How to Teach IELTS Speaking

In this tutorial you will learn:

  • How to approach teaching IELTS Speaking overall and Part 1, in particular.

This will help you to teach about the IELTS Speaking exam because:

  • You will learn about the main challenges and purposes of the IELTS Speaking exam.
  • You will see real activities that you can practise with your IELTS exam candidate.
  • You will learn how to prepare your exam taker in terms of overall attitude and mindset.

When you have to prepare your students for the IELTS exam, you’re up for a task that is far from easy, especially when it comes to the Speaking section.

In this tutorial we intend to help you navigate the daunting task of teaching your exam candidates what the Speaking exam is like and how to do their best at it.

MINDSET, ATTITUDE AND GENERAL APPROACH

Remember, a calm and relaxed student makes the best IELTS candidate!

First and foremost, one of the most important parts of the exam is your student’s mindset and their attitude towards it.

Your student will be calm when they know what to expect from the exam.

Teach them the exam format:

  • How long is the exam? – 10 – 15 minutes
  • How many parts are there?
    • Part 1 (4–5minutes) The student will need to answer short questions from the examiner about yourself and everyday situations.
    • Part 2 (3–4minutes) The candidate will give a one – to two-minute talk, based on your own experience, on a simple topic provided by the examiner.
    • Part 3 (4–5minutes) The student will discuss some general but more abstract topics with the examiner that are related to the Part 2 talk.
  • What is the test like? –There’s only ONE examiner, who will ask them questions and record the entire exam session. THAT is very important: exam takers are often taken aback by the fact that they are recorded during the exam.
  • What’s the general approach to the test? – The exam candidate should follow the examiner’s instructions and listen carefully. They should make sure they always speak clearly and answer only the questions that you are asked. No additional information! The examiner will know if they have memorised answers and candidates will certainly lose marks if it turns out that they memorized answers. So, NO MEMORISING ANSWERS!
  • How is the speaking test marked? – The speaking test is marked using a 9-band scale, as the entire IELTS test. The examiner will be listening to 4 features of your language:
    • fluency and coherence
    • vocabulary
    • grammar and accuracy
    • pronunciation
  • What if the exam candidate doesn’t understand the examiner? – Main rule: DON’T PANIC! Tell your student to ask the examiner: Sorry, could you repeat the question, please?
  • What if your exam candidate is not sure about their answer? – Tell them that there is actually no RIGHT answer. And they could always use hesitating structures such as:
      • I’m not sure what I think about…
      • Let me think…
      • I really can’t remember but …
      • It depends on…
      • I tend to think that…
      • On the whole, it seems that…
  • What should your test taker do if they made a mistake? – Remind them to act like a figure skater: get up and go on. Just GO ON. Errors are inevitable. Embrace them. Or correct yourself quickly and go on. But don’t make a point of correcting themselves in every single mistake.
  • Should your exam candidate say less or more? – MORE is always better. That’s called EXTENT. The more extent there is to an answer, which means if an answer is reasonably long, the better! But remind the student of typical answer lengths for each Speaking section.
  • Can your student make up when they don’t know? – Yes, absolutely. It’s ok not to tell the truth; no one is going to check that. The candidate should only answer the questions appropriately and develop. However, they should not go off topic, as they will lose points for that. They should give relevant explanations, examples or opinions, depending on the question.
  • What if your student is very stressed and keeps hesitating? – Remind them to try and fill their “errrrm” thinking pauses with appropriate fillers, such as “Well, I’ve never thought about that…”. etc. or NO sound at all.

The purpose of Part 1 questions is to hear the exam taker answer questions on a few simple topics to find out whether they can sustain conversation about themselves and everyday situations.

This part is typically perceived as the easiest one, as talking about personal topics is usually easier than talking about more abstract topics.

Prepare your test taker to hear questions on the following topics:

  • Description of place of origin
  • Daily routine
  • Work and employment
  • Background education and childhood
  • Family structure
  • Public transportation in your home country
  • Forms of building in your home country
  • Typical occupations in your home country
  • Typical landscapes and weather in your home country
  • Plants and animals
  • Your personal likes and dislikes
  • Preferences in terms of reading material/films/music/games/entertainment/art/internet/pets/shopping
  • Hobbies, interests and pastimes
  • Celebrations, holidays and festivals
  • Languages and linguistic proficiency
  • Newspapers, media and TV
  • Etc., as this is not an exhaustive list

Remind your student that the questions in Section 1 of the Speaking exam will be clustered around one or two of these topics.

Thus, they may get 10-12 questions about Work and employment, and 6-8 questions about Hobbies, interests and pastimes.

Structure your activities around these topics, build vocabulary based on them, and enlarge their lexical resource as much as possible.

Remember to practise consistently and encourage building a solid vocabulary base for each of these topics.

Teaching IELTS Part 1 SUMMARY

Encourage your student to

  • Answer briefly the introductory questions.
  • Make sure they can talk about their hometown and studies or work.
  • Build phrase lists and topic collections.
  • Listen to the question forms and the words that the examiner uses. These will help form their answer.
  • Try to give a full answer. The examiner wants to listen to them speak, so it is essential to keep talking.
  • Not memorise any answers. They will lose marks for this.
  • Answer each question directly. Don’t talk about something unrelated to the examiner’s question.

What were some of the biggest challenges that you’ve had to overcome when preparing students for the IELTS Speaking exam?