Pain relief for IELTS writing

Monday 3 October 2011

by Richard Brown

Hi I’m Richard Brown, co-author with Lewis Richards of IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills, which is a new book by Delta aimed at guiding students step by step through the writing module to a score of 6.5 or higher.

In this blog I’m going to talk about the thinking behind the organisation of the book, and believe me, it took some thinking!

Lewis and I wanted to create a resource which would be supportive both to students studying on their own at home and to teachers delivering IELTS courses. Like many, I was a general English teacher who was suddenly thrown in at the deep end to teach IELTS courses, and found teaching writing was the most challenging part by far. I remember hours spent searching through piles of books desperately looking for decent lessons on writing, or begging colleagues for help. Many IELTS coursebooks chuck all the skills in together so it’s unclear for less experienced teachers what to pick out and teach. So we hope IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills removes some of the PAIN of teaching writing for the exam by basically preparing a writing course for you, leaving you free to pick and choose what your students need to focus on. What’s your experience of teaching writing for IELTS? Which aspects do you find the most challenging? What are the challenges you have found with teaching writing?

OK so I’ll explain how the book is organised.

The first point to mention is IELTS Advantage tackles task 1 and task 2 entirely separately. This may sound an obvious decision but many of you will be used to teaching from IELTS coursebooks which jump from one part of the exam to the next, or slot in ‘writing folders’ etc every so often, straight after a listening task for instance. As I mentioned earlier, we wanted to ‘map out’ a clear path to helping students to reach 6.5 or higher in writing, so it is important that students know where they are at all times.

The first 6 units of IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills deal with part 2 (essay writing) and the final 3 units work on part 1 (graphs/maps/processes). For the teacher, or student using the book for self-study, there is no confusion. Two task 2 units are devoted to advantage and disadvantage essays, two cover problem and solution essays and two look at opinion essays. Unit 7 is based on graphs with a trend, unit 8 graphs with no trend (comparative charts) and unit 9 deals with maps and processes.

This simple but important distinction from other IELTS resources allows both teachers and students to pick up the book and easily focus on the sections which meet their immediate needs. What do you think of this idea? Where would you start with the group of learners you have at the moment? How would you determine where to start, or would you just move through the book?

So how do the units work?

We decided to structure all the key work in the 6 task 2 units around two key texts. The first text is a general interest article (an interview, newspaper article, vox-pop etc) and the second text is a model answer of a task 2 essay. This gives the units a nice symmetry so, again, as you and your students get to grips with the book you will know exactly where you are.

We wanted to start each unit with a general interest text to first engage the student with a common exam topic (e.g crime). The majority of the exercises we put in with the first text encourage students to use texts to pick out, notice and discover high frequency lexical phrases which they can use in their next piece of writing. The text acts a great platform for developing lexical competence in the topic area in an efficient way. Tips on the value of studying language beyond word level and to notice word grammar, we hope, will enable users of the book to accelerate their speed of language acquisition.  The general interest text also acts as a vehicle to generate ideas on the subject, from our experience of teaching IELTS many students have a good level of English but lack the ideas or examples to add substance to their essay writing. What’s your experience?

The second half of the task 2 units is built around a model answer task 2 essay. So after exercises to stretch lexical range, feed in ideas and generally build confidence, the students get to see the type of essay which would be considered as a strong answer. With each model answer comes three ‘spotlights’ relating to grammar, organisation, cohesion and threads on structure and linking. An important point here though, at the start of each task 2 unit there is an invitation for students to ‘Try it first’ where they should have a go at writing the essay themselves before seeing the model. Why do you think we decided to include this step?

Ok that’s an introduction to some of the ideas behind the thinking and organisation of IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills. Do you think this book would help in the school where you are working? What do you think about the two text approach? And the inclusion of model essays?

We’d love to hear your views. Thanks for reading.

4 responses to Pain relief for IELTS writing

  1. nguyen says:

    Thank you for an easy introduction to IELts writing to students.

  2. Hi Richard, as I mentioned in a comment in another post, I think this book is awesome. I’m an IELTS teacher in Singapore looking for good IELTS student books and this book is one of the best I’ve found so far.

    I just went through my copy and will be going through it some more. But one question I have concerns why you split the two parts of the three essay types. Why didn’t you address each one in consecutive chapters?

    Looking forward to more IELTS blog posts from you guys. Cheers!

    • Richard Brown says:

      Hi there and thanks very much for the positive feedback about the writing book.

      To answer your question about why we split the 3 essay types into 2 parts, the answer is really that in some contexts IELTS students are limited for time and so by introducing the 3 main essay types in sequence this way they can quickly reach a point where they know what is expected.

      For those students with more time to prepare, they can then build on the foundations from the first 3 units by working through units 4, 5 and 6.

      That was the thinking behind the sequencing.

      Thanks again and enjoy the book!


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