First Lessons with IELTS classes

Summary: How to start the new school year teaching IELTS classes

First lessons with IELTS classes


The three things that I would want to include in any IELTS first class would be:

  • Students getting to know something about each other and the teacher (icebreakers/ GTKY activities)

  • Students learning something about the exam

  • The teacher learning about the students and their relationships to the exam


Luckily, the existence of the personal questions in Speaking Part One means it is quite easy to link the exam in with learning about the students and with them learning about each other. One option is for students to ask questions to each other to fill in a needs analysis form with spaces for notes about their partner’s past, present and future use of English, studies of English, strengths and weaknesses, etc. They can then move on to similar past, present and future questions on more IELTSy topics like hobbies and celebrations.


The teacher can also ask them to fill in a more traditional needs analysis form on their own. Whatever way you do needs analysis, things you are likely to want to know about a class of IELTS students include:

  • If they are interested in the Academic or General exam

  • What score they are likely to need and for what purpose

  • When they are planning to take the exam

  • If they have taken it before and if so what their scores were, including for individual papers

  • Similar information about any practice papers they have tried

  • Their more general ideas about their strengths and weaknesses in English

  • Their experience of and scores in other language learning exams

  • How they study and use English, and the same for the past and future


As well as the link to Speaking Part One questions suggested above, you could also connect it to Speaking Part Three by moving the discussion on to the best way to learn English and/ or study for IELTS. After a presentation on the language of giving opinions, they could then move onto discussion of more IELTS Speaking Part Three-style topics like the environment and technology. You could also give them discussion questions on language learning that start the same as typical exam questions, such as “Do you think… is increasing? Why do you think that is?” and “What is the best way to…, in your opinion?” They can then use those sentence stems to ask each other questions on other topics.


You should also be able to adapt IELTS Writing tasks to have more of a needs analysis/ getting to know you slant. For example, you could ask them to draw a line graph, pie chart, bar chart, table or map with some information about themselves, e.g. their English level or their use of their free time. They then write about it for homework and use the things that they drew for classroom communication before and/ or after writing.


To link needs analysis to Writing Part Two, you could set them a task that is connected to language learning or language exams, e.g. “What are the advantages and disadvantages of bilingual education?”, perhaps allowing them to discuss the same topic in class before they do the writing for homework. Alternatively, you could give them a Writing Part Two task related to the one of the GTKY/ Speaking Part One topics that you covered in class, e.g. an essay-style question on the topic of free time like “Some people think the government should work to improve how people use their leisure time. What are your opinions on this idea?”


It is more difficult to tie in needs analysis and getting to know you with the Listening and Reading papers. To practice listening, one student could ask their partner(s) to guess some information about him/ her, giving them the challenge in an exam-style format such as gapped sentences or True/ False/ Not Given. For example, I could give the students the gapped sentence “The teacher has_______ sisters” or the True/ False statement “The teacher has three younger sisters” for them to guess the answer to. They can then check their answers while I am giving a mini-presentation about myself.


They can also do something similar with the exam listening task where they have to match the speakers to the statements, making it something like a Find Someone Who activity. As suggested above, students should probably give mini-presentations about themselves (rather than answering questions as in a traditional Find Someone Who) in order to make it more like an exam listening activity.


In all the activities above, doing the getting to know you activity should be followed by an explanation that they have basically just done an exam task. You can then run through the format of the relevant task, section or paper, or even do a quick review of the whole exam.


You can also link the Listening paper to students finding out information about the exam. Give them exam- style questions about the exam, e.g. matching statements about the exam and exam tips to the different papers and parts of papers, gapped sentences, or True/ False/ Nobody Knows statements. They try to do the task from their own knowledge of the exam and/ or from what they can guess, and then listen to the teacher’s presentation to check. You can also link to the Reading paper in the same way by finding or writing a text about the exam. As well as True/ False, matching parts of the exam to the statements and gapped statements, they could also do tasks where they have to label paragraphs with their topics.


The activities in the first class can also be linked more generally to the skills and language they will need in the exam. Things you could try to link to include:

  • Reading quickly

  • Skimming and scanning

  • Listening for specific information

  • Eliminating wrong multiple choice options

  • The language of trends

  • Language to describe diagrams, tables, maps and graphs

  • Typical essay phrases

  • Linking expressions

  • Planning and paragraphing

  • Identifying topics of paragraphs

  • Talking about the future

  • Academic vocabulary

  • Giving opinions

  • Vocabulary for typical IELTS topics (the environment, free time, accommodation, etc)

  • Identifying synonyms and antonyms


For example, for any of the vocabulary points above you could give students useful words and phrases for them to make statements about themselves with like “dissertation” (academic vocabulary) and “recycling” (the environment) . Their partners then guess whether the statement is true or false. As in any of the activities above, they can then move on to a real exam task to show the usefulness of that practice.

Copyright © 2011

Written by Alex Case for

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