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I have written hundreds of essays so they relate to every possible IELTS topic.
Here I’m going to go through a standard lesson plan for using one of my essay to teach and IELTS lesson.
I’ll also include some variations and more creative ideas for activities at the end.
This is designed for teachers, but if you are a student you can adapt most of the ideas and activities below for self-study.
I have designed this post like a lesson plan with different options. All activities are either no-prep or low preparation and may just include copying and pasting one of my sample essays into a word document and making quick edits.
I recommend you choose one activity from the first heading to start the lesson and then one from the next heading and so on.
In that way, you will have a full lesson to teach with engaging activities and very minimal prep.
When it comes time for the next lesson, you can just re-use the activities you found worked the best or try new ones from the list.
Please comment any other ideas that you may have and share this with any teachers who need an easy IELTS lesson with fun activities!
Introducing the Topic Activities
Use these activities to start the lesson and introduce the overall topic.
- Videos: Choose a video (or Google a news article online) from one of the following YouTube channels related to your topic: TedEd, Vanity Fair, Stitcher Podcasts, New York Times, BBC, Wired, The Atlantic, Vice, Practice IELTS Listening, Cambridge IELTS, ASAP Science, Audible, Spotify Podcasts, Netflix Educational
- Agree or disagree?: Students stand up and the teacher writes agree/disagree on the board. Dictate a statement or opinion about the day’s topic and they stand in the section for agree or disagree. Can be varied by writing on the board true/false, emotions, or good idea/bad idea.
- Topic Survey: Board the topic, for example ‘Raising Children’ and students write down a survey with questions related to it such as ‘How were you raised as a child? What did/didn’t you like about your parents? Do you plan to have kids?’ etc. Students ask their partner or go around asking other students in class.
- Topic vocabulary brainstorm: Put the topic on the board, for example ‘The Environment’, and students write down in 4 minutes as many related words as they can. Pass the paper to another group and they keep adding vocabulary. Variation: instead of adding new words they try to write collocations for the words already on the paper. Another variation is to put up the alphabet A-Z and they brainstorm a word/phrase for each letter of the alphabet.
- Guess about a classmate: Students predict about another student in class their opinions about a topic (i.e. he/she thinks taxes are best way to punish companies that pollute) and then goes and checks. A variation for classes who struggle to think of ideas is the teacher dictates opinions (Taxes are the best way to punish companies that pollute) and students guess true or false for their partner. Then go and find out the truth by asking their partner.
- Introduction statements: Write on the board a simple sentence stem related to the day’s topic such as ‘Pollution makes… / Parenting is …’ etc. and students write down a few ways of finishing the statement. Then they can either board them, share in groups, or stand up and read them out loud to the rest of the class.
- Have you ever…?: This is a common game for students to play at university but can be adapted to introduce a topic. Students hold up 5 fingers and take turns saying ‘I have never…’. If the other students have done it, they must put one finger down. The one with fingers left at the end is the winner. The statements about themselves (or the country they are from instead) should relate to a topic such as littering or the environment or parenting.
- Venn diagrams: Put up a picture related to the essay and hand out a table or Venn diagram with “Things you know/things you are not sure of/Things you would like to know” and students fill in a sentence for each part. Compare in partners and add to their chart. Timed gist reading 10-50 seconds checking the information.
- Picture prediction: Put up a picture related to the essay and students predict as many topics (not words) that will come up. Listen/read and cross of the topics. The student with the most topics crossed off is the winner.
- Title and boardrace: Give the title or a picture from an essay. Boardrace with questions that will be answered in the essay. Read/listen and check.
- Speedwriting: Give the title and a picture from an essay. Students write without stopping or thinking for 2 minutes. Read/listen and check if there is anything they wrote about.
- Problem solving: Give students the problem or issue dealt with in the essay and they come up with a solution in groups and board it. Listen/read and check who was closest. Decide if the solution in the essay is better/worse than the ones of the board.
- Personalized prediction: Students make statements about themselves related to the content of the essay. For example, write what they do on the weekend and listen to someone talk about what they do on the weekend. Circle any similarities.
- What comes next: Pause a listening or cut up an essay at various points (after a few sentences, between paragraphs, etc.) Students predict what will come next then listen/read and check.
- Listening for key points: Pause a listening or cut up an essay at key points. Students write questions they want answered next, ex “Will they escape?” Listen/read and check.
- Video word match: Play a video without the picture, audio only. Pause intermittingly and students draw/write what they think is happening. Compare in partners. Check by watching the video. Discuss whether the visuals the producers chose match the words from the video well (most visuals will extend or be somewhat unrelated to the spoken words). Suggest changes to make to the visuals of the video.
- Authentic summarizing: Put up a reading/essay cut up into paragraphs outside or around the room. Don’t give students the headings for paragraphs but leave them on the powerpoint in the room or on students desks on a handout. Timed – students go outside and read and come back in match to the heading. This way they have to naturally, authentically summarize in their heads in order to be able to match easily when they come back to the ppt.
- Gap fill: Read aloud a reading or essay (or hand out a gapped text) and students write a plausible word for the gap. Gap content words rather than grammatical-function words. Compare with a partner, board the possibilities and sort into possible/impossible. Go over why the impossible ones don’t work.
- Outside class: Students are asked to bring in a reading about a subject they are interested (it can be from any source and about anything). Students have to write a summary of their reading, persuading the class to choose it for a shortlist. The most popular reading would then be used for a lesson.
Analysing a Sample Answer Activities
Use these activities to show them the structure of an IELTS essay.
- Break it down: Hand out or project the essay and label the different sections: introduction, body paragraph 1, body paragraph 2, conclusion. Then go deeper asking students to label: topic sentences, opinion, summary, example, support, and main ideas. Finally tell students to write a sentence by sentence structure starting with ‘Introduction: Sentence 1 – Paraphrase the overall topic. Sentence 2 – State your opinion.’ Follow up by giving them an essay with some sentences deleted (topic sentence, opinion, etc.) and they write those sentences.
- Checklist: You can download and use this checklist to evaluate a student sample or one of my essays.
- Colour it in: Variation of the checklist. Give each part of the checklist a colour and students highlight in the essay using the colour. This is a good way to make the structure visual and memorable. (Choose the key parts of the checklist, not every item.)
- Order the sentences: Paragraphs is probably too simple so put all the sentences in the wrong order and students either number or cut out the sentences and order them. They can also do it with their own essay as long as you tell them to write each sentence on a new line.
- Write the analysis: Print out one of my essays for writing task 1 or writing task 2 but blank out the analysis so that students can write it for each sentence. You might want to show them an example analysis on a different essay first before they do it in pairs. Then check with my analysis. You can download a sample of this activity here.
- Label as you like it: Students label the structure, sentence by sentence, of a sample answer. They can use their native language and label it any way that makes sense for them. Then discuss in pairs/groups and differences.
- Follow my sample essays: My essays are also designed to be taught in the classroom. You can use the videos at the end to start the lesson, hand out the readings, read out the topic, hand out the essays, go over the analysis and vocabulary, and use the essay topic and speaking questions. You can adapt them to fit your personal teaching style.
Practicing Vocabulary Activities
You might skip these activities if you just want to focus on their writing but they can be helpful and make your students feel they got something concrete out of the lesson.
- Collocations translations: Most collocations in English will not have a direct translation into the student’s mother tongue (for example, water scarcity, inherent danger, etc.). Students write the closest L1 equivalent for the most difficult collocations in a sample essay. Then discuss any differences in pairs/groups.
- Xs and Os practice: Also known as noughts and crosses, students draw the board and play in pairs. They must use a new vocabulary word correctly in order to be allowed to put the X or O down. Best to play it whole class one time against the teacher first to explain the rules.
- Long sentence: Students choose 5 or 10 words from the essay and must write a super long sentence using all the words. Then give the sentence to another student and that student must break it up into multiple sentences so that it makes more sense and then give it back.
- Antonyms: Before reading a sample answer, dictate to students the antonyms of a bunch of new vocabulary in the essay out of order. Then students read and find the antonym. (Variation: this can also be done with synonyms.) For more advanced classes, you can read the essay aloud and they try to write the word from your essay next to the antonym.
- Fixed Expressions: Students underline the fixed expressions like ‘On the one hand’ ‘The results of this is that’ etc. They then practice writing new sentences or inserting them into their own writing.
- Inferring meaning: Students highlight the difficult words from my sample essays and try to figure out if they are nouns/verbs/adjectives and write a definition before looking them up in the dictionary to check.
- Memory activities: There are a lot of simple memory activities students can do with my sample answers. For example: one student reads the sample answer but pauses before a word in bold and their partner remembers the word, complete the gap-filled sample answer, use the vocabulary list to rewrite the essay.
- Word as image: Students make the new vocabulary words into ‘word as image’ pictures. This will help them to remember them deeply. You can see some examples in this video (there are a couple images you might want to skip if showing a class that video).
- Mouth the word: Students mouth the vocabulary words from the essay without making a noise and their partner guesses which word it is. Teacher corrects pronunciation.
- Taboo: Students write cards for the new vocabulary with a new word and 3 words that a student cannot use when describing the word. Students then describe the words to their group and the group tries to guess the word.
- Fake and real definitions: Write fake and real definitions for the difficult vocabulary in a sample answer. Mingle and students say which definition is fake/real.
- Drawing: Students draw pictures to represent the new vocabulary words in an essay. Give the pictures to another student to figure out what the words are from the pictures. Fast finishers then write sentences with the new words.
- Vocabulary crossword: Students choose new vocabulary from a sample answer, look up the definitions and make a crossword puzzle for another student to complete for homework.
- Paraphrasing Practice: There are a number of ways to work on paraphrasing including hand out just the essay questions and students paraphrase them, students write their own essay topics and another student paraphrases, paraphrase or suggest synonyms for a finished essay, make a list of words that can/can’t be paraphrased, or turn it into a speaking activity and students talk about a topic (for example, their hometown) and their partner takes notes and then paraphrases their answer.
Practice Grammar Activities
Use these ones to focus on grammar.
- Grammar dictation: Choose a grammar point from an essay or video such as relative clauses. Dictate 4 sentences about yourself or your opinions using relative clauses, 1 of the sentences should be false. Students decide on the false one. Then students make their own based on whatever grammar you want to focus on and mingle and ask other students who guess which one is false.
- Grammar switch: Take sentences from a sample essay or an essay that students wrote. They rewrite the sentences with the same meaning but different grammar. You can also vary this by focusing on one type of grammar, such as 2nd conditional, to see if it is possible to rewrite the sentence with that grammar.
- Insert the grammar: Using a sample answer, students insert a new sentence with the new grammar you have been studying into the essay.
- Xs and Os practice: Also known as noughts and crosses, students draw the board and play in pairs. They must use the grammar correctly in order to be allowed to put the X or O down. Best to play it whole class one time against the teacher first to explain the rules.
- Highlight the grammar: Dictate the types of grammar you want to focus on (conditionals, relative clauses, subordinates, linking words, etc.) and students highlight them in different colors in a sample answer. When they do their own essay, they highlight again and then try to make corrections on their own.
- Subtract the grammar: Take all the tense and grammar out of one of my sample answers but leave in all the vocabulary in parenthesis. For example: The number of people ________ (live) in poverty these days ___ (is) ________ (increase). Students rewrite with the grammar. Can also focus on articles, prepositions, etc. depending on what your students struggle most with.
- Punctuation rules: Students highlight the commas in an essay and write rules for using the punctuation. Board the rules and teacher checks.
Practicing Task Achievement Activities
This is one of the key areas for students but it can be tricky to practice…
- Class examples: Students write a main idea for an essay topic on a large piece of paper. Pass the paper to another group/pair and they write a possible specific example. Keep passing the paper until there are a lot of examples. Then the original group chooses the best example and writes the full paragraph with it.
- Don’t generalise!: Students write down 5 general stereotypes/beliefs about the students in class such as ‘No one here has an English speaking friend’ ‘We all like eating…’ ‘Most of the class watches …’. Then students go around and ask students until they find out their generalisation is/isn’t true. Encourage them to not `overgeneralise in their writing as well.
- Animal/object brainstorm: Instead of brainstorming ideas from the perspective of a politician or a teacher, students brainstorm from the perspective of an object or animal such as a smartphone or a cat. The ideas will be a little strange but they can then try to adapt the ideas they thought of to see if any of them would work for an IELTS essay.
- Be specific!: This can be done many ways but is designed to teach students to be specific and pay attention to detail. You can show a picture and students try to remember as much detail as possible, they can try to remember exactly what someone is wearing in class (or from the last class), they can write sentences about a picture and another group draws it based on their sentences. The key is to be really careful about remembering and giving detail and not being general – one of the biggest writing problems for students.
- Judging main ideas: After coming up with some main ideas by brainstorming, students judge them based on how easy it will be to defend and write examples for them. It might be a really good idea but if it is hard to defend in a short essay, then they should go with a simpler idea.
- Score the essay for task achievement: Task achievement depends on 3 things: 1. Is there an opinion? 2. Are the main ideas relevant to the question? 3. Are they fully developed and supported? Hand out the band descriptors and focus on answering those 3 questions and giving just task achievement scores for essays that students wrote.
- Brainstorming perspectives: Students brainstorm main ideas from multiple perspectives: politician, policeman, doctor, liberal, conservative, etc. depending on the essay. Then decide the easiest one to defend in an essay and write a paragraph.
- Brainstorming roleplay: Put up a topic on the board such as ‘Are individuals or governments responsible for protecting the environment?’ Assign roles to students: environmentalist, corporate executive, conservative/liberal politician, housewife, endangered animal, old person, etc. Students brainstorm ideas from their own perspective then share with others. This could be used as a basis for a class debate that could later lead into a writing task.
- Research survey: One popular way to support a main idea is with research or studies. Students could look up real research online or a more interesting approach would be for them to conduct a survey in class related to their main idea. Then use the results of the survey in their essay. This isn’t realistic for IELTS but lets them do some speaking and understand that they can use research as support on the exam.
- Hometown examples: Put up a task 2 writing question. On the board, students write a specific example for that question using their hometown as the example.
- Proper examples: Students brainstorm examples for a topic but each one must involve a proper noun: a real person, place, company, etc. This will focus them on giving specific examples.
- Vote on it essay: Show an IELTS writing task 2 topic. Students write down their opinion and the main reason why. Choose 3 students randomly to read out what they wrote. The class votes on the best one and must write about that opinion. Repeat with topic sentences and examples. Students must write about the ones voted most popular. This is a good way to let the stronger students support weaker ones without making it too obvious.
- Fake research: Using research to support your main ideas on IELTS is fine though if it sounds too fake it shouldn’t technically hurt your score but it might. For this activity, start with a topic (problems related to overcrowding in cities, for example). Students then have time to research real statistics about it and make up fake ones. They read the real and fake ones to other students who must figure out which ones are real/fake. A variation is to let them come up with the topic themselves and mingle.
- I think… because…: Put up an IELTS topic and students write an opinion with the form ‘I think… because…’. Tell students to come up with an interesting idea, not just a normal one if possible. They crumple up the pieces of paper and throw them around the classroom. Students pick up the papers on the ground and try to find out whose opinion it is. They can then put them on the board and decide together as a class if the ideas are easy to support in an essay or not.
- Random country examples: Assign students a random country or use this website. Students must write an example about the task 2 topic using that country (let them do research). Can be assigned for homework or done in class.
- Opinion dictation: Dictate controversial opinions related to a single topic or a variety of topics. Students write them in two columns in their notebook: I agree with the teacher / I don’t agree with the teacher. Check with a partner after. Variation: Put in some opinions sitting in the middle and tell students they can’t sit in the middle with an opinion on IELTS.
Writing Practice Activities
Here are the activities to focus on writing itself.
- Frankenstein Writing: Each student writes one line of the essay and passes their paper to the next student to continue it. Keep passing until the essay is done. Make sure that the essay structure sentence by sentence is up on the board.
- Vocabulary/Grammar for your essay: Take the words from one of the vocabulary brainstorming activities or dictate words to students. When they write their essays, they try to fit in as many of the new words as they can and cross them off the list when they do. Can be done as a competition as well to see how many they can include. Variation: List complex grammar like conditionals, passive voice, etc. and students do the same with the grammar.
- Picture prompt: Take in a photo related to any topic. Hand out or project the photo and students write a task 2 topic individually based on the photo. Then the essay. Post the essays around the room and students read them to see the variation in topics and essays.
- Back and forth essay: Students write one sentence then hand their paper to their partner who write the second. Their partner does the same. They keep switching papers back and forth writing the two essays.
- Drawing dictogloss: Dictate a paragraph from an essay but students are not allowed to write any words as notes. Instead, they must draw pictures then use the pictures to rewrite the paragraph. This is great for figuring out which areas of grammar/vocabulary/task achievement/cohesion and coherence students are struggling with most so that you can then teach more about the areas they were not comfortable reproducing.
- Constrained writing: Make the writing assignment more and more constrained. For example, students must write exactly 100 words in a paragraph or the example has to be developed for 3 sentences or the introduction can only be 3 lines or let students think of their own constraints. A good way to vary the essay writing and make it more fun or to focus on a specific area your students are struggling with.
- Sentence by sentence: I do this one with my classes for the first IELTS writing lesson all the time. Start with an easy topic. Tell students what they should write for the first sentence (you can follow my analysis of one of my essays if you are not sure) and then check by writing it on the board. Go through the whole essay the same way: what they should write, they write it, then they check with what you write or one of my sample answers. For homework, they write another essay so the structure is stuck firmly in their mind.
- Emotional writing: Write an essay in the same style as the sentence by sentence activity above but this time, each sentence they must also write with the emotion. For example, write an angry sentence, hope full sentence, sad sentence, etc.
- Competitions: Spice up any lesson by making it a competition focused on a specific area: best vocabulary, best ideas, clearest writing, best handwriting, most variety of grammar, etc.
- Take a break: Give students an essay topic and put them in teams. On the board or on big pieces of paper they write 1 paragraph of the essay while the teacher leaves the room. Teacher comes back and gives feedback on the essays. Students then write the full essay themselves.
- Complete the essay: Blank out parts of the essay (for example the introduction, the conclusion, some sentences, one body paragraph) and students just write that section and then compare with my sample answer.
- Essay debate: Students write one sided essays to prepare for a debate. Instead of writing both sides, they just choose one, do research, and write it and then debate using that information. Variation: they debate first and then write the essay afterwards with both sides.
- Task 1 graphs: Students conduct a survey in class with a couple of questions, such as ‘Did you grow up in your current city?’ ‘Where are you from?’ and then create a graph based on it. They can write about their own graph or give it to another student to write about.
- Write your own topic: It is more engaging for students to write a topic of their choosing that they can then write about. Some variations include finding a topic online they want to write about and giving them time to do some research before writing.
- Write a topic for someone else: Instead of writing their own topic, students try to write a difficult/silly/funny/controversial topic for another student to write about. If it is the end of term test, students could write a task 2 topic and make a chart for someone else to write about in class or for homework.
- Memory mingle: For a higher level class, students mingle and tell another student the topic sentence for a paragraph. The other student tells them the next sentence. They must remember and tell the first 2 sentence to another students who tells them the third, and so on until the paragraph is finished. Then sit down and remember and write the full paragraph with the ideas they got. They can take notes but not write the full sentences while mingling.
- Drunk teacher: For IELTS general training letter writing, the teacher pretends to be drunk at the beginning of the lesson (or is just very rude to students). Reveal that you are not drunk (hopefully) and they are going to write a letter of complaint about you. Students remember your bad behaviour, write the letter prompt and write the letter itself alone or in pairs. Collect them at the end so students don’t accidentally give them to your manager…
- Task 1 Writing: Tell students about your average week and they make a pie chart about you. Ask them to then make their own or interview a partner. They write a task 1 essay comparing the two pie charts. Variation: They make a pie chart about their free time activities now and their ideal future and write a task 1 writing essay comparing them.
Giving Feedback Ideas
After writing, here are your options for feedback.
- Help a classmate: After finishing a writing, choose an area to focus on (for example: more specific examples, substitution, accurate referencing, collocations, formality, etc.) and students give their essay to partner to fix or add to the essay then hand it back after they are done to discuss the changes they made and why.
- Categorising vocabulary: Dictate vocabulary categorise for students (verb, noun, etc. for lower levels and collocations, fixed expressions, formal/informal, linking words for higher levels). Students then categorise the vocabulary from someone else’s writing. They should be aiming to have a lot of high-level collocations (and not any informal vocabulary).
- Spot the changes: After writing an essay (they must have written it in pencil) students give their essay to another student in class. That student makes changes to improve the vocabulary or grammar or ideas (or all) by erasing and trying not to make the changes too obvious. Students then get their paper back and try to spot any changes their partner made. Tell students to be really careful making the changes so it is harder for the other student to spot them.
- Weaken your claims: Students tend to make really strong claims in their writing (for example, if you watch violent shows, you will become a criminal). Dictate the claims to students who must weaken them. This can also be done before a writing so students don’t make the same mistakes in their own writing. A good area for students to edit their own writing, too.
- Comments on the side: Leave space for students to write comments on the side and then focus on one particular area – such as the ideas or the examples. Students pass around their papers to classmates who make comments and suggestions.
- Mark the essays: Hand out the band descriptors and students mark their own or a partner’s essay.
- Gallery readings: There are many ways to do a gallery reading. You can dictate categories for students first such as ‘best grammar, best ideas, etc.’ and they go around reading the essays filling in their notebooks for each. They can also add comments to students essays, add in a new sentence, circle strong/weak parts of the essays, etc.
- Checklist: Use this checklist and students check their own writing or a partner’s. Can be for homework as well.
- 1 star reviews: After finishing writing an essay, give it to another student who must be as critical as possible. Question every idea, claim, use of vocabulary, opinion, etc. by writing comments on the essay. Students get it back and decide is any of the criticism is fair.
- 5 star reviews: The same as the idea above except now they write glowing praise about everything in the essay. Students must again decide to accept the praise or reject it as too much. Both these activities are good before students do a re-write.
Use these ideas for homework or at a later lesson to review.
- Memory quiz: Use the sample answer or any materials from the last lesson to quiz students. For example, ask questions about the ideas, gap-fill the vocabulary, watch the video again, rewrite certain parts of the essay, summarise it in speaking, etc.
- Improve the ______: Focus on one particular area such as prepositions or examples. Students give their essay to another student who must improve or correct it and bring it back the next lesson.
- Research an example: Students research an example – a specific person, country, company, etc. so that you can focus on writing long, detailed examples in the next lesson.
- Illustrate the essay: Students draw pictures to represent the vocabulary from their essay or one of my sample essay. The next lesson, they work together in pairs/groups to use their pictures to rewrite the essay. They shouldn’t try to rewrite it exactly but focus on using some of the same vocabulary and getting the ideas right.
- Teach another student: Assign to students a topic to learn about and teach another student in the next lesson, for example, topic sentences, writing opinions, 2nd conditional, referencing, writing examples, the environment, etc. In the next lesson, they teach another student what they learned and then quiz them.
Combining with Other IELTS Skills Ideas
It’s important to combine writing with other skills for it to get really deep in their mind.
- Listening: Google a related section 4 IELTS listening to use either before or after a writing topic. Alternatively, use some ideas here for practicing with videos with and without subtitles and improving listening here.
- Reading – Quiz: Students write questions about their own essays using reading question types (true/false/not given, match the headings, multiple choice, etc.). Give them and their essay to another student to answer for homework or in class.
- Speaking – memorise and present: After writing an essay, students give it to their partner. Their partner has 5 minutes to read it carefully and take notes on the keywords – not writing full sentences. Then they must summarise the essay back to the person who wrote it, who listens to make sure that the summary is correct.
- Speaking – open-ended questions: Teach students the difference between a close question ‘Do you like cats?’ and an open ended question ‘What do you like about cats?’ Students write open ended questions related to the day’s topic and ask other students.
- Writing task 1 or task 2: You can transition from writing task 1 to task 2 or vice versa by searching on my website for a related topic. This helps them to review vocabulary and your lesson will be more cohesive because it is all the same context.
- Ranking: Dictate or have learners board possible issues related to IELTS such as vocabulary, listening, topic sentences, examples, pronunciation, etc. Then in pairs students put them in order of the ones they are most worried about to least worried about.