Thanks to an ever growing network of connections I occasionally get offered temporary or part time teaching projects which I often turn down as five (sometimes six!) regular days work each week is more than enough for me. However, one came up a few months back which caught my eye and that was to teach an IELTS course at a University in Kichijoji.
Given the news at the start of May that TOEIC or TOEFL (both have the same license) will no longer be accepted by the British Government’s home office for students who want to get a visa to study at a university in the UK. This followed a BBC documentary in February which found that some test centres were helping students to cheat. After those revelations it was announced that students wanting to study at UK universities will need to take a different exam, such as the International English Language Testing System more commonly known as IELTS.
With this exam being seen as the future I thought that, having only taught it a handful of times over the years, it might be useful to gain some knowledge of what the exam actually consists of and for that I really must thank my colleague Alex Case (of Tefltastic blog fame) who not only helped me with advice but also provided me with materials galore via the aforementioned website which is a must-see site possessing a minefield of information for any teacher looking for free, additional resources to aid their lessons.
It’s been a pretty hectic Summer thus far with lots going on. There’s been the World Cup (with games going on constantly through the night), my wife’s family dog Momiji stayed with us for three weeks, I had to sort out a load of stuff so that I could get married and much, much more though to be fair I did have some days off my regular job in that time.
Although provided with a book, I was basically left to my own devices to come up with some speaking and writing lessons for a class of nine students wanting/hoping/thinking of going overseas to study at some point in the future. So, throughout June and July I have spent my Friday evenings doing these IELTS classes and I have to say that I have really enjoyed it and the feeling of putting together my own original lessons has been very satisfying. As much as I like my regular job it typically only involves teaching classes of three or four so it was nice and felt good to teach a sizeable class (yeah still small by high school standards!) and use the teaching skills and ideas that I gained when I did my TESOL course many years ago. This involved lots of pair work or working in three’s (when all nine turned up) with all of them regularly changing partners as is Tefl style!
My task was to teach them the speaking and writing parts which was a very rewarding experience for me as first and foremost I knew very little about them beforehand. I wasn’t really planning to use my trademark music in the lessons but as there was a CD player in the classroom I thought it’d be rude not to!
An IELTS exam is around two hours 45 minutes yet the speaking part only lasts around 11-15 minutes. Despite this, speaking probably formed the major part of our lessons with the first section including your basic questions about free time, studies, family, travel, future plans, food & drink and so on which are basically just designed to relax the student of nerves and ease them into what lies ahead!
After four minutes of those questions it’s on to Part II which involves giving a 1-2 minute speech (with a minutes preparation time) on a given topic. The card they read off includes four bullet points on what they should talk about and this was practiced a fair bit throughout the lessons under strict exam conditions. In the latter lessons I jazzed it up a bit by doing a white-brick-black-brick true-false opinion activity which was to help them see things from an opposing point of view. The speaking partner is secretly given a white or black lego brick just before they read their card and begin preparing for their speech 60 seconds later. This seemingly went down very well, especially the bit at the end where the listening partner guessed if what they had heard was a true or false opinion.
The third section really begins to push things a bit harder as the examiner and candidate have a discussion about more abstract themes, typically relating to socio-economic and environmental themes.
The writing parts were a little more demanding of me as you can’t exactly spend the majority of the lesson actually having them write. Instead, it was more about useful phrases, exam techniques, tips, lesson plans and identifying and correcting typical Japanese errors. Of course all these activities were conducted in ways which gave the students the most amount of speaking opportunities possible.
Basically, the writing part is an hour long and involves two tasks for the candidates. The second one is to write an essay often comprised of looking at cost-benefit analysis of the aforementioned socio-economic or environmental issues but first of all (though they are free to do in any order they like) they have to describe a diagram, graph, process or chart using all manner of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and phrases. Comparing and contrasting information also plays an important part which presented me with the perfect opportunity to get some Top Trumps card activity into proceedings as a quick warmer activity.
Teaching this IELTS course has not only been of use to the students but me too and, with this experience under my belt as well as a wealth of resources I will actually be happy to see those five letters (that’s IELTS by the way!) on my schedule from now on. The students were really nice and they did everything I asked of them. This course was just a taster of the full IELTS experience but hopefully they will all go on to take the exam and get the required results to achieve their goals of studying abroad.