Some teachers love reading classes and others hate them. I used to really like them back when I was an inexperienced young teacher because they were easy! You just assigned a reading passage and then sat back whilst your students did all the work. Later, as I developed my teaching skills, I started to find that reading was actually pretty exhausting to teach. Plus, there was always the stress of expectations: students and managers who thought a good teacher was one who never stopped talking…
In this article, I’m going to discuss some of the ins and outs of teaching IELTS reading and offer a few suggestions for useful and interesting classes. IELTS reading lesson plans can be found at the bottom of the page.
Teaching IELTS Reading: The Basics
There are a few things to consider when you approach teaching IELTS reading. I’ll list them in a loosely chronological order:
- An overview of IELTS reading
- Understanding question types
- Figuring out difficult vocabulary
- Reading skills
- Practice reading sessions
I have given this list because I think it’s pretty important to structure your lessons in this way. Your students need to first know what the test is all about. That should be obvious. This can transition nicely into a look at the question types because they relate to the marking scheme and the purpose of the test. After that, you can look at difficult vocabulary and then move on to reading practice of various kinds.
We can look at these areas more closely below.
An Overview of IELTS Reading
I hope that you are familiar with IELTS reading. If not, it’s pretty easy for a native speaker of English to figure out. Certainly, it takes less time to learn than understanding the writing test, for example. I made this PPT to summarise the basic facts:
How you teach this is up to you. You might like an old-fashioned presentation approach or you might prefer a more modern style in which you have them figure out the details of the exam through a question sheet. I tend to go between these options depending on the group, but probably it is better to do the latter.
Understanding Question Types
One of the important parts of learning about IELTS reading is gaining an understanding of the different question types involved in the exam. These are important to understand because they will help students to approach the test. To be honest, one of the problems with IELTS is that there are quite specific skills that students need to master in order to do well.
Some of the question types are:
- Matching headings
- True/False/Not Given
- Summary completion
- Multiple choice
- Matching sentence endings
I think it is important to teach these early because they are not necessarily intuitive. I think that even a native speaker of English would struggle doing the test without preparation because these questions – although they serve a useful purpose – can be a little difficult to understand.
Understanding Difficult Vocabulary
I think it’s really important to teach vocabulary skills with IELTS reading and in particular the process of figuring out difficult words. Yes, synonyms are important and you can teach them all about recognising answers by connecting synonyms in the question and text… but we’ll come back to that later.
Right now, the important thing is:
- Pointing out that you are not meant to understand all the words and you don’t need to try
- If a word is important, you can guess its meaning from context
This is really important. I’ve had a lot of students who struggled badly because they thought their vocabulary wasn’t good enough and so they’d go off and learn vast lists of words. Of course, this doesn’t really help that much. In the end, it is better to be able to figure out hard words from context.
I like to go through a challenging paragraph with my students and ask them to guess the meaning of words by looking at other words around them. It’s pretty useful. They figure out over time that they can have a reasonable guess, just like native speakers do when reading books and articles.
Next, I like to teach my students various reading skills. The obvious ones are:
- Close reading
These are fundamental and you should design your lessons to teach these skills above all else. Most ESL and IELTS textbooks already design their reading lessons around these skills so you’ve probably taught them before, even if you weren’t aware of it.
The basic framework for reading activities goes like this:
- Students quickly read an article or look at a heading to get the gist of it.
- They then read quickly (again) to get the main idea of each paragraph.
- After that, they look for specific information.
- Finally, you have them do difficult questions that require inference.
You should keep this in minds when you are designing your own lessons. This will ultimately result in your students getting the most value from the reading text in question.
Other skills to know are time management ones. Of course, the hardest thing about IELTS reading is the fact that they have to read so much in such a short period of time. It’s a really big challenge. The above skills will really help them with that because they will learn to stop trying to understand every word and focus on important parts only.
Practice Reading Sessions
Once you have taught the basics, you want to reinforce them with practice. Again, this can result in quiet, often boring lessons. However, you can always spice up a reading lesson by throwing in some other activities and combining it with speaking, for example.
Each reading lesson should give students a chance to practice the previously discussed skills whilst preparing them for the rigors of the real IELTS exam. Remember to explain why answers are right or wrong if necessary. Oftentimes, they will be quite hard for students to completely understand and even getting an answer right is not a sure sign that the student has fully understood.
If you want some IELTS reading lesson plans or materials, you can try the following:
- A guide to interesting IELTS reading lessons
- A lesson plan about political ads
- An interesting reading lesson about sharks
- An upper-intermediate reading lesson
You can also rely upon good IELTS textbooks or choose your own reading texts to explore with students. Just try to make the questions realistic so that they become prepared for the real test.