The IELTS speaking test can cause a lot of stress for students.
So if you are teaching this class you need to make sure you are motivating them correctly and giving them all the encouragement they need. They need to feel more confident each time they leave your class.
They also need to practice and improve their range of English vocabulary as much as possible.
In this guide, I have outlined all the students’ needs and common problems that they are likely to encounter. I have provided many resources and useful links below to help you guide your students through Part One of the IELTS speaking test.
Each step can ensure that you are steering your students in the right direction.
Shall we get started?
What Happens in Part One of the IELTS Speaking Test?
One of the most important things you can teach your students is the IELTS test format.
You can find the full format of every part of the test here.
It is very common for IELTS test candidates to enter the test and not have the first clue what to expect. You can go through all the format for the speaking test for them so they understand what will happen when they do the speaking test.
Part One of the IELTS speaking test is like this.
Part One lasts for between 4 to 5 minutes
The examiner will ask the candidate some questions on familiar topics such as:
- School and Studying
At the beginning of Part One, as it is the beginning of the speaking test itself, the candidate must introduce themselves and present their identification.
Then the test begins.
The number of questions can vary but the examiner may ask between two to four questions on one topic then change to a new topic and ask questions about the new topic.
The examiner may ask questions on two or three topics in part one of the test.
The questions that the examiner asks will be a combination of past, present and future but could be an emphasis on the present tense.
If the candidates’ answers are too short, the examiner will ask follow-up questions.
Loosely that is what will happen in Part One.
What should the students do in Part One of the test?
The student has to introduce different aspects of their own life.
Part One is widely regarded as the easiest part of the speaking test because the questions are all about the student’s life. If they can’t answer questions about their own life, what can they talk about?
As the teacher, you need to help the student practice speaking natural English. Quite often, many training centres encourage students to learn answers by rote.
This is not to be encouraged so if you encounter this problem happening, try to stamp it out. But if you are working in a training centre that uses this as a model for getting a great score in the IELTS test then you have a challenge ahead of you.
You should get the student to speak as naturally as possible to avoid the robotic, rote-learned answers that the student may have been practising.
In part one, the students do not need to speak English in a very advanced or sophisticated way. But they should be able to show command in the following:
- Speaking natural English
- General fluency
- Correct and appropriate language and grammar for the part of the test
You need to keep a close check on all of these things in the class.
If you encounter general issues with pronunciation, for example, you can do exercises to help the students combat this. But you are more likely to find that individual students have specific problems. You must ensure that the students are made aware of this to help them improve.
In the test the student must be aware of the following:
- That they can stay on topic and answer the question directly
- Avoid expressing any redundant answers
- Fluency in their answers
- The ability to talk about a wide variety of topics in the test
- To use English grammar in the correct way and in context to the question being asked
- To use a wide range of vocabulary in the test
So for the student to do well in part one of the test, give them lots of practice and exercises to show they have a good command of English and that they understand English grammar and how to use it well.
They should also have clear pronunciation and intonation and be fluent enough to express themselves well in the test.
And they should be able to talk about a wide variety of topics.
The key thing here first is to ensure that they are constantly building their English vocabulary. The more they do this, the better they can express themselves in the test.
You can find literally hundreds of vocabulary exercises online — and there are many vocabulary textbooks that you can use to help students build their English word power.
I have used the series of books by Cambridge English Vocabulary in Use many times and found them very useful. But do not just give them a handful of vocabulary worksheets and expect them to just get on with it. They must be able to use any vocabulary they learn in context to part one of the test.
If there are recurring grammar problems in the class, you may need to reteach some relevant grammar too.
Ideally, the students should have a reasonable level of General English before they begin any IELTS classes, but in the real world, this is often not the case. Students come into class poorly prepared in terms of vocabulary and grammar. So this will fall on you to ensure these skills are up to speed.
Magoosh provides a great list of vocabulary and phrases that could be useful in the IELTS test so it may be worth using this in your class. You can find it here.
But the main emphasis should be on vocabulary that covers a wide range of topics and subjects. Lots of vocabulary exercises as homework can help and reading articles.
What you need to focus on as teacher in the class
Focus on natural English in your classes.
How to do this?
You can do this by letting the students listen to podcasts in English. They listen and then you can discuss the podcast’s topic in class.
Here are some very useful podcasts that you can try in your class:
The students need lots of discussion on subjects and topics that are, well, topical. There are a few resources you can use here:
All of the above resources are very useful for IELTS students. They can practice their listening skills when listening to the podcasts and practice their reading skills when reading the articles directly above.
And all of these resources provide many different topics for them to talk about.
I think it is a great idea to introduce the students to a wide range of diverse topics. This will be very useful for them in the test.
Primarily you need to introduce them to vocabulary and topics where they can talk about themselves and their own lives. Their hometown, their interests, their friends and family.
Tips to Help You Focus On Helpful Points
Fluency & Confidence
In part one, focus on fluency and general confidence.
The students may feel shy to speak out so you need to provide a lot of encouragement and motivation to help them build their confidence.
Take Note of Mistakes
In the class, make a note of common complaints from the general class. Observe pairs or groups and make a note of the mistakes that the students make.
At the end of the exercise, write these mistakes on the board and ensure all the class know of them.
For individual students making specific mistakes, you need to talk to these students privately.
Work in Pairs
I would advise putting the students in pairs for almost every exercise you do in class.
This is great practice for when they do the real test. It will just be them and the examiner so pair work makes perfect sense.
Make the Students Listen
Often in an IELTS class, the students don’t listen to the questions. They simply read them out from a worksheet or a textbook.
In the real test, they cannot do this so force the students to listen to the questions, as their partner or you ask them out loud.
This is a very common problem for IELTS students, they do not know what the question is because they are not listening.
You can correct this by taking away the worksheets or textbooks and forcing them to listen.
Don’t move too quickly.
This may be a difficult challenge for you in some IELTS classes as the students may be in a hurry to learn as quickly as possible.
My test is next weekend! I need to get a 6.5 or the sky will fall on my head!
It is no use just leaping from one level to the next in quick succession. This will help no one.
There has to be a slow process from one level to the next so that students can absorb different vocabulary and more advanced grammar.
Ban Common or Overused Words
I used to get students telling me their hometown was beautiful and famous. It was like every hometown in the world was beautiful and famous! Write these overly-used words on the board and ban them.
Get the students to think or use new words. Make them look up synonyms in a dictionary and make note of these new words.
Make All Students Listen
If you have two students talking, then often the other students are not doing anything.
You can involve them by surprise by making a student ask a follow-up question.
Force them to take part, to listen to what other students are saying. This will help them greatly in the real test.
Practice Follow-Up Questions
This is good practice as the examiner will ask follow-up questions in the class too.
You can practice this by writing a student’s answer on the board and asking the class to write follow-up questions.
I have done this and found that students may ask totally unrelated questions.
I have read many books by Hemingway.
Do you like to watch movies in your free time?
By making them practice follow-up questions the students can practice staying on topic and asking relevant questions.
Get Students to Provide Feedback
Ask the students to evaluate each other in the class. This will help them have a greater understanding of the IELTS test criteria.
Match Students Answers to the Test Criteria
This is what will happen in the test after all!
This is not an exhaustive list, but some activities you can easily do in the classroom.
Work in Pairs
Get the students to work in pairs as much as possible. This will help them prepare for the real test situation of themselves and the examiner.
Early on in the process, get the students to come up with a list of possible ideas. Write these on the board and make a master list.
You need to make sure that the students understand fully what the question words are and how questions are formed.
So they need to know all the W question words — what, who, why, when, where. And then they need to think of other ways that we can ask questions — how and using the verbs do and be.
Do you like chocolate?
Are you scared of the dark?
Prepare Topic Questions
Now take the master list of topics and get students to make questions on one given topic.
So if the topic is free-time activities:
- What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
- How often do you do this activity?
- Where do you do it?
- Who do you do it with?
Once you have done all the above, then you can do the following activities:
You have two people, the examiner and the candidate and they ask and answer the questions.
You have one student at the front of the class and the other students ask him the questions. This is a high tension activity but once the students know each other, it can be a lot of fun!
Tic Tac Toe
You put all the question words in the boxes and you have two players.
Each player asks for a question and the class give him a question – could be how, so how many times do you play basketball every week? He answers and if the answer is good, he gets a point.
The first student to make a line is the winner.
All Around the World
All the students in the class ask and answer each other, you could play this with a tennis ball where students throw the ball and someone catches it and then they ask and answer the next question.
All questions on one topic.
These are some useful ways to get the students started on asking and answering questions. After they have come to terms with this, you can move on to more specific topics and practice those.
What kind of topics are there in Part One?
In part one, the students will talk mostly about their own lives.
These are the kind of topics they could talk about:
- Family and Friends
- Arts and media
- Festivals and Special Holidays
Take a look at these resources for lists of questions in the IELTS speaking test for part one.
Drill the students on these questions in every class. Put them in pairs and get them to do test after test with each other.
For each category of questions, provide lists of vocabulary.
You should give them homework every time based on vocabulary. It should go something like this:
- Write any new words in your Vocabulary Notebook
- Find the meanings in an ENGLISH DICTIONARY and write in your notebook
- Write a sentence of your own using the new words
Will they be happy to do this night after night? Of course not! But it will definitely serve them well when it comes to the test.
Let me give you three examples of questions and their related vocabulary.
You could use these resources to help you:
Common Problems for Students
These are some of the most common problems for IELTS students.
- Phrasal Verbs
- Expressing Preference
- Talking about the Future
- ‘Talking Around’ difficult words or phrases
- Giving Reasons for Things
- Expressing Uncertainty for things that happened a long time ago or the future
- Talking about Exceptions
All of the above can present IELTS students with problems. And they will need to address these issues in order to prepare well for the IELTS speaking test.
Best to start them early, so get into the habit of making students confront these recurring problems from the get-go.
Cambridge Press has a fantastic book for this — English Phrasal Verbs In Use.
I have used the exercises from this book many times and found it very useful. This is a great resource to help students come to terms with using phrasal verbs correctly.
I found these resources here:
Talking about the Future
I found these resources here:
‘Talking Around’ difficult words or phrases
This is a common problem when students cannot remember a word or phrase and get blocked.
The only way around this is to ‘talk around’ the word or phrase they are trying to recall. You can do some exercises here where the students describe the word they are trying to remember.
For example, maybe the word is phone-charger. They need to describe what this thing is. It may be important for the examiner to know this word to understand what the student is saying.
So they can say something like this:
This is a small machine that can help put electricity into your phone. We plug it into the wall socket and wait some time.
The examiner will then have a clearer understanding of what the student is trying to say and may even provide the word.
This is much better than the student just shrugging their shoulders and saying I can’t remember the word.
Giving Reasons for Things
The student must tell the examiner clear reasons for things that happen.
Again, it is useless to say I don’t know. They have to think of ways to express reasons for things happening.
Here are some useful links:
Expressing Uncertainty for things that happened a long time ago or the future
Try this link here:
Talking about Exceptions
This link may be useful:
Go through all these common problem exercises and ensure that your students get lots of practice to help them.
Hopefully, this covers a lot of useful ground for you in your class.
The main points to take away from this are:
- To motivate the students in terms of confidence and ability
- To encourage them to expand on their English vocabulary as much as possible
- To practice as many topic questions as they can
- To drill the students in the class and make them work in pairs all the time
By giving them lots of exercises in English vocabulary the students should then have a better chance of expressing themselves in the IELTS test on the big day.
Cover as many topic questions as you can and go through all the questions in the resources and links I provided. That way they are better prepared for the speaking test.
And let me know how this goes in your class in the comments below!