Best ways to use Discussion Questions to build Band 9 proficiency in IELTS Speaking

I’ve shared long lists of detailed Discussion Questions on this blog. Here is how these discussion question lists have been used to push yourself to seek out more precise language and employ a wider range of grammatical structures. The key is to recycle the vocabulary in different exercises.

These Discussion Questions cross-reference with topics in Part 1 and Part 2 of the IELTS Speaking exam, and provide extension opportunities in grammatical range and lexical resource.

First, you can choose ten (or five or even just three) of the discussion questions. Write a detailed answer to that question using 150 to 200 words. Brainstorm your answer in your first language first if that makes it easier.

Then translate what you wrote — sentence by sentence into English, as best you can, using translators but also word-building online tools like FLAX and SKETCH ENGINE.

Read your writing out loud after you have your first draft. You might be surprised at how effective your spoken fluency can be to help you self-assess your own writing.

How accurate does it sound, or not? What’s wrong? Is each tense the best choice? Where do you need someone to give you some ways to say what you’re trying to say? (This is micro-teaching, by the way. The right solution when and where you need it.)

If you’ve been immersed in English through podcasts, Youtube videos, online interactive 1:1 lessons, extensive reading you can incorporate some of your target vocabulary collection into your answers.

(Do you have a target vocabulary collection? Which vocabulary chunks do you invest time and effort to activate? Where do you store new vocabulary chunks? In a google document? In a notebook? In a Note? On post-its on your fridge? An app?)

Bring your writing to your teacher and let her reformulate your sentences. Carefully notice what she changes, and why. Read about what noticing means in the context of language acquisition.

You’ll see patterns in the mistakes that you make and how your writing is reformulated into more standard expressions.

In many ways, the journey from CEFR B2 to mastery means refining your feel for how more fluent writers and speakers put thoughts into words.

Once you have a perfected response from your teacher or a friend, read it out loud to perfect the pronunciation.

Rewrite the sentence a few times, especially if you typed it the first time.

Do some transformation drills of sentences that were overhauled to develop some automaticity in producing those new chunks.

Commit it to memory. Practice recalling it perfectly. Recycling the corrected structures and new vocabulary chunks will help cement it in your memory. Discussion questions that call on your existing memories and past experiences connect the new language to what is already in your mind. This is efficient and effective.

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?