Are you new to teaching IELTS? Or perhaps you’ve been teaching a while and are frustrated that your students never seem to improve beyond their barely-adequate, high-school-level English conversation?
The following advice should add a few extra techniques to your arsenal and will hopefully make you reconsider some of the teaching practices suggested by standard coursebooks. Feel free to add your own hints and tips in the comments section below.
Note: these tips assume that students are being taught in small groups, but some apply equally to one-on-one teaching situations.
1. Stick to pair practice
Since the Speaking module of IELTS takes the form of a one-on-one interview, there is rarely any need to deviate from this pattern in practice. Avoid whole-class interactions as much as possible and maximise pair practice instead. It is a common myth in language teaching that learner pairs simply replicate each others’ mistakes, when research shows that they actually develop more advanced negotiation and explanation strategies than they would with a native speaker.
2. Close the textbook
The problem with using prepared materials for speaking practice is that students are rarely able to resist reading the question even as their partner is asking it. If you are not activating their listening skills in Parts 1 and 3, you are not adequately preparing students for IELTS Speaking. Force them out of the reading habit by making the interviewee close the textbook during Parts 1 and 3.
3. Model for different band scores
Often the reason students fail to improve is simply that the models they are offered by trainers are so far beyond their capabilities that they have no idea how to apply them when speaking. Metalinguistic advice based on the scoring criteria, meanwhile, is often difficult for lower-level students to comprehend. A more effective classroom technique may be to model different answers for Bands 4, 5, 6 and 7, making only minimal changes to each answer so students have a clear sense of which changes produced a higher score.
The questions below are among those most frequently asked about the Speaking module of IELTS. If you are looking for basic information about the structure of the Speaking module, you should probably read IELTS Speaking: Introduction first.
How many questions will I be asked?
In Parts 1 and 3, the examiner will have a set of questions but you will not be asked all of them. The number of questions will depend on the length of your answers. The longer your answers, the fewer questions you will be asked. In Part 2, the question is given to you on a card. You will also be asked one or two simple questions at the end of Part 2.
How long should I speak for in Part 1?
There is no limit, but the question usually asks for only one piece of information. It is therefore best to give this information and add an extra sentence or two.
In Part 2, do I need to keep talking for two minutes?
No. It may be better to finish within two minutes for several reasons. First, you do not really want to be interrupted by the examiner. Second, your response will be more coherent if you end with a firm concluding sentence such as So, that’s why (restate question topic). Third, you are more likely to make mistakes if you keep talking beyond what you planned to say. A candidate who answers the question fully in 90 seconds can easily receive a higher score than one who speaks for the full two minutes and has to be stopped.
The questions below are among those most frequently asked about the Writing module of IELTS. If you are looking for basic information about the structure of the Writing module, you should probably read IELTS Writing: Introduction first.
What’s the difference between the General Training Writing module and the Academic Writing module?
In the General Training version of IELTS, Task 1 requires you write a letter. In the Academic version of IELTS, Task 1 requires you to write a report on a diagram. In both versions of the test, Task 2 is the same: a discursive essay.
What should I write in the introduction to Task 1 of the Academic Writing module?
The introduction should describe the diagram or data overall. This usually means paraphrasing the question, i.e. restating the question in other words. Try to include all important information such as time periods, countries and other important divisions in the data. If there is a clear main feature, you can point this out in the introduction too. Otherwise, save your descriptions of these features for the body paragraphs.
Why is it so important to paraphrase the question?
If you repeat the question word-for-word in your introduction, these words will not be counted as your own and your word count will be lower as a result. You should always change at least a few words in the questions or rewrite it completely.
The questions below are among those most frequently asked about the Reading module of IELTS. If you are looking for basic information about the structure of the Reading module, you should probably read IELTS Reading: Introduction first.
What is the difference between the General Training Reading module and the Academic Reading module?
The reading passages and questions are easier in the General Training module of IELTS. However, you need to get a higher number of correct answers to achieve the same band score as someone taking the Academic module.
What are the reading passages about?
In the General Training IELTS module, they will usually be informational: the kind of text you would expect to find in a leaflet, newspaper or magazine. In the Academic IELTS module, the passages will cover three diverse academic topics. You do not need any knowledge of these topics before taking the test.
Which should I read first: the passage or the questions?
Generally speaking, it is better to read the passage first to give yourself an idea of the overall topic and organisation of the text. It then becomes much easier to interpret the questions and know where to look for the answers. However, it may be a good idea to look briefly at the question types before you read. If there is a headings matching task, for example, you may be able to do this as you skim-read.
The questions below are among those most frequently asked about the Listening module of IELTS. If you are looking for basic information about the structure of the Listening module, you should probably read IELTS Listening: Introduction first.
What kinds of recordings will be played?
There are four listening passages, or sections, and these always follow the same order: Section 1 is a general conversation; Section 2 is a general monologue; Section 3 is an academic conversation; Section 4 is an academic monologue. You might hear, for example, a telephone interview, followed by a radio programme, followed by a seminar discussion and finally an academic lecture.
How much time is there to read the questions?
Before each section begins, you will have a short time of up to 30 seconds to preview questions. There will usually be one more short break in the recording to preview further questions. That is why you should listen carefully to the instruction which tells you exactly which questions will be covered in the next part of the recording. For example: You now have some time to look at questions one to five.
How many times will each listening passage be played?
Once only. If you miss the answer to a question, you should quickly have a guess and then focus your attention entirely on the next question.
Today we will look at six example questions from Part 3 of the Speaking module of IELTS. The questions cover the three topics introduced in our Part 2 practice, and include a variety of question types: Indicate a preference; Yes/No; Agree/Disagree; Open-ended. Try answering these questions yourself first and then compare the sample answers below with your own. Remember to expand your answers as much as possible.
Questions 1 & 2
Is it better to make important life decisions on your own or is it better to consult other people?
Do you think good decision-making can be taught?
Questions 3 & 4
Is watching TV a good way of forgetting about work or study?
Should coworkers also spend their leisure time together?
Questions 5 & 6
Do you agree that English should be the main language of international exchange?
What are the difficulties in creating a universal language?
See below for sample answers and analysis
Today we will look at three example questions from Part 2 of the Speaking module of IELTS. Each question deals with a different timeframe: one past, one regular and one hypothetical future event. Try answering these questions yourself first and then compare the sample answers below with your own. For each question, you have one minute to prepare your answer, and you should then speak for one to two minutes.
Describe a major decision you have taken in your life.
You should say:
- What the decision was
- What other choices were available to you
- Why you made the decision you did
And explain if you think the decision was a good one.
Describe something you do to forget about work or study.
You should say:
- What the activity is
- How often you do it
- How it helps you forget
And say whether you would recommend other people try the same thing.
Describe a language you would like to learn.
You should say:
- What the language is
- Where it is spoken
- Why you are interested in this language
And say if you think you will ever actually have the chance to learn it.
See below for sample answers and analysis
Try these IELTS Speaking practice questions with a partner first and then check below to compare the sample answers with your own. Remember, there is no correct way to answer questions in IELTS Speaking Part 1. You should, however, always do your best to avoid repeating back the question. You should also try to expand a little by giving a reason or example, or by making a comparison.
Topic: Reading and writing
1. Do you read a daily newspaper?
2. What kind of books do you like to read?
3. How often do you use a library?
4. How many hours a week do you spend reading?
5. Is there anything you find hard to read?
6. What kind of books did you read as a child?
7. What’s the last thing you read and enjoyed?
8. Have you ever kept a diary?
9. What’s the most popular newspaper in your country?
10. Would you ever write your own autobiography?
See below for sample answers and analysis
The speaking module of IELTS consists of three parts.
Part 1: Interview
Time: 4-5 mins.
The examiner will ask you a series of questions about everyday topics such as work, study, hobbies, home, family or lifestyle.
To answer the questions, you only need to provide the information asked for and perhaps add a supporting detail or two. You do NOT need to give lengthy answers and you do NOT need to use difficult academic words.
Q: Where do you like to go in your free time?
A: Well, I often go to the library because I like to read English books but I can’t afford to buy many of my own.
Part 2: Individual long-turn
Time: 3-4 minutes.
In this part of the IELTS speaking module, you will be shown some written instructions for an individual speaking task. You will have one minute to think about your answer, making notes if you prefer to do so. You will then be asked to speak for one to two minutes.
The question usually concerns a past or regular event in your life, or a goal for the future. You should pay careful attention to the verb tenses used in the question and use matching tenses in your answer.
Describe a person who has had an important influence on your life.
You should say:
Who the person is
How you first met this person
What you think of this person
And explain in what way they have influenced your life.
The examiner will not speak during this time so you must concentrate on speaking by yourself. The examiner will stop you if you continue speaking for more than two minutes.
At the end of IELTS Speaking Part 2, the examiner will ask you one or two brief questions before continuing on to Part 3.
Part 3: Discussion
Time: 5-6 mins
In this part, the examiner will ask for your opinion on a range of issues related to the topic in part 2. This time, however, there is no preparation time so you must begin speaking immediately. You should aim to say as much as possible. Give more than one reason, or compare and contrast different views. The longer your answers, the fewer questions you will need to answer.
Q: Do you think celebrities have too much influence on young people?
A: Definitely, yes. I think it’s because the media has become such a major part of our lives. When my parents where growing up, for example, there were only three TV channels and no internet, but nowadays young people are almost constantly exposed to news and entertainment. It’s not surprising that they tend to pay more attention to who’s on TV rather than their own families.
IELTS candidates often feel that Part 3 places them under enormous pressure. However, it is not a test of your knowledge or intellect – you only need to be able to present an opinion in a style of language appropriate to academic discussion. It doesn’t matter if your opinion is unoriginal or flawed, as long as you attempt to support it!
The Academic Writing module of IELTS consists of two tasks.
Task 1: Describe a diagram
Time: 20 mins. Words: 150
In this task, you are shown a diagram or set of data and you have to write a short report identifying the main features and making comparisons where relevant.
The chart below shows Internet use at Redwood Secondary School, by sex, from 1995 to 2002.
Write a report for a university professor on the main features of the chart and make comparisons where relevant.
Other examples of IELTS Writing Task 1: A table showing accident statistics; A line graph comparing sales at four companies; Two maps showing a town’s development over 30 years; Several diagrams showing different models of bicycle.
Task 2: Discursive essay
Time: 40 mins. Words: 250
In this task, you have to write about your opinion on a particular issue, or about both sides of an argument. The question will make it clear which approach you should take.
It is widely believed that people’s ability to learn new things decreases with age and that companies should actively recruit younger employees who have greater potential to learn.
To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?
Other topics covered in IELTS Writing Task 2 may include: education, health, technology, work, or the media. Sensitive topics such as politics or religion are avoided.
You do NOT need any special knowledge of these issues, only the ability to present ideas in a logical format with clear links and an appropriate style of language for academic discourse.
Typically, you will write a four- or five-paragraph essay beginning with an introduction and ending with a conclusion.
In IELTS Writing, Task 2 is more important than Task 1, so you should spend more time on Task 2.