Teaching IELTS

This could be a wonderful post, full of words of wisdom on the subject of teaching IELTS

IELTS! image taken from en.wikipedia.org via google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification

IELTS! image taken from en.wikipedia.org via google search for images licensed for commercial reuse with modification

However, for this to be the case, I need YOUR help! I’ve recently started teaching a class of highly motivated IELTS students (the majority of whom are after the Academic version rather than the General version), who are a pleasure to teach, but IELTS isn’t (yet?!) a specialist area of mine. I know there are lots of you out there with a wealth of IELTS-teaching experience, so I’m hoping I can persuade you to help me! It would be very much appreciated (by myself and my students alike!) if you could comment on this post with any IELTS-related tips you might have, for a teacher teaching IELTS or for students studying IELTS, and/or links to your go-to sites, whether for you as a teacher, or that you direct students to.

Thank you in advance to anybody kind enough to comment! 🙂

(PS There will be more posts on this blog soon… I just need to get my juggling skills up to scratch again first!!)


15 thoughts on “Teaching IELTS

  1. Hi Lizzie, What Level are the students? What Ielts grade do they need? How old are they? Have you been able to see which skills they are strong or weak in? When are they taking the exam? How many Hours course do you have? What teaching materials do you have?

    • Hi Tina, they have been B2ish students, with one or two a bit better. All young adults. In the end, we did some diagnostic work and then focused on their weaknesses. They take the exam on the 6th! The course is a 24hr course, using ready for IELTS mainly, but other resources to draw on too. I’ll probably be starting another once this one finishes! Lizzie.

  2. Hi Lizzie
    Have you looked at the official Cambridge IELTS site? It has a pile of worksheets and lesson plans covering all aspects of the exam.
    I have found the following with Italian students :
    – one of their major difficulties is structuring written essays and speaking so that what they say/write is coherent.
    – As far as speaking (part 1) is concerned they also need practice in brainstorming so that they can extend their answers meaningfully. A question like “Where do you live” tends to elicit the answer “In Palermo” FULL STOP…. which isn’t enough for a good grade at IELTS.
    – Brainstorming on the other parts of the speaking test is also important – particularly if your students are secondary school they may have problems thinking of relevant content (hence also make sure they study the vocabulary for main topic areas at home) so they’re not groping for words.
    – practice 1-minute note-taking for Part 2 (Students tend to write whole sentences, not 1 or 2 words) and reconstructing their ideas in coherent speech.
    Hope that helps

  3. “IELTS Offical” on Facebook gives daily hints and suggestions – I always suggest to my students that they “Like” the page (I’ve liked it too so I can follow some of the hints and tips)

  4. Hi Lizzie

    I have followed your blog with interest (especially last year during the Delta), and since my Module 3 specialism was teaching exam classes, I thought I could put a couple of comments here about what I consider the key points.
    First of all, I think your interest in and research into metacognition will prove to be invaluable, arguably in this context more than any other. IELTS in particular (since it does not include a grammar/’Use of English’ paper) is focused exclusively upon the four skills. This means that the focus of an exam class should be upon skills rather than systematic development. This is especially the case if students are registered for ‘cramming’ sessions, which is predominantly the case in exam classes. Perhaps two months before taking IELTS, they take a preparation course.
    This means that before registering, students should really already be at the CEF level required by the exam, and the focus should be on skills development; training students how to take their existing linguistic competence and putting it to maximum effect on the day of the exam. To quote Burgess and Head (authors of the ‘Exams’ edition from the ‘How to…’ series), ‘preparatory courses are a time for review and consolidation.’
    For the teacher, therefore, it is important to administer diagnostic tests to identify where weaknesses and key areas for development lie. Past papers are the obvious choice for this. Then depending on what the results yield (the course I designed was focused on writing and reading), your course priorities and objectives pretty much write themselves.
    For instance, we developed writing skills as a process by planning and considering content before writing, and analysing discourse frameworks within paragraph structure (for example, putting an idea you don’t agree with first, so you can later contrast it with something you do agree with, and then which discourse markers you can use to signal whether you agree or disagree or not).
    For reading, we looked at the cognitive process involved, such as prediction or top-down processing, and how these can sometimes be neglected under exam pressure. In the case of multiple choice questions, thinking about the answer before looking at the options can sometimes be useful, because an oft-heard problem is that the options are so similar to one another.
    By then doing summative assessment (ideally using tasks used for diagnostic assessment), there can then be a clear indicator of the progress that has been made, which helps maintain motivation and minimize negative backwash.
    To sum up, I think the most important thing is to be aware that students in an exam class are naturally focused upon the final product (i.e. the exam result). While this is important (especially to maintain motivation), I think it is equally important that teachers encourage students to understand the processes that are involved, and how they can be developed and used to maximum effect.

    I hope that you were able to follow that train of conciousness!

    All the best


    • Thanks very much, Philip! I’ve been snowed under recently, hence this comment slipping under the radar. Coming to the end of the IELTS course, but will be starting another soon, lots of learning to put into practice! Thanks for the tips 🙂

  5. Hi Lizzie! I’ve followed your blog for a while but this is my first comment.

    I’m also half-way through my first IELTS course so will be stealing some of the tips people have left for you too. My context – Middle Eastern – is very different from your Italian one but the one thing I’ve really learned so far is that this course hasn’t been about teaching my students any new English; it’s been about teaching them ways to make sure they get the grade their current level of English should entitle them too. The course is simply too short to do anything more than expose them to the most common mistakes and try to warn them of them, and to make sure they understand what the purposes of the different tasks really are.
    It’s been frustrating for me and for them – I find myself saying “take a General English class” in response to many of the “How can I improve X?” questions 😦
    I’ve done some work I think useful on dealing with unknown vocabulary and general language awareness, but maybe the thing I’ve done I think will have the most long-term value is encouraging them to read more extensively. Many of them have no joined my new book group, which is great, and I’ve tried to print and bring newspaper articles which catch my eye for a few different students each lesson. The topics are usually related to things they’ve expressed an interest in in some way, but with a different perspective than they might expect. I found that if I physically gave them a printout they would read it, but if I just gave them weblinks they didn’t. What is it about a piece of paper that makes them do more, I wonder?

    • I think you’re right about IELTS prep classes being about helping learners get into a better position to get the band that matches their level rather than scoring lower than their level because they haven’t the exam technique. Having said that, some of the IELTS prep books do a good job of integrating language work into the exam preparation, which can only help. Reading extensively is definitely key as they won’t up their reading speed if they don’t read a lot. I think pieces of paper act as a visual reminder to do something, whereas it’s easier to forget about links! 🙂 Hope you are enjoying the IELTS teaching. I’ve just published a list of resources for teaching IELTS that I have found helpful – I wonder which you use too? 🙂 https://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com/2015/01/21/my-top-10-resources-for-teaching-ielts/

  6. Pingback: My Top 10 Resources for Teaching IELTS | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

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