IELTS is one of the fastest-growing language tests in the world, yet how to teach IELTS remains a bit of a mystery. Once reason for this is the absence of an IELTS teaching licence or even recognised IELTS teaching courses. Like you, many teachers are thrust into their first IELTS teaching situation without experience. Yet there are useful steps that can bring you quickly up to professional speed. Follow these five simple steps to become an instant IELTS teacher.
1. Which IELTS test do your students intend to take?
There are two versions of the IELTS test: Academic and General Training. Most students take Academic IELTS to enter an English-speaking university. They will need to display competence in academic uses of English, such as written and spoken argument. General Training IELTS is for immigration purposes only, and the reading and writing tasks are less challenging.
2. Make yourself familiar with the IELTS test structure
Both versions of the IELTS test consist of four modules: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. IELTS is a paper-based test, except for the Speaking module which is a face-to-face interview. The test takes around three hours in total, though the Speaking module is usually held separately. The Introduction to IELTS category on this website provides more detailed breakdowns of the four modules and question types. Read these articles carefully first, as you will need to draw on this information in the classroom.
3. Have the students taken IELTS before?
If so, ask for their scores in advance. Or get the students to fill out a profile form including their test history at the beginning of the first class. If they have yet to take IELTS, get them to sit a diagnostic practice test. Any IELTS test practice book will provide these.
Most students will be aiming for a Band 6 or 7 score. The individual module scores are especially important as they will suggest what the focus of your lessons should be. One extreme generalisation that can be made is that IELTS students may fall into one of two broad categories. Those with higher scores in Listening and Speaking may have spent some time in an English-speaking environment and now need familiarisation with written academic discourse. Conversely, those with higher scores in Reading and Writing may have spent years studying from books and would benefit most from communicative-style teaching methods.
4. Useful IELTS teaching materials can be found almost anywhere
You don’t need IELTS test materials to start preparing students. You can begin by selecting materials or designing activities that correspond roughly to the tasks students will be set in the test. Many of these are fairly common tasks found in EFL classrooms:
- Listen for information
- Read and comprehend lengthy magazine-type articles (Academic only)
- Read and comprehend simple written texts (General Training only)
- Write a short description of a diagram (Academic only)
- Write a short informal letter (General Training only)
- Write a short essay
- Answer personal questions in an interview
- Speak about a personal topic for 1-2 minutes
- State opinions on a variety of discussion topics
5. Choose a textbook – and learn how to teach IELTS as you go along
If you’ll be teaching the students on a regular basis, you’ll probably want to recommend a textbook. The advantages of textbooks are obvious: they provide authentic test practice, remove much of the burden of lesson-planning, and give students something to do outside class. Also, from a beginner teacher perspective, you can pick up vital tips on how to teach IELTS by leading your students through a well-designed textbook. See our Top 5 IELTS Textbooks for Classroom Use for some recommendations.
These five steps are only intended to get you started, especially if thrust at short notice into an IELTS teaching situation. To learn how to teach IELTS well, start from the official IELTS website and try to build a store of good methods and test tips from textbooks and other sources. The Teacher Tips category on this website also gives advice on classroom methodology suited to each of the four modules.
IELTS is a fast-growing test in many parts of the world, so you should seriously consider adding it to your repertoire if teaching English is going to be your main occupation for the foreseeable future. For advice on the long-term prospects of becoming an IELTS teacher, see Teaching IELTS for a Living: The Complete Guide.