Discussion Questions #2 YOUR HOME OR APARTMENT

Keywords / Subtopics: rooms, furniture, decorating, small spaces, storage, appliances and electronics, having guests, extra features of a home, heating and cooling, types of buildings

  1. What is the best room in your house?
  2. What room is the most spacious?
  3. What makes a room comfortable?
  4. Where do people eat?
  5. Tell me about the entranceway and the front door; wherever people usually come in?
  6. Do you have enough storage space?
  7. How do you heat your home?  How is your home / your building heated?
  8. Where do you entertain guests? Do you have people over a lot?
  9. Where do you park?  Where do you keep your bicycle?
  10. What floor are you on?
  11. Do you have a lot of home electronics?
  12. Do you have a lot of small appliances in your kitchen?  Do you have a lot of clutter in your drawers and cupboards?
  13. What is the best house-warming gift?
  14. How many rooms are off your living room?
  15. What do you have on your walls?  Mirrors?  Calendars?  Pictures?  Drawings?  Family photos? 
  16. What are your signature colours?  If I asked your friends what your personal style is, what would they say?
  17. Do you have a doorbell or do people just knock?
  18. Do people have to buzz you when they arrive at your apartment building?  Do you have a secure entrance?  Do you have your home hooked up to a security system?
  19. What’s in the lobby of your apartment building?
  20. Do you have just one elevator?
  21. Can you hear your neighbours? Do you usually hear your neighbours?
  22. Do you have a backyard? A basement? A balcony? A front porch?  An attic? A swimming pool in the basement of your apartment building?  Is there a jungle gym for kids near your building?
  23. Where do you store your tools?  Do you put winter clothes away for the winter? How organized are your storage areas? Where do you keep your computer stuff? 
  24. How do you keep track of paper (bills, receipts, invoices, warranties, brochures, agreements, notices)
  25. Are you windows covered?  Do you have Venetian blinds or curtains? Which window in your home has the best view?  Does your living room window overlook a park, a main road?
  26. If you could change something about your home, what would it be?
  27. Has your basement ever flooded?  Do raccoons or bats live in your attic?  Have you had mice in the kitchen or wasp nests under the eaves?

Read how to use these realistic, vocabulary-rich, topic-specific discussion questions to improve your IELTS speaking and writing results.

Discussion Questions #1 MEETING NEW PEOPLE

Keywords / Subtopics: talking about work, education, qualifications, home and neighbourhood, family, social life and hobbies, your nationality and your town, how you spend your spare time, making small talk, greeting, leave-taking, colleagues, friends and acquaintances

  1. Can I ask what you do? / Can I ask where you work?
  2. How long have you been there? / Have you been there for a long time?
  3. Are you the manager? / Are you full-time?
  4. Do you like it?  / What do you like about this job?
  5. Do you get on well with [everyone you work with] / [your colleagues]?
  6. What does your company do? / Who are your customers?
  7. Are you married?  Are you living ‘common law’?  Any children?  Do you have a partner?
  8. How old are your kids? / Are your kids in elementary school / high school / university?
  9. Where did you go to school / to university? What university did you go to?
  10. What was your major? / What did you study?
  11. Are you working now in the field that you trained in?
  12. Are you from Toronto?  Which province is your hometown in? Can I ask your nationality?
  13. What’s your hometown?  How old were you when you left?
  14. Do you go back to your hometown much / often?  Are you in touch with your childhood friends?
  15. How long have you been living in [the city where you live now]?
  16. What do you do outside work? / What do you on / at the weekend?
  17. Do you play sports?  Are you on any teams?
  18. Are you musical? Can you sing well or play an instrument? Have you ever been in a choir or a band? Can you read music? Have you ever wanted to learn?
  19. Where would I find on a typical Friday evening?  Sunday afternoon?
  20. Are you a morning person or night person? Are Circadian rhythms something (that) you pay attention to?
  21. How you meet new people? Do you enjoy getting to know new people?
  22. Do you use the Facebook or Meetup or Clubhouse to meet like-minded people? Have you had mostly positive or negative experiences on social media?

Read how to use these realistic, vocabulary-rich, topic-specific discussion questions to improve your IELTS speaking and writing results.

A Google doc template keeps every session organized

This is my template Google doc file. Every student gets a new doc for every session, to keep things organized. Here is what each section typically entails.

The warm up chat is five to ten minutes to give the learner time to settle in to English. We sometimes speak informally for a longer time but the structure of the document helps us see our goals, and prods us to get to work.

The status update is where the student tells me how much of their homework they were able to do, and what problems occurred. This might last for five minutes. They might share what worked well, or not. This reflection on the usefulness and amount of homework benefits both the learner, and me. We formulate an agenda for the session based on how much homework and preparation the student was able to do. If work was busy, and they had no time or energy for homework, then I can adapt accordingly. Students have said that being asked for this update at the beginning of the lesson is a useful accountability measure. Sometimes students log in early and have typed a status update for me to read when I arrive.

The table called Today’s Stuff is self-explanatory; it is where we put the work from that session.

Throughout the session, I collect errors in the students’ speech during the session, and keep them in the table called Corrections / Feedback on Spoken Error. I categorize them according to the IELTS Speaking Assessment Rubric as being grammatical or lexical or phonological in nature. I make principled choices about which speaking errors to pick up on; depending on the learner’s level, goals (e.g. to correct mispronunciations) or to correct a certain systemic grammar error (e.g. omission of the be verb in present simple sentences by Russian speakers, or syntax errors in affirmative statements within questions)

You can see some examples of Corrections / Feedback on Spoken Error here.

The follow up materials / files to be sent is where I keep track of things that I mention during the session that I need to email to the student, or add to our notes once the session is over.

Reflections / recommendations / wrap up is an important close to the session. This is where students will tell me what they liked, what they want more of, what was challenging, what was useful.

The last phase of a session, which is 55 minutes or 85 minutes, is discuss Homework or what should be next. As always, we make decisions together. This section serves as a place for the student to come back to days later to know what he or she agreed to do. I use this section to prepare for the next lesson, too.

Using folders to organize session documents

Here is how the lessons are organized and stored. I want to share my system for other teachers or self-directed learners. It has worked well for over eight years, for hundreds of learners. Thank you, Google!

In the image below, you can see all the Googledocs for one learner go into a folder, by year.

And actually, within each year, it saves times to divide the year into two sub-categories: 2020 July to Dec and 2020 Jan to July. The student can keep things organized in the same way on their end. Helping people be organized from the beginning is a valued service.

Each session has its own Googledoc, and I put memorable keywords into the title to help remember the conversations from that session. I also track the package number (package #6 in this case) and the lesson number within the package (this student gets packages of 10 sessions at one time).

The session template GoogleDoc that I use for every session is here.

Feedback on Writing

The student relied too much on the word tax in the prompt. That is, he let the word ‘tax’ in the prompt determine and even limit the range of ideas he plugged into his planning table. I pointed out to him that it is good idea to think for a few minutes through the larger issue that the prompt is referring to before writing. In this case, municipalities or states probably use a range of incentives and penalties to influence how drivers drive, and when and to encourage carpooling, etc. A writer should ask himself “What major issue in the world today is this prompt referring to?” and then do some background reading on this topic to gather ideas.

The student’s Task 2 best effort essay came back with just Band 6 for cohesion. The problem was that he filled up his planning table with his AEEs (assertions, extensions, examples) but didn’t take the time to name that point. When we worked together to distill his AEE into a point, we decided that “using a tax to influence behavior is never popular” was a nice summation of this disadvantage. He can use this summation in his clear position statement to foreshadow for the reader / Examiner what is coming in each paragraph.

This essay came back with just Band 6 for CC. If the writer had included a topic sentence this would have helped the reader understand the relationships between the first paragraph, and the two body paragraphs. A short and sweet topic sentence isn’t necessary for high stakes exams writing, necessarily. Signposting features / elements of cohesion like topic sentences are just features of good writing.

To improve LR (lexical resource) and GRA (grammatical range and accuracy) in a ‘just in time’ feedback way, I copy a few sentences with errors and highlight the problem in orange, and invite the student to try to spot the error on his own. This helps the learner see where errors are systemic. Systemic errors are when grammar rules or collocations (LR) haven’t been fully or accurately understood and the learner can’t really self-correct. These kinds of errors are what to look up in your Grammar in Use Advanced and spend time doing the chapter on. Rather than “doing a grammar book from Unit 1 to Unit 30”, it makes sense to take a ‘just in time’ approach to learning what you need in response to errors you’re actually making in your writing.

Here is what the homework will look like. This student did a best effort Task 2 with attention to all the steps of my table planning method. You can see that he’ll consolidate this skill by doing another essay with a focus on this method, as well as revising today’s essay according to my feedback.

This learner will start to collect errors for his self-editing checklist. He’ll use this list after writing an essay or a letter (or anything else) as a reminder of his typical errors. This will consolidate the correction, and make the writer a better and faster editor of his own writing, as he writes. Many students have told me this trick translates well into the exam room, and they find themselves correcting little mistakes as they write. This can result in a better band for GRA (grammatical range and accuracy) as well TR (task response).

Why you should use approved lists of practice questions for IELTS Speaking Part I

Why should learners stick to official lists of practice questions when it comes to Part I?

First of all, because there are often grammar (wrong tense or subject-verb agreement errors), distracting non-standard lexis or spelling errors in internet lists, which can be confusing and lead to an incorrect understanding of the question. Part I questions are on familiar topics and candidates shouldn’t need to pause to understand the question. Grammatically-inaccurate questions will cause candidates to pause, which takes up valuable time.

Secondly, the pace of Part 1 is brisk and the questions are short, and formulated to be easily understood. When cheat-sheets of questions from the memories of recent candidates are created, the questions reported are often written in a way that is longer or more complicated than what the question was, which, again, takes up valuable time in the 4 to 5 minutes allotted to Part 1.

Since the chances of a strong exam performance increase with rehearsal of thoughtfully-prepared responses full of complex structures and more precise lexis, why not start with accurately-formulated practice questions?