These ten IELTS Writing teaching tips should help both new and experienced IELTS teachers get the best out of their students.
Writing lessons can be challenging as they rely on a great deal of theory: fascinating for language geeks but not for everyone!
Cultural differences may also come into play which affect how students were taught to organise their ideas in writing. Remember that by teaching IELTS Writing, you are helping your students not only pass a test but also organise their thoughts in writing in ways that are most likely to cross cultural boundaries.
So, what exactly does IELTS Writing involve? As you’re probably already aware, it’s a one-hour paper test comprising two tasks:
- Task 1: Write a 150-word report on a diagram or set of data (Academic module)
- Task 1: Write a 150-word letter (General Training module)
- Task 2: Write a 250-word discursive essay (both modules)
Assessment is based on four criteria:
- Task Achievement or Response: How well the candidate fulfills the requirements of the task
- Coherence and Cohesion: How well the candidate organises and connects their ideas
- Lexical Resource: The candidate’s use of appropriate vocabulary
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy: The candidate’s use of appropriate grammatical forms
To teach IELTS Writing effectively, connect your feedback to the four assessment criteria, guiding students towards improving their English in ways most likely to be recognised by the IELTS examiner. The ten IELTS Writing teaching tips below are by no means a comprehensive list, but should function as a useful starter or refresher course on how to teach IELTS Writing.
Looking for a basic guide to IELTS Writing? Read this first: IELTS Writing: Introduction
Completely new to teaching IELTS? Read this first: How to Teach IELTS: The Basics
1. Cover all the question types
Students have a tendency to panic when they encounter the unfamiliar, and IELTS Writing Task 1 in particular throws up some bizarre tasks. While Task 1 in the General Training module sticks to the letter-writing genre, in the Academic module it can be anything from a set of pie charts to a flow diagram, a country comparison chart to an architectural drawing. For Task 2, all students should be familiar with the difference between an opinion essay and an argument essay, as well as appropriate structures for describing problems and their solutions. It’s your job as a teacher to prep your students for all eventualities.
2. Teach paragraphing
The first thing an IELTS examiner will pay attention to is whether an answer is conventionally paragraphed. That means an introduction and several body paragraphs followed by a conclusion. The body paragraphs should be approximately equal in length, with the introduction and conclusion slightly shorter. Different languages use different conventions for paragraphing, so make sure that English paragraphing norms are well and truly drilled into your students.
3. Introduce academic writing conventions
Many IELTS candidates are recent high school graduates with limited knowledge of academic writing style. Not only are they still learning English, they must now start to incorporate features like hedging strategies, passive voice, and logical links into their writing. It’s all too easy to start drowning in theory, so show some examples and get students to notice for themselves how academic writing differs from writing a letter to a friend.
4. Teach logical links
This cannot be stressed enough. One of the most basic influences on a candidate’s score is how well they connect ideas. It sounds simple enough, but some cultures are much more ‘high context’ than English, which means that readers are expected to infer connections between ideas. In English, it’s the writer’s job to make these connections clear, so make sure your students are liberally spraying their essays with ‘furthermores’ and ‘on the other hands’.
5. Practice joining sentences
One interesting thing about the IELTS Writing assessment criteria is that they reward risk or complexity. That is, your students can get a higher score if they write in longer, more complex sentences, even if that results in more mistakes overall. So get your students linking simple sentences to form complex ones using conjunctions, relative pronouns, and subordinate clauses.
6. Make sure your students write enough words
In IELTS Writing, students are penalised if they fail to write 150 words for Task 1 and 250 words for Task 2. Students are most likely to fall short in Task 2 after spending too much time on Task 1. Make sure they understand that Task 2 is twice as important and that they need to start writing Task 2 after 20 minutes even if they have yet to write a conclusion for Task 1. For five ways to help your students meet the word requirement, see our article IELTS Writing Tips: How to Write 150 or 250 Words.
7. Use a modified answer sheet for writing practice
Making use of the official IELTS Writing answer sheet is a good way to familiarise students with the test, but there some flaws in the document from a teaching perspective. One problem is the narrow line spacing which leaves little room for corrections. Another is the acronym-heavy marking section which can leave students confused about where they have performed well and poorly. Of course, this document was never intended to be used for feedback purposes. As a teacher-friendly alternative, use this modified practice version instead.
8. Encourage self-correction
There’s nothing more demotivating as a teacher than seeing students fail to learn from their mistakes. One reason for this is shallow processing. Make sure students are involved in fixing their errors by highlighting mistakes for their own self-correction. Expert writing teachers usually develop a system of writing correction symbols. Here’s a good example to get you started.
9. Create an action list for each student
As well as guiding students towards correcting their own mistakes, you also need to provide a framework for their further study. Create an action list of no more than five error types that are most frequent and easiest to spot and correct. Your students can’t possibly avoid all mistakes, so an action list gives them something to look for while proofreading as well adding more focus to their study of grammar.
10. Teach to the test
It may surprise you to know that many IELTS textbooks make no direct reference to the IELTS Writing assessment criteria, even though it is publically available. Textbooks are therefore of limited use, especially when you have a small group of students who would benefit more from your feedback on their writing with direct reference to the scoring criteria. Avoid overdependence on lengthy courses of study and make your students’ own IELTS Writing answers the basis for your next lesson.
No time to write model answers for your students? See our full list of IELTS Writing Task 1 and Task 2 answers with band scores and analysis.