Whether they’re sitting for the academic or the general format of the IELTS test, your candidates will have to write a 250-word essay on an everyday topic (i.e. task 2). One key to performing well in task 2 is devoting five to ten minutes brainstorming ideas and mapping out how they will be discussed before starting the essay. Even for upper-band candidates, jumping into their essay without planning beforehand risks them getting lost along the way, resulting in writing in which the main ideas and supporting details may be confused and difficult to follow. During the actual test, with time ticking away, it can be frustrating and stressful when the candidate realizes what has happened but doesn’t know how to right the ship in the time remaining. For this reason, IELTS instructors should train their candidates how to plan before starting their essay. Here are some strategies to consider.
One popular strategy for developing planning skills is to expose candidates to a range of graphic organizers to suit the task 2 prompt. Also known as ‘mind maps’, graphic organizers allow candidates to quickly brainstorm and organize their ideas so that they’ll have a road map to follow as they begin writing. Graphic organizers can be as loose and simple as an idea web or bubble organizer, or as complex and structured as an outline or flowchart. Depending on the age, background, and level of the candidates, you may have to train them on how to use each type of graphic organizer. The most ideal would be ones that they could recreate themselves quickly and easily during the real test.
With younger and lower-level candidates you might consider using think-alouds as a way to improve their planning skills. Choose a topic appropriate for and of interest to the entire class (e.g. opinions about the salaries of sports celebrities) and then choose a graphic organizer suitable to that topic. Next share your own thinking about the topic by discussing your own opinion while completing the graphic organizer on the board. Be sure to follow a logical sequencing for your main ideas and supporting details so that your candidates will clearly hear as well as see how such a writing prompt can be approached. After your think aloud you can open a class discussion on the topic, perhaps from an alternate perspective to your own, eliciting ideas and examples from your candidates and completing the graphic organizer anew. Finally, set them to task on completing their own based on their own opinion and supporting ideas.
With planning for task 2, it is essential that it be done quickly. In the actual test, candidates have a total of 60 minutes to complete the two tasks. Since task 1 amounts to only a third of a candidate’s performance, candidates are advised to spend no more than 20 minutes writing their letter or summary, which leaves 40 minutes to devote to task 2. When mapping out ideas, they should only take between five to ten minutes so that they have enough time to write the 250 words required for the task. Some candidates, however, struggle to manage their planning time properly. For this reason, before they sit for the real thing, you should conduct timed drills for planning a range of different task 2 prompts. Gamify by making these competitions between teams initially and then later between the individual candidates.
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