge) in France and got married to it last month. However, France does not recognise marriages between people and bridges. Nevertheless, 14 guests attended the wedding ceremony to see the happy couple become not man and wife, but bridge and wife. The mayor of the nearby town also came to bless the marriage. Jodi wore a white wedding dress for the occasion. She also had a special ring (which is almost one metre high) made for the bridge.


The happy bride and bridge

Jodi Rose travels the world visiting bridges. She records the sounds and vibrations they make. She then turns these into experimental music for her “Singing Bridges” project. She said it was love at first sight for the Devil’s Bridge. She posted on her blog Bridgeland: “Although he is made of stone…I feel at peace in his strong embrace. He makes me feel connected to the earth.” She added that the bridge makes her feel comfortable after travelling non-stop around the world. Ms Rose explained why she married the bridge, saying it was symbolic because she values “the spiritual vibration in everything”. She also explained her love for it: “The perfect husband… strong and silent,” she said.


Decide which of these topics or words from the article are most interesting and which are most boring:

marriage / rights and wrongs / bridges / guests / nearby town / wedding dress / ring / travels the world / experimental music / feel at peace / vibration / strong and silent

Comprehension Questions:

  1. How many countries are talking about same-sex marriage?
  2. How many countries are talking about marrying bridges?
  3. How old was the bridge the woman married?
  4. How many people went to the wedding?
  5. What was almost a metre high?
  6. What does Jodi do with her recordings?
  7. When did she fall in love with the bridge?
  8. What does the bridge make Jodi feel connected to?
  9. What kind of vibration in everything does Jodi value?
  10. Why is her husband perfect?

Try to recall how they were used in the text:

  • countries
  • wrongs
  • last
  • guests
  • happy
  • special
  • travels
  • music
  • sight
  • non-stop
  • why
  • strong

Discussion Questions:

  1. What springs to mind when you hear the word ‘marriage’?
  2. How has marriage changed in the past 100 years?
  3. What is marriage to you?
  4. What do you think of someone marrying a bridge?
  5. Should countries let people marry things?
  6. What do you think the wedding ceremony was like?
  7. What wedding vow (promise) do you think Jodi made to the bridge?
  8. What wedding present would you buy the bridge and wife?
  9. Why do so many marriages these days break up?
  10. Did you like reading this article? Why/not?
  11. Do celebrity marriages work?
  12. Have you ever fallen in love at first sight?
  13. What wedding vows (promises) would you make to your partner?
  14. What is the perfect marriage?


Reading: Exam results affected by hotter weather

Hot weather lowers exam results. A major study from three universities in the USA says heat may reduce learning in the short and long term. Hot weather on test days, and higher than average yearly temperatures lowered grades.

Researchers looked at how the weather affected test scores from 10 million American students. Findings showed that a temperature rise of just 0.55ºC over one year led to a one per cent decrease in learning. The research paper is called “Heat and Learning”. It was published last month.

A worrying conclusion in the study is that global warming may affect the future income of students around the world. Researchers said that if global temperatures continued to rise, the average American student could lose $25,000 because of lower test scores. Air conditioning in classrooms could stop this. Hotter weather was “particularly damaging” for poorer students.




How were these words used in the article:

  1. lowers
  2. major
  3. term
  4. average
  5. grades
  6. decrease
  7. worrying
  8. income
  9. rise
  10. scores




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Reading: A Job Riding Harley Davidsons

There is a special job opening for eight people who love riding motorbikes, enjoy long, hot summers, and like feeling the wind in their hair. The position is a summer internship for the legendary motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson. The company is looking for people to learn to ride its bikes and then ride them across the USA all summer. It is offering this job to celebrate the 115th anniversary of the founding of Harley-Davidson. The successful candidates will get special training to ride a Harley and must then share their experiences of their adventures of riding around the USA on social media. The lucky riders must also attend a number of events, including anniversary celebrations.

Harley-Davidson.svgHarley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich explained why his company wants eight interns to ride motorcycles all summer. He said: “We’re continuously working to grow the sport of motorcycling. What better way to engage future riders than to have a whole team of newly-trained enthusiasts share personal stories as they immerse themselves in motorcycle culture and community – all while gaining marketable career skills. I’m looking forward to following their journeys, learning about their experiences, and seeing them out on the road.” To qualify, candidates must show they are good storytellers, be able to use social media well, and describe what freedom means in an essay, video or photo portfolio.

Comprehension Questions:

  1. How many interns is Harley-Davidson looking for?
  2. What might people like to feel in their hair?
  3. How old will the Harley-Davidson company be this year?
  4. What must successful candidates share on social media?
  5. What must the lucky candidates attend a number of?
  6. What does Harley-Davidson’s CEO want to grow?
  7. What will the interns immerse themselves besides communities?
  8. What marketable skills will the interns pick up?
  9. What must candidates show they are good at?
  10. What word must job applicants describe?

Describe how these words relate to the story above:


Discussion Questions:

  1. What did you think when you read the headline?
  2. What images are in your mind when you hear the word ‘motorbike’?
  3. What do you know about Harley-Davidson?
  4. Why does Harley-Davidson have a cool image?
  5. Do you enjoy feeling the wind in your hair?
  6. Would you like to apply for this internship?
  7. What do you think of internships?
  8. Why is Harley-Davidson doing this?
  9. Where would you go if you won this internship?
  10. Are motorcycles the best form of transport?
  11. What do you think of when you hear the word ‘job’?
  12. What do you think about what you read?
  13. What do you think about motorbikes?
  14. How much would you enjoy riding a motorcycle around the USA?
  15. What is “motorcycle culture”?
  16. What career skills might the interns learn?
  17. How good a storyteller are you?
  18. How would you describe the word “freedom”?
  19. What questions would you like to ask the Harley-Davidson boss?

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Reading: Charity Chic

100215815_0000The First Lady of Iceland, Eliza Reid, has turned heads at a movie awards ceremony. Fashion reporters said Ms Reid wore a “stunning” black jacket to the Edda Awards – Iceland’s version of Hollywood’s Academy Awards. Ms Reid wore black to show her support for the #metoo movement. However, unlike most people who attend glamorous awards shows, Ms Reid did not spend a fortune on her clothes. When reporters asked her where she had purchased her jacket, she said she bought it in a local Red Cross charity store in Iceland’s capital city. The Icelandic Red Cross was very happy about this news. It told its followers on Twitter that the first lady looked, “awesome in a gorgeous jacket from the Red Cross”.

Eliza Reid is originally from Canada and works as a journalist. She met her husband, President Gudni Johannesson, when she was studying at Oxford University. Ms Reid told the Hit Iceland website in 2017 that she “won” a blind date with the future president at a rowing club event. She had no idea she would one day become First Lady of Iceland. Both she and her husband are very popular in Iceland for being just like normal people. They both have a very down-to-earth attitude and can often be seen in the city shopping with their four children and going to restaurants. The Red Cross also likes Ms Reid. It hopes more people will follow her fashion sense and buy clothes from its charity shops.


icelandic fashion
Another example of Icelandic fashion

Comprehension Questions:

  1. What did Eliza Reid turn at an awards ceremony?
  2. What colour jacket did Ms Reid wear?
  3. What movement did Ms Reid want to show support for?
  4. Who asked Ms Reid where she bought her jacket?
  5. In which city did Ms Reid buy the jacket?
  6. Where is Ms Reid from originally?
  7. Where did Ms Reid meet her husband for the first time?
  8. What kind of club event did Ms Reid meet her husband at?
  9. What kind of attitude to Ms Reid and her husband have?
  10. What does the Red Cross hope people will follow?

Vocabulary Activity:

Try to recall how the following words were used in the text:

  • originally
  • met
  • won
  • popular
  • seen
  • sense
  • heads
  • version
  • support
  • unlike
  • city
  • followers


Discussion Questions:

  1. What images are in your mind when you hear the word ‘first’?
  2. How important is a First Lady?
  3. Why don’t all countries have a First Lady?
  4. What do you know about Iceland?
  5. What do you think about charity shops?
  6. What would you wear to an awards show?
  7. Should more famous people wear clothes from charity shops?
  8. Why do people want to look glamorous?
  9. Would you buy clothes from a charity shop?
  10. What do you think of when you hear the word ‘lady’?
  11. What do you think about what you read?
  12. What does a First Lady do all day?
  13. What do you think of Iceland’s First Lady?
  14. What would it be like to be married to the President?
  15. What do you think of the idea of blind dates?
  16. How down-to-earth are you?
  17. What is your favourite charity?
  18. What questions would you like to ask Iceland’s First Lady?

Reading: Desert Opera

Map of the region
Map of the region

Saudi Arabia will soon have its very first national orchestra and opera. France will help Saudi to set up the musical groups. The two countries signed a series of agreements on Monday to boost cultural ties, and cooperation through the arts. France’s Culture Minister said: “Today, an agreement was signed with the Paris Opera to help Saudi Arabia set up a national orchestra and an opera.” The world-famous Paris Opera will help Saudi Arabia produce its own classical music performances and operas. Plans are already under way for the country’s first opera house to be built in the kingdom’s second largest city, Jeddah. Saudi Arabia will invest $64 billion in developing its entertainment industry over the next decade

The agreement is part of a plan created by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, called Vision 2030. He wants to modernise many areas of Saudi life. There were other projects included in the cultural agreements between France and Saudi Arabia. French archaeologists will work on developing Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ula region in the northwest of the country. The area is rich in ancient archaeological sites. French experts will help to preserve the area. Another key part of the agreement is the translation of literature. France’s Culture Minister stressed, “the importance of translating books in both directions, from Arabic into French and French into Arabic”.


Comprehension Questions

  1. What will France help set up, besides the opera?
  2. What kind of ties do the two countries want to boost?
  3. What is the name of the opera company that will help Saudi Arabia?
  4. Where will Saudi’s first opera house be built?
  5. How much will Saudi spend on its entertainment industry?
  6. What is the name of the plan created by the Saudi Crown Prince?
  7. Where in Saudi Arabia is the Al-Ula region?
  8. What is the Al-Ula region rich in?
  9. What is another key part of the agreement between Saudi and France?
  10. In what direction will the translation of books happen?


Vocabulary Activity:

Try to recall how these words were used in the text:

  • plan
  • life
  • region
  • rich
  • key
  • both
  • soon
  • boost
  • arts
  • own
  • already
  • decade


Discussion Questions

  1. What images are in your mind when you hear the word ‘opera’?
  2. What do you think of opera?
  3. Why do so many people prefer pop music to classical music?
  4. Why didn’t Saudi Arabia have an opera house before?
  5. What arts are important in your country?
  6. What do you know about the culture of Saudi Arabia?
  7. Why is Saudi investing so much money in entertainment?
  8. Which is better, classical music or opera?
  9. What kind of performance art do you like best?
  10. What do you think of when you hear the word ‘orchestra’?
  11. What do you think about what you read?
  12. How important is classical music?
  13. Is classical music better than rock music?
  14. How important are the arts?
  15. What would you do to modernize your country?
  16. What could you do on a holiday in Saudi Arabia?
  17. What is the benefit of translating French and Arabic books?
  18. What questions would you like to ask the culture ministers?

Original content:

Reading: Marvel’s “Black Panther”

blackpantherThe new superhero movie Black Panther is breaking box office records. It is the highest moneymaking debut ever for a February film. Disney, the movie’s maker, estimated that the film has earned over $361 million in its first three days. The opening was the fifth highest-earning film ever. The movie has been helped by great reviews from critics. The movie review site Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 97 per cent rating. It is very rare for any movie to get such a high score. The Los Angeles Times newspaper compared Black Panther to a Star Wars movie. It said “Black Panther fever” took over Los Angeles. It added: “The film opened to the kind of fervor typically reserved for the latest offering in the Star Wars franchise.”

Black Panther is the first Marvel superhero movie with an African-American in the title role. It also has a largely black cast and is directed by a black man. Many people of African descent have been showing their pride in the movie by attending movie theatres dressed in traditional African clothes. CNN writer Van Jones said the film was very important. He said: “This film is a godsend that will lift the self-esteem of black children in the US and around the world for a long time.” A seventh-grade student who watched the film said: “For people of color, it shows us that we can get through any obstacles that are thrown at us if we work together. We can also help the world by sharing our resources.”


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Reading: Gulliver’s Travels (B2)

Gulliver’s Travels recounts the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a practical-minded Englishman trained as a surgeon who takes to the seas when his business fails. In a deadpan first-person narrative that rarely shows any signs of self-reflection or deep emotional response, Gulliver narrates the adventures that befall him on these travels.


pic_1Gulliver’s adventure in Lilliput begins when he wakes after his shipwreck to find himself bound by innumerable tiny threads and addressed by tiny captors who are in awe of him but fiercely protective of their kingdom. They are not afraid to use violence against Gulliver, though their arrows are little more than pinpricks. But overall, they are hospitable, risking famine in their land by feeding Gulliver, who consumes more food than a thousand Lilliputians combined could. Gulliver is taken into the capital city by a vast wagon the Lilliputians have specially built. He is presented to the emperor, who is entertained by Gulliver, just as Gulliver is flattered by the attention of royalty. Eventually Gulliver becomes a national resource, used by the army in its war against the people of Blefuscu, whom the Lilliputians hate for doctrinal differences concerning the proper way to crack eggs. But things change when Gulliver is convicted of treason for putting out a fire in the royal palace with his urine and is condemned to be shot in the eyes and starved to death. Gulliver escapes to Blefuscu, where he is able to repair a boat he finds and set sail for England.


gulliver-brobdingnagAfter staying in England with his wife and family for two months, Gulliver undertakes his next sea voyage, which takes him to a land of giants called Brobdingnag. Here, a field worker discovers him. The farmer initially treats him as little more than an animal, keeping him for amusement. The farmer eventually sells Gulliver to the queen, who makes him a courtly diversion and is entertained by his musical talents. Social life is easy for Gulliver after his discovery by the court, but not particularly enjoyable. Gulliver is often repulsed by the physicality of the Brobdingnagians, whose ordinary flaws are many times magnified by their huge size. Thus, when a couple of courtly ladies let him play on their naked bodies, he is not attracted to them but rather disgusted by their enormous skin pores and the sound of their torrential urination. He is generally startled by the ignorance of the people here—even the king knows nothing about politics. More unsettling findings in Brobdingnag come in the form of various animals of the realm that endanger his life. Even Brobdingnagian insects leave slimy trails on his food that make eating difficult. On a trip to the frontier, accompanying the royal couple, Gulliver leaves Brobdingnag when his cage is plucked up by an eagle and dropped into the sea.


Next, Gulliver sets sail again and, after an attack by pirates, ends up in Laputa, where a floating island inhabited by theoreticians and academics oppresses the land below, called Balnibarbi…


The scientific research undertaken in Laputa and in Balnibarbi seems totally inane and impractical, and its residents too appear wholly out of touch with reality. Taking a short side trip to Glubbdubdrib, Gulliver is able to witness the conjuring up of figures from history, such as Julius Caesar and other military leaders, whom he finds much less impressive than in books. After visiting the Luggnaggians and the Struldbrugs, the latter of which are senile immortals who prove that age does not bring wisdom, he is able to sail to Japan and from there back to England.


pic_4Finally, on his fourth journey, Gulliver sets out as captain of a ship, but after the mutiny of his crew and a long confinement in his cabin, he arrives in an unknown land. This land is populated by Houyhnhnms, rational-thinking horses who rule, and by Yahoos, brutish humanlike creatures who serve the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver sets about learning their language, and when he can speak he narrates his voyages to them and explains the constitution of England. He is treated with great courtesy and kindness by the horses and is enlightened by his many conversations with them and by his exposure to their noble culture. He wants to stay with the Houyhnhnms, but his bared body reveals to the horses that he is very much like a Yahoo, and he is banished. Gulliver is grief-stricken but agrees to leave. He fashions a canoe and makes his way to a nearby island, where he is picked up by a Portuguese ship captain who treats him well, though Gulliver cannot help now seeing the captain—and all humans—as shamefully Yahoolike. Gulliver then concludes his narrative with a claim that the lands he has visited belong by rights to England, as her colonies, even though he questions the whole idea of colonialism.