This lesson is to encourage students to think creatively, and to help them with sentence buildings by encouraging the use of discourse markers and complex sentences.
Additionally, here is a golden opportunity to utilise adjectives and adverbs, so often conspicuous by their absence, not to mention a chance to create dialogues where characters can use idioms, expressions and features of everyday real English.
Let’s kick off (start) with an example.
Describe these two people. What are they wearing ? What are their personalities ? What do you think they do ?How do they meet ?
Students can here perform a task suited to their level.
Firstly, just describe the photos. Remember do not start with a pronoun (he, she, it). Instead, tell me what you see.
Example: I see a young lady with a bow in her hair NOT She has a bow in her hair.
For more advanced students, explain more about the young lady. Do you think she is beautiful (or pretty, cute, adorable, gorgeous) ? What are her origins ? She looks Asian, but she could live anywhere in the world. Describe how she looks and what she’s wearing. What do you think her personality is ?
After, do the same with the young man.
For advanced students, look at the background. The young lady is standing in a white room, with a book and some flowers. What does that suggest to you ? White is often associated with purity and innocence. Flowers could be sweet and feminine (although different flowers have different significance in different cultures), while the book indicates education and intelligence. Her hair bow appears to have musical notes as a pattern, so possible she is a musician ?
As for IELTS students, write a description then replace any basic words with low-frequency vocabulary (example, replace beautiful with gorgeous, stunning etc).
Now, let’s get creative:
Write a short story using dialogue and adjectives.
MOTIVATION: why do the characters do what they do ?
PLOT: what happens … and why ?
CHARACTERS: make sure each one is an individual and speaks differently.
Where do they meet ?
How do they meet ?
How do they know each other ?
What do they think of each other and how do they express it ?
Boram, a young Korean lady, is at home getting ready to go out. She has put on her favourite white and pink dress and, with her lucky pink bow in her luscious chestnut hair, looks absolutely stunning.
Today she is going to meet her cousin who is coming to Seoul for the first time. Boram needs to practice violin, because she plays in the university orchestra and they have an important concert coming up, however, she is concerned about her cousin getting lost in the big bewildering city. That is typical of Boram, always putting other people first. She is a very sweet and thoughtful caring lady.
[In the first sentence I named the lady – Boram. Therefore, we can use a pronoun – she – because we know the subject]
Tell me about her cousin, Leon.
Now, try the same exercise with any of these situations:
Next time, we can work on dialogue … have fun and STAY SAFE
As I constantly inform my students, IELTS is not a typical English class … it is IELTS English by which I mean, students have to demonstrate a command of the language that includes a wide range of vocabulary, the confidence to speak fluently, the correct stress and intonation to keep your listener engaged, the ability to form complex sentences and link them with appropriate discourse markers. Additionally, a knowledge of how English is REALLY spoken, to wit, sounding like the student has been interacting with real native-speakers, not merely repeating verbatim from a text book, is a must.
Piece of cake, no ? (an English idiom – you will need to learn some basic expressions, phrases and idioms to make your spoken language more natural and interesting).
OK, let’s break it down. IELTS requires a lot of work, study and practice. Students that come to my class expecting to kick back and be entertained are in for a shock, and then some. As such, I will not be defining the idioms I employ in this blog, e.g. Piece of cake – YOU will have to look them up yourself.
Don’t worry, young lady, I’m here to help you. Having said that, if you’ve been on a three-month course and you’ve left it to the last week to study … then you will probably fail, and deservedly so. Yes, life in the IELTS lane is tough, it’s dog eat dog (though ‘devour’ would be a more IELTS-friendly word than ‘eat’).
Where to start ?
OK, IELTS wants what they term ‘low-frequency’ words. Basically, look at your English; replace any basic adjective or verb or indeed noun, with a ‘better’ word, a word that would be used by the higher-educated native speaker. Your best tool here is a thesaurus of which there are many online, or downloadable for free.
It works thus: Let’s start with a very basic adverb ‘very’. This is too simplistic for IELTS, so type in the word and click enter.
A number of words will appear. As above, the darker-shaded words are what the computer’s algorithm indicate would be more suitable, while giving additional options in lighter shades.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating – so let’s try it: rewrite these sentences using low-frequency words:
I think Bangkok a better destination than Chiang Mai
She bought a cheap bag
The film was good
Linking ideas with discourse markers. I give all my students a print-out of common words and expressions that must be consulted and utilised. I hope that all my students take them home and study them religiously. Conversely they may use the paper to line the bottom of a bird cage. In all reality, the majority of students say, ‘Thank you,” have a glance, put said sheet in their bag and forget all about it. Consequently, several weeks later, the students are still resorting to ‘and’, ‘but’ with a possible ‘however’.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make the horse drink
Adverbs are incredibly powerful and so easily inserted into everyday text
I worked at another large and prestigious language centre, and had the pleasure of marking some essays by teenagers. From twelve pieces of ‘writing’, I found only ONE adverb.
Adverbs add information and interest to your language, but my students seem to avoid them like the plague. They may deign to insert a ‘very’ to please me … but it doesn’t ! I expect, nay, DEMAND more.
Without further ado
An example. IELTS will give students a very open-ended subject and then expect a well-constructed piece of writing, or fluent, coherent speech upon said subject, with no deviation, hesitation or repetition. It is a chance for the student to perform a solo, to demonstrate how much they have learnt and studied … or otherwise … generally it is ‘otherwise’.
Time for an anecdote. I was teaching one class, and endeavouring to give them ample opportunity to speak and practice English. Nobody spoke. If I selected some students, they would make an appalling act of not having heard the question, or to answer in a single word. Some students even began laughing that teacher was asking the class but nobody was responding. Hilarious … but he who laughs last, laughs longest. I decided this class was a waste of my time (because it WAS a waste of my time) and left them to their fate … CUT TO some weeks later, it’s the day of their speaking test … suddenly, they are running up to me for help, “What should I say ?”, “I don’t know what to do”, “I’m going to fail.” Temptation was to tellthem where to go ( that is an expression that does NOT imply direction !), but I gave them what help I could in the minute I could spare. Needless to say … most of the class were disappointed with their score, and no doubt, upon arrival at the family nest, were met were screams and derision. And no doubt they put the blame squarely where it belongs … on the foreign teacher !
The concluding line was an example of irony. I’m not going to tell you what irony is, look it up for yourself ! Do you want a fish or a fishing rod and knowledge of how to catch your own fish ?
So now, a fairly run-of-the mill IELTS question:
Tell me about your favourite gadget
This piece is, as one would expect, quite lengthy and jam-packed with information and detail. I don’t expect you to write or speak at this level … but I expect you to TRY.
As you read, look out for:
complex sentences (sentences which coney more than one piece of information)
expressions, phrases and idioms
THEN – practice reading aloud. Not just once and, “Teacher, finished,” but again … and again … and again. Yes, this is not entertainment but it WILL help you get the score you want from IELTS
One of my favourite electronic devices is my Kindle, an ebook reader, which is small and light. I always take it with me when I travel; I’d be lost without it.
The Kindle is primarily a way to buy, store and read books in electronic format. At first, I wasn’t convinced; I liked reading real books. However, books take up a lot of space and, at least in the UK, are rather expensive. When I saw what a Kindle can do, and that so many books are free, I was hooked ! I had to get one. I bought my device in 2014 and I’m still using it today.
As mentioned, I use my Kindle for reading. Literature, including poetry, is one of my passions. Instead of going to a shop, I just browse the online store, click and wait for it to download. With reasonable wifi, this can just take a minute or so … then I can start reading. It is no surprise that ebooks are ubiquitous in the UK.
Although I read a lot, the Kindle is more than just an ebook. It has wifi so I can access the internet, can play music, write notes and play games.
The wifi is vital, especially when I travel. I can maintain contact with friends and family, watch YouTube if the hotel TV is less than enthralling, or read travel guides such as Trip Advisor. Naturally, I can also book tickets or make reservations and therefore pay significantly less.
I recently travelled to Thailand to meet some friends. I didn’t want to buy a new SIM card, and my friend only had an old phone, so there was a dilemma; how to stay in touch ? Thanks to my Kindle, I had email access, so we could plan when and where to meet.
I can’t watch Vietnamese TV, due to the language barrier. Consequently, the Kindle plays an even bigger part of my life, as I need some way to relax after toiling away for hours at work.
The choice of books is amazing. In the stores, a single book can cost around £10, but recently I downloaded the entire output of the Russian write Tolstoy for less than £1.50 … incredible !
Kindles come in many shapes and sizes, so before you buy, you need to ascertain how you’ll be using it. For example, do you want a basic ebook reader, just for books, or the latest model with wifi ? This will, naturally, affect the cost. Then you have to decide upon the extras, for example how much storage space do you require, or a super-fast charger or protective case ? All of these bump the price up considerably.
If you’re interested in purchasing one, I have some information for you. I did a quick Google search and saw prices started at under 2 million VND, averaged around 5 million, but some were over 15 million. That, for me, is too extravagant.
In conclusion, my Kindle is very much a part of my life. It accompanies me everywhere. I simply don’t know what I would do without it.
Now … YOUR TURN
Write a piece about YOUR favourite gadget, using the above as a model
A: My laptop is so slow. B: Buy a new one. A: I would if I had the money. B: Why is it so slow? A: That’s a good question. B: Did you take it to a computer shop? A: I would if I had the money. B: Well, I guess you have to live with it. A: Sometimes I want to throw it out the window. wanna B: You don’t want to do that. A: Why not? B: You might hit someone on the head.
Re-write but with smart phone instead of ‘laptop.’
Being a bit short – not having much or enough money.
A:Can I borrow £5? quid B: Sure. Why do you need it? A: I want to buy lunch. B: Where’s your money? [Pronunciation: Wheres yah monnnee ?] A: It’s not in my wallet. B: Your wallet is empty? A: I don’t have even one quid in it. B: Being broke is no fun. [Broke = having no money] A: Even if it’s only for a short while. B: It’s always good to have friends. A: Friends will lend you money when you’re broke. B: As long as you pay them back.
Write a similar dialogue but with different situations.
Look up the meaning of these words and expressions, then see how they’re used in the following dialogue.
This is my final class with this group as they have tests next week, conducted by the Vietnamese staff. Therefore it is a review lesson, going over recently-acquired words and practising listening skills.
It threatens to be quite passive (although this class is anything but passive) so I need to start with some energetic team games, focussing especially on speaking.
To begin, a STB game based on the previous unit (‘Special Places’). I’ll show various pictures of world landmarks and ask about them, for example where is this:
Bonus points for naming the mythological creature, and for asking the riddle with which it is associated. Other sites include the Taj Mahal, the Parthenon, a lighthouse, and the recently-discovered Hang Soon Dong cave here in Vietnam.
psycho / palace / famous for / in common / gadget.
As usual, it helps to give a model to serve as an example. I shall use this photo:
In this picture, the British spy James Bond is surrounded by some very scary alligators who are extremely hungry. He tries using his magnet gadget on his watch but it doesn’t work. Bond is famous for escaping from very dangerous situations. Quickly, he runs across the water stepping on the backs of the creatures. Bond films are incredibly popular because they are amazingly exciting. Do you find them interesting or boring ?
Now for the students:
To end the activity section, an opinion poll. This makes the students get up and ask classmates for their views, so listening and speaking skills are utilised – and no teacher-talking-time !
This survey will be based on Special Places. The students are offered a choice of four locations: The Pyramids of Giza, the Parthenon in Athens, The Taj Mahal in India and Buckingham Palace in England.
Which site do you want to visit most ?
What is the weather like there (use adverbs) ?
What can you do there ?
What could be a problem ?
After this, it’s time for the book work and assigned lesson plan. As mentioned, there is a lot of listening and video watching, so that should occupy most of the remaining time.
To finish we need a high-energy game. ‘Family Fortunes’ is good as it makes the students work together, and can be a test of general knowledge. I could ask: name four countries in Europe, four typical dishes from USA, four famous singers etc.
Tomorrow night’s class is heavy on speaking and listening. One theme is travel, focusing on getting to the airport or station. I’ve noticed that students in all classes, of all ages, prefer activities to actual bookwork. Hence, I shall do maybe up to an hour of ‘games’ designed to practise and reinforce vocabulary, introduce new expressions and, mostly, get the students producing English among themselves.
Again, I’ll be able to recycle material from other classes, adapted to the news of these specific students.
Firstly, I’ll introduce some common fixed expressions. Three should be enough at this level:
Long time no ….
At the end of the …
Better luck next ….
‘At the end of the … ‘ is a very common expression, especially used by footballers in post-match interviews. Here is just one example:
I will play this 2 or 3 times, asking the students what it is about and can they hear the expression (which is said twice).
Next up, a quick review of new vocabulary. I’ll show some definitions and the students have to give me the word or phrase:
What you think of something when you just see it (two words)
Something you want to do or achieve in life – a
Sending a file, picture or music using email –a
An adjective meaning very good – a
Expression meaning you have chosen the best area or shop or office – Y c t t r p.
The third activity is to practise speaking and using new language. Students are put into small groups and take turns speaking. The topic shall be travel, and the students have to use the following:
amazing / attachment / incredibly / predict / first impressions / you’ve come to the right place
With all speaking exercises, it helps if the teacher or a top student models first, so that all the students understand what they have to do. I shall use the same words but my theme shall be food:
On Saturday, I was out shopping and I felt very hungry. I went into a restaurant and my first impression was not encouraging. It looked a bit dirty and I predicted that the food wouldn’t be very exciting. However, they had an interesting menu with vegetarian options, which was amazing ! I ordered some pho and salad and it was incredibly delicious. I thought to myself I’ve come to the right place. I took some photos so I’ll send them to you by attachment on my next email.
The following activity maintains the groups. This activity shows three options for getting downtown from the airport. There are also three pairs of people who arrive at different times and have different requirements. The students must read the information and discuss the merits of each method. Then they must advise the travellers which method is best suited to their needs. This activity can be found on a previous blog, and the link is:
While they students work, the teacher shouldn’t interfere unless directly asked, or give too many extra instructions; the students need time to work alone and develop language skills. However, I can listen out for any mistakes in grammar, pronunciation etc. At the end of the exercise I can board these and the class can make corrections. This prevents an individual student becoming embarrassed.
Before the book work (today it’s listening to videos and answering comprehension questions), there is one more exercise from a book. The subject is ‘have you ever done it ?’ and the students are presented with 14 situations. There are given the base verb and have to answer the questions making sure to use both positive and negative answers. For example:
I ………… Star Wars films (see) I have seen all the Star Wars films
I ………. to Thailand (go) I have been to Thailand
Then it’s time for the assigned work. I’ll aim to work and leave about 15 minutes for some informal games. The Family Fortune (FF) game is very popular; here groups are given a board and marker and have to write four answers, some general knowledge, some about me. Examples from last night are:
Four countries in Europe
Four ways to say ‘hello’ except in Viet or English.
Four foods from Italy (here we have a lot of fun with exaggerated pronunciation). What better teacher than Christoph Waltz from ‘Inglorious Basterds’ ?
This scene can have two roles. First we compare how a Brit would respond to hearing of someone having an accident (turn our heads, look very sympathetic and say ‘Ahhhhhh, poor you,’). Then we see how Mr Waltz’s character responds (0:54 – 1:34). In the film, a young lady has broken her leg and the German inquires how the accident happened.
The Italian pronunciation scene begins at 2:24.
We can alternate with some personal questions such as ‘What will I do after work ?’, ‘What are four things I dislike about Vietnam ?’ and what four instruments can I play ?’ (It doesn’t matter if I can only play one, it’s just a test of vocabulary, and it makes me seem much more interesting !)
This is the penultimate class before the speaking test, and the assigned work involves a fair amount of reading and listening. Therefore, I want to introduce more speaking activities so the students can practice and I can check for pronunciation and correct use.
We’ll kick off with a warm up – I’ll board some fixed expressions and the students must complete them:
The last expression leads into the second activity, ‘Lonely Hearts.’
I’ll re-use the photos from a class I took last week, where I show three men and three woman with a very brief bio of each one. The students have to match them up, then speculate on what the outcome of the date will be …
After, there will be a quick-fire vocabulary game to go over the meaning of recently-learnt words and expressions.
something that is everywhere, very common, easily found
Quoting a fact from somebody else
An adverb that means much more
An adverb that is mild, a little, a little more
To repeat something
(Again, answers at the end)
The next game is Desert Survival. Students are put into two groups and given a sheet with a number of items. They have to work together to decide upon five items ONLY that will help them survive in the desert.
You need to select five items below to help you survive in the desert.
cigarettes / blankets / barrel of water /flare gun /torch
magnifying glass / Beatles CD / make-up set / dried food
grammar study book / Angry Birds game / air rifle / sun block
I see your point but … / that’s interesting, however …
I’m not sure about that / I can’t go along with that
I don’t feel that is entirely right / I fail to see the merits
I respectfully disagree / I find your contention somewhat flawed
Your case (arguement) is not without value, but …
Have you fully considered the implications of your decision ?
The students have to practice the given language and negotiate with each other, then with the other team. We need to find a consensus of five items.
This will probably be enough to take us to the book work.
The first item is the difference between ’cause’ and ‘make’
Look at this sentence:
There was a recession in 2008 because of the collapse of the housing market.
This can be re-written, to alter the style of writing:
Because of the collapse of the housing market, there was a recession in 2008
The collapse of the housing market caused a recession in 2008.
We can see ’cause’ in because of. Here, we are talking about a thing (the housing market). When we talk about the effect on people, we usually use ‘make.’
The recession made many people loose their jobs.
In the area of Ho Chi Minh where I live, there are a lot of open-air karaoke singers, and a vacant lot hired out for wedding parties.
On Saturday, a wedding party caused a lot of noise.
The guests made a lot of noise
Listening to drunken people screaming karaoke makes me angry !
Additionally, ’cause’ is more informal, while ‘make’ is frequently used in informal collocations:
The delay was caused by heavy traffic. The delay made me late.
The heavy traffic caused me to be late. The incessant noise caused me to be angry
This is a more formal than ‘made me late’ but the sentence structure has to be altered; to be is added before the adjective (late).
After, with about thirty minutes left, the energy and motivation will probably be somewhat low (to say the least), so an activity to wake them up and to encourage them to speak and express their views. I shall simply write two contentious issues on the boards, in the hope of provoking the students:
Vietnamese are so lazy
Vietname should be part of China
I am expecting a vociferous outcry, but the object here is to let the students gather their ideas and verbalise them in a suitable way for IELTS.
They will need to give their opinions, use adverbs, and back them up with reasons.
Finally, we can play a Family Fortune (FF) game. Students are put into small groups and have a set time to come up with four answers. These can be learning based (e.g. four adverbs of degree), new vocabulary or general knowledge questions. To make it more fun, I could ask questions regarding my experiences (I have lived in four countries; which ones ? What are my favourite Vietnamese dishes ? What do I like more in VN than UK ? etc).
Hopefully the class will be happy at 9.00 pm, NOT because the lesson is over, but because it has been worthwhile … probably a mixture of the two !
The answers: see / day / time / day out / everybody
ubiquitous / according to / significantly or remarkably / quite or somewhat / reiterate.
Yes, it’s adverb time. This class was introduced to them last week, while I was happily sipping a beer in Thailand, a remarkably beautiful country which, despite being quite close to Vietnam, has a significantly different culture, atmosphere, vibe.
Tonight’s class focuses on speaking, so I’m hoping for a lively session with all students enthusiastically participating.
To begin with, there are several types of adverb:
I use a mnemonic device to help me remember the five main types: DF MPT (degree, frequency, manner, place, time).
I shall look at the adverbs they learnt last week and make a ‘run & write’ game. Class will be split into two teams; I’ll board or say a word (careful, fast, angry etc) and one person from each team will have to write it as an adverb.
To reinforce, I’ll select one of the more outgoing students to act out various scenarios, for example the student can walk carefully, speak quietly, eat quickly. Thus the students will have both written and spoken some basic adverbs.
WEATHER: Grey, cold WEATHER: Very cold, very hot in summer
JOB: Journalist JOB: Electrician
LIKES: Making models LIKES: Sudoku
Travelling Football Piano Meeting friends
WHY IN VN: Writing a story WHY IN VN: Travelling around Asia
BEST: Meeting Vietnamese people BEST: Cheaper prices. Good food
WORST: Too hot. Food too spicy WORST: Extremely hot and sticky
OPINION: Incredibly noisy and humid OPINION: Amazingly fun place.
This is an exercise to help students form questions. A great way to start a speaking exercise is simply to model it first, eliciting as much information from the students. For example, I could board answers and ask the students what questions could they ask to get these answers. To broaden their vocabulary, I will demonstrate various approaches;
To enquire about my job:
What do you do for a living ?
What do you do ?
What is your occupation ?
How do you make a living ?
For my likes:
What do you like doing in your free time ?
What are your hobbies ?
What kinds of things are you into ?
The students ask the chosen student questions, then report back to the class. To make sure all the class are paying attention, I’ll ask questions and award points. It is common situation that students who are NOT presenting have very limited interest in other students who are speaking.
Depending on time, I will add a quick game where I board a basic sentence and the students have to elaborate by adding adjectives and, now, adverbs.
The student is good – The intelligent student works extremely well.
The food is nice / The weather is hot / The homework was hard / My cat is lazy.
And onto the bookwork. Today’s book mentions Cambridge (which they read about before with reference to the boat race), Buckingham Palace in London (which most of the students know is the home of the Queen) and Bristol in west England, which, I am sure, will be unknown to the students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khM7tjui86Q
This is quite a good video, as it is just visual (thus giving the students a little break, as well as introducing them to a new city), and it can be followed up by asking what people can do there ? What kind of buildings did they see ? Would they like to go there ? What did they think about it ? Interesting or boring … and then use adverbs to make their answers more interesting.
Also, I like to let the students hear different accents because in the real world, they probably will not be listening to English teachers speaking slowly, carefully and in Standard English, but to people from all over the English-speaking world or, more likely, non-native speakers. Locals from Bristol have a different accent to mine (east London but with Standard for work), so here is a short clip illustrating the difference, and it has subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qKBRnyWleU
The students can try to copy the sounds and also learn everyday fixed expressions. All in all, I’m hoping it’ll be an exciting and active class.
In keeping with the emphasis on speaking, in the reading section, one section of the class can read one paragraph, then close their books while the other students ask them questions, so here we have reading with speaking and listening skills being practised.
This show is about two co-workers who ride to and from work every day. It is set (the location) in the north-west of England, around Manchester so the accent may be harder to understand.
not my cup of tea – a polite way of saying that you don’t like something
piece of cake – if something is very easy, or if something is not a problem.
I checked at a previous IELTS centre about the use of idioms in the course. The verdict was that one or two are totally acceptable, as it shows a deeper knowledge of English. However, they should be used appropriately, and are more suited to speaking, as opposed to writing.
Fixed expressions / phrases
according to – when you give a fact or information that someone else says.
brand new – totally new, un-used, still in the box or wrapping.
for this / that reason – because of this / that
hard to reach – difficult to get to.
mouth-watering – food that is so delicious, it makes the mouth produce saliva by smelling it or even just talking about it.
off-peak – a quiet time, either for driving and commuting, or for holidays.
off-season – a quiet time for hotels, flights and holidays.
second hand – an item that has been previously used.
turn a blind eye – to see something wrong but pretend not to notice.
remarkably / significantly – strong adverbs of degree, showing a high change.
quite / somewhat – mild adverbs of degree
Use the new vocabulary in this conversation.
Peter: Sorry I’m late; the roads are so ——– (very busy). Sally: There was an accident ———-the radio (the radio said). You look ill. Peter: Well, I had —- (12) beers last night ! I’m glad we’re on ——- (not fixed time). Hey, is that a new phone ? It looks ———- (just bought). Sally: No, I got it ———– (previously used). I know an ———–(different) way to get to work. It’s on the back streets so ————– (because of) it’s empty. Peter: Less ———- (people going to work) ! ——————– (no problem !)
The student should be prepared to talk for up to two minutes. Having said that, there is one minute allowed for preparation.
The speaking can be planned in a similar way to writing; a short introduction; one idea or subject at a time; mention both something good, then bad; a short conclusion.
Avoid repetition, hesitating and speaking about something not directly related to the question. One way to ‘buy time’ to think is to use one of the following:
How can I put it ?
What’s the word ?
That’s an interesting question
Well, I hadn’t thought about that before
The examiner will also be looking for politeness and eye contact, as well as listening for intonation and pronunciation. Grammar is naturally important, but one or two minor mistakes are acceptable.
Last night we practised talking about holidays, so for practice, talk about a holiday you went on. Try to use some of the new vocabulary from above.
If you need some ideas, use these pictures for assistance: