Spelling, distractors, paraphrase, and different English accents are all common problems faced by candidates in the IELTS Listening module. These ten IELTS Listening teaching tips should help both new and experienced IELTS teachers get the best out of their students.
IELTS Listening is a paper-based test of 40 questions that takes around 40 minutes to complete. Candidates hear four passages in total and answer ten questions about each. The passages, or sections, follow a set order:
Section 1: A conversation on an everyday topic
Section 2: A monologue on an everyday topic
Section 3: A conversation on an academic topic
Section 4: A monologue on an academic topic
In order to achieve a good score of IELTS 7.0, your students need to answer 30 out of 40 questions correctly. You should really drum this point into them. Why? It means they can quickly recover from any answers they miss and focus all their attention on the next question. Lead them out of the perfectionist mindset and get them thinking more pragmatically about what constitutes a good performance in the test.
This is a controversial point, but I always like to give my students much more time to read the questions than they will receive in the real IELTS Listening test. First, I allow them to read through all ten questions at their leisure. I don’t want them distracted while we’re discussing a particular question. The we analyse each question for information type, troubleshooting, and grammatical clues. Later on students can be pushed to perform similar analysis under much more time pressure.
As well as analyse the questions, students should be encouraged to predict answers. Predicting is not the same as guessing, since you’re not asking them to write down their prediction. What prediction does is reveal if students have properly analysed the question for content and grammatical form. Thus, it’s a great complement to the previous tip.
I like to use this analogy with my students: imagine you arrived at the airport one hour ago for a flight that departs soon. Now recall what all the announcements in the past hour have said. Of course you can’t, because we only listen for information relevant to our own flight. That’s the essence of targetted listening: having a goal in terms of what information we want to receive. It follows naturally from proper analysis of the ten questions.
Unlike in TOEFL, candidates in the IELTS test can expect to hear a variety of accents, from regional British accents to North American and Southern Hemisphere accents such as Australian and South African English. It’s a curious footnote to the history of IELTS, which began as ELTS but gained its initial ‘I’ when more English-speaking countries were invited to recognise the test for immigration purposes. If you’re not a natural show-off who enjoys flipping between accents in class, there’s a comparison of different English accents here.
IELTS candidates are expected to be able to spell answers correctly. However, English allows for multiple spellings of names, so you can expect these words to be spelled out, e.g. I.E.L.T.S. This is most likely to happen in IELTS Listening Section 1 where filling out personal details is a common question type. Drill spellings multiple times, paying special attention to the errors that are most common for your language group. The letter ‘W’ is notoriously problematic as it’s easily confused with the ‘double-X’ modifier in spelling.
Just like for numbers above, IELTS candidates can expect to write several numbers, including at least one long number such as a product code or phone number. The good news is that numbers require little in the way of comprehension. Concentration is key, along with anticipating the number in the first place.
Among the many distractors that test-writers incorporate, one of the most common is to have the speaker correct a previous statement, especially if it’s a spelling or number. Therefore, students should write down the final version that they hear, not the first. Add a bit of variation to your spelling and number drills by introducing corrections.
Students should be given some time after the recording to check their answers for spelling and grammar. Allow generous time for this stage and walk around the classroom, calling out question numbers where you can see that students have made mistakes. Give them the satisfaction of correcting their own mistakes before you do it for them.
Don’t just tell your students the correct answers. Walk them through the recording one more time, pausing at the critical moments to explain how each answer is given. The difference between a mediocre IELTS teacher and an outstanding one is that the best teachers are active and alert during listening passages for signs that reveal where their students are struggling.