IELTS: Travel follow-up

19th February 2019

Last night’s class threw up several new words, fixed expressions, idioms, cultural notes and even a reference to Thai ladyboys … you had to be there !

Being exposed to new vocabulary is one of the reasons to attend a class, but language is organic; it needs to be nurtured, developed, practised and used.

To wit, here is a list of words that arose last night:

VOCABULARY

accommodate – make space for.

alternate / alternative – one of two choices / a different way of doing something.

car share – people who work or live near each other can give each other a ride, so only one car is used.

congestion / congested – blocked up, unable to move e.g. traffic jam

commuter – a person who travels to and from work.

composite – made from different things.

dozen – a set of twelve (also from French, via Latin).

flexitime – from flexible & time. A method of working where staff can arrive at different times.

fuselage – the main body of an airplane. Word is of French origin. Notice how English borrows many words from other languages.

implement – to use, to plan and then do something.

independent – free, not under anyone’s control or rule.

institute – an organisation usually academic or scientific.

reiterate – to say again, to repeat (see how the ‘re’ often means again – repeat, re-sit, re-do, redesign, re-watch)

The BBC comedy series ‘Car Share

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7uQ4F64Ew8

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.

Idioms

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.

Actually, the idiom is ‘like taking candy from a baby.’

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.

Adverbs

remarkably / significantly – strong adverbs of degree, showing a high change.

quite / somewhat – mild adverbs of degree

Exercises

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 !)

IELTS Talking

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:

When did you go there ?
With whom did you go ?
How did you travel there … and why ?
What did you see and do
What were the good points
Was there anything bad about the trip ?


Some extra revision can be found on this website:

http://ieltsliz.com/ielts-speaking-part-2-topics/

IELTS: Have Love, Will Travel.

10th February 2019

Lesson Notes for Monday 18th February

The theme this week is travel, and students will be expected to give an IELTS response to a question given by the examiner. To warm up (and allowing for the ‘rubber-band’ punctuality of Vietnamese), a quick exercise. Three groups of people arrive at Tan Song Nhat airport and want to get to their hotels in District 1. Maybe they have had a long journey, feel tired and disorientated, not knowing where to go.

What advice would you give them ?

What should they look out for ? What are the dos and don’ts ?

How to get from the airport to District 1

Taxis

The cost to District 1 ranges from 150,000 to 170,000 dong. Do not use USD as it is an opportunity to get ripped off. Use only the two most reliable taxi companies, Mai Linh and Vinasun.Make sure you get a metered taxi.

The cheapest way is to take public city Bus # 152.

It takes you downtown to the Bus Station on the opposite side of Ben Thanh market. The fare is 5,000 dong per person and per piece of big luggage. It runs every 20 minutes from 6 am until 6 pm.

Or you can chose the new Bus 109

Bright yellow, to the City Centre. It runs through the main streets of HCM and the final stop is at Pham Ngu Lao. They run every 15-20 minutes between 5:30 am and 1:30 am. Cost for one-way trip is 20,000 dong and the entire journey takes approximately 45 minutes.

What would you recommend for these people:

Australian business men. Arrive at 10.00 am. Have no Viet currency, only $. Very hot and tired, just want a shower and sleep.

Canadian medical students. Arrive at 14.30. Have local currency. Want to save money but be safe.

French backpackers. Arrive 02.00 am. Very little money.

For IELTS, the students should aim to speak for one – two minutes, without repeating, hesitating or going off-topic (not answering the question). Today’s exercise is to describe a journey that the student has been on. They should mention:

Types of transport used and why

With whom they travelled

Good points / bad points

Why the trip was memorable

The exercise needs to be properly introduced, points arranged logically and wrapped up with a neat concluding sentence or two. Coincidently, I’m going to Bangkok tomorrow, so we could use my experience as a model.

My old friend was visiting Bangkok and, as Thailand is close to Vietnam, I decided to take a short holiday and meet up with him.

I flew with ….

Then took the BTS Skytrain

Then a …

To my hotel. I travelled alone, however I planned to meet up with …

The highlights of the trip undoubtedly:

Not forgetting the …

And Thailand is famous for the friendliness of its people…

The only black cloud was how short the break was, and having to …

All good things must end. It was an amazing trip and the fact that I could meet an old friend made it even more memorable. I hope we can repeat the experience, sooner rather than later.

The students must flesh out the notes, using adjectives, discourse markers adverbs and interesting expressions. Along with this, the voice must depict excitement or disappointment, indicate what is factual and what is an opinion.

And, to link with the title, an appropriate travel song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20S_kwNb4rg

The Sonics ‘Have Love, Will Travel’.

Getting students talking can be a problem, so a simple ‘word bomb’ exercise could be a way of breaking the ice. I shall board the work ‘airport’ and try to elicit as much information or ideas as possible. However, one has to be sensitive to the background of the students. Many are young and would not have had the opportunities to travel that many western people take for granted.

The latter part of the lesson is dedicated to reading. To make this more interesting, I will recommend that the students work in pairs, take turns reading a paragraph, then report to their partner. This is repeated with the partner now reading and reporting to the original speaker.

Winding down, I’ve found some blogs written by non-native speakers which are positively riddled with mistakes. The students can then correct and improve the text, then read it to each other, or the class if they are feeling brave, for pronunciation exercise.

To end, we can look at some funny holiday clips from YouTube and ask if any of the students have had interesting travel experiences, all the time encouraging them to speak in longer and better composed sentences. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XyXZL9nRvo

Listen for: “You pay good money,” ‘You look forward to …” “seduced by glossy brochure,” “I mentioned it,” “pneumatic drill,” “It didn’t turn out like that.”

IELTS: “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

28th January 2019

This quote is from the Austrian philosopher Dr Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) who analysed, among other subjects, the philosophy of language. His works are notoriously obtuse, difficult to read, but some pertinent quotes arise from the vague verbosity, and the above is entirely suitable to language learning. Students often feel frustrated by their lack of vocabulary, their inability to fully express their true feelings. As an examiner, I can sense their embarrassment or anger as they vainly search for a suitable word or phrase. It is so tempting to prompt them but … I mustn’t. Empathy but not assistance.

Tonight’s lesson will focus mainly on listening (there will be a practice test) and reading. However, we start with vocabulary, so I have some exercises aimed at expanding their repertoire, and helping them construct longer sentences.

We shall discuss the Wittgenstein quote and, with the early students, start an informal discussion about how they feel when they speak English. This leads into the first exercise, some new vocabulary and a cloze Test (gap-fill).

New vocabulary

ubiquitous everywhere, very common

naïve innocent, inexperienced

stroll a gentle walk, for exercise (collocation: take a stroll)

a bazaar (noun) a permanent, covered market 

bizarre (adjective) very strange, unusual

absent-minded extremely forgetful

sky-high, astronomical very expensive, maybe too expensive

messy untidy

laundry / laundromat dirty clothes / a place to wash clothes (collocation: do laundry)

predictable it is possible to guess the answer, people doing the same thing

hawkers

Street _______ are common in Vietnam, and they are _________ in District 1. It is nearly impossible for a westerner to take a ________ without being approached. Some claim to sell Ray Bans or designer sunglasses, but you would have to be extremely ________ to believe they are genuine ! They are all fake, probably made in China. Many people try to _____(collocation) money by selling to tourists especially around Ben Thanh Market, a kind of _______, though this is strictly for tourists as the prices are ____________ !

This will lead into a general talk (hopefully) where the students can practise some of the new words, and share their experiences.

The next task will be sentence construction. IELTS expects reasonably long and well-constructed sentences. I’ll start with some examples and then give them three themes on which to work.

Sentence building

Use adjectives to describe nouns

adverbs to describe adjectives and verbs – give more information

opinion phrases

linking words to connect positive to positive or positive to negative

reasons why an action is being done

EXAMPLE:

I like coffee

I like coffee so much because it tastes great and makes me wake up although too much will stop me from sleeping at night but, in my opinion, the benefits far out weigh the disadvantages.

Teaching

I taught a brother & sister; the sister was a bit of a handful always chatting or texting during class. In complete contrast, the brother was a really good student as well as being a young gentleman. I felt he was an ideal student.

Try these:

  • Living in HCM
  • Free time
  • Working and studying.

Finally, there will be some work on suffixes. I’ll focus on ‘ment’ and ‘ness’

‘ment’ or ‘ness’ ?

adjectives = ‘ness’ / verb = ‘ment’

1 The ……. of the court was that he serve five years. JUDGE

2 Hilary couldn’t contain her ……… EXCITE

3 I was amazed at the new iPhone’s ….. LIGHT

4 Getting 95% is a great ……… ACHIEVE

5 Fainting is like losing ………. CONSCIOUS

6 Trying to teach some students is sheer ……MAD

In general to be something = ‘ness’: to be light (in weight) = lightness. If you can just use ‘to’ + word then it will be ‘ment’ e.g. to excite = excitement.

But of course … it is not that simple, as Wittgenstein would be quick to point out. As any English – language student realises, English isn’t 100% logical. Most verbs add an -s in the third person, yet one of the most common verbs ‘to be’ is entirely different (I am, you are, he she it is…).

Most verbs (about 75%) simply add -ed to form the past tense, yet many common verbs are irregular and have to be learnt (or learned) separately. Yet, it doesn’t stop there … even with a regular -ed form, the pronunciation will differ depending on the spelling of the verb. As they say in Sai Gon, “Oi troi oi !” So, while ‘ness’ or ‘ment’ are added to adjectives or verbs, exceptions in grammar can arise.

For example, if someone’s expectations are not met, they are said to be disillusioned. Here, the word is used as an adjective but the noun form is disillusionment. Similarly, an area can be described as ‘overdeveloped‘ but again, the noun is ‘overdevelopment.’

In the last stages of the class, energy is waning so we need to close the books and find an activity. As it is soon Tet Holiday in Viet Nam, I can show some pictures and ask the students to describe what is happening.

May I wish you all chúc mừng năm mới

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.”

IELTS: Lesson 3 – ‘May the force be with you.’

Monday 14th January 2019

Tonight’s lesson focuses on reading and listening, quite passive activities so, to offset this, I’ll do some warm up exercises that will be (hopefully) relevant, interesting and stimulating.

The first exercise needs to be quite light and easy. Students arrive at various times and I don’t want the task interrupted, nor have to keep explaining for latecomers. At the same time, it is not fair that those who are punctual should have some unproductive ‘downtime’.

Yesterday was ‘one of those days’ – nothing seemed to go right but I’ll take my own advise and try to turn the lemons into lemonade: I’ll use it as a learning exercise.

I’ll board some information and then show the students a slide of various pictures and see if they can construct an interesting, flowing narrative. Later in the lesson, I’ll have a task where they have to build longer sentences utilising discourse markers, adjectives and adverbs, so this will give me a general view of their capabilities.

The narrative: 6.50 leave for work 7.40 – 9.40 Young Learners class (21 students) 10.10 arrive home 10.11 – 14.30 wedding party across the street 10.30 – 12.00 prepare work online 17.00 – 21.30 another wedding party but much louder, more drunken karaoke singers 18.00 go for coffee BUT 23.30 Tottenham Vs Manchester United (0 – 1) so ‘All’s well that ends well.’

Vocabulary: cancellation hyper-active irritating excruciating connection deafening anti-smoking culture shock a real handful “A plague on both your houses !”





After, we’ll do a sentence-building exercise. I’ll show how to turn a basic sentence into something more elaborate:

Make longer, more interesting sentences:

I like music but I don’t like karaoke.

Although I love both listening to and playing music, I absolutely detest karaoke because I hear it so frequently in my neighbourhood and I find it abhorrent.

Expand these basic sentences:

I have been to Paris but not Berlin.

She liked the film so she read the book.

His girlfriend asked him to stop playing video games but he didn’t listen and she left him.

The last exercise will lead into the book work, (where students have to look at pictures of various people, some world famous, other not so) and attempt to deduce the reason for their fame. I’ll show six photos of famous Vietnamese, from history, sports and the arts. The students should be warmed up by now and be willing to discuss with partners or in groups who the people are, why they are famous, dates, any information.

Non-Vietnamese may not know many but they may be surprised by the last (a clue there) photo; they may know her without knowing it.

This should stimulate some good discussion especially in a mixed-age class. The first four are historical figures, and it’s fairly obvious what kind of person the fifth man is, and why he’s famous. The last figure could stump the students, but if they look at her, maybe they can guess what field she’s in; the way she looks, the manner in which she holds her head.

The answers are:

Võ Nguyên Giáp (General who defeated the French in 1954) Trung Sisters (defeated the Chinese around 40 AD / CE) Lê Lợi ( 15th C emperor) Võ Thị Sáu (Student activist against the French) Hoang Xuan Vinh (First Vietnamese to win Gold at the Olympics)
Ngô Thanh Vân (Model & actress – she was in ‘The Last Jedi’)

Veronica Ngo is Gunner Paige in THE LAST JEDI.
(Ngô Thanh Vân)

NOTE: Võ Thị Sáu could be a controversial figure and living in Vietnam, one has to be sensitive and delicate about certain subjects. I include her because she is a famous Vietnamese woman, with streets named after her.

Tonight’s reading exercise is practising scanning or skimming through a text, to help develop speed reading, finding pertinent information in a limited amount of time. There will be a block of text and students are given 90 seconds or 2 minutes to find the answers to some questions.

The secret is, of course, to read the questions first then just look for the answers, skimming over unnecessary text, in the same way as a listening test requires reading the questions, only listening for those answers.

After break, the lesson changes gear into listening. Many students find this the hardest part, and each track may need to be played several times. I usually play the entire text once through, then repeat but in short segments.

The last half-hour needs to be a ‘wind-down’ section. As they have focused on reading and listening, the activities should be active and fun. A general knowledge test can be entertaining, the class put into groups and points awarded. Depending on the mood of the class, we could try a B2B game – one student has to guess either a famous person or describe a photo or video clip from clues given by the team-mates. A time limit could be set to make it more dramatic.

It is good to see the students leave smiling and exhilarated from the games as opposed to shoulders hunched and shattered expressions from a grammar-overload. The students, like the Force, awaken !






IELTS 4/5: Speaking Class

Tomorrow evening, 7th January, the class will focus on speaking, pronunciation and present simple/continuous grammar. I aim to get the students speaking as much as possible with as many different people as possible. I intend to kick off with a warm-up exercise, something light while late students arrive.

I’ll show some new compound nouns to do with shopping

window

binge

bulk

impulse

dumpster diving

After defining, and demonstrating the pronunciation, I will ask the students to match with the following photos:

Did the lady go out to buy this top or did she decide only when she was in the store ?

And after some binge or impulse shopping, this could be the reaction:

To encourage students to speak, I’ll ask them what they think is happening in the photos, then elicit more and more information. Describe how people look, what they are doing (to link with the present continuous grammar), why they are doing it and how they feel about the types of shopping.

This can be an activity for the whole class to join in, relax the students and let them feel confident to shout out answers. We’ll then turn to working in pairs. I’ll show four slides and ask the pairs to tell me the story:

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS A STOCK PHOTO FROM GOOGLE IMAGES (NOT ONE OF MY STUDENTS !)

I’ll ask two or three pairs, but the basic story is quite straightforward. To make it more relevant to IELTS, we’ll see how we can develop a basic sentence into a more elaborate, interesting one, using adjectives and adverbs.

Many students, when describing a photo, will use pronouns – “She is asleep.” This should be replaced by naming the subject, (a girl) then giving more information (age, clothes, surroundings, appearance etc) and by employing discourse markers to link the ideas into longer, IELTS-friendly sentences.

An example would be: A young girl with long, brown hair is sleeping at her school desk. She appears to be a public school student due to her uniform of white blouse and blue skirt. Furthermore, she sits in an old chair with a thin wooden desk, typical of schools. Additionally, she has a black ribbon in her hair but her face is covered by her arms. It can clearly be seen that other students are also finding it hard to stay awake.

After this activity, we’ll move onto an IELTS-style speaking test. In pairs, preferably new couples, they can act out a Part One test. Here, the examiner will spend four to five minutes asking basic questions of the student, subjects such as where are you from, interests, job, studies, family etc. However, these are just leading questions, there is no interaction.

The examiner will be looking for answers that are relevant, neither too short nor too long, use correct grammar, employ good vocabulary and are given in well-structured sentences.

After this, it’ll be a case of ‘hitting the books‘. Students need to realise that in many cases, a teacher’s hands are tied – we have to teach certain pages or subjects and it can’t always be entertaining or wildly interesting … but we can try. One reason why teaching is so exhausting is that the class depends on the energy radiating from the teacher (who may well feel under par) even when we are confronted by bored faces, unmotivated students, loud yawns, mournful sighs and obsessive, repetitive, pleading looks at the clock … which never seems to move.

To end, I may try a ‘Family Fortunes’ (FF) game or eyewitness. I’ll show two slides of faces, give them two minutes then ask them to describe what they have seen, as if giving a report to the police. It’s interesting to see what students find as important. It can also be fun to use a famous person in the ‘line up’; in Vietnam, I use the singer / TV personality Hari Won.

Hari Won

At the end of the lesson, the students should have learnt: new vocabulary, which words are stressed in normal conversation, should feel comfortable using present simple or continuous … and have spent most of the lesson speaking and listening to each other.

IELTS 5 (reading & listening)

31st December 2018

First IELTS class at my new centre, and if you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know my previous experiences with IELTS have been less than glorious. However, I was optimistic about this class; I would only be teaching reading, listening and speaking. No more having to read (often poorly-written) essays about graphs or charts.

One of my first students said she was, “Very excited.” I thought she meant about the lesson – but no, she was excited about New Year’s Eve and what she would be doing after class. Oh well … nevermind.

I thought it would be good to immediately get the students mixing and talking to each other, get them up from their seats, so I prepared a questionnaire. They had to interview different classmates and learn a little about them

Gather information about your classmates

QuestionNameResponse
Why are you studying IELTS ?

Where would you most like to visit and why ?
Would you like to live abroad ?


What is the hardest thing about learning English ?
How do you solve this ?


How often do you useEnglish ?
Do you need English at work ?
Do you write, read or speak English everyday ?


What do you like most about western culture or
countries ?


What idioms do you know ? 
Which are your favourites ?
Do you understand why people use these idioms ?


This lead into the idiom it’s raining cats and dogs which most students had heard (it means raining heavily).

Today’s reading and listening was based on types of housing and areas. I boarded some extra terms:

gritty / industrial

quite / safe / residential

boring / peaceful / suburban

bustling / vibrant / city centre

Which would you apply to these:

All photos are from the UK

New vocabulary introduced included:

apparently – something you believe to be true

conversely – the opposite, on the other hand, however

bear with me – please wait a very short time

Pronunciation focused on dates – the difference between 3rd, 13th and 30th.

Grammar was adjective-noun phrases – such as a stressful journey, a peaceful holiday, delicious food, expensive watch etc.

Nightmare on IELTS Street.

The IELTS exam is becoming increasingly important, as a sign of English proficiency, and as a requirement for working or studying abroad. It is quite academic, and requires a lot of work by the students. From a teacher’s point of view, it can be quite unappealing, as a lot of the work is quite dry; students will get bored and restless, which will manifest itself in their behaviour. I’m not just talking about teenage classes, or younger learners; one of my worst classes EVER was with an adult (so-called) IELTS class

I first encountered IELTS when I was applying for my second job in Sai Gon. This was with a smaller company, centrally located and smartly-designed, which offered IELTS classes. I had to prepare an IELTS lesson and I, of course, had no idea what that entailed. After some online searching, I groped together a vague lesson plan – it was a writing lesson, I believe.

The ‘lesson’ was for two young adults, under the supervision of the office manager. I recall I had to talk about a graph, then guide the students as to how an essay should be written (word count, structure, paragraphs etc).

Naturally, I had no idea how well I performed (because a lot of teaching is a type of performance) and waited for my Grabbike home, thinking that there were other schools to which I could apply. But the next day, I got the call that I was accepted. Obviously, their need for teachers overcame my blatant shortcomings.

The site of my second English centre, opposite the War Museum. The campus has now relocated and the site is a medical centre.

And so to IELTS. I was sent to ‘the best’ public school to teach 45-minutes classes. Public schools in Sai Gon are usually in rooms with no air-conditioning, probably no IT or whiteboard – it’s chalk and dusters – and an average of forty students, most of whom couldn’t care less about English. It was, for them, simply a free lesson, a chance to do their chemistry homework, or play with a Rubik’s Cube, or sleep, or anything save learning English.

It was certainly a mixed bag. Teaching the same lesson to different classes are different lessons. One class was silent as the grave (except one loud-mouth who thought he knew everything and was intent on proving how the Cambridge books were wrong and he knew better). Apparently they were used to the teacher speaking, and they just wrote (pretended to). Not great preparation for the speaking component. Another class of supposedly higher-achievers hated me, and loved showing it. I was lucky if I got five students to even acknowledge my presence in the room, let alone listen to me.

However, the last class of the week was the best. I was able to introduce Camus, Kafka and Rimbaud into the lessons. It made a change from the quotes attributed to Lenin that adorned several classrooms (apparently, “study, study and study,” or “learn, learn, learn.”). And it was one of these quotes from Camus that made to decide to quit this company:

“What am I doing here, wasting my time, destroying my vocal chords and exhausting myself when the vast majority of students couldn’t care less.” The situation was absurd. I want to spend my mornings drinking coffee and reading Camus. I resigned the same day. Merci, Albert.

Some time later, I was working for one of the top centres and was offered an adult IELTS class. Let me do my best to reproduce the scenario.

There were about a dozen students, two over thirty years of age, but the rest teenagers. Oh, crap ! All types were represented here: the one that says his mother sent him and he DOES NOT want to be here, the one that walks into the room, ignores the teacher and begins to sleep on his desk, the one that looks with contempt and hatred at the teacher, deciding that there was nothing I could teach him and he was going to sigh and mutter throughout the lesson. Let us not forget the type that has confused a class room with a social club, and thinks it’s absolutely acceptable that he should carry on a conversation, top-volume, with his neighbour, in Vietnamese (which, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, is not the most euphonic of tongues). Latecomers are par for the course in Vietnam, barely worth mentioning. And then there was the know-it-all; the student who had studied the grammar book and wanted to ask questions. And more questions. And … yeah, so on and so on.

The ‘Camus’ moment came when, after a lengthy discussion about the placement of adverbs, he informed me that he was going to continue using adverbs as he thought best, and ignore my advice (after all, I only have a distinction in linguistics, have written plays and been published, not to mention possessing a teaching qualification from one of the best teaching schools). I know teachers are supposed to be endowed with infinite patience, but after a long sweaty day, screaming teens, sourly teens, swearing teens, the odd-lunatic, and work-shy TAs, infinity somehow becomes a lot nearer. After three lessons, I requested, then begged, then offered to pay for a replacement teacher. Full credit to the centre, they complied, but it was the final nail, or straw, take your pick. Notice given and by October I was a free man … but after reading Camus, that is a very contentious statement. And now … time for coffee.