Top Tips for IELTS

An IELTS warmer – name the numbers

This is an IELTS warmer type exercise that is normally best suited to near the beginning of a course. It can also work well when you need to re-orientate students to how IELTS works. It can also come in helpful when you have work to hand back that shows that some aspect of IELTS has not been understood.

The basic idea – know the rules of the IELTS game

Too many mistakes are made because students don’t get the rules of the IELTS game. There are certain bits of information/habits that need to become second nature so that they walk into the test room knowing exactly what to expect and what they are going to be asked to do.

How it works

Horribly simple. You write some words and numbers on the board (or use download below) and get the students in pairs/groups etc to tell you what they mean in IELTS. The words/numbers I use tend to change according to the group I have and the problems they are having.

While it is by design a quick exercise it can lead into some discussion.

It works better with slightly larger classes and can be made competitive by adding in “points” for correct answers or by simply insisting that the pass mark is 100%!

The numbers

Most of these numbers are reasonably self-evident, others slightly more tricksy. The general idea is to ensure that the students know the rules of the game. For me, all this needs to be second nature by the time of the test itself.

0 – no time in the reading paper for writing in the answers. This can lead into a timed reading lesson or a lesson where you are focussing on exam skills. Mistakes do get made in filling out answer papers. They need to learn how to do it as they go along.

2 – the number of minutes you need to speak for in long-turn speaking

3 – the number of reading texts.

4 or 5 – how many paragraphs an IELTS essay should contain. Again, this can lead into a paragraph  or essay structure lesson. This is one the slightly more “personal” numbers. I simply don’t believe an IELTS essay can adequately be answered in 40 minutes  using 3/6 paragraphs.

5 – the minimum amount of time that should be spent planning/thinking before any writing task including task 1. Again you may not follow me here – but I know I need 5 minutes thinking in task 1 before I start writing. I do think though that it helps to have students consider the length of time they need to plan for. This is my way of raising the issue.

10 – there is ten minutes after the listening to fill out the answer paper.

20 – the exact time to be spent on task 1 – a very common problem for me is that task 1 timing goes wrong with students believing 15 minutes is enough. It is also the suggested time for a reading text

40 – the exact time to be spent on task 2 – see above. It is also the number of questions in the reading and listening paper.

150 – the number of words in task 1. Though is AT LEAST 150.

250 –  the number of words in task 2 (see above)

350 – this is too many words for task 2! (The time is better spent writing less but better.)

Words variation

A variation on the theme is to use words. This is an and/or alternative.

Typically I focus here on the writing and speaking criteria in the belief that it is key that students must be familiar with these.

Option A

This is the simple one. I’d add that I insist on Fluency and Coherence and Coherence and Cohesion. For me, coherence adds a level of meaning/sense that is otherwise absent. Speaking is not graded on Fluency and writing is not graded on “linking words”.

Name the 4 speaking criteria:

Name the 4 writing criteria:

Option B

This is a slightly more advanced variation where you are asking students to focus on what the criteria mean.

When are these important in IELTS?

coherence: both speaking and writing (a parallel I like to draw)

paragraphs: in both task 1 and task 2 writing (the concept of paragraphing sometimes gets left out of task 1)

spelling: in writing and listening and reading (the focus here is on filling-out the answer sheet correctly: in both reading and listening there are question types that require students to choose an answer that is grammatically correct and spelled correctly

grammar:  in writing and listening and reading ( see above)

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Rules of the game - numbers (968)
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