Grammar and IELTS writing
Sunday 4 September 2011
I’m Lewis Richards, co-author with Richard Brown of ‘IELTS Advantage Writing Skills’, which is a new book published by Delta, aiming to help students achieve a 6.5 or higher in the writing part of the IELTS exam. If you’d like to have a look at some sample pages from the book, have a look on the Delta website, where you can get an idea of what the book’s about.
One of things that we wanted to do in the book was to help students to improve the range and accuracy of their grammar in their IELTS writing. I’ve been teaching IELTS in a school in Portsmouth for many years, and in the first couple of years I was doing it, I was always really surprised to see students who were, for example, in an upper-intermediate general English class, writing task 2 IELTS essays with basic grammar mistakes in them. I couldn’t work out why someone whose level of grammar was so high could keep making errors in essays with tenses or grammar items they had studied before lots of times.
After a while, I realised that the problem was a lack of tailored grammar exercises, exercises specifically designed to train students in how to apply grammar items directly into writing. Let me give you an example. I’ve got in front of me a (really good) upper-intermediate coursebook, and the grammar on these two pages is relative clauses. The students are given a typical pair of sentences, and asked to talk about the difference between them:
My brother, who is a doctor, lives in New York.
My brother who is a doctor lives in New York.
You’ve probably seen, and taught this kind of thing before. It’s designed, obviously, to elicit the idea that the first sentence contains some extra information (‘My brother lives in New York’ is the main idea of the sentence, and the fact that he is a doctor is additional information about him), and the second sentence defines which brother I’m talking about (it implies I have more than one brother, and you would expect the next sentence to be something like ‘However, my brother who is a teacher lives in London’). Now, nothing wrong with this, but how do students go from knowing this to producing good relative clauses in an essay?
I think there are two things to do with each piece of grammar.
1. Decide exactly in what way we use this grammar in writing.
2. Make exercises with examples of the kind of language you will want your students to write in their essays.
So, with relative clauses, it seems to me that one of the most common type of sentence used in IELTS writing is the type of sentence which contains a relative clause at the end, to give more information or a comment on the main idea. For example:
The most important museums are free to enter in the UK, which is a good idea, because it allows everyone to have access to culture.
If you run your own business, you can make the decisions about the company yourself, which means that you are in control of your working life.
And when I started to think about which verbs are commonly-used with the relative clause, I came up with these: means, enables people to, allows people to, gives people a chance to…,makes it possible/easy/difficult to.., prevents/stops people from…, encourage people to…
Here’s an exercise, based on this – try it for yourself:
Complete these sentences with a relative clauses, using one of the verbs above:
Example: 1. In many countries, governments give scholarships to students from low-income families, which makes it possible for poorer students to go to university.
2. House prices tend to be very expensive in big cities, which…
3. The government in my country is going to cut the price of public transport next year, which…
4. A lot of people who own their own businesses work extremely long hours, which…
5.Travelling by public transport is free for people over 60 in the UK, which…
6. Sports centres are highly subsidized in many countries, which..
I’ve done this exercise lots of times with IELTS classes, and overnight students come back with essays with this type of sentence in. Very pleasing for the teacher, and it seems to me much more effective to do this kind of tailored grammar than to hope that rules learned in general English classes will somehow find their way into students’ essays.
What do you think? How would you tailor the teaching of, for example, the present simple or condionals, to IELTS writing? I’d love to hear your feedback and comments.
(By the way, my answers were:
2. which makes it difficult for young people to get on the property ladder 3.which will encourage more people to leave their cars at home 4. which means that they often have very little time to spend with their families. 5. which makes it possible for pensioners to visit friends and family in other parts of the country 6. which means that sport is affordable for the majority of people.)
Delta Development Blog
This blog will be updated at least once a week, so add it to your bookmarks. You can also subscribe to the feed to be notified when it's updated.
Meet the Bloggers
- Bob Dignen & Steve Flinders (February to April 2013)
- Hania Kryszewska & Paul Davis (April to June 2012)
- Louis Rogers (January to March 2012)
- Ken Paterson (December 2011 to February 2012)
- Richard Brown & Lewis Richards (September to November 2011)
- Liz Walter & Kate Woodford (September to October 2011)
- Kyle Mawer & Graham Stanley (April to August 2011)
- Nik Peachey (from November 2010)
- Nicky Hockly (September & October 2010)
- Julie Pratten (July & August 2010)
- Gill Johnson (April 2010)
- Chaz Pugliese (March 2010)
- Luke Meddings (August 2009)
- Lindsay Clandfield (July 2009)
- Duncan Foord (June 2009)
- Scott Thornbury (May 2009)
The Developing Teacher
The Developing Teacher has been awarded the 2009 Duke of Edinburgh/ESU Award for Best Entry for Teachers. The Developing Teacher suggests that teachers themselves are the most powerful agents of change and development in their own professional career.
Part of the Delta Teacher Development Series. Being Creative takes you on a journey that reveals how all teachers have the potential to become creative. Whether you are experienced or new to the classroom, Being Creative allows your teaching to take flight.
The Book of Pronunciation
Part of the multi-award-winning Delta Teacher Development Series. The Book of Pronunciation is a definitive account of the key role pronunciation plays in teaching and learning, providing a highly authoritative but hugely accessible overview of the essential elements of English pronunciation as well as a wide range of classroom practice.
Teaching Unplugged was awarded the British Council 2010 ELTons UK Award for Innovation. Teaching Unplugged is the first book to deal comprehensively with the approach in English Language Teaching known as Dogme ELT.
Teaching Online is essential reading for any teacher interested in online teaching and course delivery. It deals comprehensively with both the tools and the techniques necessary for online language instruction.
Culture in our Classrooms
Part of the Delta Teacher Development Series. Culture in our Classrooms acknowledges the role of culture in the English Language Teaching classroom and provides lesson content which is relevant, useful and engaging for students.
DIGITAL PLAY - 2012 ELTONS WINNER IN INNOVATION IN TEACHER RESOURCES! Digital Play is a pioneering book on the use of computer games in language teaching. Authors Kyle and Graham are experts in teaching with technology and training teachers in innovative classroom practice.
The Company Words Keep
Part of the multi-award-winning Delta Teacher Development Series. The Company Words Keep is a practical and thought-provoking guide for language teachers, showing how the latest insights into “language chunks” can lead to learners acquiring natural and fluent English.
The Business English Teacher
From the multi-award-winning DELTA TEACHER DEVELOPMENT SERIES. The Business English Teacher is a book not only for teachers who are thinking of making a career move into the field of business English teaching but also for those who would like to increase their skills and develop their potential.
Arlington Ebune-Nakeli on Teaching children how to learn :
This could be a very good companion...
July 6, 2015 3:38 pm
Helen Beesley on Film in Action:
Hi Mary, thanks for your message to Kieran, which we’ll...
May 18, 2015 10:07 am
Mary on Film in Action:
Hi kieran I advocate your site everywhere. I currently work in China and...
May 18, 2015 12:56 am
Helen Beesley on Going Mobile :
Going Mobile is not only shortlisted for the 2015 ELTons but is...
April 1, 2015 3:43 pm
Sophie Rome on Financial Fridays with Julie Pratten – Stress Testing for Banks :
March 21, 2015 9:46 am
13 Mar 15
13 Feb 15
30 Jan 15
16 Jan 15
11 Dec 14
27 Nov 14
25 Nov 14
13 Nov 14
30 Oct 14
30 Oct 14
15 Oct 14
6 Oct 14
1 Oct 14
6 Aug 14
2 Jul 14