This is a lesson to show you ways to get and organise ideas for IELTS essays. My belief is that it helps to see words and ideas are connected. This means that one of the best way to find ideas is to think of words. So if you want ideas, try thinking of words first and vice versa.
words ↔ ideas
I also believe it helps not to think of ideas in general but types of ideas – i.e. reasons and examples and explanations. This is partly because you don’t need “ideas” in IELTS essays: you need reasons and examples and explanations. And it’s partly because it’s just easier this way.
Another key is that ideas are not enough by themselves for an essay. They need to be organised. That is why I really do think 10 minutes spent planning can be the right approach.
How to get ideas – ask questions
A simple and practical way to get ideas is to ask yourself questions. What do I mean? Below I take the basic questions words (how/who/what/why/when/where) and ask myself questions. The answers to those questions give me ideas about what to say. My top tip is to try and ask yourself as many different types of questions as possible – i.e. the when and where questions even if they may not be obvious can give you more ideas. See how below I get the idea of “long-term” by asking “when?”
How big a problem is global warming? ⇒ severe
Who should deal with it? ⇒ governments and international bodies
What is the reason?⇒ co2 emissions/fossil fuels
Why is it a problem? ⇒ rising sea levels/flood/famine/drought
When should a solution happen? ⇒ now/immediately not long-term
Where is it a problem? ⇒ it’s global
Anything else? ⇒ protesters – public
Note too the “anything else”at the end. If you think of something else – write it down even if you don’t know where it fits. You might get to use it later.
How to get ideas – start with words from the question
Another way that can work is to start with words – this is a type of brainstorm exercise. To make it work, you probably want to work quickly and not think too hard – let your brain run free and just make associations. Some of the words may be rubbish – that doesn’t matter as you can always delete them. Others may be very helpful. Here is what I did in 1 minute. It isn’t perfect – it’s not meant to be. But now – after 1 minute – I have not just some words but ideas for my essay.
One tip here is don’t organise your brainstorm too carefully – that will slow you down and you’ll end up with fewer words and ideas. You can always come back to it later and organise it then and add in more ideas/words.
A second tip is to use the words in the question – that is what you need to write about after all.
Organise your ideas – choose 2/3 main ideas
Your essay should have no more 3 body paragraphs. A paragraph is an idea explained. So you want no more than 2/3 main ideas. A lot of essays go wrong because they try and include too many ideas! Learn to delete – this is IELTS.
How do you choose the main ideas?
- Make sure that the idea relates exactly to the question
- Choose an idea that you can explain with reasons and examples – even if it isn’t your best idea
- I also suggest you keep the main ideas clear and simple. You are under time pressure and need to get it right first time. A simple idea can still impress if you develop it well with reasons and examples
Here is an example of a main idea that can work very well in an IELTS essay. Don’t worry if it looks simple – it’s clear and we’re going to develop it soon.
International bodies and governments should take action on global warming immediately.
Organise your ideas – decide if they are main ideas or supporting detail
This obviously relates to the point above. A lot of essays go wrong because it is hard to tell what the main points are. The ideas get confused. Is this an example? Is it a reason? So before you start writing you must decide what type of ideas you have.
This is a simple method – perhaps too simple – but it can work and is a good starting point. You use these categories for your ideas. They come from the writing instructions which tell you:
Discuss [this word changes from question to question but this is your main point]
Take a look at my complete paragraph to see how this can work.
MAIN IDEA International bodies and governments should take action on global warming immediately. REASON This is because it has been shown that there is a clear connection between CO2 emissions and burning fossil fuels and climate change. REASON Furthermore, research from scientists shows that the number of natural disasters EXAMPLE such as drought and famine is guaranteed to increase unless steps are taken now. REASON Indeed, the scale of the problem means that a global solution must be found and that it is not enough for a few countries to EXAMPLE invest in renewable forms of energy such as wind farms.
Before I started writing I decided that
CO2 emissions was a reason
natural disasters were a reason
the size of the problem was a reason
I also decided that
drought and famine were examples of natural disasters
investing in wind farms was an example of what some countries do