IELTS: I love it, I hate it, it’s not my cup of tea, it’s OK.

Monday 21st January 2019

Tonight is what we call a ‘mixed bag’; the lesson includes speaking, reading, listening and grammar. It’s Monday; students will be arriving after work, tired, maybe not entirely motivated, maybe not entirely in the mood for a three-hour lesson, maybe committed to watching the clock move it’s intractable hands from 6 to 9. IELTS is a hard course, it requires work, energy, motivation. The teacher’s thankless task is to bring the book alive, motivate the unmotivated and ignore, rise above, the veiled insults and sarcasm that is prevalent in most classes. But, enough, time to put noses to grindstones and upload tonight’s plan.

The first 15 / 20 minutes or so are a French farce of people coming and going, greeting each other, moving chairs, chatting on phones. I do a short warm up exercise, introducing vocabulary or phrases. It provides useful expressions for punctual students, whereas latecomers will not have missed any book work. Tonight it’s going to be common fixed expressions and in which situation they can be used:

This one’s on me Let me think about it    It doesn’t matter Thanks for coming

I don’t believe a word of it  I’ll be with you in a minute As I was saying It was lovely to see you I don’t get the point   I see what you mean

You look great today I’ll be making a move then  Just looking, thanks 

Match the phrase(s) with the situation

You meet an old friend

Compliment someone 

You are asked a question but need time to consider

Someone tells you a story – you think it is false. 

Friends drinking in a pub / bar

You go into a shop but not necessarily to buy anything

A customer arrives but you are busy

You don’t understand what someone is trying to prove

You understand what someone thinks (but not necessarily agree with)

There is a small problem / Someone upsets you but you want to make it OK

To continue with a conversation that was interrupted.

These fixed phrases are so important in making students sound like natural speakers, which will result in higher IELTS scores.

The next section will be expressing likes, dislikes or having no strong feeling either way. A good activity will involve different skills being used, so here I will play three songs, in English naturally, but from different countries, and with different accents. I want to elicit the students’ opinions of the music and how much they can understand. First, the presentation, new vocabulary:

Like: I absolutely love … I’m crazy about … I (really) like I’m into I’m a big fan of … I’m quite keen on I haven’t heard (seen/read) this before, but I think it’s great

No strong opinion: I don’t mind I have mixed feelings about …. It’s OK I don’t really have any strong views / feelings either way

Dislike: I hate I detest I can’t stand I don’t really like I think it’s awful I’m not a big fan of … I’m not that keen on …

Secondly, we could play a ‘word bomb’. In this activity, a generic word is boarded, in this case, ‘music’. The students shout out as many words they can, a word-association game. Once the board is full, or the students have no more ideas, we can expand; types of musical genres, instruments, musical terminology, ways of listening to music, of buying music, musicians, bands, solo artists, people who work in the industry. This type of game is good as there are few ‘wrong’ answers and the speed can encourage shyer students to speak and participate (note comparative of shy can be shier or shyer).

First, from Australia, we have Kylie Minogue. The lyrics start at 00.30

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c18441Eh_WE

Secondly, we turn to a Country singer from USA, Mr Hank Williams. The style is markedly different to the previous song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WXYjm74WFI

Finally, The Smiths, from the mid 1980s. here, the accent may be difficult, but it is a slow song, and under two minutes in length.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nxQLJmshak

The students will play the role of examiner and candidate. One will ask questions and the other will be expected to answer in an IELTS-style manner, ie, long sentences, discourse markers, good grammar and syntax, appropriate intonation, eye contact and body language.

I have already given the students tips of ‘buying time’ or filling up ‘dead air’ by employing expressions such as:

That’s a good / interesting question

Let me think …

Well, I would say …

How can I put it … ?

Of course, these mustn’t be over-used. Students will also be encouraged to stretch their vocabulary, and self-check:

Is that the right word ?

By which I mean …

Have I used that in the correct sense ?

After this it’s time to hit the books. As mentioned, the tasks are varied and I want to pace them so that all students feel they have understood before moving on to a new subject. Tonight we also have the three ways of pronouncing the -ed form of regular verbs:

Pronunciation of -ed past tense verbs

Words have 3 end sounds:

‘t’

‘d

‘id’

If the word ends with: 

ch / f / k / p / s / sh / thi The sound is ‘t’ look = ‘lookt’

t /or / d/ The sound is ‘id’ visit – ‘visitid’

Other sounds are ‘d’ bang = ‘bangd’

What is the correct pronunciation for these regular verbs ?

Look = Looked / laugh = laughed / end = 

beg = / visit = kiss = 

brush = / breath = love =

Read these sentences:

He cleared up the mess / He rolled up the newspaper / I have visited Hue

No Homework ! That sounded good / Teacher shouted, ‘No way !’

We all worked hard today / Tom talked so much / The students played many games and laughed till their sides burst.

To end, I like to expose the students to short video clips using a variety of Englishes (as there is so much variance even in the same city with slang, pronunciation, argot, accent, dialect, local words etc). To make it more relevant, I look for a Vietnam-related theme. One of my favourites is this chap, a serious beer enthusiast, who has just discovered a beer from Vietnam, Sai Gon Red.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKr6Cj-Xr9g

I want the students to hear a different accent from mine (I aim for a standard British variety), learn some new vocabulary and also watch the para-linguistics: the expressions, intonation, body language. As my beer-drinking friend has just discovered, to paraphrase The Smiths, “some beers are better than others.”

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