On this website, I have frequently posted materials to help teachers with their IELTS and ESL lessons, and many of these have been for speaking. After all, speaking classes are among the most popular types of lesson and they can also be the most fun to teach. In this article, I will focus specifically on IELTS speaking class activities, which will hopefully help many of you to create valuable lessons for your students.
What Makes a Good IELTS Speaking Activity?
Firstly, let’s consider what makes a good IELTS speaking activity. This is important because it is easy in an English lesson to overlook what the students actually need and instead just do what you think is “fun” or “easy.”
IELTS speaking is marked in four different categories:
- Fluency and Coherence
- Lexical Resource
- Grammatical Range and Accuracy
As such, I would suggest that a good IELTS speaking lesson includes something that targets all of these… or, if not, at least target a few of them, but make sure to target others in your other lessons.
Also, consider that IELTS students need to deal with three different types of question in the test:
- short, conversational questions
- a long-form answer
- longer, more developed questions
As such, I think that you might want to consider having your students practice each of these. Now, you don’t need to have them work through all of these in one class, of course, but it’s worth remembering that you’ll want to cover all of them at some point.
Finally, I’ve said a million times on this site and at my other IELTS site: the best way to prepare for IELTS is through learning topics. By that, I mean you should look into focusing your lessons on the environment, technology, family, food, etc. This makes it easy to teach vocabulary, cover different questions, and so on.
Should you Mix IELTS Speaking Activities with Other Types?
This is a good question and one that new teachers often ask. I would say that the answer is a resounding YES! Imagine doing a language class where you only do reading or listening and nobody is allowed to speak. It would be disastrous.
I think that language lessons (including IELTS and ESL) should be multi-disciplinary. In other words, I think that you should have a little of at least two kinds of focus. It is common to do the following, for example:
- A speaking/listening class
- A reading/writing class
It doesn’t have to be limited to that, but those are logical. You can talk about the listening materials in lesson #1 or write about the reading materials in lesson #2. Of course, there are so many other possibilities, and I generally try to put a little speaking into every class that I run. In fact, I find that starting and ending most lessons with a discussion is quite fruitful.
Useful IELTS Speaking Class Activities
Ok, let’s get down to it: what are some great IELTS speaking activities that you can use in your classes? I’ll suggest a few below and in some cases I will provide links to old posts on this website that might contain more information and useful resources to help you. For example, there are some downloadable PDF files or pictures you can use.
Practice Talking about Days and Dates
IELTS students often find it difficult to talk about time. It is hardly surprising because in English time is a pretty complicated thing. We have loads of tenses and also the passive and active voice (which we change according to the tense). This can be a massive struggle for students… but then we throw in prepositions to complicate matters further!
In English, we say:
- in winter
- at the beginning of winter
- on Friday
- in the evening
- at 4 o’clock
That’s all pretty intuitive to you and me, but for a student there is a lot to learn. Hopefully, by the time they are studying for IELTS, your students already know this… but they still need practice with it or else it’s hard to get it right in the test. As such, I came up with this activity to help them.
The instructions (and downloadable file) are in the link, but I will explain here briefly:
- Take a calendar and a pick a date.
- Tell the students to mark certain parts of the calendar relative to that date (tomorrow, a week on Friday, this weekend, ten days from now, etc)
- Check the results together.
How does that help their speaking skills? Well, in this case it doesn’t. That’s what comes next:
- Once the students understand the game, tell them to do it themselves.
- Each student should pick a new date and then refer to more dates and times.
- Their partner can try to note down what they have said on their own calendar.
- Check their results.
See, to begin with, you have given them a fun and useful game, and they can then adapt it to make it a speaking exercise. If the person who is talking speaks accurately, it should be possible for the listener to write down the correct dates in their own calendar.
This can be coupled with questions about time that follow. You can ask them things about the past or future and when they reply, they should be able to speak with greater accuracy.
One problem that many IELTS and ESL learners face is mastering the intonation of English. In fact, not just mastering it but getting the basics right. It is common to hear people speak another language sort of like a robot. English is not a tonal language like Thai or Chinese, but we do have word stress and sentence stress that affect the meaning of what we are saying.
When I want to help my students overcome this habit of sounding like a robot, I first demonstrate what it sounds like. I take a sentence and then say it in different ways. One way would be very flat and boring, and the other more natural. For fun, or for demonstration purposes, I might then say it in a very dramatic way, like a stage actor!
To practice, I like to give my students a script. You can write your own or take one from here (my original lesson). It can really be anything, but I find that it’s fun to have a pretty uninteresting script – this lets them be more creative with the next part!
Once you have the script written down, give the students a list of people. These will be their roles when reading out the script. Here are some ideas:
- two lovers
- a teacher and a student
- a police officer and a criminal
- two old friends who haven’t seen each other in 5 years
The students then have to read the script aloud (in pairs) while acting out those roles. The purpose is to make them see how intonation would be affected by mood. This shows them that something as simple as “I live in London” could be said in different ways according to different situations. It brings awareness to sentence stress.
There are lots of ways to adapt this exercise but I think it’s great for making them sound more natural.
Talking for 1 Minute
This activity does not exactly have the most original name! However, it is a pretty useful and fun game that can be used with most IELTS students. You should start by telling them (if they don’t know) that part 2 of the IELTS speaking test involves talking for 1-2 minutes.
It may be difficult for them, depending on their level, to actually do this. Indeed, for some IELTS cue cards, it’s difficult even for a native speaker to talk for that long! It is important to practice in these ways:
- not speaking too quickly
- not speaking too slowly
- structuring an answer
- moving logically between ideas
- not over-correcting
- avoiding too much hesitation
You get the point. It’s about practicing speaking at length.
One fun way to do this is to have some sort of randomly generated topic and then give your students a minute to think and a minute to talk. This can be done in pairs, in groups, or even with a whole class. You can get a computer programme generate these topics or students can pick them out of a hat. (That depends on your technical prowess.)
Once the student gets their topic, they can prepare and then talk. You should time them to make sure they hit at least one minute. With students at around band 5-6, you often find that the biggest problem is speaking enough. At higher levels, they might speak too much. You should tailor your lesson accordingly.
There are many ways to improve a student’s pronunciation skill, but here is one that I have often used in my lessons to great effect. (Ok, there are several activities in that link.)
The best one is to work with minimal pairs. That means a pair of words or sounds that differs only by one phoneme. For example, “sit” and “seat.” In almost every language, the “i” sound from “sit” is absent and so it is a huge struggle for learners of English. Think about when you hear a non-native speaker saying “This is…” They always say, “Theese eees…” right?
When you show them that it is wrong, they still cannot follow because the difference is pretty much nothing to them. As such, you need to highlight what is wrong. Firstly, draw a diagram as follows:
Have your students copy this in their notebooks. Then tell them that when you say “i” they should turn left and when you say “ee” they should turn right. They should then follow you on the map/tree and end up at the right number. For example, “ship, dip, feet, cheap” should bring them to the number 3. (left, left, right, left)
To begin with, this will seem impossible to them, but in about 5 minutes they will start to hear the difference.
Now for the speaking part: They should quietly map out their own route. (It helps to write down some minimal pairs as an example.) You can then have them say these to each other and try to end up at the same number. I have had great success with this IELTS speaking activity every time that I have used it.
Ok, this last IELTS speaking class activity is not particularly imaginative, but it is super important! You can run practice question and answer sessions with your students. Yes, yes, this is very obvious, but it’s something that they need to do.
I like to have my students act out the role of examiner and candidate because this helps them to think about what the examiner is looking for. This may sound obvious to you or me, but the students tend to think only from their own perspective. It can be helpful for them to view the situation through the eyes of an examiner. You should prep them on what the examiner wants to see.
Give your students some questions to use. Make sure that only the examiner can read these so that the candidate has to listen and respond naturally. If they can read the question, it is not very authentic.
In a large class, you should walk around and listen in. You can give gentle feedback (which is really important) and maybe throw in some random questions of your own. Don’t forget to ask the examiners for their feedback on their candidates.
I have given you some ideas for IELTS speaking class activities to use in your classes. There are so many more that I could have said (such as debates and the famous balloon problem), but I think you get the point. Make sure to have your students speak often and, where possible, at length. You should aim to get them talking fluently and confidently, as this will really help them in their real IELTS test. Try to make your classes engaging and fun so that they are motivated to participate, but don’t forget to give them a little feedback or else they will keep on making the same mistakes. This will give them the most benefit from each lesson and help get them ready for their IELTS exam.