100 IELTS Writing Task 2 teaching tips

Summary: A big list of advice on how to teach IELTS Academic Writing Task 2

This article gives a hundred recommendations on the best way to teach IELTS Writing Task 2, including advice to give students, practice activities, making exam practice realistic and useful, and ways to give feedback. Each section is in approximate order of how important the tips are. Photocopiable examples of most of the activities mentioned here are available at https://www.usingenglish.com/e-books/ielts-writing/. There are also similar articles on this site for students and for other parts of the IELTS exam.

 

39 IELTS Writing Task 2 classroom activities

  1. As IELTS is a closed-book exam, students should be made to memorise all useful phrases and vocabulary they come across and then be tested on it with tasks like brainstorming into categories like “Summarising phrases” and “Explaining the organisation of the essay phrases”
  2. Ways to avoid too much silence in Writing Task 2 classes include students giving their opinions on the questions, planning together, writing introductions together, finding problems in model answers together, giving advice on self-study, brainstorming useful phrases, and comparing their finished essays
  3. A good first step towards Writing Task 2 is to get students to give their opinions on the questions in the tasks as if they were Speaking Part Three questions, initially without thinking about writing
  4. A good way into Writing Task 2 is through Speaking Part Three questions on the same topic
  5. Useful tips and phrases for the exam can be presented together by students circling good tips like “If you looked at both sides, you’ll probably need to give a weak final conclusion”, then trying to remember the accompanying phrases, like “Although there are good arguments on both sides, in my country the most important thing to bear in mind is…”
  6. Maybe the best way of presenting useful phrases for Task 2 is students trying to agree on and complete typical phrases like “The government should do more about…” and “There are more advantages than disadvantages to…”. Then get them to recall those phrases
  7. Perhaps the best practice for useful vocabulary for Task 2 tasks is giving students expressions like “hybrid vehicles” and “wind power” to share their opinions on
  8. Good paragraphing can be introduced with a task where each model essay has one problem such as a one-sentence paragraph, a body which doesn’t match what was described in the intro, too many body paragraphs, and a final conclusion where there should be a summary
  9. Good introductions can be introduced with a task where each model has one problem such as only one sentence, not rephrasing the question, rephrasing in a way which changes the meaning of the question, and giving their opinion then saying that they will look at both sides
  10. Good Task 2 phrases can be presented with a game where students make basic phrases like “In + contrast” then add words in the middle to make better phrases like “In + complete + contrast”
  11. You should teach students to be sceptical about so-called model answers with tasks such as finding at least one weak point
  12. To practise rephrasing, students should be given at least ten Writing Task 2 questions to rephrase, first slowly and then as quickly as they can, just using other parts of speech or the same word if they can’t quickly think of an alternative word
  13. If you want students to have the chance to look at other people’s essays but don’t want them to criticise each other or give bad advice, ask them to just compare their essays’ lengths, the time they spent on each part, etc, using useful phrases like “In complete contrast,…”
  14. Useful comparing/ contrasting phrases for the exam can be presented or practised by getting students to use phrases like “much …er” and “not quite as…” to compare different Task 2 tasks
  15. Useful comparing/ contrasting phrases for the test can be used to compare Task 1 and Task 2 with sentences like “much shorter” and “considerably more personal”
  16. To deal with common confusions like those between “On the other hand” and “In contrast” while also presenting useful synonyms for rephrasing, you can play a game in which students raise cards saying “The same” or “Different” as they hear “I really think”/ “I strongly believe”, “what people think”/ “how people think”, etc.
  17. Useful phrases and typical mistakes can be practised at the same time by giving students right and wrong versions on Student A and Student B worksheets to find the differences between and correct
  18. You can present a lot of useful language for the test while dealing with common mistakes with a game of Prepositions and Determiners Pairwork, in which students listen to phrases with the same short word missing until they guess that they all need “a”, all need “at”, etc
  19. A good game to make students use longer, more specific and more ambitious phrases is one where they are given very short sentences like “So, I agree with the statement” to take turns expanding by adding and changing words (whilst keeping the fundamental meaning the same)
  20. Strong and weak language for the exam can be presented by the teacher reading out pairs of phrases like “the vast majority” and “the majority” and students pointing up if they think the second expression is stronger and down if they think it is weaker
  21. Useful language for making recommendations on what governments can do etc can be combined with exam tips by getting students to give advice on planning, editing, dealing with difficult tasks, self-study, etc
  22. To practise joining essays together well, it can be useful to do chain writing exercises in which one student writes a paragraph, then passes it to the next person to continue, while receiving one at the same stage from another person. When the essays are finished, they can discuss how well they tie together or not and why.
  23. To practise joining introductions together well, it can be useful to do chain writing exercises in which one student writes a sentence, then passes it to the next person to continue, while receiving one at the same stage from another person. When the introductions are finished, they can discuss how well they tie together or not and why.
  24. You can transition from teaching Writing Task 1 to teaching Writing Task 2 by reading out typical sentences from each kind of essay and asking students to work out which is which and holding up cards saying “Task 1” and “Task 2
  25. Students who would benefit from learning to reproduce a basic introduction could do a disappearing text activity where they cover or delete an intro word by word, trying to remember the whole thing each time
  26. To present lots of useful language and deal with common mistakes at the same time, you can give students lists of phrases for strong opinions, weak disagreement, predictions, etc, but with each section including one phrase which should be in a different section and one which has a language error which needs to be corrected, with all the rest being correct and useful phrases
  27. Correction tasks can be made more amusing by including super casual sentences like “Most people think that…, but most people are idiots”
  28. An error correction race can be a good way of making it more fun and speeding up students’ editing skills, e.g. all searching for one language mistake in an introduction, then doing the same for a body 1, etc
  29. Important language and common weak points can be dealt with together by getting students to choose the best of different phrases for giving background to the question, explaining the topic of each body paragraph, starting body paragraphs, quoting sources, linking the body to the conclusion, summarising, etc
  30. Higher level language can be presented with a simplest responses game in which they listen to correct but basic phrases like “To summarise” and ones which will impress examiners more like "To summarise the views given above,…” and choose the most ambitious
  31. Some questions need background to the topic such as “In modern society, more and more…” before rephrasing the question. This can be practised by giving students a mix of questions which probably need background and ones where the question basically gives the background and so they can start by rephrasing the question.
  32. Most language for Speaking Part Three can also be used for Writing Task 2, but really informal language like “No way!” is also okay in the speaking. You can present both points with lists of language for useful functions like “weak opinions”, with one example in each section too informal for Writing Task 2
  33. Students should practise getting from the body to a final conclusion both by choosing the best of the arguments (“Of all the arguments above, in the near future by far the most important will be…, so the clear conclusion is that…”) and by eliminating weaker arguments (“The arguments above that… are only relevant to…, so I am forced to conclude that…”), for example with model answers with the final paragraph missing
  34. Language for Writing Task 2 and Task 1 flowchart tasks can be practised together by giving students phrases like “The second step is…” to describe the best process for doing Task 2, then getting them to remember the process phrases
  35. Strong and weak language can be presented or practised with a table with medium-strength phrases in the middle and key words to help students make each phrase both stronger and weaker
  36. You can present and expand on students’ language by giving a list with different parts of speech like “sum up”, “summary” and “summarise”, asking students to use one from each line to give their real opinions, share their real experiences, etc, then try to remember the whole list
  37. If you give students a representative sample of at least seven Task 2 tasks, you can get them to use useful hedging phrases like “Almost all” and “Over half” to generalise about the tasks
  38. Giving students opinions that they should give and support can be good practise for writing essays on topics that they have no opinion on
  39. To deal with questions that they don’t fully understand or are ambiguous, it can be useful to study phrases like “Assuming that… means…, then…”

 

The 33 most important IELTS Writing Task 2 tips to give students

  1. You should get students to always end Task 2 essay introductions with a description of their body such as “I will… and then turn my attention to…”, as this will force them to plan, show you what their plan was, and show the examiner they have planned
  2. When students do a final edit, they should be encouraged to add more impressive language as well as look for mistakes
  3. Although many textbooks present brainstorming as part of planning Task 2, this should be avoided as it takes too long and emphasises ideas rather than language
  4. If students can’t plan, write and edit a Task 2 essay in under 40 minutes, common reasons include taking too long to plan, writing too neatly, spending too long rephrasing, using an eraser too much, editing too much as they go along (instead of during the final edit), thinking about their ideas too much, and too much support for each argument
  5. Students who spend too much time thinking about their ideas should be told that there are no extra marks for genius arguments and no marks off for stupid ideas (as long as they are on topic and are supported in some way), they are simply judged on the language they use to explain those ideas
  6. If students are not sure whether they should look at both sides or just one (when the question doesn’t specify that), a good general pattern is just one side if they have a strong opinion, otherwise both
  7. Good tips on paragraphing include that one paragraph is one topic/ a new topic = a new paragraph, paragraphs should have at least two sentences/ a sentence is not a paragraph, and to leave a blank line after paragraphs (as an indent is less clear and doesn’t leave space to add things later)
  8. A good general tip on using more ambitious language in Writing Task 2 is to always use strong or weak language like “It should be obvious that…” and “I would imagine that…”, as this both communicates more about their opinions and shows the examiner their language knowledge
  9. A good general tip to make students use higher level language is to use longer phrases, e.g. “In my limited experience” instead of just “In my experience”
  10. Perfect Task 2 timing is four minutes underlining key words and deciding how to split the body into paragraphs, five minutes writing an introduction, around 25 minutes writing the body and final paragraph, and five minutes for a final edit
  11. To learn to edit more quickly, students should be told to keep eraser use to an absolute minimum by crossing things off and adding new language above the line
  12. If students are convinced that all essays should start with their opinion, give the example “Which is better, apples or bananas? In my opinion, apples are clearly better. There are two advantages to bananas, namely…” to show how some essays shouldn’t
  13. If students repeatedly fail to link from the body to the conclusion, give them example “Which is better, Tokyo or London? Tokyo has better public transport, but London is closer to other famous capital cities. Tokyo is better” to show how important that step is
  14. If students make the common mistake of just one argument with one unnecessarily long kind of support, give the example “One argument in support of this is that it would be popular with voters. For example, about two years ago, as I was walking along the street I saw an old friend of mine who I hadn’t met for years. He’s a doctor now. We got to talking about the weather and…” to show how bad it can be
  15. Although we’d probably use bullet points in this kind of essay in other situations, they should never be used in IELTS, as they make the language too simple and make it more difficult to reach the word limit
  16. A suitable sentence-by-sentence plan for almost every Task 2 introduction is (optional) background to the question, rephrasing the question, opinion if they will only look at one side (and are allowed to), then a sentence explaining the topic of each paragraph below
  17. If students get very bad scores in IELTS Writing, the easiest to fix reasons are not reaching word limits, not answering the question, and bad planning/ paragraphing
  18. If students can’t write the introduction in under six minutes, tell them to skip background to the topic, not worry too much about rephrasing, and always use “I will… and then…” to end the intro
  19. Students who are stuck at a mid-level score like 6.0 most often need to be told to use more complex language
  20. To avoid one-sentence summary paragraphs, students should be taught to add a final recommendation, prediction, etc based on their summary (but quickly, as the task doesn’t actually ask for that)
  21. Students should be discouraged from making up support for their arguments, as phrases to explain things they can really think of such as “I once read a book in which is said something like…” tend to be more complex and therefore more impressive for the examiner
  22. To learn lists of useful phrases for Task 2, prompts to help them recall the phrases could include descriptions, gapped phrases, stems of phrases, equivalent phrases, and phrases with mistakes
  23. Students who are well short of the word limit or have only written one argument should write the missing sentence or two in the blank space around the essay, put it in a box, then draw an arrow from that box to the correct place in the essay
  24. Students often miss the very important -s in “advantages and disadvantages”, “causes and solutions”, etc, and so need to be told that one advantage, one solution etc is not enough
  25. Although there is no upper word limit, students should be stopped from going over about 265 words, as they are likely to be longwinded or off topic, and it would be more useful to edit more carefully
  26. If students ask if it’s better to do Writing Task 2 before Task 1, the answer is almost always “No”. It’s quite easy to spend 60 minutes on Task 2 and so have no time for Task 1, so it’s better to rush through Task 1, then spend the rest of the time on Task 2
  27. If students are worried about using personal words like “I” and “my”, tell them that they have to because they are told to give their own opinion and they have to use their own knowledge and experiences
  28. If students are concerned that their writing isn’t formal/ academic, reassure them that the level can only be semi-academic, as they can’t use real references and are told to give their own opinion
  29. If students ask if it is easier to look at both sides or only one side (when they have the choice), the answer is that they both have difficulties and so they should quickly go with whichever seems easier for that task
  30. To show their ability to plan and paragraph but also to link ideas together, the body should never be more than three paragraphs, and usually two
  31. If students decided to only look at one side but then can’t think of enough arguments on that side, they should change to looking at both sides, combine the previous body paragraphs if there are two, then change the final sentence of the introduction to one explaining the new structure of the essay
  32. Some students are convinced that British English is preferable in IELTS Writing, but all varieties of English are equally acceptable
  33. Though students can use phrases like “Turning to…” in every task, they should try not to repeat ones from their Task 1 essay, as the same examiner will mark both

 

Timed IELTS Writing Task 2 exam practice teaching tips

  1. The first time that you do a timed Task 2 in class, you should shout out instructions on what to do like “Underline important words in the question”, “Now finish planning and start writing”, “Now finish the introduction and start the body” and “Now finish writing, make sure it’s long enough and do a final edit” at suitable times
  2. To make exam practice realistic, make sure students don’t get extra thinking time before starting their stopwatches (e.g. don’t see the question in class when you give timed writing as homework)
  3. To both get exam practice and learn new language, it’s best for students to finish timed writing in exactly 40 minutes from first looking at the question, but then check add extra words, edit again etc with the help of model answers, a dictionary, etc
  4. If students always make the same mistakes in timed writing, it can be useful to give them a checklist to look at before and after with things to tick off like “Final paragraph links well to the body?” and “Question rephrased enough?”
  5. To be able to give students advice on how to improve their writing, you should ask them to write their plan, time spent planning, time spent on a final edit, things they used to help, etc on their Task 2 answer sheet
  6. To get into good habits and help you give feedback, students should made to always write a simple plan (e.g. “Body 1: reason 1, Body 2: reason 2”) before they start writing
  7. So that students always get over 250 words but don’t waste time counting every word, always give them paper which has lines which are the same size as the official answer sheet
  8. If your textbook has readings on the same topic as the next Writing Task 2, you should get students to sometimes do the writing before doing the reading (as that is more like real exam writing situations) and sometimes do Task 2s after learning useful language from the reading (as that will help expand their range of language)
  9. It’s quite different doing Task 2 straight after Task 1, as they will be warmed up but tired, might have less than 40 minutes left, and should try not to repeat phrases from Task 1. Students should therefore do Tasks 1 and 2 non-stop in an hour at least twice before their exam
  10. If your students will probably be overwhelmed the first time that they have to do a timed IELTS Academic Writing Task 2 task, do lots of vocabulary and phrases for the task first, give them an IELTS General task, let them discuss it first, and/ or let them plan it together in class first

 

Feedback on IELTS Writing Task 2 essays teaching tips

  1. As students need to be able to edit their own writing without any help, use a very simple marking code such as only underlining anything that needs changing, marking missing words, and ticking any particularly good language
  2. Error correction should focus on misused words, spelling, bad organisation, not answering the question, etc, with only extremely common and important grammatical problems being focused on
  3. As too much negative feedback can make students too hesitant, feedback should be positive as well as (and maybe as much as) negative
  4. Common task completion problems to give feedback on include not saying to what extent they (dis)agree, ignoring the -s in instructions like “reasons for”, a conclusion which doesn’t actually answer the question, and writing about the topic but not always on the actual question
  5. Common mistakes with Task 2 introductions to give feedback on include only one sentence, giving their opinion before looking at both sides, referring to the question without restating it, and starting with rephrasing the question when some background first would be a better
  6. Common problems with final summaries to give feedback on include mixing up a summary and conclusion, only writing one sentence, and adding nothing to what is in the text (including repeating the same words)
  7. Common problems with final conclusions to give feedback on include not actually answering the question (e.g. just sitting on the fence), and not linking the final conclusion to the body (e.g. ignoring the arguments given on one of the two sides)
  8. Students who fail to use strong or weak language to give their (overall) opinion in “to what extent” tasks should be told that they haven’t answered the question and have missed a chance to use more impressive language
  9. Students who have obviously counted every word should be told to not do so even with their homework, as it will get them into bad timewasting habits (instead estimating how many words per line then counting lines)
  10. Students who have picked up their English naturally might need to be helped to clear up things which native speakers often say (or even often write) but are still considered incorrect such as misuse of “There is” and “amount” with plural nouns

 

Other IELTS Writing Task 2 teaching tips

  1. Because it is far easier to teach students new vocabulary and phrases than it would be to stop them making ingrained mistakes, classes should mainly concentrate on the presentation, practice and memorisation of new language
  2. To make sure that students don’t get confused between the different kinds of final paragraphs, make sure that you never use “conclusion” to mean “summary or conclusion"
  3. You can explain the differences between a summary and a conclusion by saying that a summary gives what is in the body one more time because the opinion has been given in the introduction and the body only looks at one side, as shown by the meaning of “to sum up/ summarise”
  4. You can explain the differences between a conclusion and a summary by saying that the conclusion gives an opinion that hasn’t been said before that is based on the body, because the essay looks at both sides, as shown by the meaning of “in conclusion”, which is something like “therefore”
  5. Although most tasks are either looking at both sides or saying to what extent they agree or disagree, there are other possibilities including causes and solutions, and comparing/ contrasting. Students should spend 70% of their time on the most common tasks and the rest using the same techniques to plan, write and edit less common task types.
  6. The most important Task 2 topic to cover is the environment, as it is common and is difficult to write about without vocabulary like “CO2”
  7. Although it’s not generally important, if you want to teach grammar for IELTS Writing Task 2, the key points are articles/ determiners/ quantifiers, countable/ uncountable, and passive vs active voice
  8. You can link Speaking Part Two and Writing Task 2 with changing topic phrases such as “Looking at…” and “Turning our attention to…”

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