Greg Archer, teacher and co-author of the new Mindset for Ielts course, shares his tips for making the sometimes disorientating move to teaching test preparation successfully
Teachers who transition into an Ielts class, particularly those less qualified or experienced, are often wrong-footed when they find that the communicative approach – so prevalent in their training and popular in general English classrooms – is met with more resistance than they had anticipated.
Here, I explain six important things you need to remember if you are making the move:
1 Ielts teachers need to be oracles of test procedure, question types and exam skills
In an Ielts class, perhaps more than any other, trust is everything. Your students expect a lot from you. So make sure you know how to answer any questions about the basics, e.g. how long is the listening test, what happens on test day, as they will ask. As for exam skills and strategies, the tips and teachers’ notes in the Mindset series introduce these simply and clearly, and serve as a springboard for you to develop your own set of Ielts teaching tools.
2 Ielts teachers need to be primed
Before each class, become entirely familiar with the material you plan to use. For example, in multiple choice questions, you need not only to be able to explain why a particular answer is the correct one, but also why the other options are wrong. Anticipate why one of your students might have chosen the ‘distractor’ option – will they have missed or misunderstood an adverb? Might they have paraphrased something incorrectly?
3 Learner expectations in an Ielts classroom need to be managed closely
From the learner who expects to get from 5.0 to 6.5 in three or four weeks, to the student who believes that they will most likely improve their score by repeatedly going through past papers in class, the individual needs of every group of Ielts learners will often vary wildly. If their aims and expectations are unrealistic, help them to understand why, and what you can do to support them.
4 Don’t believe the myth that ‘an Ielts classroom is not a language classroom’
There is a purely linguistic challenge to every question, in every section, that a confident language teacher should be able to expand upon. There is an opportunity for language work within each text, if mined correctly. Language also emerges from the learners for you to explore during class time, as you would in any other.
Just…don’t overdo it. Spending a full hour contrasting ‘Will’ and ‘Would’, generally speaking, doesn’t/won’t/wouldn’t go down particularly well.
5 Contextualise your language teaching within the test
Be aware that, in the minds of many students, they have come purely to ‘pass’ the Ielts test, and not to improve their English.
As such, when you have identified and explored some aspect of the language that you know the group could benefit from, direct your learners to consider which part of the exam it might be useful for.
Modals of speculation and hedging phrases? Great for Speaking Part 3, for example. Signpost everything.
6 Ielts teaching can be a good move (career and personal)
Ask any academic manager or director of studies: demonstrable Ielts-classroom experience will always enhance your CV and employment prospects. A private tutor well-versed in the test will never want for clients. And, less prosaically, Ielts teaching pushes you to re-evaluate your teaching beliefs. Are those approaches and those go-to lessons that have always worked before really what this group of learners need? Challenge those beliefs, and yourself.
Mindset for Ielts is the new multi-level course from Cambridge, the producers of the Ielts test. Its blend of print and online content can easily be tailored to individual requirements.