IELTS is a skills only exam. 

It’s short. (Well, shorter than other English language exams, for example of Cambridge’s main suite). 

It’s ‘sweet ‘n’ practical’. 😀

And it is HARD and STRAIGHTFORWARD at the same time.

IELTS doesn’t care if of you know any advanced grammatical TERMS. You can get a higher band score without explicitly ‘knowing’ the ‘components’ of the past perfect or the third conditional. 

It doesn’t care much for any fancy idiomatic expressions either that you might have learned on a general English course earlier somewhere. 

It’s not particularly concerned with you picking the right word in a collocation within an artificially limited context (i.e. a language gap fill exercise), or if you know the exact preposition to do any type of ‘language gymnastics’ with, for the sake of language gymnastics’ only (–aka ‘Use of English’). 

Now, I’m a linguist and I LOVE all kinds of languages gymnastics, ESPECIALLY Use of English. I like to play around with them like a puzzle. I revel in doing them in all 3 of the languages I’m fluent in, for my personal geeky entertainment… 😀 

BUT I’m less convinced of the usefulness of getting high-stakes language exam candidates to jump through unnecessary ‘form’-based hoops! I liken that to focusing too much on teaching FORM at the expense of (or before) MEANING in a lesson (‘cart before the horse’), a big ‘no no’ in Communicative Language Teaching, yet it’s still rampant in everyday teaching contexts and materials in the world.

So on the bright side, the fab news is that your learners can score high on IELTS as long as they demonstrate that they can authentically USE the language skillfully. 

In other words, IELTS just wants you to USE LANGUAGE for COMMUNICATION’S SAKE.

The implications of this for the IELTS classroom then are that as teachers we should also be mindful of any tasks we assign during a lesson as to what that exercise really is FOR.

Do we want our learners to do the exercise e.g. because ‘it’s in the book’? 

Or because ‘we always do it this way’ (for example pre-teach key difficult vocabulary before a listening or reading)?

OR… because it somehow RESEMBLES AUTHENTIC (i.e. real-life) USE of the SKILL? 

How do YOU focus on SKILLS when teaching IELTS?

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