Monthly Archives: October 2017

A coaching approach to the IELTS writing tasks

Marking writing tasks is one of the most time consuming parts and often teacher centred parts of exam preparation courses. Like me, I’m sure many teachers have spent hours pouring over a student’s work, only to feel that the 100’s of red scribbles on the page had little impact on learning.

A different approach to exam preparation is to change your hat from ‘English Teacher’ to ‘English Coach’. Adopting a coaching perspective encourages students to navigate their own study path, taking control of their own learning and becoming more autonomous.

Familiarizing yourself, and coaching your students to use the official IELTS band score descriptors will equip them with the skills and knowledge to progress their own learning. Let’s look at an example of how to adopt this in your classroom.

For Academic Writing Task 1, the official IELTS website publicly lists the following four marking criteria that students will be marked on.

  • Task achievement
  • Coherence and cohesion
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammatical range and accuracy

When faced alone with this dense document, students (and teachers alike!) will feel overwhelmed and unsure of the interpretation. Here is a 5-step approach to using the descriptors in your class.

  1. Take the band score descriptors to class for discussion

 Before class, print and prepare a set of a set of the band score descriptors, to be used as realia.

Highlight these phrases to use in a class discussion and ask your students for their interpretation of the following examples taken from the ‘Task Achievement’ and ‘Coherence and Cohesion’ sections of the descriptors.

Depending on the class level, and hopefully aligning with the teachings from your IELTS course book, you should be able to elicit from the students that to achieve a band 7 for Task Achievement and Coherence and Cohesion they must:

  1. Design a band score checklist

Once students have seen this breakdown of the band score descriptors, it is time to make them relevant to their writing. Turn the class translation of each phrase into a question for students to evaluate themselves on.

  1. Give students a practice task

Now it’s time to put their newfound understanding to use! Previously, I’ve used the following writing task from Collins Writing for IELTS. Each unit in this title is broken down into commonly recurring IELTS topics, with different language focuses. Unit two is Diet & Nutrition, with an academic task 1 lexical focus on verbs to describe trends over time.

  1. Evaluate a model answer with your checklist

Before students receive their own work to evaluate, it’s important to arrive at a class consensus on the essential information and language needed for the task. Involve the class in a discussion on the important features and data of the graph and what they should have selected for their overview.

Now is a good time to make use of the model answer provided in the back of the course book. Use the class consensus and the checklist to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the model answer (or better yet, a strong model from the class). Go through the checklist, highlighting good (and bad!) examples of language.

  1. Evaluate own task

Once the class has discussed the model answer, return their tasks to them and ask them to evaluate their own (or each others) writing using the checklist. Students might like to rewrite their tasks with the feedback in mind.

Using a coaching approach towards evaluating writing tasks, is not only more student centered but also eases the pressure off the teacher. By building students’ awareness of the descriptors and what they are being marked against challenges students to be more independent in their learning and hopefully more motivated!


Katy has worked in ELT in Asia, South America, NZ and the UK. She is currently based in London working as an ELT Editor and Materials Writer. 

Encouraging IELTS students to read beyond the course book

It comes as no surprise that reading widely is proven to increase reading fluency. However, many students are still in need of a little encouragement and guidance to build the skills required to read confidently outside of the course book. Here are a few ways you can incorporate authentic readings into your IELTS preparation course to engage students and help them better prepare.

How do you choose authentic material?

Not all authentic material is made equal. While there is a plethora of potential readings just a mouse-click away, many students cite article selection as one of the main reasons why they didn’t read online regularly.

When selecting articles for your students, there are several things to consider:

  • Is the level appropriate?
    Be careful of discouraging students. Look for material that will challenge and motivate students at their level without being too advanced.
  • Is the material relevant?
    Select articles with topics that are likely to be covered in the IELTS exam. Also consider the structure and style of the articles. Does the material have a similar structure to potential IELTS readings? Are there good examples of language and topic sentences that students can model?
  • Will students enjoy reading this?
    The most important aspect. Students should be interested in and excited about learning a language. Try to find articles that will not only educate, but will impress your students and encourage them think and discuss. Ways to do this are catchy headlines, polarising topics or very current issues.

How do you make the most of the authentic material?

It’s unlikely that articles will come with a set of teacher’s notes and lead-in questions. But fear not: potential authentic reading tasks are endless! What’s more, you can do these activities together – or flip the classroom, doing any related speaking in class and prime/prep for the reading at home!

  • Focus on comprehension and structure
  • Underline topic sentences.
  • Prediction tasks, guessing the structure and content of the article from the title, subtitle and pictures.
  • Cut the article up into paragraphs, and give students a time limit to order it.
  • Focus on vocabulary
  • Utilise the Academic Word List and academic word highlighter. Try: blanking out academic words, creating word games or matching synonyms.
  • Practice guessing unknown vocabulary from context. Focus on the word function, other forms of the word and the connotations.
  • Ask students to select 5-10 unknown words from the text and categorise this into academic vocabulary, technical vocabulary, or different parts of speech.
  • Focus on IELTS style tasks
  • Create a set of T/F/NG questions. Or better yet, ask students to write their own to gain better understanding into the formulation of these.
  • Ask students to give each paragraph a heading, pass those headings to the next group and ask them to match.
  • Focus on responding
    Articles should not only be used for reading. Studies show that oral discussion of texts has a positive effect on language learning. Here are some ways you can use the text as a springboard to responding.
  • Practise speaking for elongated periods of time – summarise the main points of the article, aiming to speak for two minutes.
  • If there are multiple viewpoints in the article, assign students different personas and have them practise giving their opinions as part of a group discussion.
  • Identifying the main arguments, and use these to write an essay discussing both views.

To sum up, although there are some challenges in using authentic material in the classroom, it is a useful tool for both the teacher and the student. Through classroom and classroom support, students will benefit in gaining global reading skills which will assist them in the IELTS exam, and beyond.

Katy has worked in ELT in Asia, South America, NZ and the UK. She is currently based in London working as an ELT Editor and Materials Writer.