Teaching IELTS: Developing efficient reading skills for IELTS

Sam McCarter provides an excellent overview of the common features of texts written in English for the IELTS exam in this seminar. All IELTS teachers, whether new to the exam or very experienced, will find valuable ideas to take into the English language classroom within this talk.

Sam McCarter

Sam McCarter provides us with an excellent overview of the common features of texts written in English for the IELTS exam in this seminar.

Session summary and objectives

In this IELTS seminar, Sam McCarter explains the different text types used within the IELTS examination. He outlines a number of ways in which to get students both familiar with the language and able to analyse the text. He provides an excellent range of tips and activities for teachers to take into the IELTS classroom.

Who is this session for?

This seminar is useful for all teachers who teach preparation courses for the IELTS exam.

Sam McCarter is a full time ELT writer and teacher. Eleven of his nineteen published books are on IELTS. Watch Sam McCarter’s other seminars recorded for the British Council Seminar Series:

  1. What are the common features of texts in the IELTS exams? How do you get students to recognise them? How does recognising these features help them in the exam?
  2. ‘Students focus on the words they don’t know when they don’t know the words that they think they know’. This is a quote from the seminar. What do you think Sam McCarter means?
  3. Sam McCarter says that the IELTS exams is focused on noun phrases, whereas general ELT courses are verb-based. Do you agree with this assertion?

Task 1 Needs analysis

Which kind of task-type do your IELTS students find most difficult? Do you know the answer to this question? Consider this list:

  • Cause and effect
  • Problem and solution
  • Classification/argument
  • Process
  • Description
  • Time relationships

Set your students 6 different tasks over a reasonable period of time, based on the standards task types listed above. Keep the task short, say no more than 200 words. Mark these tasks, while paying attention to the challenges the students have in each case. What language do they need to do better in these tasks? Also, what knowledge do they need about the task type in order to improve their performance?

This is an interesting needs analysis exercise. It is useful at any stage of your course as a means of formative assessment.

Share what you find out with other teachers. Compare your conclusions with what other teachers think.

Task 2 Revision lists

It is better when the students compile their own lists instead of the teacher giving the vocabulary to the students. This way you can activate the students’ own passive knowledge of the language, and help make learning more motivating for them by allowing them to work collaboratively with each other and by turning their passive knowledge into active language use.

  • Ask students individually to write down all the words they know about ‘cause and effect’.
  • Then put them in pairs to compile one list.
  • Then put them in groups of three or fours to make the list as long as possible.
  • Include all the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs onto one revision sheet.
  • Check that all the language is relevant to ‘cause and effect’.
  • These lists can become revision lists – and new language can be added from time to time.
  • Refer back to these lists whenever the students do another cause and effect task, or when you wish to test their lexical development through formative assessment.

Get students to create their own revision sheets for different aspects of the language.

  1. Start with the end in mind. Share with your IELTS students what each of the score bands in IELTS indicate so they understand what they are aiming for.
  2. Ensure you help students to understand what kind of texts they are studying in the IELTS course. It isn’t enough to focus on the language within it. Different text-types operate in different ways and it is important to raise learners’ awareness of this. There are only a limited number of text types used in IELTS.
  3. Help students to learn not only the ‘what’ about written texts, i.e. the language and content, but also the ‘how’ aspects, i.e. being able to analyse how the text is constructed and the key features of the text-type.
  4. Advise students to always look at the comprehension questions about the text before they read the text properly. Remember, that the questions are, in fact, a summary of the text content.
  5. To give students the maximum time possible to answer questions, and check their answers, it is crucial to develop their skimming and scanning skills. Develop and practice these skills time and time again in class.

Join the discussion!

What strategies do you employ to deal with mixed ability classes? Sam McCarter says you need to ‘modulate’. This means adjusting your input, varying the frequency and level of content to meet the needs of various learners. How do you do this? Discuss your tips and experiences with other teachers.


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