Two plus two still makes four.

What Every IELTS Teacher Needs To Know About Writing

Robert Mcbain
This article relates to the instruction of writing in an IELTS program.

Why writing skills are important

With the world becoming more interconnected through electronic messaging, writing has taken on a new prominence. So a communicative language approach is essential for English language students who want to be successful. For students who wish to study business, English need these essential communication skills for instance, in a business that may need to persuade clients of potential investments who may be in another part of the world.

IELTS writing

Writing an IELTS essay is a challenging task for any EFL student who achieves it, as well as for the teachers who teach it. To be a successful IELTS teacher, as with all lessons preparation and planning is the key that includes everything from the rise and fall vocabulary to the grammar used to glue it all together. However, from that point forward, the essay development starts. But how is this accomplished? Better still, what, we may ask, are the most economical ways to do this? Of course, every teacher will have their methods, but, whatever methods they use, some theories related to educational psychology and instructional modelling are often essential factors.

The zone of proximal development

To be a skilled teacher in any subject, one must understand the basics of the zone of proximal development of a class or a particular student. The ZPD is a classic theory in education and is related to the idea of a conceptual zone between what the student cannot do and what they can do with some help from the teacher. It is a judgement made by the teacher as to what to do next. It relies on two ideas: firstly, the students’ potential next step in their development and secondly, the quality of the teachers’ instruction to get them there.

The gradual release of responsibility

This instructional model begins with a stage where the teacher takes all of the responsibility for teaching. Then over several lessons that may take a week or more creates a situation where the students take on more responsibility for their learning and become more competent, independent learners. Another way to look at it is this: I do it first, you watch me; then we do it together as I guide you; now you do it by yourself as I watch you.

The shared writing model 

If you are teaching writing skills in any program and don’t use this method you cannot teach writing effectively. Shared writing is the soul of teaching writing skills, and it is the method used for teaching writing directly to students as they watch. This method is similar to the gradual release of responsibility because students will eventually do it by themselves. The model uses two integrated phases, the demonstration phase and the joint composition phase. But for shared writing to be effective, the teacher should choose a task that is just above the students’ ZPD so that they are constantly engaged in the process.

The demonstration phase

Every good teacher models what they want their students to do, so the teacher demonstrates how to do it. The teacher is doing most of the work at this stage, writing the essay on the board and giving a running commentary on the choice of words, grammar and punctuation as the students watch. Students should copy what the teacher is writing to use this copy as a model for their next essay. Use coloured pens to highlight different parts of the text or individual words and make a deliberate mistake now and then for entertainment. As the teacher writes, the students can comment and make suggestions to keep them fully engaged and not just passive observers.

Joint composition

This phase is similar, except the students are encouraged to contribute more to the writing. Firstly, the teacher asks the students to write a similar essay to the one they copied during the demonstration phase. However, this second essay has slightly different data from the first one. Additionally, this encourages students to take a little more control of their writing and makes it their own. Because the data is slightly different, the vocabulary and grammar will also have to be adjusted. However, the teacher is there to guide students through this and students are encouraged to offer their ideas of how to write the data, then it becomes a two-way challenge; students suggest then the teacher corrects and guides them as they write. The shift from teacher to students has begun.

IELTS as a way to develop critical thinking

IELTS requires students to produce two essays, and many of the advantages students receive while doing this are hidden in the details. For instance, during the essays students, are constantly having to use their skills in deduction, at the same time comprehending and organising data, but also using their powers of logical analysis. Other thinking skills are comparing and contrasting data and ideas. Furthermore, having to decide between what is or is not essential information, and at the same time making judgements and writing about their opinions, also writing about two sides of an argument or writing about a problem and, in some cases, even being asked to propose a solution. All these are valuable critical thinking skills often gained by experience.

Written by Robert Mcbain for EnglishClub
Dr Robert Mcbain is a secondary headteacher. He also teaches EFL social studies and also designs instructional materials for Content Language Integrated Learning. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD).


  • AS says:

    Thanks so much.

  • seyed saeed eftekhari says:

    I have not been involved in teaching IELTS writing, yet, out of my teaching experience, I believe that this is a very good strategy to follow.

  • Marcus Gohar says:

    You present what appears to be a “Product/genre” approach from the outset. I believe this is especially useful with learners who are not familiar with how we organise our writing or are not used to writing at all. However, many students are not familiar with the writing process, especially using pen and paper with no electronic cut and paste! I go by the “Think, Plan, Write, Edit” method but still use model texts – Product/Process/Genre approach. The students could brainstorm ideas together (Think stage). This could be what they can see in the data or picture(s) for paper one or opinions for paper 2. In the feedback stage the teacher boards ideas. Depending on levels, the teacher could pre-teach some vocabulary or put some questions on the board, especially for paper one. The students report back and at that point the teacher presents a model text with exercises highlighting salient points. This may be academic vocabulary, vocabulary for describing data, or discourse features. (cohesion and coherence). The groups then organise ideas they want to use into skeleton paragraphs (Plan). After a brief feedback stage, the students write individually, either the entire essay or in pairs or small groups with a paragraph each (write stage). The teacher collects the essays and marks them (indicating mistakes for the students to correct) – Edit stage. Alternatively, the students correct each other’s first. There are numerous opportunities. In a three-hour lesson you could kick off with a speaking to prime for a reading, which could be part of a speaking task and then finish off with the writing. Whatever approach the teacher adopts, to teach there must be writing subskills objectives upon which there is explicit focus. If that is missing, it is writing practice not teaching.

  • Maria Eugenis says:

    Thank you!

  • Meretech Shiferaw says:

    Thank you. it is helpful info.

  • The King Of Love From IRAN says:

    Thank you for sharing it with us,

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