Four Great Speaking Activities To Boost Your IELTS Score

A lot of my IELTS students tell me that the component they are most worried about is the Speaking. This is normal; in the exam, it’s the one component where someone is sitting in front of us judging our language skills. But there’s no need to worry if you’re fully prepared. With preparation comes accuracy, and with accuracy comes confidence, and these four activities have been designed to get you to that accurate, confident stage.

“Talk to me about this rock.”

Just imagine for a moment the following scenario. Against all IELTS examining procedures, the examiner leans down, picks up his bag, and puts it on the table between you both. He unzips this bag, and pulls out a rock. It’s a fair-sized rock, and needs both the examiner’s hands to pick it up. He gently places it on the table and says to you:

Fascinating.

“Tell me everything you can about this rock. You have two minutes. I’ll stop you when your time is up.”

Of course, this would never happen. So why am I asking you to imagine it? Because I am sure you would nothing to say beyond ‘It’s grey, it’s heavy… it’s a rock’. But if you can speak about a rock for two minutes, you should have absolutely no problem speaking about a more interesting topic for two minutes. And you need to be able to talk for two minutes about any of the possible IELTS topics, even if the examiner brings up a topic you’re not too familiar with.

So practise with a rock. Set a timer for two minutes and try to talk about this rock for two minutes. Think: description. Think: purposes. Think: history. Think: personal opinions.

If you can’t talk for that long, set your ideas to paper. Sometimes it’s easier to organize thoughts when they’re on the page. But take the paper away again when you begin to talk. After some practice, you should be able to talk about the rock as if it were your best friend. Maybe your best friend should be looking over their shoulder!

If you’re lucky enough to practise with a friend or fellow student, this actually becomes quite a fun activity as it can create some hilarious answers. Pick other boring, everyday objects to talk about, like a brick, a wall, or a toothbrush. No one to study with? I’d love to talk about rocks with you!

2. Language Exchange Websites

Many students of English don’t have the ability to practise their conversation skills, simply because there is nobody that they know who can speak English. In the past, this put these students at a huge disadvantage because they couldn’t practise speaking naturally. Now, with the internet, they can.

Although the best and fastest way to improve your speaking is to take IELTS lessons with a qualified native English IELTS teacher, there is another option for those who don’t have the money to spend on the best option. There are language exchange websites.

These websites, such as italki.com, allow you to practise your English with real English natives. And it doesn’t cost a penny. How do such services exist? Well, it’s not just you who wants to learn a language! These English natives will want to practise their Thai, or their Chinese, or their Japanese, or their Vietnamese, and will also want to talk with you in your native language. Besides being a great free way to practice your conversational skills, it’s also interesting to learn about other countries and their cultures.

One of the four band descriptors for IELTS Speaking is fluency and coherence (25% of your mark!), and the best way to work on these skills is to have conversations with people who speak English the most fluently and coherently: the natives. Just set up an account and get chatting!

All I will say is that you shouldn’t expect anything like a structured, goal-oriented learning experience, because, at the end of the day, you’re just having a conversation with someone across the other side of the globe (a pretty awesome thing in itself, mind). But if you’re just trying to refresh your conversational skills,  calm your nerves before the exam, or you just want some good conversation and are interested in English culture, then these websites are a great option.

3. Speaking Marathons

Just like a real marathon, this activity isn’t for those who give up easily. But that isn’t you, right? Of course not.

For this exercise, you will need: a timer, a set of IELTS topics cards (easy to make yourself – just write a topic like ‘Environment’ or ‘Work’ on a bit of card), a lot of ideas, and a steely determination to succeed.

Speaking marathons are far more enjoyable than real marathons. Sit down and relax.

Shuffle the IELTS topics cards and place them face down on the table. Start the timer for one minute, and flip over the first card so you can see what it says. Speak about this topic for one minute, then put the card to one side. Then restart the timer for three minutes, and flip over the next card. Speak about this topic for three minutes, then put the card to one side. Then restart the timer for five minutes, flip over the next card, and so on. Continue in increments of two minutes  for as long as you can.

This exercise is fantastic for two reasons.

1: Just like in the real exam, you won’t know what you are going to talk about. Having the cards face down gives you the same lack of warning.

2: The challenge to talk for as long as you can, in ever-increasing increments, will develop your ideas on IELTS topics and give you plenty to talk about in the exam.

Again, if you can do this with a friend or fellow student, you’re at an advantage because this friend can make notes on your pronunciation, coherency, grammar, and vocabulary. Even better if you can talk to a tutor who has the training and experience in making these sort of notes and helping students to improve. If you don’t have either, you can still record your own voice and take notes when you play it back.

 

4. Vocabulary Volcanoes

Picture a volcano. It’s a magnificent thing, but 99.9% of the time it is completely silent, unmoving, stable. You wouldn’t pay it much attention. It’s only when it erupts that it evokes awe and wonder.

Think of your vocabulary as a volcano in a stable (or dormant) state. It’s pretty nice to look at, but a bit stale, a bit boring. Not much going on there. How can we get the volcano rumbling? How can we get it shooting out hot words and start making people pay attention? Vocabulary volcanoes.

Vocabulary volcanoes take your vocabulary from average to awesome. So what are they exactly?

Pick up a pen and paper and write down this word: understand. I’m sure you’ve seen the word before, but let’s use it as an example. On it’s own, it’s a good word to have for your exam – you may use it a lot when talking about work, about education, about politics. It’s a nice volcano. But we want more. We want an eruption. 

Firstly, let’s pick out more word forms. ‘Understand’ is a verb. What is the noun? ‘Understanding’. What is the adjective? ‘Understood’ (or, in a different context, ‘understandable’). What is the adverb? ‘Understandably’. Then we can pick out the negatives. ‘Misunderstand’. ‘Misunderstanding’. ‘Misunderstood’. We’ve taken one word and added 6. But let’s not stop there.

Return to ‘understand’. What are the possible collocations (words that often go with it)? How about: to have an understanding / a misunderstanding. The collocation here is the verb ‘have’ – we often use ‘have’ with the noun form of understand – ‘understanding / misunderstanding’. We talk about people being understandably upset or understandably happy to show the we know why someone is feeling a particular emotion. The collocation here is with ‘understandably’ and particular emotions.

There’s a lot you can write down here, so I won’t waste your time, but just keep a page in your notebook open, and whenever you hear a new collocation, add it to the book. It will increase your vocabulary and make you sound more native at the same time.

I hope these activities will come in useful when you sit down to prepare for your Speaking exam. If you have any speaking activities that you like to use, and which aren’t mentioned above, please let me and my students know! Write a comment below and share your knowledge with the world. Thanks!