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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 4, Task 2)

Every year several languages die out. Some people think that this is not important because life will be easier if there are fewer languages in the world.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

With globalisation comes an almost inevitable joining together of cultures, experiences and languages. One of the consequences of this is that a great many lesser-spoken languages are dying, as they are no longer required in the context of the modern world. This could be either be seen as a positive or a negative, depending on whether a business or a cultural view is taken.

From a business perspective, moving towards a singular international language is not only sensible, but has in fact already begun. International trade and diplomatic relations are just two key areas that are made easier without a language barrier, and English has already positioned itself as the world’s leading language in these areas. The potential for misunderstanding and misrepresentation is dramatically lowered, and this extends to the public in general, with holidays and wider social communication made all the more possible by a singular, shared language.

On the other hand, culture and tradition is rooted within language. To lose one’s national tongue could be seen as losing one’s identity. If this happens, it could cause no small amount of resentment, in particular towards nations which speak the chosen international language as their first. This could actually lead to diplomatic issues rather than solutions, which is precisely what globalisation is seeking to reduce.

In conclusion, while I am entirely in favour or closer diplomatic relations between countries, I strongly believe that it is extremely important that traditional values and cultures are upheld. Seeing as I am convinced that language and culture are inseparable, I disagree with the idea that life would be better with fewer languages in the world.

(269 words)

A few points:

  1. You don’t need to start with “nowadays” or something that means the same thing!
  2. I don’t think you should put your opinion in the introduction, unless you know you won’t finish in time. Be neutral, acknowledging both sides to the argument, in the introduction, and then present your view in the conclusion.
  3. Remember, if you are running out of time, you must write a conclusion. A good thing to do is to make your second body paragraph in to a list of bullet points, like this:

On the other hand, culture and tradition is rooted within language.

  • Lose language = lose identity
  • Resentment towards some nations
  • Lead to diplomatic issues

Now, write the conclusion and spend some time on it!

You will lose fewer marks for doing this than you will for writing complete body paragraphs without a conclusion!

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Prepositions in IELTS Task 1 Writing

OK, let’s take a look at a few prepositions, and a really easy way to remember how to use them.

  1. to / from

In task 1, you will use “to” if you are talking about change. So, if something goes up or down, we use “to”. Look at the example:

The number of people rose to 800,000 in 2011.

So, we use “to” for changes, and we use it to describe the second number – the number at the end of the increase / decrease.

We also use “to” with “from” – like from 400,000 to 800,000 – again, we are talking about the end number. If we want to talk about the start number, we use “from”.

2. by

We use “by” similarly to “to”, so when we talk about change. This time, however, we are thinking about the difference between point A and point B. Here’s another example:

Number of people, 2001 = 55

Number of people, 2005 = 60

The number of people rose by 5 from 2001 to 2005.

So, we also use “by” for changes as well, but to talk about difference.

3. at

We use “at” to talk about numbers that haven’t changed over time. Look at this example:

The number remained steady at 25 for about five years.

So, “at” is used in the opposite situation to “to”.

4. with

We use “with” when we just want to talk about one number, at one time, with no changes. Here’s an example:

The highest number was in the 16-25 age group, with 500,000.

Conclusion

So, here’s the simple way to remember:

to – change, second number
from – change, first number
by – change, difference between first and last

at – no change over time

with – one number, no movement in time

Good luck!

 

Simon

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Is the IELTS exam fair?

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. In a twist of fate though, it’s the most recent post from the brilliant “Secret Teacher” in the Guardian, referring to the stress and pointlessness of the current exam climate in mainstream education that has led me to finally put finger to keyboard (link below). IELTS is the monopoly, THE exam for students wishing to enter our universities. But is it fair? Does it truly live up to its claim that it assesses students’ ability to cope with life at a British university? Do any exams really contribute positively to education?

With the IELTS exam, this is largely a question of time. There have been no significant updates to IELTS in years, and it’s not just the format; most other EFL exams are now available to sit online, which at least more closely mirrors motions that students actually go through in modern universities. IELTS as a paper exam falls down somewhat before you even inspect the content; who handwrites essays? This is a problem in mainstream education as well, but there are arguments for handwriting as a skill with younger students writing in their own language. In EFL, how many students will actually ever use handwriting – especially on an essay level – other than for sticky note reminders on their fridges? Online, yes. Emails for work and to friends, the general language of the Internet, and TYPING essays. But spellchecking and autocorrection is an advanced tool nowadays, with the grammar counterpart not far behind. Surely retaining 25% of marking criteria for grammar and 12.5% for spelling in writing is redundant and provides an unnecessary obstacle to success?

To further compound the problem with the writing paper, task 1 is a ridiculous exercise. Students analyse a graph which looks like it was drawn in the 1980s. No part of this task replicates anything that 99% of these students might actually do at university or in real life. Even the final 1%, the maths / economics students, of which there aren’t many coming in from the typical IELTS countries, wouldn’t realistically analyse a graph in this way, because it in no way requires objective thought, exophoric comparison or real “analysis” anyway.

Adding spelling in as the main criteria for the listening exam on top of this just seems to be deliberately unfair. I know a great many English people can’t spell very well. Does it really matter that much? Is a student going to read back through their lecture notes and penalise themselves for a missing letter, or a misheard minimal pair? Granted, the listening test contains some isolated tasks that replicate real university life, especially the task 4 lecture note-taking, although students were even using their phones to record lectures when I last attended one in 2003. I imagine this is even more common nowadays, and obviously students can replay audio of a lecture again and again if there is any difficulty with comprehension, rather than being told that they “will not hear the recording a second time”.

The reading paper is the worst of the lot. The time pressure is absurd, so much so that students training to take the exam are taught how to AVOID reading, because there isn’t time. They scan, match shapes and numbers and fill in gaps. Not one of the tasks actually requires a critical response, or any in-depth reading, and the third paper is about a technical subject, often from New Scientist, that will in no way match the subject that the student actually wants to study at university. I can honestly say that I can’t find a single redeeming feature about this section of the exam. Why can’t students sit an integrated skills paper, with a reading and summary section, like the ISE exams? Why can’t they answer some critical thinking tasks? The cynical answer to the second part is that it would require IELTS examiners to undergo extra training or retraining in order that they an accurately assess a critical response. Ultimately, I have seen nothing to suggest that Cambridge want to spend a single penny on improvement in any area of the exam, and they are unlikely to as long as they are an accepted monopoly.

In the interests of fairness, I should point out here that the speaking test is quite good. The two-minute presentation and the discussion / opinion-based questions give the students a good work out, although it’s a shame that they don’t adopt an FCE / CAE approach and get two students in at once for a seminar-style discussion. Still, it is a reasonable exam, and the marking emphasis is (correctly) on fluency and ability to communicate rather than being pernickity over minute accuracy.

The danger of exams such as this is that, because they don’t really test ability in realistic situations, teachers then prepare students to pass said exam, rather than upskilling them in real-life tasks. This could be said of secondary school exams as well as IELTS, but this doesn’t make it right. The added external pressures that students receive from governments, workplaces or family, mean that they are also happy to be taught to pass an exam in this way, and they become interested only in this. I can say that I have seen students leave IELTS preparation courses with a lower level of general English ability than they had when they started, but they are happy because they’ve ticked off the entrance criteria for their university of choice. Bearing this in mind, surely IELTS is actually detrimental to a student’s ability to survive at university, and is therefore negatively affecting the skills gaps on university courses that it was put in place to close? And if so, why haven’t universities noticed this?

I imagine that I am writing this in vain, but I am also pretty sure that I’m not the only one having these thoughts. I’d love to hear from more people about their experiences either with EFL or mainstream examinations. I also hope that if this strikes a chord with you, you’ll share it. Maybe someone far more important than I will read it.

 

Simon

Secret Teacher link: http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/aug/08/secret-teacher-i-know-my-students-wont-get-the-results-they-deserve

 

 

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Multi-tasking in a foreign language

Note: Students, if you find this article difficult to understand, read the part about exams!

What is linguistic multi-tasking? When do we encounter it? And how is it tackled in the classroom? In this article, I’ll go through the idea of skills and skills teaching in a bit of detail, and look at the challenges involved as well as the areas in which teachers can aim to develop their students.

Skills

In language teaching, when we talk about “skills”, we are referring to four things: Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing. We can divide these up in to two categories: receptive (from the word “receive”) and productive (from the word “produce”). These words refer to how we are interacting with language. The two receptive skills are reading and listening, because the language comes to our eyes or ears through text or audio, and the two productive skills are speaking and writing, because we produce the language ourselves, either orally or on paper. As language students, we ideally want to improve all four skills to achieve both receptive and productive fluency.

Challenges

When we try to improve a skill, we face a number of problems. The problems could be systematic – this means that with our productive skills, we might struggle with parts of the skill; pronunciation (speaking), spelling (writing) or vocabulary, grammar or discourse (both). These aren’t the only problems though. We might also find it hard to perform the skill itself. Here are some possible problems:

  • Fluency – it’s difficult to speak without stopping regularly.
  • Expression (circumlocution) – I don’t know a word and I can’t explain it
  • Comprehension – there might be too much text / audio, or it might be too fast or advanced in level.
  • Structure / Coherence – it might be difficult to write in paragraphs, or to organise spoken ideas.
  • Recall – It’s difficult to remember what was said / written about, because I’m not very good at taking notes
  • Inference – I find it difficult to use context to guess meanings of difficult words

There are, of course, many others, and teachers should work on helping students acquire the techniques to improve their skills. However, there is another level to this: if each individual skill is difficult, how on earth are we supposed to perform two skills at the same time?!

Multi-tasking

Here are a few examples of times when you need to multi-task.

  1. Conversation – listening (to the other person or people) and speaking (replying, conversing)
  2. Ordering – reading (a menu) and speaking (talking to the waiting staff)
  3. Lectures – listening (to the lecturer) and writing (taking notes)
  4. Research – reading (the material) and writing (again, taking notes)

It’s fair to say that number 1 is the most common, but what links these scenarios? Notice that they all require you to use one receptive and one productive skill at the same time. Generally, we are OK at this in our own language, and can pick this up in a second with correct training and practice. But what happens to our brains when we try to combine two receptive or two productive skills at the same time? Give it a try. Try writing an email while having a conversation. Try reading a book while listening to the radio.

Was that easy? I’m guessing your answer is “no”. It’s pretty simple – if we listen and read at the same time, there is too much information coming to our brains at the same time. Similarly, if we write and speak at the same time, we put pressure on ourselves to produce twice as much language as we usually would in a particular space of time. Granted, some people can do it, but it isn’t a majority, and the percentage of those who can drops significantly in a second or third language.

The Problem with Exams

So, where are these situations in which we are pushed in to combining two receptive or productive skills together? The answer is that, in general, they don’t exist. This is firstly because communication is about direction; we give and receive. If we need to give or receive twice, we just extend the interaction, rather than doing it all at the same time. It’s also about avoidance. We can usually avoid these situations by having a measure of control over our communicative environments (although this often requires classroom training in a second language). Unfortunately, exams take away this control and put us in strange situations, which aren’t always reproduced in real life. I personally think that those parts of exams are therefore not very useful, but whether I like it or not, they exist. Here’s an example which we come across in Cambridge Exams (FCE, CAE, IELTS):

A listening exam with a multiple choice section. The question and the choices account for a lot of text – too much to remember in a short time.

So, in this situation we are being trapped. We don’t have enough time to read and remember all the information in these questions, so we find ourselves reading while listening to the audio. Unsurprisingly, this is difficult!

An Exam Solution

I’ve had a lot of success with focussing students more on note-taking. Not only is this a real-life task (as mentioned before, lectures and meetings both require this), but it helps prevent this situation. Here’s how:

1) Student reads the questions and focusses on their meanings and keywords. They don’t really look at the multiple choice options for more than a couple of seconds (reading).

2) Student listens and takes notes (listening and writing).

3) After the listening, student matches their notes to the multiple choice options (just reading).

At no point is the student completely engaged in reading and listening at the same time. The student can make notes in English or their mother tongue (depending on preference), and they can use shorthand, abbreviations or spider diagrams – all of which can be taught and practised in class.

In the classroom

It is clear, then, that there is more to teaching skills than perhaps we acknowledge. Yes, it’s all well and good to teach a speaking or a listening lesson, but do we teach them in conjunction with each other as preparation for real-life experiences? I’m not suggesting that this would necessarily work with lower-level learners, but as students approach fluency and competency, they need to be challenged with real-life scenarios. Part of this is recognising and implementing strategies to avoid overload by extending conversations to avoid double-receptive or double-productive situations, or by learning to take notes in exams to minimise a clash of tasks. It is also accepting that receptive and productive skills often run parallel, and then receiving training on how to deal with this fact.

In light of this, I’m going to be publishing some ideas for real-life, “multi-skills” classes. If anyone out there has got any resources / ideas on this, I’d love to see them. In the meantime, watch this space.

 

Simon

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Learning in Chunks – just a question of lexis?

It is not exactly revolutionary of me to mention the word “chunk” within the subject of ELT. It has been long established that vocabulary needs to be presented less as individual discrete items, but horizontally, so as to include and acknowledge collocation. Words are indeed the key to communicative language, but prepositions, adjective / noun or noun / verb combinations, and high-frequency connections are the glue that holds it together. Without these things, it is impossible to achieve any real level of productive fluency. None of this is in debate.

There is a particular part of this that is starting to interest me, though. It isn’t the fact that we ought to draw attention to collocation, or words “in chunks” though. It’s the implications of “chunking” for a learner. Chunking isn’t, in fact, just a method of expansion, for as it encourages learners to observe vocabulary in groups rather than individually, it also facilitates the breaking down of full, multiple-clause sentences, in to manageable, bite-sized chunks (Michael Lewis, The Lexical Approach). Again, not a new observation. But is the idea of “bite-sized” usable in other skills?

At this point, I’m going to switch to reading tasks, specifically, academic reading. As an IELTS teacher, I watch a lot of struggle. Students are faced with daunting amounts of text, answers hidden amongst technical terms and “distractors”, and a time limit that would have most native speakers struggling. Often, the sheer volume of text is enough to guarantee demotivation, and, ultimately, failure. I’ve looked at techniques, of course. We’ve scanned, skimmed and inferred until blue in the face, but often it just isn’t enough. Perhaps they aren’t up to it yet. Or perhaps they encounter problems because the task, not the text, isn’t “bite-sized”.

Let’s look at a typical task in an IELTS reading exam. True / False / Not Given questions typically present themselves in order in the text, and require the student to scan and skim in a linear fashion, albeit not necessarily having a clue about the percentage of the whole text covered by the task (unless there is a clear, “scannable” keyword). In general, students are presented with about seven questions, and 800 words of text. They then proceed to read question 1, scan the text, find the answer, write the answer, and repeat for question 2 et cetera. Of course, if they can’t find an answer, they don’t really have a point of reference from which to continue moving forward through the text. In other words, it is difficult to establish linear movement, and can result in time-costly rereading and doubling back. In an incredibly time sensitive exam (1 hour, 3 texts, 2400 words, 40 questions), this is not exactly ideal.

Now, let’s say that a student approaches this in a slightly different way. Upon receiving the task, they break the questions, and then the text, in to bite-sized chunks. They draw a line under question four, and look at questions 1-4 as a separate task. They are not only breaking the task down, but they are also immediately acknowledging that they are likely to be looking at less of the text; the first four-sevenths, roughly. Granted, this is still not exact enough to be comforting. The next stage then, is to isolate the text in a more precise way. The student scans for a keyword match in question 1. They aren’t looking necessarily to find the exact answer at this stage, merely to highlight the area of text in which the answer lies. They draw a line indicating where the text relating to questions 1-4 starts. The next part is to do the same again, but instead of doing this for question 2, they do it for question four. Once they have drawn this second line, they have created a text box, in which four answers lie. The text box is considerably smaller, and therefore less daunting, than the original text, and task, as a whole. They then go through the standard question-answering techniques as they are usually taught. This process is then repeated with questions 5-7, again focusing on isolating “answer-heavy” text, and eliminating time-wasting and a general feeling of being overwhelmed by volume.

While early in my research in to the benefits of this, results so far have been good. Not only have 100% of my students responded positively to this concept, which I believe is more than half the battle (for I am a disciple of the affective filter), but success rates in linear tasks have also gone up considerably in over 80% of these students. I am keen to acknowledge that reading methods and techniques are very much individually subjective, and, as a result, it is difficult to say that there is a “right” way. However, if learners feel that they can approach a task with more confidence than before, I am positive that this will directly contribute to an improvement in results alone, as so many learners are beaten before they step on to the pitch, to use a famous sporting analogy.

I’d love to hear from teachers and students who would like to give this a go. My contact details are on this site. Get in touch, and help me answer the following question: “Can we use the idea of chunking as a reading test technique in general English and exam settings?” And, even more interestingly: “Is there a practical use for a technique like this outside of the environment of comprehension-based tasks – could chunking improve reading ability as a whole?”

 

Simon Richardson

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A word on IELTS test centres

I don’t know why I haven’t written this before to be honest. Please read this carefully!

It does NOT matter which IELTS centre you take the test at. You will not get a better mark in one centre than another because some centres are “easier”. It is a complete waste of your time and money travelling to a different centre to take the IELTS exam. Stick close to home so that you have more time to get a good night’s sleep and wake up in a familiar place. Please remember these things:

  • The examiners marking you are trained, experienced teachers. They are reassessed every two years and their marking is regularly checked to make sure that they are doing their jobs well.
  • Writing and Speaking tests are double marked so that the final bands are accurate
  • If somebody you know got a good mark at one centre, it’s because they deserved it! It isn’t because they did it at an easy centre.

I hope that this message reaches some people. I know that the IELTS exam is stressful, but the best way is to relax the day before. Extra travelling won’t help.

Good luck!

 

Simon

 

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IELTS Reading (mini-tip) – what order do you answer questions in?

Let’s think about tasks such as True / False / Not Given, sentence completion and short answer questions. You will find that the answers can be found in the text in order. But are you using this fact to your maximum advantage?

Have a look at this short example text below.

Chilies

Chilies originate in South America and have been eaten for at least 9,500 years. Organised cultivation began around 5,400BC. Christopher Columbus was the first European to encounter chilies, when he landed on the island of Hispaniola in 1492. He thought it was a type of pepper and called it the “red pepper”, a name still used today. After their introduction to Europe they were an immediate sensation and were quickly incorporated into the diet. From there they spread to Africa, India and East Asia.
The reason for the chilli’s “hotness” lies in a chemical called Capsaisin. Capsaisin causes temporary irritation to the trigeminal cells, which are the pain receptors in the mouth, nose and throat. After the pain messages are transmitted to the brain, endorphins, natural pain killers, are released and these not only kill the pain but give the chili eater a short lived natural high. Other side effects include: an increased heart rate, a running nose and increased salivation and sweating, which can have a cooling effect in hot climates.

The reason for the presence of Capsaisin is thought to be to deter animals from eating the fruit. Only mammals feel the burning effects; birds feel nothing. As birds are a better method of distributing the seeds, which pass intact through their guts, Capsaisin would seem to be a result of natural selection.

The smaller chilies tend to be the hottest. This may reflect the fact that they tend to grow closer to the ground and are therefore more vulnerable to animals. The heat of a chili is measured on the Scoville scale. The hottest types such as the Habenero and the Scotch Bonnet rate between 100,000 and 300,000, the world famous Tabasco sauceÒ rates at 15,000 to 30,000, about the same as the Thai prik khee nu, while the popular Jalapeno is between 5,000 and 15,000. Powdered chili is 500 to 1,000 and the mild capsicins and paprikas can range between 100 and 0.

People have started to breed and grow chillies specifically to find hotter and hotter varieties, and what was once a pastime or the labour of practical joke production, has now become a competition worth a lot of money, particularly in the States. Not only is production big business, but the ability to consume and digest these spicy monsters has also become a gateway to fame and (small) fortune, with eating competitions on the rise year on year. While there is no direct link between eating these mutant chillies and ill-effects, there have been instances of hospitalisation on several occasions in the last few years, with this figure also on the rise.

 

Questions 1-4

1. Chilies became popular as soon as they were brought into Europe.
2. Capsaisin damages the mouth.
3. Chilies can be part of a birds diet.

 

4. Smaller chillies are generally hotter than larger chillies.

 

OK, so of course, we start off looking for information for question 1. (You can find it in line 3: “immediate sensation”) – so we mark it TRUE (not T, not Yes!)

But what next? In a longer text, I find that sometimes students perform better when the next question they answer is question 5, not question 2.

WHY?

Pretty simple, really. Sometimes, the final answer can be found a long way before the end of the text. (In this case, you can find the answer in line 1 of the second-to-last paragraph – “The smaller chillies tend to be the hottest”) If you can find the final answer position, you can then trap the remaining answers in between questions 1 and 5, so that you reduce the area of text that you have to scan. See below: Blue – question 1 answer / question 5 answer. BOLD = text containing answers 2-4.

 

Chilies

Chilies originate in South America and have been eaten for at least 9,500 years. Organised cultivation began around 5,400BC. Christopher Columbus was the first European to encounter chilies, when he landed on the island of Hispaniola in 1492. He thought it was a type of pepper and called it the “red pepper”, a name still used today. After their introduction to Europe they were an immediate sensation and were quickly incorporated into the diet. From there they spread to Africa, India and East Asia.
The reason for the chilli’s “hotness” lies in a chemical called Capsaisin. Capsaisin causes temporary irritation to the trigeminal cells, which are the pain receptors in the mouth, nose and throat. After the pain messages are transmitted to the brain, endorphins, natural pain killers, are released and these not only kill the pain but give the chili eater a short lived natural high. Other side effects include: an increased heart rate, a running nose and increased salivation and sweating, which can have a cooling effect in hot climates.

The reason for the presence of Capsaisin is thought to be to deter animals from eating the fruit. Only mammals feel the burning effects; birds feel nothing. As birds are a better method of distributing the seeds, which pass intact through their guts, Capsaisin would seem to be a result of natural selection.

The smaller chilies tend to be the hottest. This may reflect the fact that they tend to grow closer to the ground and are therefore more vulnerable to animals. The heat of a chili is measured on the Scoville scale. The hottest types such as the Habenero and the Scotch Bonnet rate between 100,000 and 300,000, the world famous Tabasco sauceÒ rates at 15,000 to 30,000, about the same as the Thai prik khee nu, while the popular Jalapeno is between 5,000 and 15,000. Powdered chili is 500 to 1,000 and the mild capsicins and paprikas can range between 100 and 0.

People have started to breed and grow chillies specifically to find hotter and hotter varieties, and what was once a pastime or the labour of practical joke production, has now become a competition worth a lot of money, particularly in the States. Not only is production big business, but the ability to consume and digest these spicy monsters has also become a gateway to fame and (small) fortune, with eating competitions on the rise year on year. While there is no direct link between eating these mutant chillies and ill-effects, there have been instances of hospitalisation on several occasions in the last few years, with this figure also on the rise.

 

Have a try of this next time, and remember: IELTS is about finding a technique that you are comfortable with. There is not one “correct” way – if this tip works for you, that’s great. If it doesn’t, don’t worry. There will be another way that you are happy with.

 

Simon

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Model Answer (Test 3, Task 2)

Some people believe that unpaid community service should be a compulsory part of high school programmes (for example working for a charity, improving the neighbourhood or teaching sports to younger children).

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

It has long been a priority of educational authorities to widen and improve the overall experience of pupils. To that end, a recent suggestion has been made that children should be involved in community service tasks such as charity work or neighbourhood improvement as a mandatory part of their schooling. While this could be seen as a waste of school time, there are clear benefits which can not be ignored.

It could be argued that children today do not spend enough time learning, and that compulsory extra-curricular activities would only further decrease study time. Although community work is important, homework and self-study time would have a more direct benefit on the education and exam results of a child, in turn providing the opportunity for academic advancement to university. Alternatively, this time could be spent on physical exercise and team sports as a way of combatting the increase in free time activities which promote laziness, such as computer-based gaming or chatting. Moreover, neighbourhood tasks should be being undertaken by council employees, rather than being forced upon the younger members of a community. These issues could therefore form a valid argument against the incorporation of such activities in to school curricula.

However, the importance of children learning social values through experiencing and contributing to community spirit should not be ignored. Charity work would teach them to support one another in later life, and any activity related to improvement would teach them the importance of contribution to one’s own local area, thereby simultaneously discouraging anti-social or criminal behaviour. Furthermore, becoming involved in mentoring younger children would arguably promote a stronger sense of team spirit than merely engaging in competitive sport with age-group segregation. Therefore, it would be an excellent idea to consider some kind of monitored social activity to encourage personal growth in teenage pupils.

In conclusion, while it is understandable that the idea of community service may cause concern due to a perceived lack of educating, I strongly believe that these activities would teach children at high school level to be more rounded as individuals, as well as better able to positively contribute to society in later life.

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IELTS Writing – avoiding pronouns and vagueness

In IELTS writing part 2, it is important to make your final opinion in the conclusion clear, by using “I”. However, in the rest of the text it is often a good idea to present opinion as though it is fact – this includes the final sentence of the introduction. Let’s look at a few examples, using the following question (from Cambridge Book 9 Test 3)

Some people believe that unpaid community service should be a compulsory part of high school programmes (for example working for a charity, improving the neighbourhood or teaching sports to younger children).

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

1) Let’s imagine that I agree with this statement. I might write an introduction that looks like this:

In order to help children to understand the importance of community, people think that it would be beneficial for them to do some things in their neighbourhood as a mandatory part of their schooling. While some people say this is a waste of time, I believe that this idea has enormous potential.

 

Let’s look at the bold sections in order.

People think –> This is an example of vague language. “People” is a non-specific group, so we can change this in one of two ways. 1: specify a particular group of people, like parents or education experts. 2) Use the passive: “it has been suggested that…”

Some things –> Again, too vague. Using the word “things” suggests to the examiner that you don’t know the specific words, or a good synonym for “community service”. Either repeat the phrase, or think of a synonym, like “tasks”

Some people say –> Again, this is vague. A better way to phrase this might be “While there are those who may…” This is still vague, but a little better. You could also write “While there are is a case to be made for this being a waste of valuable time”

I believe –> The problem with using “I” in the introduction, is that it will make it look very similar to your conclusion. If you use passive or an “It” sentence here, it will make your conclusion stronger.

Here’s a rewrite of that introduction.

In order to help children to understand the importance of community, it has been suggested that it would be beneficial for them to do certain tasks in their neighbourhood as a mandatory part of their schooling. While there is a case to be made for this being a waste of time, it is clear that this idea has enormous potential.

 

Here are two more examples of words and phrases you could use in your essay

It is believed / said that… (instead of People / They believe that) –> It is often said that the most is not made out of the time a child has at school.

There is / are… (instead of a pronoun) –> There are a number of reasons to support the idea that children will benefit educationally from doing community work.

 

Do you have any example sentences you would like to rewrite or share here?

 

Simon

 

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Cambridge IELTS 8 Writing Model Answer (Test 1, Task 2)

The question is here: Test 1 Task 2

In the life of a child, constant learning is not only a must but a natural way of life. This is often split in to learning at school and learning at home. Clearly, both parents and teachers have a role to play in the education of a child, but with the issue of educating a child in how to become a balanced member of society, there has been some debate as to whether teachers or parents should be taking the most responsibility.

Firstly, at school, children are effectively members of a community including peers and teachers. In order to succeed in primary and secondary education, they need to be aware of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. As teachers act as mentors and overseers in this environment, it is appropriate that they should be the ones to ensure that their students appreciate and adhere to the expectations of society, both inside and outside school. The experience of being at school ought to enable them to interact as part of a team, while being respectful and appreciative of others, and these skills are transferable to the outside world. Therefore, teachers should be acknowledged as playing a vital role in this area of development.

However, education does not begin and end in schools. Parents should always be the first point of contact and trust for children, and this means that they are responsible for planting the initial seeds of accepted behaviour, as well as providing real-world perspective, which often can not be accurately represented in schools due to the necessity for certain rules applying only within the walls of educational institutions. Evidently then, the role of a parent is absolutely key from a very early age.

In summary, children require guidance in all walks of life, whether it be at school or at home, and it is the responsibility both of parents and educators to provide this and to liaise with each other in order to ensure the best possible introduction to society and accepted behaviour for the children in their care.

Word Count: 339

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Cambridge IELTS 8 Writing Model Answer (Test 1 Task 1)

You can find the question below:

Test 1 Task 1

The pie chart and table illustrate the main reasons for farmland degradation worldwide and in three continental regions respectively. Overall, there are three main reasons for this decrease in productivity, with Europe being the most seriously affected.

First of all, from a global perspective, over-grazing is the biggest cause of deterioration, with 35%, which is slightly higher than deforestation and over-cultivation at 30% and 28% respectively. The final 7% is attributed to “other” reasons.

The three principal reasons for agricultural decline are then split by region in the table, and it is notable that Europe’s percentages for deforestation and over-cultivation are significantly higher than either Oceania or North America, with 9.8% compared with 1.7% and 0.2% respectively for deforestation, and 7.7% compared with 0% and 3.3% respectively for over-cultivation. However,  11.3% of Oceania’s land degradation is attributed to over-grazing, whereas Europe’s percentage is roughly half this at 5.5%, and North America’s is at 1.5%. This means that the total land degradation percentages stand at 5% for North America, 13% for Oceania and a much higher 23% for Europe.

(164 words)

Let’s have a look at the phrases in bold.

1) Overall: This is an important part of Task 1. Remember to include a sentence in your introduction (or as a conclusion), which makes a “general” observation. You don’t need to include any numbers or percentages.

2) with 35%: If you are struggling to fit your numbers in to the same sentences as your comparisons, sometimes using “,with…” can be quite useful. Writing a new sentence that just includes one statistic would mean a short sentence that would break up the flow of your writing.

3) respectively: A great word for task 1. You use it to show the order of your numbers if they are separate from the things they refer to. For example: John and Jane are 12 and 10 respectively. This means that the first number matches the first name and the second number matches the second name, so John is 12 and Jane is 10. You usually finish a sentence with “respectively”.

4) However: You need to find comparisons to make. Here, most of the percentages are in a similar order – Europe is higher than the other regions, but there is one figure where this isn’t true. Find that number and use a “but” linker to make a comparison.

 

 

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Diagnostics / Needs Analyses

Have a look at the General English diagnostic / needs analysis below, as well as a (brief) IELTS one – in case you get sprung with a new class and need a way to check their prior knowledge of the exam at the beginning of your first class!

Simon

Diagnostic and NA

IELTS Needs Analysis

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Writing Model Answer (Test 1 Task 1)

Have a look at the attached document. Remember, it’s important to cover the main changes in enough detail, so in this kind of essay the paragraph describing “after” will be a lot longer than the paragraph describing “before”. Don’t worry – that’s not a problem!

Simon

IELTS 9 Writing 1 Model

 

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Using Thinking Hats for IELTS

This is a useful perspective for both students and teachers, so I’ve put it in to several categories.

You may have read my earlier article about using thinking hats to create balanced arguments (see here: http://wp.me/p2RmnE-oB ) – you’ll need to read this first.

What I’ve done here is write a colour-coded structure to agree / disagree and problem / solution essays, using the colours to show the structure and writing explanations instead of answering a question. I’d love to have some feedback on this – my classes have responded very positively.

I’ve attached the colour-coded essays as word documents in case you have any trouble viewing.

Thanks

Simon

IELTS Hat Writing

 

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Cambridge IELTS 9 Writing Model Answer (Test 1, Task 2)

Key:

Background statement – introduction
Thesis statement – introduction

Topic sentence – body
Supporting statements – body
Concluding statement – body

Summarising statement – conclusion
Judgement statement (opinion) – conclusion

Some experts believe that it is better for children to begin learning a foreign language at primary school rather than secondary school.

Do the advantages of this outweigh the disadvantages?

In a world where the concept of physical distance has been greatly reduced due to technological advances and globalisation, it has become increasingly beneficial to be proficient in a second language, especially in the workplace. As a result, there has been some discussion regarding the optimum age for exposure to a second language in schools with many suggesting that earlier is better, a view which, in my opinion, should be supported by education authorities.

Firstly, the idea that children should be introduced to a second language at an early age is supported by the principle of learning speed being inversely proportional to age. There is no doubt that capacity for learning is extremely high at primary education level. Younger children are able to hone pronunciation skills more quickly and in conjunction with their own natural improvement in their first language. Furthermore, fear of failure does not usually manifest itself in 7-11 year-old children, meaning that productive skills can be practised more freely in a low-pressure environment inspired by trial and error, which is proven as an effective language learning method and lends support to second language teaching at primary level. 

On the other hand, there are aspects of language learning that are difficult to study closely at a young age. While grammar is largely acquired naturally in one’s first language, an understanding of a second language is typically more heavily reliant on a mixture of theory and practice, which can be more difficult to encourage in younger pupils with a lower concentration span and less-developed critical thinking skills. In addition, it could be argued that the main focus in primary schools should be on arithmetic and first language proficiency, with the introduction of a second language proceeding the development of these traditional key skills. Accepting other subjects as priorities would naturally delay second language learning, with high school being a natural introduction point for such subjects. 

While it is clear that mathematical skills as well as first language literacy are vital, the importance of speaking a second language surely means that there is more pressure on children to speak two languages at a younger age. As a result, it is my strong feeling that primary school curricula must include an emphasis on encouraging second language exposure as early as possible. 

 

 

 

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IELTS Speaking – Finish your Part 2!

“And…er… that’s it…”

Have you ever finished your two-minute topic like this? How did it feel? I imagine there was a bit of silence as the examiner tried to work out if you had finished. It doesn’t need to be like that (it shouldn’t be like that!) Here are a few ideas to help you.

  • Sequence your ideas

If you are telling a story then you should be looking to use phrases like this:

Beginning

I remember when… / There was this one time… / I’ve got this story about when…

Setting the scene

It was (date) and we were / I was…. / So, I remember that I / we were -ing…

Moving On

Next / After that / Then / The next thing that happened was / So then

Ending

In the end / At the end / So anyway / Finally

Do you know any more?

Remember to finish your final sentence with a decreasing tone to your voice, so that the examiner can hear you have finished.

Here are some sequencers you could use when giving your opinion about something

Statement – your main topic

Well, I think / I reckon / Basically / I believe that…

Support

I guess that’s because / It’s all down to /

Sequencing – moving on

Also / I also think / Furthermore / Not only that, but

Ending

So, basically I / So yeah, that’s what I think / In brief / To recap / To put it simply

Let’s have a look at a couple of examples. The sequencing language is in bold. Read and think about what the topic is. Do you think the speaker would be successful? Try reading some of the sentences aloud – practise saying some of the sentences more and more quickly, but focus on a natural rhythm – remember, fluency DOES NOT mean speed!

1. Telling a story

I remember when I went to a really nice park with my best friend. It was about 4 years ago, I think, in the Summer, and… it was hot… So anyway, I remember we were walking along through like a forest-y bit, y’know, and then we realised that… it was… we were all alone and it was actually a bit dark. I…er… then I said to him, like, something like “This is a bit creepy – do you wanna get outta here?” and then he was like “Wait, did you here something?” and then there was like a creaking sound, which was really scary. So the next thing that happened was we were looking around trying to work out what was going on, and we saw some bushes moving. I think we were just creeped out because we were young and making each other more and more excited…er… scared. Anywaythen we like walked really slowly up to the er… bush, and we were crouching so that it was likely anyone would see us! Aaaaand… when my friend finally plucked up the courage to look in the hedge, in the end it was just two squirrels fighting – it was so embarrassing!

2. Giving an opinion

Well, I think that video games will pretty much take over our lives, to be honest because…well… technology and virtual reality has become so important in every day life. You can see examples of this in cinema, the home, even the street…all around us. Anyway, I think kids have come to expect a certain level of reality and…of absorption… immersion in a game. They, y’know… get bored and stuff really quickly… and  I guess it’s all down to what you’re used to. I reckon not only that, but that we’ll have VR headsets and 3d gaming in most first world houses within the next ten years, and then kids will refuse to leave the house. Also that kind of technology will be used in the workplace – y’know, for meetings and conferences, so people will go out less. So, to put it simply, I guess that technology has become the most important… thing in our lives, yeah.

Remember – your speaking test isn’t just about grammar, or speaking quickly. It’s also about being able to have a conversation in English, and part of that is signalling to other people either that you want to continue speaking, or that you are about to finish.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

 

Simon

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IELTS Listening – Vowel Problems (Mini-tip)

Do you speak a language where the vowel sounds are different from English when we spell words?

Example:

English A = /eɪ/ like way     E = /i:/ like me       I = /aɪ/ like why       O =  /əʊ/ like no       U = /ju:/ like university

Spanish A = /æ/ like cat      E = /eɪ/ like way    I = /i:/ like me           O = /ɒ/ like what     U = /u:/ like food

Other problem letters can be g / j and f /v.

In part 1 of the listening, you will often have to listen to people spelling names and addresses, and you will have to write the correct spelling of these words. This can be a problem if your alphabet has sounds which are mixed up with English sounds.

Tip

I saw one of my students today write the sounds of the vowels and g / j at the top of her question paper right at the beginning of an IELTS listening practice paper. She is Spanish and she wrote:

a = ei   e = eeeee    i = ai   o = phone    u = you     g = jeeee     j = jay

She then got the correct answers on the part 1 spelling, having previously found these really difficult!

Give it a try!

Simon

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IELTS Writing – Expressing possible future results

I often say that IELTS only ever deals with problems! Seriously though, the writing Part II tends to address global issues, as they are subjects that everyone can relate to. When you are writing about problems or issues in your body paragraphs, it is often appropriate to point out what could happen in the future as a result of these problems. In this case, a good paragraph structure would be:

Topic Sentence – The opening point of your paragraph

Explanation / Example – being more specific or giving an example

Implication – what this problem means and how it will affect us

Conclusion sentence – as with other written paragraphs, restating the Topic Sentence.

Here’s a simple example, using the university entrance system as an example:

Topic Sentence: University entrance is becoming more difficult due in part to the increase in prices.

Explanation / Example: Over the last ten years, it has been noted that the fees have increased tenfold in the UK.

Implication: The issue is that a continued rise at this rate could make it affordable only for the richest citizens, meaning that the class divide is further highlighted. (Use of “could” to show future possibility)

Conclusion Sentence: The possibility of this therefore means that cost has become the foremost discussion at university board meetings.

Now, have a look at the sentences below. There are 12 sentences, which belong in 3 paragraphs. Try and find the topic sentences and the conclusions by matching ideas. Then, look for implication sentences by scanning for future language and use these steps to put the paragraphs together. Here is the question:

What are the challenges that workers face in the modern workplace?

This is therefore a current and growing issue because of ever-increasing life expectancy.

Furthermore, the recession has lead to reduced salaries as well as less incentive schemes.

This means that there is increased pressure on potential employees to possess more specific skills than before.

Consequently, national financial issues are affecting the standard of living as well as overall happiness.

A further example of a challenge in the workplace is the lack of promotion opportunities.

Firstly, technological advancements have resulted in some unskilled, blue-collar work now being done by computers or machines.

The result of this is that competition for places is higher and job seekers are now under more pressure.

With the retirement age being so much higher than in previous generations, high-level roles are now occupied for longer and management turnover is very low.

Therefore, it could be said that technology has caused as many problems as it has solved.

This has lead to job satisfaction and security being at a low point.

Of course, morale and motivation in the workplace is then lower than it has been previously.

This then means that the workplace becomes saturated at middle and low levels as well, resulting in a lack of options for the unemployed.

———————————————————————————————————————————————–

Once you’ve finished, you can download the answer here:

Three Body Paragraphs

Now, try and write your own paragraphs, answering this question:

What problems are caused by global warming?

Simon

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IELTS Listening – Matching Tasks

Have a look at this task. I’ve found that it can sometimes confuse students because there is a lot of information to follow. A few simple tips should help with this task.

Listening Task Type 6

You can’t remember all the information in A-G, so stressing about keywords and synonyms won’t help much. Instead, have a quick read of the questions, then forget them!

  • As you listen, make a few notes next to each name as it appears.
  • After the end of the task (during your 30 seconds checking time), match your notes to the letters. Then, complete this part during your ten minutes transfer time at the end of the test.

My current students have found this technique very helpful – give it a go in your next class or self-study period!

Simon