How to bring life to IELTS materials

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Bringing life to ielts materials (1)The IELTS exam is a bit of a paradox.  It deals with real life topics, so you’d expect it to be thought-provoking and current.  Yet materials that we use to teach IELTS can feel inauthentic and dull. The reasons behind this are clear to editors and writers of exam materials:

  • Texts need to be ‘future-proof’ i.e. not feel out of date for the duration of the product’s shelf life. (This is a particularly relevant concern for IELTS materials that are primarily delivered in the form of a print book. New editions of digital books are easier to release – more about this below.)
  • Authentic materials are expensive – the cost of buying the rights to use a Guardian newspaper article or a video of a speech from a Climate Change summit, for example, are generally very high.
  • Real life texts can be too long, or too difficult, or too contentious, or too UK-centric for inclusion in published materials.

Because of these constraints, it’s easier for teachers to bring the outside world into the IELTS classroom than it is for publishers to do so, though, as you’ll see from the below, I think there are possible solutions for publishers too.

3 ways teachers can bring IELTS to life

1 Use video has long been the IELTS teacher’s friend, but for those who are looking for an alternative, and who don’t want to spend hours trawling through YouTube for suitable content,  Russell Stannard’s recent teacher training video newsletter is a must watch.  It introduces five websites that have curated and presented CLIL video content – teachers just have to click on the relevant subject.

 Ways that I’ve used video in my IELTS classes:

Prediction – I’ve taken a still from a video documentary, edited it (using Snag It) so that only outlines of shapes are visible and asked students to guess what the video is about.  Here’s one I made earlier from a video on flooding in the UK.

Planning and structuring – I’ve used a problem/solution presentation about traffic congestion.  Students listen to the video and complete a T-chart.  Here’s an example:

Using quotes– I’ve given students half of a famous quote and asked them to listen to video extracts in order to complete them.  They can then use the quotes in their essays.

2 Re-order the coursebook

Students can sometimes be reluctant to keep in touch with world events, so it’s necessary for the teacher to bring these to their attention.  When a piece of news dominates the media, it makes sense to choose a relevant IELTS unit to teach, and to bring articles into class.  This works even better if each student reads an article from a different perspective – it promotes lively discussion.

3 Flip the classroom

As I’ve written in another blog post, learning the technical aspects of writing can be a dull (but necessary) task.  I’ve made Prezi videos that teach cohesion techniques, grammatical structures and academic vocabulary.  Students watch these for homework, complete follow-up exercises and come to the class primed to use these in their writing and speaking.  For those who haven’t done the homework, it’s possible to make time in class for them to catch up quickly.

3 Ways that publishers could bring IELTS to life

1 Use the flipped learning approach

As above, this would allow a lot of the technical and Academic writing input to happen outside class – Collins’ Get Ready for IELTS, available in January, appears to offer just this.

2 Create a flexible course with granular content

Wouldn’t it be great if teachers could select sections of content from an online course and integrate them with authentic materials from the web to make their own bespoke and up-to-date coursebook?

3 Publish Enhanced eBooks for IELTS

This would allow texts to be more regularly updated and enable video to be embedded easily.

Cambridge University Press partnered with Discovery Learning to produce topical video material for their EAP-lite series Unlock.  National Geographic Learning has collaborated with to produce some interesting skills books.  This gets around the issue of buying the rights to use materials.  Here’s hoping we’ll see similar partnerships benefitting exams materials.


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