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IELTS Speaking: 10 ways to help students speak more fluently




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Date Published

11 April 2024

  • How can we help our students improve their fluency for the IELTS Speaking test beyond just giving them more speaking practice?

This is a question I had when I started teaching IELTS over 15 years ago and am still frequently drawn back to now.

For those of you who have the same question (and I’m sure there are a lot of you), here are 10 ways that I’ve found can help IELTS students improve their fluency.

1. Provide opportunities for IELTS Speaking practice

This is perhaps the most obvious one but it’s important to remember that IELTS Speaking practice is not the same as other kinds of speaking practice.

IELTS Speaking practice involves:

  • using authentic IELTS test questions like the ones below
  • simulating the test by having students take the roles of test taker and examiner
  • informing students of what they can do (and shouldn’t do) in the Speaking test, e.g. they can ask the examiner to repeat a question if they didn’t hear it properly, but they shouldn’t ask the examiner if they can have a different question.

Students will find it easier to answer questions in the Speaking test if they have had lots of practice answering questions like these from IELTS 16 as well as others on common IELTS Speaking topics like study and work:

People you study/work with

  • Who do you spend most time studying/working with? [Why?]
  • What kinds of things do you study/work on with other people? [Why?]
  • Are there times when you study/work better by yourself? [Why/Why not?]
  • Is it important to like the people you study/work with? [Why/Why not?]

You can also help your students improve their fluency for the IELTS by getting them to answer the same or similar questions again, either with different people during the same lesson or at different times during the course.

And if you include some feedback or language input in between, your students will likely see even greater fluency gains.

2. Teach topic-specific vocabulary

Every time a student doesn’t know the right word(s) to use in their answer to an IELTS Speaking question, they may hesitate while they try to think of what to say.

Teaching students vocabulary on common IELTS topics can help their fluency and reduce the number and length of hesitations in their answers. A useful resource for this is the IELTS word lists on the Cambridge Dictionary Plus+ app. You can also use the app to make other word lists for your students or to help students to create their own.

3. Teach students collocations and other chunks

Students will hesitate less between words (and sound more fluent) if they learn to use natural combinations of words, e.g. collocations, fixed expressions and sentence starters.

Here are some collocations on the common IELTS topics of study and work that could be useful for your students when answering the Speaking questions above:

  • a close friend/colleague
  • study/work together

For more examples of collocations and other chunks of language, see my post using chunks to improve your IELTS students’ band scores.

4. Teach phrases that students can use to buy thinking time

Students are almost certainly going to be asked some questions in their IELTS Speaking test that they find difficult to answer immediately.

So, it’s important to teach them some phrases for buying time and to encourage them to use them when preparing for the test.

  • That’s a difficult question.
  • Let me think …
  • I haven’t thought about that before.

5. Teach students how to ask for clarification

Another way you can help IELTS students avoid hesitating (and sound more fluent) in their Speaking test is to teach them how to ask the examiner to repeat a question.

  • Could you repeat the question please?
  • Sorry, I didn’t catch that.
  • Can you say that again please?

You could even teach them this rap from Fluency MC to give them some practice.

Be careful to discourage your students from asking the examiner to repeat every question though as this will make them sound less fluent!

6. Teach contractions

Encourage students to use contractions like I’m (instead of I am), I’d (instead of I would), etc, to sound more natural and show confidence. For a full list of contractions and examples of when and how students shouldn’t use them, check out English Grammar Today.

7. Encourage students only to correct mistakes they know how to correct

At some point you’ll probably be asked by a student whether it’s a good idea for them to correct their vocabulary, grammar or pronunciation mistakes in the IELTS Speaking test. It’s a question I’ve been asked many times and my answer always depends on the number of mistakes the student generally makes relative to how fluent they are.

As a general guideline, I think we should encourage our students to self-correct when they notice they’ve made a mistake that they can correct quickly. And more importantly, if greater fluency is the goal, we should encourage our students not to try and correct themselves in the test when they’ve made a mistake that they don’t know how to correct, as this will only lead to more hesitation.

8. Teach and provide opportunities to practice paraphrase techniques

There will no doubt be times in the IELTS Speaking test when your students don’t know the right word but still need to explain what they want to say.

So, it’s important to help them develop and practise techniques to explain what they mean in another way, or in IELTS-speak, paraphrase.

Paraphrase techniques include:

  • using a synonym or a word with a more general meaning
  • using an approximation (It’s a sort of …)
  • giving a description (… a thing that …)
  • giving an example

9. Encourage students to talk about ideas they can easily explain

Your students will give more fluent answers in their IELTS Speaking test if they avoid trying to explain ideas that they find difficult to explain clearly in English because they don’t know enough vocabulary and grammar (and cannot paraphrase successfully).

If you notice a student struggling to explain a complex idea, why not take the opportunity to highlight that they are assessed on the clarity (not complexity) of their ideas?

Providing lots of focused IELTS Speaking practice will help you and your students find out what they are/aren’t able to explain in English easily before their test.

10. Suggest ways to manage test anxiety

Whether it’s exercise, watching a film or talking with friends (in English), students will benefit from doing something that helps them manage their anxiety before their IELTS Speaking test.

You can read more about test anxiety and what you can do about it as a teacher in my post How to help IELTS students manage test anxiety.

Which of these 10 ways do you use to help your IELTS students speak more fluently? What other ways do you use?

Useful further reading