Students taking a test

How to incorporate an independent reading project into an IELTS prep course





Date Published

11 October 2021

Getting learners reading in an IELTS preparation course can be quite a challenge. Our learners may already feel overwhelmed with the task of preparing for the test itself, and their time at home is committed to the revision of IELTS strategies with practice tests and materials.

While this focus on the test is of course essential, by incorporating reading through an independent reading project, learners can:

  • improve reading speed
  • expand lexical resource
  • consolidate grammatical range and accuracy
  • widen their awareness of a variety of topics that could come up across the IELTS test.

In this post, we’ll look at the steps involved in setting up this type of project and how to exploit learners’ independent reading in the IELTS class.

What is a reading project?

A reading project is where you, as teacher, facilitate learners’ own reading by establishing what and how to read independently before ‘handing over’ to learners the responsibility of bringing something new from their reading to class.

Why is independent reading important?

Encouraging independent reading ensures that learners develop the autonomy to source, read and review English-language texts in a time-efficient way. Not only does this parallel the independent skills that are required on a course of academic study or in employment, but the long-term results of extensive reading are wide-reaching, through consolidation of language to expanding background knowledge. Establishing this habit not only supports learners towards their target IELTS score but for life post-IELTS.

How does this work in practice?

1. Setting up the project in class

Provide one article per learner, unique to each learner, from resources you would encourage them to use independently. This could be from news sites, curated sites, or English Language sites. Allow time for learners to read for gist before asking them to extract a small number of items of lexis to focus on. Although learners may wish to learn every new word, a focused approach on a minimal number of items increases the chance of them being recycled and remembered.

Once learners have carried this work out alone, you can then pair or group learners to provide a summary of their article and peer-teach their selected vocabulary.

2. How this translates to self-study

Following a clear set-up in class, learners are equipped with a model of what to do at home. The key difference is that they will have to source an article for themselves. This allows for some self-reflection and further autonomy as learners begin to develop an awareness of their areas of strength and interest, or which require more attention. Carrying out this reading at home may take time at first but, encourage your learners to spend no more than 20 minutes on this task, from finding the article to preparing to give feedback on the lexis in their next lesson. Setting a time limit ensures that they are developing time-management skills, essential for the IELTS test, as well as reading speed.

3. Spring-boarding into IELTS lessons

Now you have the first 15 minutes of every lesson taken care of. These 15 minutes are entirely dependent on what learners bring to the lesson. Set up group discussions where learners take turns summarising their article, responding critically to the ideas they hear and peer-teaching lexis.

The role of the teacher is to facilitate this group discussion and follow up with a task related to IELTS. Some tasks could be:

  • Writing a short summary of your partner’s article. An awareness of the purpose of summaries can help learners with summary completion tasks in reading or listening as well as writing conclusions in essays.
  • Designing a Task 2 style essay question on this topic. Learners with a good level of awareness of IELTS can attempt this alone or in pairs. This helps to consolidate the structure of essay questions, the various types that can be found in the test as well as encouraging a flexible use of language.
  • Designing Speaking Part 3 discussion questions on this topic. Increasing awareness of the more abstract nature of this part of the speaking test where opinions on external topics rather than personal experiences is what is expected.
  • Peer-teach the language from your group’s articles to a new group. Learners will have to be able to paraphrase in order to convey meaning to a new group. An awareness of paraphrasing is essential in all four skills of the IELTS test. This immediate activation of the newly-learned lexis is a key step in the process of their language acquisition.

Final Tips

Be consistent. Life happens, there will be days when fewer learners have been able to complete their reading for class. But it’s important that on these days, the first 15-minute group feedback still takes place. This routine is embedding the importance of reading as a daily habit and not a once-in-a-while practice.

Review sources. Ensure learners are reading from a variety of sources and a wide range of suitable topics for IELTS. Be aware of which topics might not be suitable (e.g. politics, current affairs etc.) and ensure learners are kept on the right path.

Be prepared. This learner-centered project does demand that the teacher has a solid understanding of the test and is able to respond flexibly in carrying out the type of follow-up tasks outlined above.

As teachers, our students often ask us for the one key to unlocking the IELTS test, that one secret piece of information that will improve their language level and secure their desired band score. Of course, we know that there is no such thing but by empowering our learners with the tools to read a little, but often, they are able to unlock the skills, knowledge and language for IELTS themselves.

About the author

Daniella Di Mambro is an IELTS teacher and Global IELTS Teacher Trainer for the British Council. She also co-runs the British Council IELTS for Teachers Facebook Group. Daniella lives in Glasgow, Scotland where she works as a CELTA Tutor at Live Language.