Top Tips for IELTS

Teaching fluency and coherence for speaking – 321and123

This is a beautifully simple exercise that not just helps build skills but is great for classroom dynamics. It is a positively fun activity and students tend to love it. It works particularly well for long-turn IELTS speaking where students need to speak at length – a difficult thing to practise in class and maintain interest.

Materials and focus

This is an exercise that can work for more or less any speaking class. If, like me, you prefer to give your classes a particular focus here are one or two ideas where it can work. They are all helpful in developing fluency for part 2 speaking in IELTS

focus on language of likes/dislikes

focus on expressions of time

focus on opinion vocabulary

focus on topic vocabulary

focus on phrases for speaking structure

If you are looking for topics and cue cards, I have a fairly extensive collection, which grows almost weekly, on my part 2 page. You’ll also find that there are sample/model answers and vocabulary exercises there too.

The exercise

All this takes is to arrange the class into two rows of students facing each other. They are given a topic to talk about. One row of people talk, while the others simply listen. After 1 minute the students rotate so that this:

Speak            Listen

Alfonso      → Francesca

Bertrand   → Gilberto

Clarissa      → Hatem

Dominique → Irene

Eduardo    → Jing

becomes this where everyone is now speaking to someone else

Speak            Listen

 Bertand→ Alfonso

Clarissa   → Francesca

Dominique   →Gilberto

Eduardo → Hatem

Jing    → Irene

Then you repeat the procedure but that this time the students are talking for 90 seconds. Then you continue rotating and each time you increase the length of speaking. Once you have reached around 3 minutes then you gradually decrease the talking time so that you get back to 1 minute.  I normally halt the exercise when everyone is back to where they started.

How it works for fluency – repetition and variation

Language learning is about repetition and if you can persuade your students to speak “repeatedly” their fluency should improve. Repetition is boring but not if you’re speaking to someone new, then it becomes a new conversation.

A second point is that by varying the length of speaking time the conversation becomes different. Partly, the students will have more to say because they have not just been talking but listening to each other – sharing language. Partly each successive time they do it they will find new and different ways to say the same thing.

How it works for coherence – efficiency and speaking to a point

In IELTS speaking coherence tends to get forgotten – people simply talk of fluency and forget its twin. For me, this exercise can also work for coherence by gradually limiting the amount of time the students have to speak. By the 4th/5th rotation they often have too much to say and need to find ways to speak more succinctly and efficiently – concentrating on communicating their message.

Interestingly, what tends to happen is that students who may have struggled to speak for a minute at the start of the exercise,  now have problems in restricting themselves to a minute by the end.


There are heaps of variations here. Here are some considerations

warmer/pre-teaching or extended practice

This is one of those exercises that is flexible enough to work in different ways in the class. It can work as an introduction type exercise where you are listening to see what language the students know or as a review exercise to see that they have “remembered”. In this case it may be quite a short exercise done near the beginning of the lesson. Equally, it can also work as much more extensive practice after language presentation. Here you may choose to use it for a longer time.

limit the time

You may decide that 1 minute is too long to start with. Easy start off with 30 seconds then build up from that.

change roles

You may worry that some students are too passive for too long – only listening not speaking. One possibility is just to shorten the rows to around 4 so that no one listen s for more than3/4 minutes at a time. Another is to give the listeners a task while they are listening – perhaps simply noting words or using a checklist to see what words the other student used.  This checklist will presumably be based on the language you have presented/taught.

An example of the type of checklist I use is Opinion vocabulary for speaking - forced drill (2496). It’s very simple to build and can even be done in class by eliciting language from students.

think about reluctant speakers

Some students are reluctant speakers. This works here too. You simply park the reluctant/less able speakers down the listening line so that they get to hear plenty of other language before it is their turn to speak. If they have had to wait for a few minutes before speaking and have been listening then they are much more able to produce language themselves.

 More teaching ideas and resources


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2 Responses to Teaching fluency and coherence for speaking – 321and123

  1. Sevinj April 13, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

    Thank you for very useful information! I will try it, when I start to teach again. Just one question: If the students are talking to each other during the lesson in the classroom, there might be too noisy. It can disturb speakers especially, if they are beginners (they always try to catch every word). To what extent do you agree/disagree?:)

    • Dominic Cole April 14, 2014 at 10:28 am #

      Normally I don’t have a problem with this. You do get people listening to what other people are saying and speaking against a background noise. If anything though this just leads them to concentrate on communicating better – both speaker and listener. In fact part of the joy of this exercise for me is that it is extremely active and loud. Even my “boring academic” students at university used to love the movement in the activity and the fact they are talking to different people.

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