Monday, 1 September 2014

Let's talk IELTS Academic Writing: Band 7

So, I receive a lot of questions about IELTS writing, particularly the Academic exam. Whilst I have a clear strategy for the speaking which works for both General and Academic IELTS, as the exam for this is the same, the writing is different and the Academic writing exam is, in my opinion, very particular. 

So I have been trying to get together a list of the key things for students to bear in mind for this. I want to share with you the results of these efforts. My focus has been on a band 7, as that seems to be the most 'useful' band to aim for in terms of being able to subsequently work and study in another country.

What I have concluded from my research is the following, hopefully clear and precise, advice...


For the Academic exam there is specific vocabulary that your students should know and try to demonstrate use of within their writing. In my opinion, students can find the best detailed academic word list on EngVid. There are also 3 videos linked to this list which are invaluable, for nouns, verbs and adjectives.

To add to this, the following information is aimed at helping students to understand where they can pick up those extra points for the Academic writing tasks.


A band 7 can be described as a 'Good User'. This means that the student demonstrates that they have 'operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriateness. Misunderstandings may occur yet the student can use complex detailed arguments well.'  (

Writing is marked according to 4 criteria:
  1. lexical resource
  2. grammatical range and accuracy
  3. coherence 
  4. and cohesion/task response
The student will get a score out of 9 for each of these and then the marks are averaged to give the final score.

I have found that a very good source for IELTS advice is from DC IELTS. They have breakdowns of the different sections and I have compared their advice to many other sources, yet always seem to return to them. This information below is a mix of my own thoughts and those from DC IELTS.


A student must show a range of structures, and these must be mostly error-free, with only occasional mistakes that do not interfere with the understanding of the issue being explained. Students should aim to use plain English, but this doesn't mean 'simple' English, this means to avoid really long sentences and to be careful with multiple clauses and other complex structures.


There are no marks in IELTS for quality of ideas. They need to be relevant to the question, but that is all. It really makes no difference if the examiner disagrees.


Introduction: 'Tell them what you are going to tell them'

It may help students to ask themselves the following questions before they write their very first sentence:

What do I think?  and then Why do I think that?

Details (main 'content' paragraphs): 'Tell them (the details!)'

The students should ideally create a listing paragraph to guide the reader (this is 'signposting' for the reader). It is a paragraph containing different ideas that all connect to one main idea. It is perhaps easiest to think of this as the “Firstly” “Secondly” “Thirdly” paragraph. However, a key to making them work is to make sure that different ideas connect to one central idea.

For the essay question this should specifically have a basic 4 or 5 paragraph structure and each paragraph should focus on one main idea and expands it - DC IELTS recommend something called 'PEE':
  • Point out
  • Explain 
  • Example

'Tell them what you have told them'

The usual rule is that students should not put any new detail into a conclusion, but only summarise their main content paragraphs. This means in practice that they pick out the main details of the subject that they have been looking at. For the academic essay this can include their own opinion. In the academic report this should only be about the facts presented and nothing more, as this is a reporting/summarising task, so it is a mistake to do this or to interpret the data. The main rule is that they should not put any new detail into a conclusion, but only summarise their main content paragraphs.

So, I hope that helps clarify things for you.

Let me know how you get on with your students.

The Teacher Abroad

Thursday, 28 August 2014

How many words do you know?

I've seen a few quizzes banding about on social media this week, about how many words do you know in English. 

Obviously these are quizzes for entertainment purposes so they include all the extravagant and obtuse words that perhaps even most native speakers wouldn't know. In fact, I would challenge anyone except an avid crossword puzzler to get all of them! 

However, this made me think about English classes with kids. In the UK, for native speakers, there are defined 'word banks' for children to know for their English studies, by certain levels or ages at school. Yet how many ESL teachers adopt the same approach with their younger students? 

I have started to do this with some rather nice results. I had previously used word lists, although only those defined for specific ESL exams, such as KET for schools. Now I have started to use the lists given to native children, such as the UK Government example HERE for spelling. The results, particularly with creative writing activities, have been wonderful. 

We all know that children learn at a much faster pace than adults. We also know that children have a much richer imagination. However I feel that I had been afraid of giving children too many 'difficult' words to learn. Yet I was assessing what I thought was difficult from an adult point of view, in terms of length of the word, pronunciation, meaning. Strangely the more difficult the word to pronounce and spell, the stranger the spelling and the more unique the significance, the more the kids have loved learning and using them and have lapped them up!

So, what is the lesson from this? Give the words to the kids and let them decide. Just try. There are hundreds of work banks, or word lists on the internet. If you want UK lists, do a Google search under 11+ or Years 3 to 6 and see what you find. Let me know how you get on!


The Teacher Abroad

Monday, 25 August 2014

Let's talk about it!

The main way for any student to practice their English is to have some good old-fashioned conversation practice. That's great, and it's the bread and butter of my income mostly, but the real problem is what do you talk about?

After the initial lessons where students learn 'tourist' English, of practicing role-plays for the airport, the restaurant and sight-seeing, then you are usually left with people who often don't know each other very well.

To have truly deep and meaningful conversations, and by that note I mean conversations that really exercise the student's English and gives them new vocabulary and useful phrases, then you need to have a subject of conversation. There is only 1 occasion, at the very start, when you can ask something like 'Why don't you tell me a little about yourself?' Doh... it can be really really boring, for both teacher and student, and can be really really difficult to strike up any kind of challenging or relevant discourse. 

So... I have found 2 very useful websites that will provide you and your students with enough conversation ideas to last at least a year of lessons, if not more! Just pick a topic, and off you go!

Firstly I would recommend Conversation Questions for the ESL/EFL Classroom as this has a wide range of topics with questions suitable for lower intermediate level students. This is a project of  The Internet TESL Journal. They have TESL Journal published articles from 1995 through 2010, and is now an online resource book for teachers who can refer to their published articles on teaching techniques and other things of interest to EFL and ESL teachers.
Secondly I would recommend Teflpedia which has again a really wide selection of topics to choose from but the questions have a more complicated construction suitable for the more advanced student. They describe themselves as 'a wiki for the English-teaching community to share knowledge'.

So... I hope they help you!


The Teacher Abroad.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Let the magic of Harry Potter help you learn English!

One of the great ways to get your students to start improving their English language skills is by reading. Books are great for learners of all stages, but you will probably find that most students get a little bored with grammar books and exam texts after a short while. 

So why not encourage them to start reading a book in English?

If you are unsure where to start, which book to choose, then I would highly recommend Harry Potter.  These books are loved by many people, young and old, plus they have been translated into a multitude of languages worldwide. So the likelihood is that your students will have already read some in their own native language, or perhaps seen the movies in English or with subtitles. As such, they may already know one or two of the stories, so moving across to reading it in English will prove to be much easier for them.

The books are fun, they are written primarily for young teenagers, so they are perfect for learning English, as the vocabulary will not be complex, nor academic, and the language will be the day-to-day language in use today. Your students can easily learn and start using new vocabulary, new phrases and new ways of speaking just by reading the dialogues in the stories.

In addition, you can also encourage your students to listen to the stories at the same time as they are reading them, by downloading many of the audio versions that you can find for free on YouTube. All-in-all, this will help your students to learn the correct pronunciation and improve their speaking simultaneously!

So next time you want something a little more 'magical' in your English lessons, get Harry to help you out!

The English Teacher

Monday, 18 August 2014

Talking to the Natives!

A lot of my students say that they want to talk like a native. I have a problem with this. Well, in fact I have 2 problems with this. 

Firstly, they will never ever achieve it, in my view, even after 20 years of seriously studying English. If you were not born a native then you will always have a 'foreign' accent riding as a priority in your brain. Yes, you may get to a level of true fluency, and even be able to think in English, but pronunciation will always be tinged with a hint of something a little more exotic. So, why waste your time, and why bother when I personally think that English speakers as a second language actually do sound quite lovely. For example, I love to hear the injection of the romantic Italian lilts of pronunciation into English, and besides, it demonstrates your bilingualism without any effort whatsoever! Ok, I understand that some people could have a more 'brutal' rather than 'complimentary' accent in English, depending on their own native language, however a lot of this can be ruled out with good pronunciation training. Yet my overriding belief is that you will never totally, utterly and completely get rid of your own accent and why should you. As long as you are understood then in reality your speaking English goals have been achieved successfully!

Secondly, which 'native'? England, or the United Kingdom to be precise (as it stands before the Scottish referendum!) as it is littered with different pronunciation, names for things and local idioms. You would have to choose WHO you want to talk like. I once had student from Azerbaijan, and he pinpointed this down to the accent of Michael Caine. Good for him I thought. Nice and trendy, and so I did my best to help him achieve this goal. Yes, I explained my opinion on the matter too, but if that's what he wanted then who was I to stand in his way? However that 'trend' is also something to bear in mind. A 'cool' accent today may be frowned upon in a few years time.

However, they are my thoughts, but I must now expose you to something that you could show to your students if they wish to explore the different accents of the UK. Whilst there are many examples on YouTube there is only one that I would recommend, that is from Angliophenia.  The channel is very professional, yet fun and entertaining, and will introduce you to wider aspects of all things besides the English language, such as food, TV shows, the worst British rulers, and even the attraction of Benedict Cumberbatch! However, 'One Woman, 17 British Accents' is the video that I wish to get you to see, and you will understand why this is a good video to show to your students and demonstrate the accents of the UK.
"Siobhan Thompson performs a tour of the accents of the British Isles - and the celebrities who speak with them! "
Siobhan also recommends the following:

Five lessons to help you do a better British accent here:

So... enjoy!

The Teacher Abroad