Teaching English often means being asked to prepare students to take the IELTS  English tests. This can be a daunting task if you aren’t familiar with these tests or how they work. They aren’t the same as taking a general English assessment. The IELTS is a standardised test designed to assess a students readiness for studying abroad. Teaching IELTS can be difficult, but there are ways to make it a lot easier. Here are 5 of them.


The test is made up of 4 main language categories. Listening, reading, speaking, and writing. In all these tasks it’s essential to know what keywords are and how to recognise them.

Students will be asked to complete sentences, answer multiple-choice questions, complete tables, and label diagrams among other things. Whether listening, reading or writing, students have to know how to find information. Being able to recognise the main subject of the question, and knowing how to find it in a text, or listen for it in the audio will help your students zero in on exactly the information they need.

When teaching IELTS, keywords play a big role in other strategies as well, such as skimming and scanning in the reading section and understanding the interviewer in the speaking section. When students can recognise and locate keywords, their understanding in all sections improves

Skimming and Scanning

As mentioned in the first tip skimming and scanning skills are a huge aspect of the reading section and is definitely a skill that needs to be mastered to get a good score.

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Most students spend a lot of time reading the text for answers, and that isn’t necessary. There is a time limit, and students quickly run out of time because they’re reading the text too closely.

That’s where skimming and scanning come in. Students should read the question very carefully. Whether it’s a match the heading, multiple-choice, sentence completion or other types of question, the first thing to do is find the keyword. What is the main subject? Then the student can skim the text quickly for that keyword or a synonym of it. Once the student has found the general area, scan the text to see if they’re in the right place, then read closely to find the answer. This will drastically cut down on the amount of time it takes a student to complete the tasks.

Academic vocabulary

There are two versions of the test. General IELTS, which is for anyone who is interested in immigrating and working in an English-speaking country, and the Academic IELTS, which is for students who want to study abroad. This is the test that examiners will be looking more at vocabulary and grammar but don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be at a master level.

Don’t have students waste too much time memorising tier 2 vocabulary lists. It isn’t necessary. A few carefully chosen words are better. Students should look for opportunities in their essay writing to use higher vocabulary, such as when they want to use the words “very” or “a lot”. Teachers often call these “boring words” and they’re a good clue when a tier 2 vocabulary word might be better. You don’t have to fill essays with difficult language, but just enough to let the examiner know that the student has a good understanding of the language.

Cohesive devices

Cohesive devices, or linking words, are important in essay writing and examiners will be looking for them. It’s important to include them in your lessons when teaching IELTS.  They’re words like however, as such, for example, and to conclude. These words help the flow of the essay and make it clear for the examiner to read. Be careful not to use too many though as it can have the opposite effect. Students often realise the importance of these words and cram their essays full of “moreovers” and “howevers”. Two or Three are sufficient.

An excellent way for students to make sure they include cohesive devices in their writing is to choose a few they understand well and can use properly. Practice using the same few linkers over and over and don’t worry about memorising word lists. It will greatly improve the writing and confidence of your student.

Public speaking skills

The speaking section is the shortest, lasting between 11 and 15 minutes. This is where students can really show their fluency and understanding. There are some public speaking strategies students can use to make the interview go smoother and achieve better results.

The examiners are listening for clarity and confidence in speaking. They want to know that the student can communicate effectively and express their ideas clearly. Watch well-known speakers,

such as politicians or even TEDTALKs. Take note of the differences between their speech and regular informal speaking.

A great tip is to resist saying um, uh, or other filler sounds. These might make it sound like the student is searching for vocabulary. Instead, pause speaking, take a breath, then continue.

Make sure to speak slowly and enunciate too. It might feel a little silly to exaggerate words, but it will make the speech clear, and that’s the most important things.

These tips are a good beginning for teaching IELTS, but there is more to passing the IELTS than just a few tricks. The good news is the IELTS is a prevalent test and the internet is full of resources to help prepare for it.

If you’re looking for practice material to familiarise your students with the test format you can find some good ones at  

If you’ve been tasked with helping a student prepare for the IELTS test you can find my full study guide, complete with lesson plans and study links here

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