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Ideas to Help Teach IELTS

Emilly Jones shares some tips that teachers can use when they are teaching IELTS, with 1 idea for Task 1, Essays, Speaking and Listening.

A lot of teaching professionals get overwhelmed at times when they have to start teaching IELTS to their students. The IELTS exam can be quite complex and students are often under a lot of pressure to succeed in this exam. Many people take the IELTS Exam to provide proof of their English skills for either immigration or academic purposes

During my teaching experience, I have tried various strategies and I would like to share some ideas that I use and have found are very helpful. I will cover an idea for Academic Task 1, which is a major pain point for most students. We will look at speaking part 2, which often makes students the most anxious, and I will cover some ideas for IELTS reading and listening.

Task 1 Academic Writing

The idea: Before immediately starting with teaching the activity, ask the students to tell you what the rubric for task 1 is.

It reads : Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, making comparisons where relevant.

How it can help your students

With my own students, task 1 often goes wrong because it is understood as an exercise in which they have to use a certain type of vocabulary or simply describe all the details of the chart/graph. The instructions are in fact very specific about what the candidate needs to do:

  • summarise: this means not include everything
  • select: that also means leaving things out, only using select information
  • report: this is not an essay, you are reporting facts
  • main features: it is an exercise in seeing the big picture (the fact that it is visual should help)
  • comparisons: it tells you what language to use – comparative language

Understanding this rubric helps students focus on the skills they need and is a good introduction to teaching task 1. It is also an eminently repeatable activity. 

I also advise spending time to understand the marking criteria for academic task 1. Once they understand the criteria, they will know exactly which points to work on to get their desired score.

IELTS Speaking Part 2

The idea: Create your own questions

The Speaking Part 2 of IELTS tests the student’s ability to talk about a topic in depth, using the relevant vocabulary and grammar. Students are required to talk for one to two minutes about the topic.

The idea here is that the students practise their speaking using questions they have created themselves. It is in fact very simple to “create” your own questions, but there can be a real benefit in getting the students to do this themselves. By having the students create their own questions, they understand the structure and also the type of response it will require.

Look at this example to see how questions are modelled:


Describe [an adventurous person who you know]. – insert your own topic

You should say:

  • who [the person is] insert detail wh question
  • how [you know this person] insert detail wh question
  • what [this person does that is adventurous] insert detail wh question

and explain why [you think this person likes to take risks]. insert explanation why question


The idea is that there is always a topic based on real life/experiences that has to be expanded using detail and some explanation. If students write their own questions, they are much more likely to see what type of detail they need to use. Also, psychologically they are much more likely to focus on answering the question (rather than provide some pre-learned language or answer) if they have written the questions themselves. This is as good exam practice as it gets.

The Essay Question

This is an essay task that is often overlooked. 

For this task you remove the question itself and the students have to read the essay and replace the question. The concept being that a well-written essay should clearly identify and answer the question. If the students cannot come up with an adequate approximation of the question, then there’s something wrong with the essay.

How it works

The idea here is that many essays go wrong because they don’t focus on the question enough. This is serious because the student can be penalised twice – for lack of coherence and poor task response. A slightly more sophisticated version of this exercise is to then get the students to identify which parts of the essay most directly relate to the question. 

This should direct them to:

  • the introduction
  • topic sentences in content paragraphs
  • the conclusion

This exercise in itself is as good an introduction to essay structure as there is.

Listening and reading – why is it right or wrong?

The idea

This is an easy exercise but it can deliver a lot of value. The idea is that you don’t just let your student practice listening/reading and then give out the answers. 

Most times, if you do that, what happens is the answers are checked, scores are calculated and very little is learned. The idea I want to propose is that you give out the answers – some which are right and some wrong. The students then need to decide which of the answers are right and which are wrong by re-reading the text/transcript and questions. The key being that they need to concentrate on what exactly the questions are. In my experience you might see that mistakes are made which could have been avoided because the students don’t always focus on the question.

How it works

  • My experience is that around 2 mistakes out of 10 works (“I’ve made two mistakes – find them”)
  • Practically students need to find and underline parts of the text that give them the answer
  • You could also  just let students make the mistakes and then ask them why they got it wrong – this is a rather more friendly version! Much better to correct the teacher.
  • This exercise works partly as an exercise in critical thinking – that is always a positive to me.

Teaching IELTS can be a daunting task for teachers as much as studying IELTS is for students. Once you work closely with your students and are able to identify their weaknesses, you will better be able to help them succeed in their preparation. With the right methods, you will be able to prepare your students for a successful IELTS exam. 

Written by Emilly Jones for TEFL.net May 2020
Emilly has a passion for teaching English as a foreign language. This passion has been fundamental to her success as a tutor at IELTSPodcast.

One Comment

  • Mohammed says:

    Dear Emilly Jones, I have read your own written ideas for IELTS reading and listening. In fact, all what have you mentioned of ideas were really very informative then fruitful, so keep on moving ahead for helping so many individuals whom will be in need for such wonderful presentaion.Thank you in advance .

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