Writing Thematic Lesson Plans for IELTS Speaking and Writing
By Andrew Matthews, IELTSLMS.com
This blog will explain how you can use the course Mastering IELTS: A Theme Based Approach course available at IELTS LMS to plan and deliver great English classes. But these lesson planning principles apply to any class and can be adapted for any high quality course material. This is NOT a lesson plan, but rather the process that I go through to develop a series of lesson plans.
Background to the Lesson Plan
IELTS classes can become too focused on individual skills, which can be a little boring as well as not that effective.
Here we see how a class (online, offline, or blended) can be made much more interesting by integrating skills in a theme based approach. We also look at how and when to use synchronous and asynchronous modes of teaching.
In this blog, I have used the course Mastering IELTS: A Theme Based Approach to plan a series of lessons, but the same principles can be applied to any high quality content.
The students I am planning for are around Band 5.5/6 IELTS and the overall goal is to enable them to be confident answering writing and speaking questions related to Sustainable Food specifically.
This topic is included in the Environment Module of Mastering IELTS, but also has strong links to health, transport and social issues as you will see.
No Theme Lives in Isolation
It is crucially important to help students make these connections between topics and themes for two reasons.
First to give them a deeper, broader, better understanding of the topic itself. And second, to give them enough peripheral knowledge to be able to answer questions on other topics like health, transport, society and so on.
In this way, learning about one topic in Mastering IELTS gives students a better understanding of not just one, but many common themes.
How Do Students Impress Examiners?
In essay writing and part 3 of the speaking test, examiners are not looking for the same old generic cookie cutter responses for the higher bands. They are looking for ‘clear positions throughout’, ‘well supported’, ‘coherent development of topics’, ‘skilful use’ of less common vocabulary, flexibility and precision. This doesn’t come from doing lots of practice tests, this comes from real study.
The Role of Practice Tests
Practice tests are great, I’m not saying they are not. They help students expand their vocabulary, gain some knowledge, and get practice in IELTS style questions. But they are not going to help students develop that confidence they need in specific themes or topics.
Our job as teachers and trainers is to enable our students to always perform confidently, whatever writing or speaking questions come up. This is what our lesson plans must aim to do.
So here, I’m going to use one small part of the course Mastering IELTS: A Theme Based Approach, to show you how you can plan a series of lessons that are effective and enjoyable (most of the time, we’re not all perfect every lesson are we? Nor are our students!).
1.Write a great problem/solution essay in Writing Task 2 on ‘Environmentally Responsible Diets’:
Food production is a huge environmental problem.
Should people change their diets to help with climate change? Why/Why not?
2. Confidently answer the speaking questions in ‘Environment Speaking 1’:
What is the environmental problem with agriculture?
Do you think changing our diets will help improve the environment?
Do you think that a vegan diet is good for people and/or the planet?
A Quick Note on Quizzes
You will see in the menu for Sustainable Food there are 4 quizzes. These are a mixture of reading and listening quizzes built using the tools in IELTS LMS. They look beautiful and they work well on any screen, any device.
More importantly, this means that the quizzes are graded automatically, and they give location data in the Answers and Explanations page. (Additionally, some harder questions have explanations where it was felt that the location information may not be enough for some students to understand why an answer is correct.)
When you use IELTS LMS to write courses and quizzes, you have complete control over creation obviously. You can put in as much, or as little, detail as you think your students will need.
The reading and listening texts, questions and explanations in this course have been chosen for students who are already at Band 5.5 or 6 remember. In most cases I have not included explanations as I felt that either the location information was enough, or that the question/answer might deserve some discussion anyway.
Controversial and debatable points are fantastic teaching and learning tools and should be embraced, not shied away from.
Most of the quizzes here have 6 to 8 questions and should be completed in 20 minutes or less. The questions are not all vocabulary based, some are much more difficult and require more critical thinking. Remember, these are NOT IELTS reading mock tests, they are tests built in an IELTS style with the aim of gaining deeper understanding of a topic.
Any questions, topics or texts that generate discussion and/or controversy are generally good. This is where critical thinking can be taught and better understanding by students is attained.
Planning the Lessons
Enough of the background on quizzes, how do we use Mastering IELTS: A Theme Based Approach to achieve our learning objectives?
This is actually quite straightforward, but you must give some thought to which activities to do synchronously (S) and which to do asynchronously (AS).
The broad steps are as follows:
Introduce the topic to your students (S)
We do this with a short video from YouTube usually in Mastering IELTS. There are many very professional and beautiful videos which aren’t too long!
Set the context of your lessons with your students (S)
What are the end goals? You can give the essay question and speaking questions here if you want to set the context of the lesson a little more (your choice!). Or you could ask your students to write an essay or record the answer to a question. This can be a good way to show them how far they have come by the end of the process.
Assign the quizzes (AS and S)
All four should take an hour or so if your students are at or around Band 5.5/6. These are good to do asynchronously if your contact time is precious. Or if you have the time, consider doing one with your students so they get the hang of it.
Check Students’ Progress (S)
Before you see your students after they have done the quizzes, make sure you check their progress reports.
Identify common mistakes and problems and prepare these as teaching points in your class. Your students will appreciate this, and know that you are monitoring their work. Allow contact time for other discussion, questions, etc.
The texts can be complex, and sometimes controversial so expect questions or arguments. These are to be encouraged as this is the way to develop critical thinking and solidify learning.
Have 3 or 4 questions/points of your own about the texts to draw information out in case you have quiet students!
Give the students the essay topic (S)
Put the students into groups. Google Docs is a great way to do this both online AND in class. It allows you to ‘live monitor’ and give feedback while students do the task. This is way more effective for learning, plus it cuts down on your work later. Win-win!
Here is a link to a writing and speaking class I used to teach many years ago. I will update it and write a blog on it, but for now have a look to see how you can use Google Docs for these types of classes.
Brainstorming (and outlining) essays are great group work. They allow students to bounce ideas around and actually use the knowledge they have gained from the quizzes. They will have all picked up different points, but they still may not have much understanding, just knowledge.
Brainstorming will generate lots of ideas, some usable, some not. The point of brainstorming is to come up with as much as possible without judging the quality or appropriateness of the ideas.
Brainstorm everything to do with the question, don’t leave anything out and don’t analyse anything yet. Brainstorming is a creative process that should run wild!
Once brainstorming comes to an end, it is time to apply some critical thinking to the ideas with reference to the question again. Some ideas might not be great, some might be good, but not relevant to the question. This is the time to sort those out and to generate more understanding.
Hopefully you will have loads of ideas, but teachers need to have a few ready just in case.
Essays are 250 words long in IELTS, so the students can’t write about everything they have brainstormed. They must choose from the topics they have generated. Which are the best/easiest to write an essay about? Controversial ideas are usually easier to write about or talk about.
(Before doing the outlines, you could do a quick reminder of problem-solution essay structure. SPSE is one of my favourites, and works well. Do you know this one?)
Situation – what is the current situation, background and context.
This relates to the question:
Food production is a huge environmental problem.
Should people change their diets to help with climate change? Why/Why not?
Problem – causes and effects
Cattle farming leads to methane production and global warming
People want food they can’t grow locally or at the time of year, this leads to transport associated environmental issues
Solution(s) – what can be done to solve the problem, possible solutions
Vegetarian, vegan, eat local, eat insects, government regulation
Evaluation – are the solutions realistic and effective
Is it possible?
Would it work?
Negative consequences of proposal (who would it affect most?)
|Vegan/vegetarian diet to reduce methane production||Will people change? Meat is nutritious; Vegan diet requires supplements for health; Needs a lot of water; Transport costs for exotic fruits or vegetables; Monoculture arise (avocado production)|
|Eat Local food only to reduce transport effects||Limiting possibly; Quality and quantity may not be great; How to enforce|
|Eat insects can grow anywhere, nutritious, low water needs||Will people eat|
Summarise and answer the question, should people change their diets to help climate change?
As you and the class go through this outlining process together, you will learn more and understand more. It is this part of the class that is most interesting, and should make students want to write about the topic.
There are other models for a problem solution style essay, but this one usually means that there is plenty to write about AND in a coherent structure. But, it does need practice to be confident with.
Writing the Essay (S)
Once the outlining is done and you and your students are happy with everything, they can leave their groups and write individual essays.
At this point, I would have students do this on Google Docs. As you saw in this link to a Google Docs class, you can use the ‘live feedback method’ easily and extremely effectively. This can be done synchronously in the class or online, either works.
Basically, you are monitoring all of your students as they write. You are able to stop mistakes as they happen, suggest better alternatives and also pick up on any common mistakes or misunderstandings. In these cases it is easy and effective to stop the class from writing, identify the common errors and offer solutions as they occur.
This method is so much more effective than grading papers two or three days later, which students never look at anyway – usually!
Editing and Submitting the Essay (AS)
Once the essays are complete, or the synchronous time comes to an end, students can go through their essays and make any revisions before submission to you on IELTS LMS.
Grading Essays on IELTS LMS
Teachers can use the built in rubrics and feedback tools in IELTS LMS to easily grade and offer advice. Progress Reports are updated automatically, and there are no lost submissions, or time wasted attaching grades etc.
More importantly, the teachers will have invaluable information on where to direct their next lesson. Good and bad parts of essays can be easily copied (anonymously!) and used in class as teaching/learning points. Again, this is invaluable for student progression plus they will love your knowledge and attention to detail.
What About the Speaking Part?
This blog has become very long already, so I’ll be brief here, hopefully you have the idea now anyway on setting up appropriate activities for S and AS.
Teachers can select some (or all) of the questions again to discuss and brainstorm in class (or on Zoom). Students can take turns answering questions to each other in pairs to practise a ‘live’ conversation. There can be examiner/candidate role plays and such like in groups or Breakout Rooms. (S)
Teachers can set up the activities, monitor and give feedback live.
When completed, the students can record their answers to the speaking questions and submit for grading and feedback. (AS)
Get Better Results Planning Lessons with Premium Content
That’s really about it. The Mastering IELTS: A Theme Based Approach is content rich and has integrated questions designed to lead students through gaining knowledge and then understanding issues. It can be used online, offline or any combination of the two.
The results are significant. If you compare students before and after the activity, you will notice a massive improvement in output and confidence. This is great for them, and for you and your organisation in terms of students’ results and happiness.
Mastering IELTS: A Theme Based Approach is available now on IELTS LMS. It has 12 modules which we estimate to be 2-3 months of work minimum, and would prepare students for many IELTS themes likely to arise.
It is extremely easy to plan lessons around, and will save a great deal of time in student administration as it uses the tools built into IELTS LMS.