Test takers have 60 minutes to respond to two tasks on the Academic IELTS Writing Test. While Task 2 looks more like a traditional essay that many test takers are familiar with, Task 1 asks test takers to describe, summarize or explain information presented in a graph, table, chart, or diagram. Since this writing activity may be unfamiliar to learners who are preparing for IELTS, it is important to provide strategies they can use on test day. There are two key areas that test takers often struggle with on Task 1, knowing how to respond to the task and having the necessary vocabulary to describe data. This blog post provides strategies and class activities you can use as you prepare your students for the IELTS Academic Test.
Responding to the Task
The first challenge for many test takers is knowing how to start. To make this more manageable, break this up into two parts for your students.
Part 1 of response
Since Task 1 only requires 150 words, there is no need to spend time on a lengthy introductory paragraph. Instead, the goal is to write two or three sentences using a two-step process.
- Step 1. Paraphrase the first sentence of the prompt. The prompt for Task 1 is accompanied by a sentence that describes the image. For example, the prompt in the image above begins with, “This chart below shows the number of men and women in further education in Britain in three periods and whether they are studying full-time or part-time.” Test takers should first paraphrase this sentence. (See previous blog post to learn about the “Chunking Method,” a helpful paraphrasing strategy.) You want to encourage them to paraphrase for two reasons. First, if students simply copy and paste from the prompt, this will not count toward the required word count (150 words for Task 1), meaning points will be deducted. Secondly, paraphrasing helps strengthen the score for the lexical resource assessment criterion because it shows a range of vocabulary.
- Step 2. Give an overview in one or two sentences. Following the first sentence which describes the chart or image, test takers should write down an overview of the main trends, patterns or events in a couple of sentences. Overall, do things increase, decrease, or stay the same? Have your students write this down just like they would explain it to a friend on the phone. They should be sure not to include any specific data from the chart in the overview.
Part 2 of response
Once they have two or three sentences for the introduction, they can turn their attention to the body of their response. For the body we are looking for one or two paragraphs that present specific data that support the main trend, pattern, or event highlighted in the introduction. One of the first challenges is determining the most logical approach for organizing the data in the response. Should this be organized chronologically, by gender, by country? There is no one answer, so your students will need to look at the chart and make a decision based on the data provided. The next challenge is determining which data should be highlighted and what should be ignored. Not all data needs to be included, so it is important that your students pay attention to what the prompt is asking them to do. Remind students they are not being asked to interpret the data or give their opinion. The second sentence of the prompt tells them what they should do and they should stick with doing that.
No Conclusion is needed for Task 1; however if the test taker does not include the overview in the introduction, they can include it at the end of the response.
Building lexical resource
Having the vocabulary to describe data is another challenging aspect of this task. Because there are a variety of images that might appear on Task 1 (e.g. bar charts, pie charts, line graphs, diagrams) test takers need to be ready to describe different kinds of data. Below are a few examples of activities that can be adapted to help students build the language needed to describe line graphs.
Synonyms for movement
On the board, create four columns with the following headings: go up, go down, go up and down, stay the same. Have students brainstorm synonyms that could be placed in each column (e.g. rise, drop, fluctuate, remain steady). Once students have thought of as many synonyms possible, create another table on the board, this time with two columns: adjectives and nouns and verbs and adverbs. Using the list they created, students will now write common collocations that can be used with their synonyms of movement (e.g. steady growth, rose dramatically). For the final part of this activity, we want to increase students’ awareness of how to describe data with precision. One way to do this is by having students order their collocations on a continuum from small to large (e.g., steady growth to a dramatic increase). This will help students with their accurate use of the new vocabulary acquired.
In place of describing, summarizing or explaining data in a chart, Task 1 may also present a diagram depicting stages of a process or how something works, so learners should also have some practice with using sequential links (i.e. firstly, next, etc.). To review more examples of Task 1 prompts, head over to IELTS.org where you can find sample test questions and examples of test taker responses.
If you would like to take a deeper dive into preparing learners for IELTS, be sure to check out the IELTS USA Instructor Video Channel where we have prepared videos on this and other topics relating to preparing learners for IELTS.
About the author
Based in Savannah, Georgia, Misty Wilson is an experienced English as a Second Language instructor.