In this lesson I look at one technique to help you with one of the most common problems in IELTS essays: “I didn’t have enough ideas!”. It is easy to understand why this can be a problem since in the test you’re under pressure and it can be harder to think under pressure. You need a coping strategy. This is one that can work.
The basic strategy: do the easy things first
The basic idea is that you don’t try and think of “ideas” immediately. That can be very hard and produce no results. Rather what I suggest you try is to make life easy for yourself by focussing first on straightforward things like words and examples that you can produce under pressure. Only once you have done that do you look at ideas. This is a little simplistic but the process is:
words → examples → ideas
A possible essay question
This is based on a question sent into me. The learner was stuck for ideas for this question
There are both problems and benefits to being a celebrity. Do you think the advantages of being famous outweigh the disadvantages?
My approach is not to try and think of advantages and disadvantages immediately – that might be hard – rather I think of words and examples first.
Variations of vocabulary – a good place to start
If you’re stuck for ideas, it can sometimes help just to think of words. Once you have the words, ideas may follow. Not everyone likes doing this and there is a skill to it that you may need to practise. Yo make it work
do it quickly
don’t worry about organising too much – just try and think of one more connected word
remember simple words can work too
Here is a quick run through of what I did. I hope you see how these words link together and produce more words and, at the end of the process, the start of ideas:
celebrity – fame- famous – infamous – VIP – personality – star ↵
film – tv – magazines – newspapers – paparazzi↵
fame and fortune – lifestyle↵
wealth – opulence – opulent lifestyle
Examples of what YOU know
Another possibility is just to think of examples. You won’t be wasting your time as you’ll need these examples when you write. The key here I believe is to pick things you know about – they’re so much easier to write about. These are the ones that I immediately though of – just don’t ask why! – and the associations I make. You hold see again that I get ideas this way.
Your examples should come from your own experience.
Tom Cruise – superstar – commands huge salary – incredibly powerful in film industry – almost omnipotent – can do what he wants – loved and hated
Royal Family – no privacy – no real power – always in the public eye – problems with children – Diana death caused by paparazzi – high divorce rate – may not be a happy family
Miley Cyrus/Britney Spears – child star – corrupted by system – out of touch with reality – query drug problems – stress of fame – bad role model
Positives and negatives – think real life first
If you do choose to think of “ideas” immediately, then I suggest you make those ideas as concrete as possible. What do I mean? Well, it’s just normally easier to think of real-life examples than abstract concepts.
getting a table at any restaurant – preferential treatment
being loved and admired by ordinary people
being able to afford whatever you want – financial security
not having to worry about paying the electricity bill
meeting other celebrities – power and influence
tabloids and paparazzi – loss of privacy and tall poppy syndrome
very likely to get divorced – stress on private life
Learn to organise your ideas before you write – don’t include everything
A quick point to add is that quite frequently essays go wrong not because of the number of ideas but the quality. There is plenty of material there but just very disorganised and it’s hard to tell what the main points are. If you look at this example, you’ll see that I’ve left out an awful lot.
3 sentence paragraph with an extended example
The principal advantage of being a celebrity is the wealthy and privileged lifestyle that most famous people enjoy. Hollywood superstars, for example, command such high salaries that they need never be concerned with everyday concerns such as how to pay the electricity bill. In addition to this financial security, leading actors do not just benefit from preferential treatment when they go out in public, they can also wield significant power and influence in the film industry.
Note how this paragraph is based around an example. A good exercise would be try and write a paragraph of your own using this model.