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IELTS teaching resources: create your own bar chart

This lesson idea is closely related to the idea for demystifying the bar chart. Again, the goal is to enable students to understand how IELTS charts and graphs work, so that they are less intimidated when it comes to analysing them. This time around the concept is to personalise the data in the chart to the students so they have a much better chance of understanding it. The good news: this is potentially a zero resources lesson.

Personalising the bar chart – create your own chart


I like this exercise. It’s fun and fun and IELTS don’t often mix. For me, that’s enough. If you want more: it’s resource free – not a text book in site. It’s also an entirely student generated task – you, the teacher, may need to guide a little here and there but it really takes care of itself pretty much. I lurk in the byways most of the time and am pretty ropey on my methodology speak, but if I don’t miss my guess, this could even be where Dogme meets IELTS. Whatever next.

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Create a class chart (617)

IELTS skills focus

  • Analysing the key details in a bar chart
  • Understanding the relationship between numbers and graphics

General skills focus

  • question formation
  • vocabulary review

Warmer/step 1 – make a question

The first step is for students in pairs/small groups to make a question to ask every member of the class. This question will form the basis of their “survey”. Typically, I choose 6/7 topics that we have covered in class as that allows for some vocabulary practice/review in the discussion phase. Some successful student generated questions are:

  • Technology: What make of mobile phone do you have?
  • Food: Which of these foods do you like? Chinese/French/Japanese/Fast food
  • Leisure: Which of these spare time activities do you enjoy most: Playing basketball/Watching TV/Playing computer games/Sleeping (Chinese students!)/Going out with your friends

Step 2 – open and closed questions – refining the question

The next stage will be to refine the question. Both open and closed questions can work here. That said, my experience is that closed questions normally work best for bar chart creation. I simply explain there are a limited amount of possible answers to:

What is your favourite flavour of ice cream? Vanilla/Chocolate/Tutti Frutti/Strawberry/Something else

While this could well get 10 different answers from a class of 10 and the bar chart would not really work.

Where do you want to go on holiday?

A benefit of getting to students to write multiple-choice closed questions is that it works nicely as vocab review. So, for instance, one group of my students came up with this:

What is the most quality for a teacher?


being strict

explaining well

I was happy with that.

Step 3 – the discussion/survey

The next step is for the students to ask and answer each others’ questions, recording the data as they go. Typically, I will divide the class in half and form two rings of students – taking one student from each pair. Students simply take it in turn to ask their questions. This can be noisy, but the benefit  in lower level classes is that it allows the students to listen to one another and learn from their language.

An additional tip here is to ask the students to record the female and male responses to their question. This makes for a chart that is more interesting and slightly more complex.

Step 4 –  create the bar chart

This is the one stage where you may need a resource bigger than a post-it note. For me, this does work best on computers, with students entering the data into Excel and forming a pretty bar chart that looks just like the one they will get in the exam. No computers? No problem, use pen and paper.

Step 5 – do the thinking bit

This is where this activity comes into own. The data they have is about themselves and so should mean much more to them and be much more accessible when they analyse the chart. The type of questions I ask at this point are:

What did you learn about your classmates as a group?

Were you surprised by anything?

If you had to explain your class to someone else, which bits of information would you choose to use?

Step 6 – write it

The charts the students create are likely to be quite simple and their reports are likely only going to be one paragraph long. I see no problem with that. Indeed, this makes for an excellent entry level activity for describing a bar chart.

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One Response to IELTS teaching resources: create your own bar chart

  1. milan February 29, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    im looking for how to make a really good bar chart

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