100 IELTS Speaking teaching tips

Summary: The most important things to do in class when teaching IELTS Speaking.

This article includes 100 ideas of important things to include in lessons on IELTS Speaking, with a mix of advice to give students and practice activities. Photocopiable examples of most of the activities recommended here are available at https://www.usingenglish.com/e-books/ielts-speaking/

12 teaching IELTS Speaking Part One tips

  1. For students who are nervous about the speaking test, tell them that Speaking Part One is an easy start in which they can get warmed up talking about everyone’s favourite topic – themselves!
  2. To be able to prove to students that Speaking Part One can be easy and even fun, their first use of personal questions should be something far from exam practice such as pairwork needs analysis interviews or a game.
  3. A great first class is to get students to ask questions to fill in a needs analysis form on their partner’s (present, past and future) work, English studies, etc, then ask questions on those topics based on typical Speaking Part One question stems, and finally brainstorm similar questions on other typical exam topics like family.
  4. The best thing to tell most classes after IELTS Speaking Part One practice is “That was great. If you can relax in the exam and answer as naturally as you just did, Speaking Part One will be no problem”.
  5. To prepare to talk about themselves in Speaking Part One, get students to brainstorm useful vocabulary to describe their own (present, past and future) accommodation, family and friends, free time, etc, then copy useful vocab to describe their own lives from their partner(s).
  6. For students who need to use more ambitious language to push their score up, tell them that Speaking Part One is a great chance to show off their range of language because they have to talk about their own studies, leisure, etc (not those things in general), so they can easily research and learn suitable language.
  7. There is often at least one strange topic in Speaking Part One such as “dance” or “time management”, so make sure that students don’t get too used to always speaking about common topics like work and festivals.
  8. Although it is very different from real exam tasks, it is worth getting students to write mini-essays about their accommodation, family, job, hobbies, etc, using a dictionary to find better language to do so.
  9. You can present a lot of potentially useful vocabulary for Speaking Part One by reading out lists of words related to common topics like work and studies and getting students to guess the topic. They can then circle the vocabulary that they need to describe their own lives.
  10. A dice can be used to decide which IELTS Speaking Part One topics they ask each other about and/ or if they should ask past, present, future or hypothetical questions.
  11. Reassure students that they are not given different marks for each part of the exam, so it’s okay if they start slowly and make up for it later.
  12. It’s good to sometimes start by students pretending to enter the room, show their ID, etc, giving the “examiner” a script with phrases for those stages like “What would you like me to call you?” etc.


11 teaching IELTS Speaking Part Two tips

  1. Although this won’t happen in the real exam, doing Speaking Part Two on the same topic(s) as Speaking Part One can be an easy introduction to that part of the exam and a chance to recycle Speaking Part One vocabulary.
  2. Make sure you check what notes students are making in Speaking Part Two, particularly that they are only key words, are in English, and cover all four questions on the task sheet.
  3. To make Speaking Part Two exam practice realistic, make sure that the “examiner” is very strict about timing, including planning time and cutting someone off if they are over two minutes.
  4. As the examiner can also see the task sheet, tell students that there is no need for the candidate to rephrase the question in IELTS Speaking Part Two, they can just start with “I’m going to talk about my Dad” (not “I’m going to talk about someone who I respect”).
  5. As the examiner will only hear the candidate do Speaking Part Two once, they can start every answer with “I’d like to talk about…” etc.
  6. Students who have got used to starting Speaking Part Two with a simple phrase like “I’m going to speak about…” should be ready to practise more specific and so impressive phrases like “I’m so glad I got this question, because…” and “It was difficult for me to choose a topic, because…”
  7. Make sure that students know that must talk only about the four given sub-topics in Speaking Part Two, but they can talk about them in any order, and it doesn’t matter how many they have completed within two minutes.
  8. Reassure students about timing in Speaking Part Two by telling them it’s almost impossible to talk for less than a minute if they cover all four topics, it doesn’t matter how long they speak as long as it’s more than a minute, and it’s not a bad sign if they are cut off at the end.
  9. Although they can just stop when they have covered all four topics and spoken more than a minute, ending Speaking Part Two phrases like “That’s all I can think of to say” and “I think I’ve covered everything” can avoid any nerve-inducing silence, might impress the examiner, and might also be useful for Speaking Part Three.
  10. It is useful to get students to write out Speaking Part Two answers, so that you can give them detailed feedback on their language and tactics. To make it realistic preparation for speaking, tell them to write as quickly as possible and include conversational phrases like “Where was I?”
  11. You can get students to notice the instructions in Speaking Part Two more by sometimes rewording the tasks, e.g. by replacing “a…” with “one…”
  12. Practising changing topic phrases like “Moving onto…” and “Turning to…” is useful for both Speaking Part Two and IELTS Writing.


Teaching IELTS Speaking Part Three tips

  1. Phrases on giving and supporting opinions such as “Nevertheless, I still believe that…” and “This would inevitably cause…” are useful for both Writing Part Two and Speaking Part Three, so are worth covering with activities like giving them phrases to tick off as they discuss Part Three questions.
  2. You can combine exam tips and the language of advice/ suggestions for Speaking Part Three with a list of exam problems such as “I often can’t think of an answer straightaway” with suggested advice like “The best option is to (start your answer with phrases that could be continued many different ways like ‘I guess that…)’”


47 teaching IELTS Speaking Parts One, Two and Three tips

  1. Range of language is much easier to improve than accuracy, so you should spend much more time on useful phrases and vocabulary for common IELTS Speaking topics than on error correction.
  2. As IELTS is a closed-book exam, make sure that students get used to memorising the language you teach them with tasks such as brainstorming the kinds of phrases they were just using in the speaking tasks.
  3. A fun and useful activity is to get students to give longer and longer answers to the same IELTS Speaking question until they give up making it any longer, then to discuss which would be the best answer in the real exam.
  4. A good tip to communicate better and to show off their range of language is to use stronger or weaker language, e.g. “absolutely adore” instead of “like” and “totally disagree” instead of “disagree”. This can be brainstormed into a table with the boring, simple, medium-strength phrase like “In my opinion” in the middle and mixed key words like “honest” to help them make each phrase both stronger and weaker.
  5. A good tip to communicate more and to show off their level of language is to use longer phrases. This can be practised with a Longer Phrases Card Game where they put simple phrases together and then try to add extra words to the middle.
  6. You can make sure that students fully understand typical IELTS Speaking question stems like “What is the best thing about…?” by getting them to make up questions starting with those words for each other. You will often find that even students who thought they understood all the questions will suddenly realise that they don’t fully when they try to use them to make the own.
  7. You can deal with exam tips and language at the same time with Tips and Useful Phrases, in which students circle good tips like “Check and double check if you are not sure of the meaning of the question – Sorry, should I talk about…?” and cross off bad ones like “Make all your answers as long as possible – Thirdly,…” They can then try to remember the good phrases.
  8. A fun way of practising and discussing exam tactics is to give out roleplay cards that have good tactics like “Check and maybe double-check if you don’t understand the question” and bad tactics such as “Politely reject some questions”. Students do one or more of those things while answering questions, their partner guesses what their card said, then they discuss how good or bad those tactics are.
  9. To deal with good and bad examples of both tactics and language, you can read out an IELTS Speaking question and two or more imagined candidate answers, and ask students to choose the best response. They can then underline and/ or try to remember the good phrases.
  10. Make sure that students have a wide range of language to answer “How + adjective” questions, such as “absolutely vital”, “incredibly important”, “very important”, “fairly important”, “not so important” and “completely unimportant”. This can be done by getting them to agree on the levels of things like “How popular is selling your unwanted goods online in your country?” from a list of ranked language, then try to remember the different words and how they were ranked.
  11. Students will need lots of practice of different checking the meaning of questions phrases, for example by asking each other the meaning of IELTS Speaking-style questions that have high-level language like “keen on” in.
  12. To combine practice of checking the meaning of questions with real exam questions, you could get students to pretend that they don’t understand any of the questions, asking a different clarifying question before they answer them.
  13. A good controlled practice activity for useful phrases like “I much prefer… to…” and “The main reason for this is…” is to give students about 20 or 30 such sentence stems to complete, with activities including finding things in common, bluffing games, and guessing which gap their partner put particular information in.
  14. Students will need practice of explaining things from their culture that the examiner won’t understand. This can be done with a list of typical things from their culture(s) that match typical Speaking Part One topics like festivals and celebrations for them to work together to explain for someone who knows next to nothing about where they come from.
  15. To improve their fluency and communicative skills, students will need practice of talking their way around vocabulary that they don’t know or can’t remember. This can be combined with useful vocabulary for the test by giving them a list of useful words for IELTS Speaking to define so that their partner can guess which one they chose.
  16. When giving feedback on IELTS Speaking, the first thing to mention is if they answered the question and stayed on topic. You should then reassure them that misunderstanding the question is not the end of the world, but stress that answering the question is the easiest thing to do, so it seems silly to risk a lower mark by not doing so.
  17. The only pronunciation work that could quickly improve students’ scores is work on pronouncing individual useful words for the test, e.g. looking at silent letters and common mistakes with word stress in common words in Speaking Part One answers. More general work on minimal pairs, the rules of intonation, etc, will have no positive short-term effects, and could ruin their confidence and fluency.
  18. A fun way to get students to focus on the most important exam tactics is with a Meeting Criteria game in which they get one point for each factor like “Avoided silence” and “Kept on topic” that they achieve as they answer exam questions.
  19. A fun way of practising using typical question stems is Ask and Tell, in which a student makes a question from “Do you think the government is doing enough…?”, then flips a coin to decide if they can ask that (heads) or have to answer it themselves (tails = tell).
  20. To improve students’ ability to talk about different times, it is much more important to teach time expressions like “someday” and “the day before yesterday” than it is to teach different tenses.
  21. The most important grammar for the speaking test, especially Speaking Part One, is differences between “will”, “going to”, Present Continuous, “would like to”, etc for different kinds of future. This is therefore worth dealing with, either in response to student errors or as a whole lesson.
  22. Students will need plenty of practice of filling silence with phrases like “I’ve never thought about this before, but I guess…”, and “I’d probably say that…” This can be done with a task where they answer questions for exactly four minutes, with time taken off for silence in previous answers, e.g. only one minute of their four minutes being used up if took them 90 seconds to answer the last question but 30 seconds of it was silence.
  23. As well as answering them, students should analyse typical questions with tasks like underlining typical question stems which other questions could be made from, putting different questions together by topic, and working out patterns such as Part One questions are always being personal and that Part Two questions always being about one specific thing (e.g. “an object”).
  24. If students need an easy way to make their answers longer, it is worth practising including reasons in most answers, e.g. by giving short model answers to add reasons to.
  25. To deal with questions that students commonly misunderstand, you can play a “The Same or Different” game where students listen to two or more questions and hold up “The same” cards if they think they need exactly the same answer but “Different” cards if they hear “How important is…?” and “How is… important?”
  26. To deal with language that students often confuse and present new ways of rephrasing, you can play a Simplest Responses game in which students hold up a card with “Different” if they hear “In contrast” and “On the other hand” but hold up “The same” if they hear “TV” and “telly”.
  27. The key word in answering difficult questions is “but”, as in “I’ve never been asked that before, but…”, “I’m no expert on this, but…”, and “I wouldn’t say that I exactly have hobbies, but…” This can be practised by dealing out a pack of cards that each say “but”, and letting students discard one each time they use a different phrase with “but” to answer a question.
  28. A wide range of useful language and common errors can be practised together with a Prepositions and Determiners Guessing Game, in which students read out example sentences with the same preposition or determiner missing until their partner guesses what the missing word is.
  29. A good way of forcing students to use a range of functional language such as confirming what the question means is to give students a pack of cards with the name of a function (“filling silence” etc) on each. They can discard the cards when they do that thing with a phrase no one has used so far.
  30. You have to be very careful with error correction in IELTS classes, especially when practising speaking, as it can affect fluency. However, some correction tasks can be used to present useful language. For example, you could get students to correct the one mistake in each category of otherwise correct phrases, then try to remember all the phrases.
  31. You could give students a self-study notebook made of pages with spaces for things like: vocabulary for the most popular speaking topics; phrases for any functions they will need (starting Speaking Part Two, adding more info, etc); questions stems; typical mistakes and corrections; good and bad tips; and good resources such as websites.
  32. You could set up a student website such as a wiki for students on which they work together to collect useful vocabulary, useful phrases, useful tips, useful online resources, etc.
  33. As a basic introduction to language for the three different parts of the test, students could listen to hints and phrases and quickly shout out if they are related to Part One, Part Two or Part Three. You could then do the same for ones which are true for more than one part.
  34. It can be useful to get students to rate model answers with the IELTS Speaking marking scheme so they learn how they are being marked. However, categories that are not official like “Fully answers the question”, “Avoids repeating” and “Avoids going off topic” will probably be more useful to improve their performance.
  35. When students want to check things in class such as the meanings of questions, try to get them to use a wide range of checking/ clarifying phrases that are useful in the IELTS Speaking test like “Does… mean…?” and “Can I talk about…?”
  36. Although misuse of tenses such as Present Perfect is common in IELTS, almost all students will have studied these basic tenses several times without much effect on accuracy, so it is usually not worth more than a reminder or two.
  37. One way of getting students to use and memorise useful phrases is to give them cards or a worksheet with key words like “absolutely” and “other” to use in phrases while they are speaking and/ or when they brainstorm.
  38. A fun way of practising using typical question stems is Truth or Dare, in which a student asks a question with a question stem like “Do you prefer… to…?”, then says if they want a different question with the same stem or a question with a different stem.
  39. A slightly more fun way of using typical questions or question stems is to put them in a numbered list, with each person choosing which question they will be asked by randomly choosing a number without looking at the list.
  40. It’s worth having practice of Yes/ No questions like “Are you working at the moment?” and “Do you agree that social media makes it easier to spread lies?” as a way of introducing the right length of answer and that casual language like “Sure” is okay, for example trying to answer all the questions without actually saying “Yes” or “No”.
  41. Particularly for Speaking Part Two, it can be useful to give students model answers split into single sentences, then get them to guess the next sentence before they look at it (Line by Line Brainstorming). So that this doesn’t give them an idealised view of what such speaking should be, the model should include natural things like checking what the question means, getting back on topic, and filling silence while you check the task sheet again.
  42. Although it’s more difficult than in Writing and less important than in Listening, some work on rephrasing words in the questions can be a good way of expanding the range of language that students use. This is easiest with Speaking Part Two, as the words to be rephrased can be read off the task sheet.
  43. A good way of getting students to focus on expanding their range of language and to focus less on grammar is to do some work on collocations, for example by splitting model answers at a useful collocation and getting them to put them together. To practise checking/ clarifying phrases at the same time, this can be done as pairwork, with half of each model answer on each person’s worksheet.
  44. If students are really stuck on the same simple language and don’t make the effort to memorise new phrases, it can be useful to play a disappearing text game where they cover a model answer word by word and try to say the whole thing including the missing bits each time.
  45. A coin can be used to decide if the question should be about themselves or someone they know, should be a personal question or a discussion question, should be about the past or other times, etc.
  46. Make sure that students know the differences between different kinds of “How” questions such as “How important is…?” and “How should governments…?” for example by linking the questions to model answers and then splitting them into groups.
  47. A dice can be used to decide if students ask each other Part One, Part Two or Part Three questions about the given topic, and what topic they ask about.


10 IELTS Speaking exam practice tips for teachers

  1. To make exam practice more realistic, ask all questions at natural speed the first time, don’t repeat or explain until you are asked to, and only rephrase when asked to or after repeating more slowly. You should also ask students to do the same when they ask questions to their partner.
  2. To make sure that students don’t get the false impression they will be able to reject questions, make sure that all questions that you give them are answerable by everyone (avoiding “What is your job?”, “What was your university major?”, etc).
  3. Get students used to being cut off by finishing suddenly at the time limits of every part of the test, but regularly reassure them that being cut off is a good thing.
  4. Students will be asked a mix of present, past and future or hypothetical questions (especially in Speaking Part One), so make sure they regularly practise that, for example by always arranging worksheets of sample questions in that order.
  5. You should try to set up realistic mock exams in your school, for example by swapping classes with another teacher and that teacher interviewing them one by one (as everyone waiting for their turn does a reading test).
  6. To make exam practice more realistic, sometimes start with students standing up to pretend to enter the exam room.
  7. To make exam practice more realistic, be strict about people in the examiner’s role only asking follow-up questions if the first answer is short.
  8. If there are things which are difficult to understand such as phrasal verbs like “take after” in the questions, these should be explained after students have asked each other the questions (not before), so that they have a chance to practise dealing with difficult questions. However, you’ll need to tell the “examiner” to skip questions that they won’t be able to rephrase if they are asked to.
  9. To make exam practice realistic, you should explain that the examiner will only give a neutral “Okay” during the speaking, and you should leave all actual feedback until after they finish.
  10. If students ask you to grade their speaking, tell them that trained examiners are not allowed to, people who haven’t been trained can’t do so well, and anyway it is more useful just to know how to improve than to know where you are now.


18 top IELTS Speaking tips to give students

  1. Reassure students that IELTS Speaking is not the Listening test, so not understanding questions is just a good chance to show off their communication skills and range of language by asking questions like “Sorry, can you rephrase the question?”
  2. Reassure students that they won’t be penalised if they honestly misunderstand some questions, but tell them that they will lose marks if it seems that they are too shy to ever check meanings.
  3. You should discuss how students can prepare for IELTS Speaking outside class, including timing themselves doing Speaking Part Two, only reading questions just before they answer them (to not have too much thinking time), and not following silly tips like recording themselves.
  4. The best tip on the best length of answers in IELTS Speaking is “Whatever is natural”, which mainly means “Don’t think too much about it”, but also includes the idea of avoiding answers which are too short to really say what the questioner wanted to know, and of not adding detail which the question didn’t ask for.
  5. Tell students that they should assume that the examiner knows almost nothing about their country/ culture/ town, as this may be true and means that they can use good phrases like “which is a kind of…”
  6. Students need to learn the right attitude to model answers such as textbook IELTS Speaking recordings, which is that they are all either not perfect or unrealistically good. To learn to be sceptical, they should always firstly listen for good points and bad points of a candidate’s performance, and only then look for useful vocabulary and phrases that they could use in their own answers.
  7. Although examiners won’t know or care if students use made-up answers, such answers are likely to have simpler language than real answers like “I can’t say that I have any actual hobbies, but most YouTube videos I watch are about travel, so that is some kind of interest, I suppose”.
  8. Reassure students that exactly the same speaking test is taken by IELTS Academic and IELTS General students, so there is no set level of formality of language, and they can show their level of language both by being more formal and by using informal language like idioms or even slang (though preferably not rude slang such as swearing).
  9. Reassure students that they are not given marks for each question, so it shouldn’t matter at all if they struggle with some questions, as long as they can show their level in the other parts.
  10. A good tip to make students expand their range of language while practising is for them to stop using any phrases which they are already very familiar with and try to use something new.
  11. For students who only need a low score like 5.0, remind them that the IELTS Speaking test is for all different levels. There are therefore plenty of parts that will be very difficult, but they can get the mark they need from good answers to the easy questions and not panicking too much when it comes to the more difficult questions.
  12. For students who don’t seem to be reacting naturally to IELTS questions, you could tell them that almost all native speakers would get 9.0 in the Speaking test, so any natural answer (however disorganised, uninformed, or informal) is okay.
  13. If students need a definition of answers which are too short in IELTS Speaking, a common example is answers which are grammatically correct but don’t give the info that the questioner really wanted, e.g. answering “Yes, I do” to “Do you have a large family?”
  14. If students need a definition of what kinds of answers are too long, the general rule is that anything which answers the question is okay, but anything which is on the same topic but doesn’t actually help answer the question should be left out.
  15. Students who need marks above about 7.0 (especially those who have been given specific target scores for speaking) need to be told very strongly that they can’t do so with simple language
  16. For students who get stressed out by a difficult question or two, tell them that some questions (often in Part Three) are supposed to be challenging even for people who can get 8.5, in order to work out who should get a 9.0
  17. IELTS Speaking is a test of real-time communicative English, not the ability to give mini-speeches, so (unlike some other exams) students shouldn’t be shy about going back to what they said earlier, changing their mind etc, with phrases like “What else can I say? Well,…” (as a native speaker would).

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