Using impromptu speaking tasks to prepare learners for IELTS Speaking





Date Published

21 May 2021

One component that makes IELTS stand out from other standardized English proficiency tests is the incorporation of a face-to-face interview on the Speaking test. Because IELTS assesses communicative abilities using real-world tasks, this also makes preparing learners for IELTS so much fun! In this blog post I share how you can adapt impromptu speaking tasks to prepare your learners for IELTS while helping them improve their fluency.

About IELTS Speaking

The IELTS Speaking test is divided into 3 parts and lasts 11-14 minutes. The first part includes short answer questions on a range of familiar topics, such as food and hobbies. During the second part, the test taker is given a card with a topic. The test taker has 1 minute to prepare a short 1-2 minute talk on that topic. For the third part of the IELTS Speaking test, the IELTS Examiner will ask additional, more abstract questions that are connected to the topic in part 2. You can read more about the IELTS Speaking test format.

Impromptu speaking activity

Impromptu speaking activities are a great way for students to improve confidence and build fluency in speaking. Here is one take on an adapted impromptu speaking activity to prepare learners for part 2 of the IELTS Speaking test.

  • Prepare topic cards ahead of time, such as “tell us about a special memory you have as a child,” “tell us about a family member or friend who you miss,” or “tell us about a party you went to recently.” The speaking cards on part 2 of the IELTS Speaking test also include bullet points that help the test taker organize their thoughts. You can see an example of an IELTS Speaking task card below.
Example of IELTS speaking task card
  • Separate students into groups of 4 and assign each of them one of the following roles: timekeeper, speaker, monitor, and responder. If you have a group of five students, you can add the role of reporter. Anytime I assign group work, I always make sure each student is given a role. This helps students stay on task and lessens the likelihood that they will be on their phones.
  • If you want to model this after the second part of the IELTS Speaking test, give the speaker 1 minute to prepare and 2 minutes to speak on the topic. The speaker should speak for 2 minutes on this topic without stopping. While the speaker is preparing and speaking, the timekeeper will make sure the speaker stays within the timeframe. The monitor listens for one grammatical or phonological feature that has been the focus of a recent lesson (e.g. -s endings or intonation patterns). The responder is responsible for asking a follow-up question or identifying areas for the speaker to expand upon. The speaker then has up to 1 minute to respond. If a group has a reporter, the reporter will report to the class on what the speaker said.

I have used the above activity as a quick warm-up at the start of class and as a formal assessment. Usually when using it as a quick warm-up, I drop the preparation time. This speeds up the activity and keeps everyone engaged.

If you want to try out this activity with your students, here are some tips:

  • When working with lower intermediate level students (B1 or lower), I recommend starting off with 30 seconds of speaking time and building from there. Confidence is a huge component of being able to speak in front of others, so start with smaller goals and build from there.
  • If possible, have students record themselves speaking so they can review later. This can be turned into a whole new activity by having students transcribe what they said and evaluate the grammar, listen back to evaluate a phonological feature, or by simply having them write a brief reflection of their strengths and opportunities for growth.
  • Give the monitor a very specific feature they are monitoring for. You could have them count the number of times the speaker says “um,” have them listen for correct -ed endings, or have the speaker identify what they would like the monitor to listen for.
  • If you are teaching online, this can easily be adapted by using Zoom breakout rooms. Then you can be the timekeeper yourself by broadcasting when they should start and stop speaking.

If you do plan to use this activity as a formal assessment, I suggest practicing this model with students ahead of time so that they are comfortable with the format. In addition to using this activity to build fluency, with a few tweaks it also works great to discuss readings assigned for homework, to practice newly introduced grammatical structures, and as a fun “get to know me” activity.

Have you had success using impromptu speaking activities with your language learners? We’d love for you to share your experiences and advice on our LinkedIn page.

About the author

Based in Savannah, Georgia, Misty Wilson is an experienced English as a Second Language instructor.