100 IELTS Writing Task 1 teaching tips

Summary: A big list of vital tips on how to teach IELTS Academic Writing Task 1, in order of usefulness

This is a list of the most important recommendations for teaching IELTS Academic Writing Task 1, including tips to give students, the best practice activities, advice on feedback, and specific suggestions on teaching each kind of task (line graphs, bar charts, pie graphs, tables, flowcharts and maps). The most important hints are given at the top of each section. There are also similar articles on this site for students and for other parts of the IELTS exam. There are photocopiable worksheets including many of the tips and practice activities at https://www.usingenglish.com/e-books/ielts-speaking/a??

 

50 IELTS Writing Task 1 classroom activities

  1. Ways of adding speaking to classes on Writing Task 1 include students discussing exam tactics, discussing trends, brainstorming useful language together, brainstorming different ways to explain one set of data, (quickly) planning an essay together, (quickly) writing an introduction together, comparing their finished essays, and answering IELTS Speaking questions that include useful language for Writing Task 1 such as “How has… changed (…)?”
  2. A good way of letting students see other people’s writing without it turning into public criticism is to ask them to compare the lengths of their essays, what they wrote in their introductions, how long it took them to plan, etc. This is also a good chance to practise useful phrases for comparing in Task 1 like “very similar” and “the most obvious difference”.
  3. As a warmer and to make the language more memorable, it can be useful to get students to make drawings to represent “bounce back”, “escalate”, etc, working together to make suitable drawings and/ or drawing things for other students to guess.
  4. As a warmer and to make the language more memorable, it can be useful to get students to mime useful language for Task 1 like “crash” and “rebound”, working together to think of suitable mimes and/ or miming language for other people to guess.
  5. Rephrasing is important enough in Task 1 to be worth some class time on and can be practised by giving students descriptions of the data from real exam questions, asking them to underline the key words of and try to rephrase them, then give them some suggested synonyms, more specific examples, opposites with “not” etc to match to the key words.
  6. You can deal with typical errors and give useful language at the same time with a pairwork error correction task where there are almost identical Student A and Student B versions of the same Task 1 essay, but with mistakes put in at different points of each version for students to find, decide which is right and change any mistakes in. If this task is completed orally, this is also useful practice for checking/ clarifying phrases for IELTS Speaking like “Sorry, did you say…?”
  7. IELTS Speaking Parts 1, 2 or 3 on places can be a good warmer for map tasks, especially if you design the questions so that they include or elicit suitable language for both speaking and writing like “nearby” and “It is located…”
  8. The simplest way of presenting new language such as phrases for explaining trends is to give students useful language to use while they describe a task orally, arranged so that simple language that they already know or can guess like “rocket” is together with phrases which are probably new to them like “explode”. After they use as many phrases as they can, test them on how many they can remember.
  9. Students can use useful comparing/ contrasting phrases for the exam while analysing Task 1 tasks by trying to find similarities and differences between map tasks, tasks with tables, flowchart tasks, etc.
  10. A good way into teaching writing Task 1 introductions is to give students at least six examples of intros, each of has one problem such as only having one sentence, not rephrasing the question at all, and including background on the topic that was added from the candidate’s own knowledge. Students try to find the problems as quickly as they can, go through again more slowly in order to improve the intros, then go through a third time to find good language to learn.
  11. A good way of introducing proper paragraphing is to give models with different problems like one-sentence paragraphs, bodies that don’t follow how they are described in the introduction, paragraphs without clearly different topics, and bad starting paragraphs phrases like “But…”. Ask students to search for all the problems, fix them, then search for useful language in the corrected paragraphs that they should learn.
  12. Useful language and tips for Task 1 can be combined by giving students process language like "The next step is to..." and "Having completed that,…” and asking them to explain what steps they should take to plan, write, edit and perhaps do extra work on a Writing Task 1.
  13. A good way of linking from speaking to writing is for students to ask and answer IELTS Speaking questions that involve making comparisons like “Can you compare…?”, then to get them to use the same language to describe bar charts, pie charts, etc.
  14. A good way to link from IELTS Speaking to IELTS Writing is to do Speaking Part Three questions on changes like “How has… changed…?”, brainstorm suitable answers, then use the same language to describe Writing Task 1 line graphs.
  15. To introduce good advice on Task 1 together with useful words and phrases, give students good tips and accompanying language like “Use changing topic phrases such as ‘Turning our attention to…’” mixed up with some bad advice like “Use numbers like ‘Thirdly’ to introduce paragraphs”. Ask them to cross off the bad tips, then see how many of the phrases related to the good tips they can remember.
  16. A good way to link Speaking Part One and Writing Task 1 is for students to answer personal questions about the future, do a big future tenses review, then talk about which tense is suitable for future data such as line graphs that continue up to 2035.
  17. When students have seen some model answers and/ or list of useful language, get them to brainstorm useful words and phrases into categories like “trends that go both up and down” and “changing topic phrases”, writing both what they remember from what they saw and their own ideas.
  18. You can deal with two tricky language points while also introducing stacks of useful language with a Prepositions and Determiners Pairwork activity in which students read out typical Task 1 phrases with the same word missing, e.g. five sentences that should all have “by”, until their partner guesses the missing word.
  19. To both teach useful synonyms for rephrasing and clear up common confusions like “improve”/ “escalate”, give students cards saying “The same” and “Different” to raise as they hear pairs of words or phrases related to Writing Task 1 like “rocket” and “accelerate”, then to analyse the words on the worksheet the same way.
  20. You can get students to be more ambitious with the language that they use with a Longer Phrases Card Game, where they join together beginnings and endings to make basic phrases like “Sales rose + from twelve million to twenty three million”, then add words to the middle like “rapidly” and “substantially”.
  21. Useful language and common weak points in Writing Task 1 can be dealt with together with Good and Bad Phrases, in which students listen to two or more attempts at summarising the graph, starting body paragraph two, etc, and shout out A, B, C, etc by which version they think is best.
  22. Students can be taught to plan quickly by having a race where they look at their tasks when you say “Ready, steady, go”, then raise their hands whenever they have underlined the key words and divided the data into two body paragraphs (which should be possible in under two minutes with practice).
  23. A good warmer and way of contrasting Task 1 and Task 2 is with an IELTS Writing Phrases Simplest Responses game in which students listen to phrases like “This is probably because of…” and hold up cards saying “Task 1” or “Task 2” (or hold up both cards if the phrase is good for either kind of essay).
  24. A good warmer and way of contrasting Task 1 and Task 2 is with an IELTS Writing Advice Simplest Responses game, in which students listen to descriptions like “A final conclusion is not needed” and shout out which of the two parts of the exam they think they relate to.
  25. A good game to make students use more precise and more ambitious language is to give them very short phrases like “It rose” and “In 2011, it was 2500” to expand as much as they can (using their imaginations if you haven’t given them data that the sentences were based on).
  26. Tasks 1 and 2 can be linked together by getting students to use trends language to make predictions about Task 2 topics such as the environment and technology.
  27. A nice cooperative writing task to do one or twice is Chain Writing, in which each student writes the first sentence of the intro, passes it to the next person to write the summary sentence, passes again for the next sentence, etc, until the end of the essay. This is like the game Consequences, but with students reading everything that has been written by all the previous people to make sure that their sentence follows on and doesn’t repeat what has been written.
  28. A nice cooperative writing task to do once or twice is Paragraph by Paragraph Chain Writing, in which one student plans the task, the next writes the intro, the next writes body 1, and the last writes body 2, then they see how they all tie together.
  29. Perhaps the simplest way of getting students to be more ambitious with language is to go round and round the class as they find different ways to describe the same chart, map, etc, with even slightly different language accepted, including to describe the same things.
  30. More ambitious language can be introduced by Basic and Higher Level Phrases Simplest Responses, in which students listen to version A, version B and maybe version C of phrases that could be used in Task 1 essays, and shout out the letter of the one which they think will most impress the examiner.
  31. A good way of stopping students speculating, giving their own opinions and using their own knowledge in Task 1 is to give pairs of phrases which sound similar but only one of which is okay in this part of the test (e.g. “stands out”, which is useful, and “outstanding”, which is not).
  32. A good way of stopping students speculating, giving their own opinions and using their own knowledge in Task 1 is to give students models which have that kind of language added to them, and to ask them to find and delete “Nowadays, this is an increasing problem in my city too”, etc.
  33. Error correction can be made more fun by all students looking at an essay with a mistake and racing to find the problem, with anyone guessing wrongly not being able to guess again until someone else has tried.
  34. Students doing IELTS Writing Task 1 will find that irregular verbs that they studied in secondary school like “rise/ rose/ risen”, “fall/ fell/ fallen”, and even “weave/ wove/ woven” will finally come in useful, so these could be practised by them testing each other or with a drilling game such as irregular verbs tennis.
  35. Practice of useful language for map tasks and line graphs can be combined by describing past, present and future trends related to places such as “the northern part of this country”, “town centres”, “suburbs”, and “infrastructure”.
  36. Trends language can be practised in a more personal way by students describing their weight, their savings, etc for the other students to guess what the topic was.
  37. Describing flowcharts can be made more fun with games such as students describing the process of how to use things like an ATM for their partner to add missing steps to.
  38. Describing flowcharts can be made more fun with games such as students describing the process of how to use things like a vending machine for their partner to guess what they are describing.
  39. To practise comparing/ contrasting phrases for bar charts etc at the same time as looking at what students are expected to produce in Task 1, you could compare IELTS Writing essays to real academic papers with conclusions like “…is much shorter” and “In complete contrast to real academic papers,...”
  40. You can present a huge amount of useful language with a List Dictation, in which the teacher reads out a list of words with something in common until students work out that they are all not straight lines, all have negative connotations, are all related to maps, etc.
  41. For students who still can’t produce a standard Task 1 introduction after several timed tasks, you could do a disappearing text memory game where they say an intro out loud as they cover it word by word until they are saying the whole thing just from memory.
  42. Different forms of useful words for Task 1 like “fluctuate”/ “fluctuation” and “subsequent”/ “subsequently” can be practised with a word formation challenge game in which students choose one of the simple words that you have given them, then take turns trying to make other forms of the same word with suffixes and prefixes.
  43. Word formation for Writing Task 1 can be presented with a list dictation in which the teacher reads out words which can all take the same suffix until students work out what the words have in common.
  44. Students can use useful comparing phrases for Task 1 like “far longer” to talk about exam tactics by comparing Task 1 and Task 2 with sentences like “Task 1 is based only on the data that is given. In complete contrast, Task 2 is based on students’ own ideas, including their own personal experience”.
  45. You can link from Task 1 to Task 2 by asking students to use the trends language from Task 1 to support their arguments in Task 2 with “This problem will almost certainly accelerate in the future”.
  46. Writing Task 1 process tasks/ flowchart tasks can be tied to other parts of the exam by asking students to describe the steps that they should take when doing a Listening paper, Writing Task 2 task, etc.
  47. Useful language for Writing Task 1 can be linked to IELTS Listening by students comparing Section 1 and Section 2, gapfill tasks and short answer tasks, IELTS Listening and other tests, exam listening with other things like listening to radio, etc.
  48. Useful language for Writing Task 1 can be linked to IELTS Speaking by students comparing Speaking Parts 1 and 3, Speaking Part 2 and real-life presentations, etc.
  49. A good way of making trends language more memorable is to also present the meanings of the words outside the topic of trends, e.g. that “plummet” means dive from the sky and that it words like “turbulent” are all related to flying/ the air.
  50. After doing a timed writing task for homework, it is a good idea to get students to discuss how long they took to do each stage of the process, what was difficult and easiest about it, what other plans they considered, etc.

 

The 24 most important IELTS Writing Task 1 tips to give students

  1. Students who are taking too long to plan should be told to simply draw a line across the page and label the two sides (1) and (2) for “body 1” and “body 2”, not actually analysing the data before they start writing.
  2. Although you won’t always see it in model answers, you should make students finish all IELTS Writing introductions with a sentence explaining what the topic of each body paragraph will be such as “I will describe the pie chart and then write about the data in the table (in the paragraphs below)”. This will force them to plan carefully, will quickly use up about 10 words of the word limit, and will help the examiner to understand what is written below.
  3. Although students occasionally achieve it, it is usually impossible to make a final summary paragraph that is at least two sentences long, restates the ideas in the text in new words and in a way that is worth reading, and seems to be in the right place. It is therefore best to get students to get into the habit of putting a summary sentence in the introduction, after rephrasing the question and before explaining what the structure of the essay is.
  4. Students who are not reaching 150 words in 20 minutes or who don’t have time for a final edit should be told to plan more quickly, to always write basically the same introduction, to analyse the language only while they are writing the body, not to use an eraser, not to worry about writing neatly, and to leave thinking carefully about mistakes and rephrasing until they edit.
  5. Although we often use present tenses to make data on graphs sound more interesting, students should be told to use past tenses for past data and future forms for future data, in order to show their range of language and to avoid possible misunderstandings. Present Simple should only be used in the rare (but possible) case of repeated data that is always true such as a graph of temperatures over the months of an average year.
  6. To speed up their writing, students should be taught to edit quickly by crossing off things they want to change (not using an eraser), adding extra words above the line, and even adding whole sentences by writing them in a box in the margin and using a long arrow to show where they should go.
  7. Students who need a high mark in IELTS Writing but are stuck at a medium one such as 6.0 most commonly need to be told to be more ambitious with their language use.
  8. Students should be reassured that the IELTS examiner won’t grade them on their ability to analyse data, just the language that they use to do so. There is therefore no point circling important parts of the graph etc before they start writing, as long as they make some attempt at selecting and summarising the data while they are writing.
  9. Although these words in the instructions are always the same, students should be taught to always underline "select”, “summarise” and “compare”, so that they remember to do all three things.
  10. A good general guide to time management in IELTS Writing Task 1 is three minutes for planning, three or four minutes to write the intro, eight or nine minutes to write the body, then four minutes for a final edit.
  11. The most important paragraphing tips for IELTS students are that that all paragraphs should be over one sentence, they should be divided by a blank line, a different topic is a different paragraph, and good paragraphs should preferably be readable on their own without needing to refer back (so they shouldn’t start with “Secondly,…”, etc).
  12. Students should be trained to never waste time counting every word in their essays, instead estimating the number of words per line, counting how many lines, and making sure that they are over about 158 words (to make sure that there is no chance they are under).
  13. To speed up their writing, students should be told that there are no extra marks for neatness and that no marks are lost for messiness (as long as the examiner can understand what is written).
  14. Students should try to leave at least four minutes for a final edit of Writing Task 1, during which time they should rephrase things that are repeated, add extra words to make the language more ambitious, and correct spelling and other mistakes.
  15. Good tips on writing numbers in Task 1 essays include that there should be a mix of descriptions with and without numbers, there should be a mix of numbers written as words and as figures, most numbers should be approximations (to add useful language like "less than”), they shouldn’t include every number even if there are very few, that there is no point wasting time making calculations, and that small and simple words should be written as words (with long and complex ones written as figures).
  16. Students should be taught to be sceptical about so-called model answers by always examining them for bad points such as one-sentence paragraphs and summaries which add nothing to the body, before they then look for good language and tactics that they could copy.
  17. In order to rephrase well but quickly, students should be told to try to think of words with the same meaning, just try to change the part of speech if they can’t think of a different word, and just use the same word if they can’t quickly think of a way of changing it (trying to rephrase again in the editing stage if they need to).
  18. If students find that what they have written in the body doesn’t match what they described in the introduction, they should scrub out the last line of the intro and write it to match the actual body (as there is no time to rewrite the body).
  19. When they are underlining important words in the instructions, students should not underline “where relevant”, as they should actually compare whenever possible, which is almost always.
  20. Students should generally be quite traditional with their use of language, avoiding things which native speakers often write but are traditionally considered incorrect like “between … to …”, “the data is…”, “the latter” with lists of more than two things, and superlatives with just two things.
  21. All Task 1 plans have potential difficulties such as being simple to write but not naturally including comparing, or naturally including comparing but being trickier to write. Students should therefore just be taught to come up with a plan as quickly as possible and stick to it unless it makes no sense at all.
  22. If students have questions about how academic IELTS Academic Writing should be, the basic answer is “semi-academic”, as unlike real academic writing there is no research, there are no references, and you must give your personal opinion in Writing Task 2. It’s therefore fine to use the personal pronoun “I will describe … and then turn to…” as the last sentence of Task 1 introductions.
  23. The most useful thing to tell students about tenses in Task 1 is that Present Perfect sentences like “has risen” mean up until exactly now (= the time of writing), so are likely to be wrong unless they chose that as the place to split the data into two paragraphs.
  24. Although there are suggestions that candidates should be consistent with the variety of English they use (e.g. all British English), it is impossible for the examiner to be familiar with every international variant of English, so I tell them that they should make sure they don’t spell the same word two different ways (so not both “color” and “colour”) and should try to be consistent with things like words ending with -re and -er if they can. However, on the other side they should feel free to use variants such as both British and American vocabulary in order to avoid repeating words.

 

Timed IELTS Writing Task 1 exam practice teaching tips

  1. To make homework realistic exam practice but at the same time get them to finish the task and practise useful language, tell them to first plan, write and edit for exactly 20 minutes, but then to do extra work. After the time limit, they should switch to a red pen and write more words to reach the word limit, check with a dictionary, add useful phrases that they have found in model answers, etc.
  2. Students should get used to doing timed exam practice on similar sheets to the real exam answer sheet, so that they get to know how many words they tend to write per line, and so that they know more or less how long 150 words will be on the page.
  3. For timed exam practice homework, it is really useful to give them a guided answer sheet that has lines that are the same size as the real exam answer sheet, tells them how you want them to do exam practice, tells them what to do after the time limit, and gives them spaces to tell you vital info like their plan, how long it took them to plan, and how many words they wrote within the time limit.
  4. The first time that you do timed writing in class, you should shout out instructions like “Underline key words!”, “Split the data into two!”, “You should be ready to start writing now!”, “Rephrase the question!”, “Write a summary sentence!”, “Explain your plan!”, “Start body 2!”, “Check you’ve written well over 150 words!” and “Final edit now!” at the times when they’ll need to do each of those things in the real exam.
  5. If students always have the same weak points in their timed writing practice homework, give them a checklist with things like “Well over 150 words”, “All paragraphs over one sentence” and “Compare and contrast (whenever possible)” to tick off before they give the finished essays to you.
  6. Students who can’t finish on time and continue to over-use their erasers can be made to do a test or two in (non-erasable) pen or with erasers banned.

 

Feedback on IELTS Writing Task 1 essays teaching tips

  1. To stop students obsessing too much about grammar, error correction tasks should mostly consist of wrongly used words, spelling mistakes, bad paragraphing, not following the task instructions, etc, with only very common and important grammatical problems like missing articles.
  2. As students need to learn to edit their writing without any help at all, marking codes that the teacher uses should be as basic as possible, mainly consisting of underlining bits that need to be changed.
  3. Feedback on students’ Task 1 essays should be a good balance of positive and negative, and usually have no more than two or three major points to work on each time.
  4. Students who write over about 170 words in Task 1 should be told that they are wasting time that they could use for Task 2, and that there is a danger of not selecting and summarising if their essay is too long.
  5. When teachers are choosing what errors to correct in IELTS Writing Task 1, the priorities should be ones which cause communication problems, ones that students have probably never heard of before or have been mistaught, and ones for which you have snappy and memorable explanations that will stick in their heads until the exam.

 

Other IELTS Writing Task 1 teaching tips

  1. As it is much easier to teach students new language than it is to stop them making mistakes (mainly ones that they’ve been making for years), classes should mainly concentrate on introducing new vocabulary and phrases such as different ways of explaining changes.
  2. How much you try to elicit better language from your students really depends on what problems they have with Task 1, as students who write too slowly should mainly be told “That’s fine”, whereas students who quickly produce very simple answers need to be challenged to use better language.
  3. For students who are particularly bad at spelling, it can be useful to explain general spelling rules like Magic E and when to add double letters, particularly if you deal with typical mistakes in IELTS Listening gapfill tasks at the same time.
  4. Correcting typical mistakes activities can be made more amusing by including super casual sentences like “It then dives mega-fast!”
  5. Some online and textbook Task 1 samples have untypical points like having “now” as one of the times, processes with far too many steps and 3D maps, so it’s best to stick to examples from official practice exam books, then make up (very) similar examples yourself if you need to.
  6. If you run out of recent examples of Task 1 tasks from official practice exam books, older ones are basically exactly the same except for the instructions, which need to be changed to include the usual “select and summarise,…” etc.
  7. Although students will be able to impress the examiner if they can use Future Perfect and/ or Future Continuous to describe the right kinds of future data, it is much more important to teach different synonyms of “It will…” like “It is forecast that…” and “It is predicted that…”
  8. Although students will be able to impress the examiner if they can use more difficult past tenses such as Past Perfect, students often use it incorrectly or choose unimportant data in order to be able to use such tenses correctly, so it’s more important to spend time on irregular Past Simple forms like “fell” and “shrank”.
  9. Although it can add some speaking and allow students to share their knowledge and experience, you should limit how often students write together, as it slows them down and makes them lose sight of the real time limits in the test.
  10. Many students try to make their writing more formal and academic with use of the passive voice, but too much of this can lead to a repetitive and difficult to read essay, and lead to mistakes like “It was increased…” instead of “It increased…”. Such students need to be taught when and how much to use passive and active voice.
  11. Of all the words that students will need to rephrase in their answers, the most common are the kinds of data that are given, e.g. “bar chart” as “bar graph” or “chart”, so this is well worth some class time.
  12. Although the places on the map are always labelled, it can be worth doing a lesson on language to describe places such as “outskirts” and “highway”, as this could be useful for rephrasing, and often comes up in other parts of the exam such as Speaking Part One questions on hometowns.
  13. Practice of describing pie charts can be combined with a lesson on the language of generalisation such as “the vast majority” and “well over fifty percent”, which is also useful for Speaking Part Three and Writing Task 2.
  14. A lesson on how to say numbers would be good practise for both writing numbers as words in Writing Task 1 and for IELTS Listening (as well as for their future academic and business lives).
  15. Make sure that all your materials with exam tips etc follow the rule that small and simple numbers are written as words and others are written as figures, so students learn to copy this in Writing Task 1.

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