The problem with trying to teach IELTS candidates 4 or 5 essay types to deal with in the IELTS exam is that there are far more than 4 or 5 ways to ask a Task 2 question. Teachers who use this approach are locking their students into a box and may well condemn them to not answering the question correctly.
There is only one approach in Task 2 that will be successful, and it is not rocket science:
- READ THE QUESTION
- ANSWER THE QUESTION
Let’s see how this works. Here is the question from last week:
“Some people argue that academically weak students should study in the same class as academically strong students. Others argue that they should study in separate groups. What are the benefits of both these approaches and what is your opinion?”
To begin, answer these questions:
- How many questions is the candidate required to answer?
- What are they?
- What could be a topic sentence for each part?
- There are 3 questions to answer (did you see all three?)
- a. What are the benefits of putting weak and strong students together?
b. What are the benefits of keeping them in different groups?
c. Which method does the writer think is best?
Notice that this question DOES NOT directly ask for disadvantages. It asks for the BENEFITS of each approach. There is, however, room to talk about the disadvantages of one of the approaches when the writer gives their opinion, but this is NOT a necessary part of the answer.
Once you have answered these questions your next task is to decide which side you are on. DO NOT sit on the fence – TAKE A SIDE!
I know there are teachers who tell their students to always ‘sit on the fence’ and partly agree or partly disagree, but I have been teaching for a long time and from the thousands of essays I have read in my career, this approach, unless the writer is very good, always leads to the most confused and often contradictory essays. TAKE A SIDE – the essay is easier to write.
Once you have taken a side, you write about the side you DO NOT agree with FIRST and then follow it in the next paragraph with the side you agree with. Let’s make an outline for the essay above.
Here is a possible second sentence for the introduction:
“While there are some benefits when weak and strong students are educated in separate groups, the overwhelming advantages gained in both the academic and social development of students by having them study in the same group makes this approach the most desirable teaching methodology.”
TOPIC SENTENCE – 1st BODY PARAGRAPH
To begin with, there are some benefits in ease of preparation for the teacher when academically able and weak students are steamed into their own ability levels.
TOPIC SENTENCE – 2nd BODY PARAGRAPH
Although streaming students may provide some benefits for the teacher, there are overwhelming advantages for student development when they are able to study in the same group.
Which side am I on?
I have NOT said “I believe that …”, “I think that ….”, “in this essay I will discuss both views and give my opinion”, “while I hold this view I understand that many others will disagree with me …” or any of the other phrases that candidates are frequently taught to use – none of which add value to their writing.
Nevertheless, my position is clear right from the introduction. In addition, because of the structure I have used, I can give advantages of the side I DISAGREE with and run no risk that my opinion will be confused because I reinforce my opinion in the very first sentence of the second body paragraph, and I will reinforce it again in the first sentence of the conclusion.
How did I know how to do all this?
I know that at Band 7 the Public Band Descriptors say:
- addresses all parts of the task
- presents a clear position throughout the response
This tells me to answer all parts of the question and make my opinion clear at all times.
I did not have to memorize any imaginary “essay types” that someone thinks exist. All I had to do was know what the Public Band Descriptors say and read the question.
If you use this approach, it doesn’t matter how they ask you the question, it could be something you have never seen before in your life, you will still know how to structure an answer for it.
If you are interested, we will try another one in a day or two.