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.