Students usually have many difficulties with IELTS writing and as teachers we should know these difficulties and be aware of how we can help students.
When I was working as an Assistant Director of Studies at an Official IELTS centre I organized meetings with teachers; some of them were IELTS examiners. Here is what we discussed and came up with:
- Students lack ideas for the essay
Brainstorm before they write, give them your ideas to choose the ones to include in their essay; arrange debates: one team comes up with arguments for or benefits, the other against/drawbacks; see who comes up with more arguments and can support them well.
- Students want to be super creative, educate and enlighten examiners
Tell them that creativity is not assessed. They should structure the essay well, make it stick together + good language. Tell them it could be simple and unimaginative as long as it is easy to read and relevant to the topic. It’s ok if examiners disagree with the ideas mentioned in the essay.
- Students write the way they speak
Teach them to “think essay”, think in the way they will write their essay.
- Students don’t know IELTS essay format (their school/exams essays are a bit different)
Introduce/Present various IELTS essay questions (e.g agree/disagree; benefits/drawbacks etc); expose students to model essays/samples for them to see what is expected from them, Discuss/give them the criteria to read. Tell them the essay is Academic, Formal in style both in Academic and General IELTS.
- Students mix up essay questions: the question is do you agree or disagree, but students write about benefits/drawbacks; the question is agree or disagree, they write reasons/solutions.
Teach students to identify the question and be aware of various essay questions; show/ask students to create structure/essay skeletons for all essay questions: what should they write in their paragraphs (e.g. reasons why I agree in agree or disagree; major benefits and drawbacks in advantages/disadvantages essay)
- Students are not clear about their opinion
According to the criteria, opinion/position should be clear throughout. Teach students to make their opinion crystal clear so that the examiner understands easily if they agree or disagree/support the 1st or the 2nd view in Discuss both views + give your opinion essay. You can ask them to write their opinion both in intro and conclusion to be clear. They should avoid ambiguity here.
- Do you ask your students to write in class? - YES!
Present introduction structure; let them write it on their own using the structure you have just presented; check their introductions while the others are still writing or take all the introductions and give students a task while checking; ask students to correct, focus on the structure only. Discuss common errors.
Do the same with body paragraphs after you present how to structure them. It helps to present and correct the way they structure a paragraph so that at home they are much better at it and don’t go with the flow of imagination writing whatever pops in their head.
Students can write the full essay in class with the exam timing once/twice during the course. Make sure that everyone is ok doing so, as they might wish to write at home.
- Students don't use high level lexis/grammar
Expose them to good essay samples which you exploit for language. Let them select the words/grammar structures they wish to use in their next essay. Ask students to create lists of good language. After students have written an essay ask them to underline good language, and/or insert more advanced lexis if they don't have any.
- Students write one-sentence paragraphs
Teach/instruct them that 1§ = at least 2 sentences. Tell them to write 2-3 sentences in introduction and conclusion, 3-4 in the body.
- Students write 200-243 words
They lose marks as they do not complete the task – write at least 250 words. They must write 250 words. They could write 250-270 words. Conclusion could be extended if they lack words; one more paragraph added to the body; lengthy introductory phrases/linking words are good too if students cannot write up to 250 e.g. what is more, as well as, it should be noted that
- Students don't plan and start writing right away
Train your students to plan their essays as if they don't the structure/logic may suffer. Students invest 5 minutes into reading the topic/planning:
- read and dig in the topic
- which essay question is it (agree or disagree, benefits/drawbacks etc.)?
- decide on your opinion/position and plan your main ideas in the body paragraphs; write down key words only!
- Students don't include examples
Inform your students that examples are part of the task, so there should be 2/3 examples in an essay. It’s not necessary to write an example in every paragraph. You can write one sentence starting For example/For instance, then write such as ... in another paragraph. For Bend 8 and above examples should not be that explicit. Let students read model essays and underline examples there.
- Students mess up Body Paragraph Structure
Present the paragraph structure: 1 main idea + support/development (why?/What does it mean?) + Example or Result
Usually, 1 body § = 3-4 sentences, could be more.
After students have written an essay ask them to underline their main idea+support and examples to make them aware of the structure and ask them to rewrite/add if they cannot find support/examples or main ideas are too complex.
TERRIFIC TIPS FROM OUR IELTS EXPERTS
- Teach them paraphrasing skills
Students read a paragraph from a sample essay, underline the key words, then using these key words/some of the key words paraphrase the same ideas from this paragraph. It’s useful for intro as well as conclusion. Plus, good for speaking and memorising good language.
- Structure – Give your students a choice
Students may feel restricted if you tell them only one way of doing things. They have their own way too. So it's really useful to give them choices/options and ask them to select what is best for them. They can choose structure they want to follow, ideas, words, grammar, essay tasks for homework etc. Control the materials, but let them choose. They would feel that it's their own choice and could be more likely to use what THEY chose in their writing.
- Praise your students
Underline good language (words/grammar) students have used in the essay. It helps them to remember it and use it in their next works.
Paper-based Exam: Practical Issues: clocks and what to take?
During Reading and Writing the invigilator announces how much time they have left – 40, 20, 10 and 5 minutes. There’s also either a clock or countdown tableau in the room.
Students can only take a bottle of water without any labels and a pen/pencil. No watches or e-devices.