IELTS Listening Teacher Tips

How to Teach IELTS Listening

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Spelling, distractors, paraphrase, and different English accents are all common problems faced by candidates in the IELTS Listening module. These ten IELTS Listening teaching tips should help both new and experienced IELTS teachers get the best out of their students.

IELTS Listening is a paper-based test of 40 questions that takes around 40 minutes to complete. Candidates hear four passages in total and answer ten questions about each. The passages, or sections, follow a set order:

  • Section 1: A conversation on an everyday topic
  • Section 2: A monologue on an everyday topic
  • Section 3: A conversation on an academic topic
  • Section 4: A monologue on an academic topic

The Listening test is the same in both the General Training and Academic modules of IELTS. Speakers may use a range of accents and varieties of English.

While listening, candidates must read and answer a variety of question types. There are short interludes before and during each passage to allow candidates to read the questions in advance. Analysis of the questions therefore forms a major part of any IELTS Listening strategy. 

After all four passages have been played, candidates have a further 10 minutes to transfer their answers to an answer sheet. At this point, poor spelling can seriously affect a candidate’s score.

As you can see, there are some important skills that need to be worked on in order to raise students’ listening scores. Read on for some practical classroom tips on how to teach IELTS Listening.

Looking for a basic guide to IELTS Listening? Read this first: IELTS Listening: Introduction

Completely new to teaching IELTS? Read this first: How to Teach IELTS: The Basics

1. Set realistic goals

In order to achieve a good score of IELTS 7.0, your students need to answer 30 out of 40 questions correctly. You should really drum this point into them. Why? It means they can quickly recover from any answers they miss and focus all their attention on the next question. Lead them out of the perfectionist mindset and get them thinking more pragmatically about what constitutes a good performance in the test.

2. Analyse the questions together

This is a controversial point, but I always like to give my students much more time to read the questions than they will receive in the real IELTS Listening test. First, I allow them to read through all ten questions at their leisure. I don’t want them distracted while we’re discussing a particular question. The we analyse each question for information type, troubleshooting, and grammatical clues. Later on students can be pushed to perform similar analysis under much more time pressure.

3. Predict possible answers

As well as analyse the questions, students should be encouraged to predict answers. Predicting is not the same as guessing, since you’re not asking them to write down their prediction. What prediction does is reveal if students have properly analysed the question for content and grammatical form. Thus, it’s a great complement to the previous tip.

4. Practice targetted listening

I like to use this analogy with my students: imagine you arrived at the airport one hour ago for a flight that departs soon. Now recall what all the announcements in the past hour have said. Of course you can’t, because we only listen for information relevant to our own flight. That’s the essence of targetted listening: having a goal in terms of what information we want to receive. It follows naturally from proper analysis of the ten questions.

5. Accent exposure

Unlike in TOEFL, candidates in the IELTS test can expect to hear a variety of accents, from regional British accents to North American and Southern Hemisphere accents such as Australian and South African English. It’s a curious footnote to the history of IELTS, which began as ELTS but gained its initial ‘I’ when more English-speaking countries were invited to recognise the test for immigration purposes. If you’re not a natural show-off who enjoys flipping between accents in class, there’s a comparison of different English accents here.

6. Drill spellings

IELTS candidates are expected to be able to spell answers correctly. However, English allows for multiple spellings of names, so you can expect these words to be spelled out, e.g. I.E.L.T.S. This is most likely to happen in IELTS Listening Section 1 where filling out personal details is a common question type. Drill spellings multiple times, paying special attention to the errors that are most common for your language group. The letter ‘W’ is notoriously problematic as it’s easily confused with the ‘double-X’ modifier in spelling.

7. Drill numbers

Just like for numbers above, IELTS candidates can expect to write several numbers, including at least one long number such as a product code or phone number. The good news is that numbers require little in the way of comprehension. Concentration is key, along with anticipating the number in the first place.

8. Listen for corrections

Among the many distractors that test-writers incorporate, one of the most common is to have the speaker correct a previous statement, especially if it’s a spelling or number. Therefore, students should write down the final version that they hear, not the first. Add a bit of variation to your spelling and number drills by introducing corrections.

9. Self-correct for spelling and grammar  

Students should be given some time after the recording to check their answers for spelling and grammar. Allow generous time for this stage and walk around the classroom, calling out question numbers where you can see that students have made mistakes. Give them the satisfaction of correcting their own mistakes before you do it for them.

10. Model good listening

Don’t just tell your students the correct answers. Walk them through the recording one more time, pausing at the critical moments to explain how each answer is given. The difference between a mediocre IELTS teacher and an outstanding one is that the best teachers are active and alert during listening passages for signs that reveal where their students are struggling.

Find more IELTS Listening techniques at IELTS Listening Tips: How to Improve Your Score.

Stuck for listening practice ideas? Try these IELTS Listening tests based on TED talks.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

IELTS Writing Teacher Tips

How to Teach IELTS Writing

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

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.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Study Tips Teacher Tips

Why Study IELTS with a Teacher?

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, which provides skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Think you can study IELTS on your own? Don’t go it alone until you’ve read these five reasons why you should study IELTS with a teacher.

1. A teacher can help you recognise your strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes we aren’t good at identifying the areas in which we need to improve. IELTS students will often say they hate the speaking or writing sections of the test. However, they may overestimate the difficulty of these sections. More benefit might be gained by acquiring simple strategies for listening and reading. That’s the advantage of studying IELTS with a teacher: he or she can give you an objective analysis of where you need to concentrate your efforts most.

2. An experienced IELTS teacher can score your writing and speaking answers.

While textbooks may provide guidance in the form of sample answers, you can only guess what IELTS score your own answers would receive. Knowledge of how IELTS answers are really scored belongs to a select group of people: IELTS examiners and experienced IELTS teachers. Not only can teachers give you an accurate band score in all sections of the test, they can also provide more detailed scores than the test certificate, including individual scores for the various criteria in IELTS Writing and Speaking, as well as suggestions for improvement.

3. A good teacher will train you in a range of language skills while preparing you for IELTS.

IELTS is not the real reason you are studying English. English is a skill you will continue to use throughout your entire life. A good teacher will do much more than prepare you for a test: pointing out your most frequent grammatical errors, correcting your pronunciation and spelling, and letting you know if what you said is understandable or not. On top of that, your teacher provides an all-round good model of how to use English in everyday communication. Ask yourself if you could get all this from books, the internet or friends, and the answer will almost certainly be No.

4. An organised programme of study helps to prevent procrastination.

What is ‘procrastination’? We’re all guilty of it, even if we don’t know the word. Procrastination means postponing those things we know we must do. It affects us at school, at work, and of course when preparing for IELTS. Following a syllabus with a teacher (and classmates) provides what psychologists call ‘extrinsic motivation’: a source of motivation that comes from other people. If your own motivation is sometimes lacking, find an IELTS teacher willing to be your coach as well as your instructor.

5. In IELTS, practice makes perfect.

In all areas of life, our confidence in our own ability increases with practice. This in turn leads to better performance in pressure situations such as exams. While textbooks will allow you to practice the listening, reading and writing modules of IELTS, the only way to gain authentic practice of the IELTS speaking module is with a teacher. An experienced IELTS teacher knows how to play the examiner’s role, including the kind of help that can be given and when to prompt you to speak more. Try gaining practice with a variety of teachers – different ages, accents, and personalities – to reduce the likelihood of nerves when you meet your first IELTS examiner.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, which provides skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

IELTS Reading Teacher Tips

How to Teach IELTS Reading

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

The IELTS Academic Reading module consists of the three passages and 40 questions. The module lasts one hour and student must manage their own time.

Teaching IELTS Reading isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. However, just like speaking practice, reading lessons can be communicative and rewarding. Below are my top ten ways to teach IELTS Reading while also giving students the opportunity to work in groups.

These tips assume that you’re teaching the IELTS Reading Academic module to small groups. However, many can be adapted to IELTS General Training lessons and to one-on-one teaching situations.

Looking for a basic guide to IELTS Reading? Read this first: IELTS Reading: Introduction

Completely new to teaching IELTS? Read this first: How to Teach IELTS: The Basics

1. Teach anything important before students see the text

Once you allow students to look at a reading text and/or questions you may find it a struggle to maintain their undivided attention. Their natural inclination is always to dive into the text on the assumption that this will make it easier for them to answer the questions later. (Hint: it doesn’t.) If there’s anything important you need to do in the early stages of a lesson – activate knowledge of the topic, brainstorm relevant vocabulary, teach or review reading strategies – make sure this is done before the text appears.

2. Use analogies to teach skimming and scanning

Students may have trouble understanding the difference between these two reading techniques. One solution is to avoid teaching them together. Another is to use analogies from real life. My favourite are skimming a stone and catching a flight. In the former, get students to close their eyes and imagine they are at the beach. Use the analogy of a stone skimming the water to illustrate that they must keep their eyes moving across the text when skim-reading. To demonstrate scanning, talk students through a scenario in which they arrive at an airport fifteen minutes before their flight is due to depart. Here, they have to block out all other sensory data and search quickly for information about their own flight, just like scanning a text for the answer to a question in IELTS. These visualising techniques also create powerful emotional connections to the techniques being taught. Try them!

3. Use flash-reading and predicting before skimming

Flash-reading can be used as a precursor to skimming and involves trying to get as much information as possible from a text in a very short time, e.g. 30 seconds. The main purpose of flash-reading is to identify the topic by looking at titles, subtitles and headings, and trying to locate the thesis statement. Once the text is covered again and the topic elicited from the class, this can also be a useful jumping-off point to get students to predict in small groups what the writer will say, keeping the reading task communicative. Then the students can be given 3-5 minutes to skim the text and confirm their predictions.

4. Ask checking questions after skimming

Good checking questions are those that can be answered simply and that activate the areas of knowledge of the text required to complete the exam task. Examples: How many causes are mentioned? In which paragraph does the writer mention solutions? Bad checking questions are those that ask too much, such as What do you think of the writer’s views? The only effect of these questions will be to force students to re-read the whole text.

5. Get students summarising in pairs

This is a good way to check if students have picked up on the main ideas in the text. Ask your students to close the book or cover the exam paper and spend 2-3 minutes verbally summarising the text with a partner. It’s important that this doesn’t go on too long as there will be little time to reflect on the article during the actual IELTS test.

6. Demonstrate paraphrasing from the question

When it’s time to move on to the questions, demonstrate several paraphrasing techniques using the first question in a set as an example, and then get students to practice paraphrasing the remaining questions with a partner. Do this before they begin looking for the answers. Again, separation of skills practice from test practice is what I’m advocating here. The goal of skills practice is often to get students to try something new, whereas in test situations they will tend to rely on existing habits and familiar strategies. New techniques can only be introduced and mastered through skills practice, which often means withholding the test practice part of the lesson from students until you think they are ready.

7. Demonstrate guessing unknown words

When an unfamiliar word is queried, avoid giving a definition right away. Act as if you don’t know the word either and demonstrate how to look for contextual clues. Often the word will be a technical term and there will be a clear definition in the text. Otherwise, demonstrate to students how logical connectives, parallel expressions and collocating words usually provide enough information to guess the meaning of an unknown word in IELTS Reading.

8. Set your students realistic goals

None of your students should be aiming to get 40 correct answers, so any frustration at failure to achieve this is potentially damaging to the student’s progress. Stress that 30 out of 40, equivalent to IELTS 7.0 in the Academic module, is a very good score, meaning that attention should be focussed on answering the 30 easiest questions, not the 10 most difficult. Once they accept this, your students should improve in time management as well.

9. Separate academic vocabulary from technical vocabulary

Naturally students will encounter many unfamiliar words in the Academic Reading module of IELTS. Help them cope with this influx of new vocabulary by directing them towards the right words to learn. Show them that vocabulary can be divided into three broad groups.

  1. General vocabulary consists of the words we use in everyday communication. Estimates for general vocabulary range from 2000-3000 words, most of which will already be known to your students.
  2. Academic vocabulary is estimated to consist of around 1000 word families. These include many adjectives used to describe and evaluate things, and many verbs used to describe relationships. Academic vocabulary may sound foreboding, but many of these words will again be known to students, just not used very often, if at all, in everyday speech.
  3. Technical vocabulary, by far the largest group of words, consists overwhelmingly of names for things. Where they appear in IELTS Reading, technical words will usually be defined.

Help your IELTS students to recognise the difference between academic and technical vocabulary and prioritise the former in their vocabulary acquisition. There are resources to help with this, such as the Academic Word List and University Word List.

10. Encourage task-based reading outside class

A common question students ask concerns what they should be reading outside class. However, it’s not what they read but HOW they read that matters most. Since reading is a largely passive activity, reading for test preparation should incorporate tasks that provide more targetted practice of reading skills. As long as students are practicing these skills, any newspaper, magazine or online article will do. Examples of task-based reading include:

  • Underline topic sentences.
  • Find five academic words and five technical words in the article.
  • Join any pronouns to the nouns they refer to.
  • Identify the writer’s argument and write a one-paragraph response.
  • Find names of people and paraphrase their ideas and opinions.
  • Practice giving a two-minute spoken summary of the article, as though you are recounting it for a friend.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Teacher Tips

How to Teach IELTS: The Basics

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, which provides skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

IELTS is one of the world’s leading tests of English, with more than 2.5 million tests taken in 2014. Yet there is no IELTS teaching licence, nor any recognised course in how to teach IELTS. Many teachers are simply thrust into their first IELTS teaching situation without much preparation, or it may come in the form of a request from a student. If that sounds like you, here are some useful steps that can bring you quickly up to professional speed.

1. Which IELTS test do your students intend to take?

There are two versions of the IELTS test: Academic and General Training. People take IELTS Academic to enter an English-speaking university or work overseas in a profession such as healthcare. They will need to build competence in appropriate academic uses of English, such as presenting a written or spoken argument. IELTS General Training is for immigration and citizenship purposes, and the reading and writing tasks are more focussed on everyday uses of English.

2. Make yourself familiar with the IELTS test structure

The IELTS test consists 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. No computers are involved. The test takes around three hours in total, and the Speaking part is often held on a separate day. These four articles provide a quick overview of what each section entails:

IELTS Listening: Introduction

IELTS Academic Reading: Introduction

IELTS Academic Writing: Introduction

IELTS Speaking: Introduction

3. Have the students taken IELTS before?

If so, ask for their scores in advance. If not, ask them to sit a diagnostic test. Some textbooks include a full practice test. There’s also one on the British Council website.

IELTS Academic SurveyIELTS scores range from 0 to 9 and most students will be aiming for a score of 5 to 7. Universities often set requirements for each of the four sections, and students will often want to focus on one or two sections in particular. This poll conducted by IELTS Academic shows the kind of help students want most.

IELTS students can have totally different needs. Those with higher scores in Listening and Speaking may have spent some time in an English-speaking environment and now need familiarisation with Academic English. Conversely, those with higher scores in Reading and Writing may have spent years studying from books and now require communicative teaching methods.

4. Choose an IELTS textbook

At this stage, you’re likely to be considering which textbook to use. See our Top 5 IELTS Textbooks for Classroom Use for some ideas. 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. At the same time, you can also learn how to teach IELTS by leading your students through a well-designed course of study. Later, when you have more IELTS teaching experience, you’ll come to rely less on textbooks and do more ‘teaching to the test’.

5. Improvise practice opportunities

You don’t need an IELTS textbook to start helping students to prepare. You can begin by selecting materials or designing activities that correspond approximately to the tasks students will face in the test. Many of these are quite common tasks in EFL classrooms:

  • Listen for information
  • Read and comprehend lengthy magazine-type articles (IELTS Academic only)
  • Read and comprehend simple written texts (IELTS General Training only)
  • Write a short description of a diagram (IELTS Academic only)
  • Write a short informal letter (IELTS 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

Take it further

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 effectively, try out the most popular textbooks on your students, but don’t come to rely on only one source. There isn’t a great deal of literature on teaching IELTS, but the Teach IELTS section of this website includes further teaching tips and resources.

IELTS is a fast-growing test around the world, spurred by growth in international student mobility. You should seriously consider adding IELTS to your repertoire if teaching English is going to be your 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.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, which provides skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

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Teacher Tips

Teach IELTS for a Living: The Complete Guide

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Dr Indiana Jones
Dr Indiana Jones: academic adventurer?

Do you have an intrepid sense of adventure but feel constrained by a somewhat bookish personality?

Do you dream of living and working in distant cities in the most exotic outposts of the globe – but with the crumbling temples replaced by air-conditioned classrooms, the hanging gardens replaced by free-standing whiteboards, and the ancient curses replaced by the past perfect tense?

Do you have a university degree and a perfect command of the English language?

If the answer is yes to all three questions above, then teaching IELTS may be just the job for you. Find out how in this complete guide to teaching IELTS for a living.

Why teach IELTS?

IELTS test-takers all have a remarkable goal – to migrate overseas for study or work – which makes them highly motivated learners. It may be said that IELTS teachers have an easier time than their counterparts teaching unruly kids or busy professionals, though individual temperament will likely dictate where a teacher finds the greatest fulfilment.

The IELTS test is marked entirely by hand, and every candidate must be interviewed by a examiner. So, unlike other language tests which make greater use of multiple-choice questions and automation, IELTS provides a context in which the teacher is central to the student’s preparation for the test.

Since IELTS is a popular test the world over, qualified IELTS teachers enjoy excellent mobility, while global demand for their services is forecast to grow steadily for the time being. In short, teaching IELTS is one of the better jobs to aim for in the wider TEFL industry.

What qualifications are needed to teach IELTS?

There is no certificate or licence to teach IELTS. You could, in theory, begin teaching it today. However, most IELTS teaching positions are at schools which only employ teachers with a minimum of a CELTA, an entry-level certificate for teaching English as a foreign language. More prestigious employers such as the British Council will sometimes require a DELTA, a diploma that builds on the CELTA with more in-depth study of second-language acquisition.

These are not the only relevant qualifications, however. A TEFL certificate is often accepted in place of the CELTA, while a master’s degree in TESOL will usually do away with the need for the DELTA. A master’s degree opens the door to university teaching which, while not always highly paid, certainly offers more status and perks than the private language school industry.

Wherever you happen to teach IELTS, one essential requirement is to hold a degree from an English-speaking university, since that is exactly the situation most of your students will be heading for. In fact, you can begin a career teaching IELTS by completing an intensive, one-month CELTA course right after university. Most of us, however, will gravitate towards IELTS after a variety of teaching experiences.

What kind of teaching does IELTS involve?

IELTS is usually taught in small groups, and students tend to fall into three categories: false beginners, intermediate learners, or near-natives.

False beginners are those who learned English while at school but have gone many years without using it. They may have substantial knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary, but they often cannot speak or write except in very basic sentences.

Intermediate IELTS students, particularly if they are older, may have ‘plateaued’. Their English ability may allow them to cope in everyday situations, but not necessarily in an academic or professional environment. IELTS teachers will therefore need to use special techniques to get students to break out of the plateau stage and begin using more advanced communication strategies.

Near-natives are already using English to an advanced level. What they want from a teacher is feedback on their test performance with direct reference to the IELTS assessment criteria. These students can be the most challenging, but also the most rewarding to teach.

In all three cases, learners have clearly defined needs and results are measured by the test. The ‘Keep them talking’ approach does not work so well for IELTS students. Teaching IELTS also means teaching academic skills such as argument and essay organisation. If you’re the kind of person who has no time for theory, IELTS teaching may not be for you!

Teach IELTS in Asia

Where can I teach IELTS?

There are IELTS test centres in more than 130 countries, which means there are IELTS teaching opportunities in more than 130 countries as well. Asia is by far the world’s largest source of international students, so it’s relatively easy to find work in China, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, or Japan.  There are also many teaching positions in countries such as the UK and Australia which receive a lot of international students, though demand in these countries tends to peak seasonally around the academic year. Most IELTS instructors work for language schools. Teaching positions are also offered at universities, but often on a short-term or part-time basis. Self-employment as a private teacher is another option, but it helps if you can combine IELTS with other related areas of expertise such as TOEFL, TOEIC, FCE, or CAE.

Are IELTS teachers well paid?

While not exactly enjoying the lifestyle of the expatriate company transfer set, IELTS teachers should at least be able to earn an above-average income for the country in which they teach. Few, however, would choose to teach IELTS just for the money. For most teachers, it’s a way of funding an extended stay in another country, with all the cultural rewards that can bring.

Can I become an IELTS examiner?

A CELTA or DELTA and several hundred hours of IELTS teaching experience are often quoted as the minimum requirement, but the ease of becoming an examiner depends mainly on supply and demand in the country where you teach. While examiner work pays nicely, it’s unlikely to lead to an increase in earnings from teaching, as qualified examiners are forbidden from advertising their examiner status in their professional lives. Your local British Council or IDP website should tell you whether examiner training is available.

What are the long-term prospects of teaching IELTS?

On the face of it, excellent. International student mobility almost doubled between 2000 and 2010 and, while the rate of growth has slowed slightly, UNESCO predicts there will be more than 7 million students travelling to other countries for higher education by 2020, most of them to study in English.

Even in countries outside the Anglosphere, there is a growing tendency among universities to adopt English as the language of instruction, creating more demand for reliable and secure tests such as IELTS. With 2.5 million tests taken in 2014 and accreditation by over 7,000 institutions, IELTS enjoys such a dominant position in many territories that it is difficult to imagine it being replaced by another test within the next decade.

There is, however, a threat from automated language tests developed by companies such as Pearson and EF. The main attraction of such tests is that, by eliminating human examiners, they can provide results in days rather than weeks. At the same time, however, increasingly draconian visa regulations in countries such as the UK have boosted demand for Secure English Language Tests (SELTs), with IELTS considered the most reliable.

On the face of it, long-term prospects for IELTS and those who teach it appear to be very secure.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic. The article was updated in 2015 to include recent data on IELTS and international student mobility.

Classroom Resources Study Tips Teacher Tips

Top 5 IELTS Textbooks for Classroom Use

With more than a million test-takers annually, more and more publishers are getting into the IELTS textbook market, with varying results. Choosing a coursebook for a group of students is a serious responsibility because, along with the teacher, the book may well be the most important influence on their test preparation over the following months. I’ve taught groups using all the most common IELTS textbooks, and these are the five I’ve found to be most reliable:

Focus on IELTS (New Edition) (Longman)

Focus on IELTS has long been a popular choice for teachers and it’s easy to see why. There’s a good balance between authentic Academic IELTS test items and meaningful group exercises, while the inclusion of a grammar reference guide and extra writing practice make this a solid friend for classroom use. The new edition corrects most of the mistakes in the first edition and adds more EAP elements such as critical thinking and reflective learning. One remaining drawback is the lack of a version with full answer key and scripts. Also available in a Foundation edition that introduces test practice more gradually. Rating 9/10

Objective IELTS Intermediate/Advanced (Cambridge)

One unique aspect of the Objective series is that test practice exercises are mostly written to focus students’ attention on a particular item type. There’s also an attractive presentation, discussion-led format, and strong grammar coverage throughout both books. The inclusion of test items from both the Academic and General Training modules in both books can be either a blessing or a curse depending on your teaching situation. A self-study student’s book with answer key and scripts is available for a slightly higher price, and there’s a teacher’s book with regular practice tests. Be warned: the level of questions in Objective IELTS Advanced is extremely challenging. Rating 8/10

Classroom Resources Study Tips Teacher Tips

Top 5 IELTS Textbooks for Self-study

Over the years I’ve been asked countless times which IELTS textbooks are best for independent study. For me, the main criteria are a full answer section, preferably one with explanations of answers, and an approach to the test that breaks down strategies into simple steps that learners can follow. Here are five textbooks I’ve recommended many times in the past:

Focus on Academic Skills for IELTS (Longman)

At first glance this seems to be a supplement to Focus on IELTS, but it’s actually a radically different kind of coursebook, one very well suited to self-study. Test strategies are broken down into easy-to-follow processes, and authentic test items are supplemented with directions in blue text. There’s also a full answer key. The new edition of the book includes both audio CDs and is therefore an even more complete package than the first edition. The only drawback is that it’s a little too process-oriented for classroom situations. Rating 9/10

Grammar for IELTS/Vocabulary for IELTS (Cambridge)

Vocabulary for IELTSIndependent learners will appreciate these self-study guides from Cambridge which focus on grammar and vocabulary with an academic dimension. Suitable for all low- to high-intermediate-level students. Both books come with an audio CD, which means that test-takers are activating more than just their reading and writing skills. Of course, it is ideal if these books can be supplemented with opportunities for spoken output such as a group lesson or study buddy. Rating 8/10

IELTS Speaking Teacher Tips

How to Teach IELTS Speaking

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Common problems in the IELTS Speaking module include speaking at length, speaking on unfamiliar topics, and managing the conversation.

Nervousness can also cause problems in IELTS Speaking, so IELTS teachers occasionally need the sensitivity of a counsellor as well as the skills of a language teacher!

So, what exactly does IELTS Speaking involve? As you probably already aware, it’s a short (11-14 min) face-to-face interview that takes place within seven days of the paper test. The IELTS Speaking module consists of three parts:

  • Part 1: Interview (4-5 mins)
  • Part 2: Individual Long-turn (3-4 mins)
  • Part 3: Discussion (4-5 mins)

Assessment is based on four equally-weighted criteria:

  • Fluency and Coherence: How well the candidate expands answers and connects ideas
  • Lexical Resource: The candidate’s range of vocabulary and awareness of collocation
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy: The candidate’s use of appropriate grammatical forms
  • Pronunciation: The candidate’s handling of a range of pronunciation features

Below are ten tips that will help you teach IELTS Speaking, better manage your classroom, and get your students speaking in ways that are aligned with the official assessment criteria.

Looking for a basic guide to IELTS Speaking? Read this first: IELTS Speaking: Introduction

Completely new to teaching IELTS? Read this first: How to Teach IELTS: The Basics

1. Stick to pair practice

Since the IELTS Speaking module takes the form of a one-on-one interview, it’s best to stick to this pattern in practice. Avoid whole-class interactions as much as possible and maximise time for pair practice instead. It’s a common myth in language teaching that learner pairs simply replicate each others’ mistakes. Research shows that they actually develop more advanced negotiation and explanation strategies with another learner than they would with a native speaker.

2. Force students to listen for the question

The problem with pair practice is that students are rarely able to resist reading the question even as their partner is asking it! You must activate their listening skills in Parts 1 and 3, or they will fail to cope when they can’t catch the questions in the real test. Force them out of the reading habit by making the interviewee close the textbook during Parts 1 and 3, or prepare different question cards for each partner. A handout of emergency language for checking the question also helps.

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 ability 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.

4. Useful language remains useless until you make it useful

Most IELTS textbooks will suggest useful language for answering a set of practice questions, but few provide any real incentive to use it. Bewilderingly, many textbook authors place useful language after the questions, when students have already made up their minds about what they are going to say! Try making students cover the questions with one hand and guess at the questions based on the model language provided. This forces them to process model language more deeply, making it actually useful!

5. Ban certain words and phrases

Students repeatedly ask how they can improve their IELTS Speaking scores in the same way they constantly cling to their favourite words and phrases: I think; I agree; For example; So; Because; fun; interesting. If you really want your students to venture out of their comfort zone in speaking, you might consider imposing a penalty on the use of a certain word or phrase during practice. Possible penalties include coming up with five synonyms when their turn is over.

6. Involve the listener

One classroom problem when teaching IELTS Speaking occurs when students don’t listen to their partner’s answers because they’re too busy thinking up their own. There are several techniques you can use to keep students involved while their partner is speaking, especially during Part 2: the individual long-turn. One is to require everyone to ask a follow-up question. Another is to get students to tick off the different prompts in Part 2 as they are answered. A more challenging task is to withhold the question from one of the pair, who then has to guess at the contents of the question based on their partner’s answer.

7. Teach a range of strategies to expand answers in Part 3

There are many ways of answering the question in IELTS Speaking Part 3. If your students never deviate from the ‘I think X because Y’ linear approach, consider practice activities that force them to expand in other ways. One technique is to have them deal cards containing prompts such as Personal Example, Example from Knowledge, Three Reasons, Attribution, Concession, Recommendation, Prediction, Comparison (Country), or Comparison (Past/Present). Answers will sometimes become incoherent or even surreal but that can add to the fun of the exercise.

8. Make a note of common errors in speaking

IELTS Speaking practice activities are a great opportunity to gather information about students’ most frequent errors which can then be fed back into future lessons. In my experience, students appreciate detailed correction in one-to-one teaching situations, but in group situations it’s better not to highlight errors made by individual students. It’s also better to highlight errors after rather during an activity. Your notes could form the basis of a grammar workshop later on, one that is more relevant to your students’ real needs than the exercises in the textbook.

9. Give your students feedback tools

Pair practice becomes much more rewarding when students have the right tools to give feedback. IELTS Academic has created a simplified feedback sheet based on the IELTS Speaking scoring criteria. The sheet breaks down each of the four scoring criteria into three basic skills that your students need to demonstrate, saving you the trouble of explaining the more complex and jargon-filled band descriptors. Download it from here.

10. Teach to the test

It may surprise you to know that many IELTS textbooks make no direct reference to the IELTS Speaking assessment criteria, even though it is publically available. Textbooks are therefore of limited use, especially when you have a single student who would benefit more from your feedback on their spoken answers with direct reference to the scoring criteria. To teach IELTS Speaking well, listen carefully to what your students say and match your feedback to the official assessment criteria.

Stuck for IELTS Speaking practice questions for your students? See our full list of IELTS Speaking practice tests.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, an online provider of skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Introduction to IELTS Teacher Tips Vocabulary

The Language of IELTS: A Glossary

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, which provides skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.

Confused by the language of IELTS? Try this glossary of key terms and their meanings.

Academic – The version of the IELTS test used for college and university entry. (See also: General Training)

Band descriptors – In the Writing and Speaking modules of IELTS, your scores are calculated according to which of the descriptions they match closest in the band descriptors. Public versions of these can be downloaded freely from the main IELTS website.

Band score – IELTS scores are divided into ten bands from 0 (non-user) to 9 (expert user). Half band scores are also awarded.

Candidate – A person taking an exam such as IELTS.

Coherence – How well you stick to the question in the Writing module of IELTS. This means each paragraph should include one main idea and you should not go off topic by introducing details unrelated to that idea. Your argument or opinion should also be coherent, i.e, clearly and consistently presented.

Cohesion – How well you link ideas within a sentence, paragraph or essay. This includes articles (the), pronouns (this), determiners (such) and logical links (on the other hand).

Criteria – The band descriptors each consider four criteria. These are important things the examiner is reading or listening for in order to determine your score.

Examiner – The person marking the IELTS test or asking the questions in the Speaking module.

Fluency – In IELTS speaking, how well you can string your ideas together and use filler expressions to avoid silence.

General Training – The version of the IELTS test used for immigration and employment purposes. (See also: Academic)

Lexical resource – Basically, the range of vocabulary you use, including accuracy in spelling, word form, and appropriateness for academic usage.

Module – IELTS is divided into four modules: Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking.

Paraphrasing – Saying the same thing but using different words or sentence structure. More than other tests, IELTS rewards candidates who can vary vocabulary and grammatical form.

Part – The Speaking module of IELTS consists of three parts.

Passage – Another word for article, as in the Reading module of IELTS.

Predicting – Trying to guess an answer before listening or reading for it. This helps you to focus on the type and form of information required to answer the question.

Scanning – Looking through a text quickly to find specific information. An important skill for answering questions in the Reading module of IELTS.

Section – The Listening module of IELTS consists of four sections; the Reading module of IELTS consists of three.

Skimming – Reading a text quickly to identify the main ideas and how they are organised. An important speed-reading skill for IELTS.

Task – The Writing module of IELTS consists of two tasks.

Task achievement – In IELTS Writing Task 1, how well you answer the question overall. In Task 1, this includes identifying all major features of the data and providing supporting details.

Task response – In IELTS Writing Task 2, how well you answer the question overall. This includes, answering all parts of the question and providing support for your opinions.

cropped-IELTS-Academic-Logo.jpgThis article is part of the Teach IELTS series at IELTS Academic, which provides skills training for IELTS and English as a foreign language.