December 2015
Teaching in Practice Upcoming Events [an error occurred while processing this directive]Resource for Teaching
Readers' Poll Exam Services Burning Questions

What do the experts say about the time needed to progress from one IELTS band score to the next? Read on


Do you have the IELTS teacher role of language analyser/doctor? Read more here


New waves of Exploring English Moocs just started, come and join!

Teaching in Practice


Teachers might think that, because their students are preparing for IELTS, the students' needs are very clear – to pass the IELTS test with the best possible score. But is this enough? In this article, language assessment consultant Olena Rossi looks at the role of two broad types of teacher skill: teacher as a doctor and teacher as analyser of student needs.

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We often hear teachers and their students asking how to get a higher band score in a short period. In this 'Inspired by the literature' article, Olena Rossi, one of our language assessment experts, brings together some of the research findings to help us answer the question of how much time is needed to move a band.

Click here to read the full story

Upcoming Events

Exploring English MOOCs just started!

Our current MOOC for learners is Exploring English: Magna Carta. It started on 30 November and there's still time to join in. If you have full schedule in December, our Exploring English: Shakespeare would be another great option for you!

By the way, did you know that the British Council's Understanding IELTS MOOC for IELTS students has had over 730,000 people join? Were you or your students one of them? Let us know!

Click here to view our MOOCs


Life in the past lesson

Often in IELTS speaking part 3, candidates might be encouraged to comment on life in their country in the past. The lesson plan and student worksheet, which links to our Magna Carta MOOC, focuses on life in England 800 years ago. The lesson focuses on past tenses as well as interesting facts e.g. If you had toothache 800 years ago, would you go to: (A) the barbers/hairdressers (B) the chemists? Click on the link to find out more.

Click here to view our MOOCs

Readers' Poll

What's the earliest shops should start to put up Christmas decorations?

a) The week before Christmas day
b) Beginning of December
c) In November
d) In September
e) They shouldn't decorate their shops for Christmas

Click here to vote

Exam Services

2016 test date and test fee released

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New test centre in Shanghai

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New test centre in Zhongshan

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Deadline for test registration will be extended

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New UKVI test centre in Beijing

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Burning Questions!

Do you have questions about teaching, English or IELTS that you would really love an answer to? Send them to 

Remember, we also have a Frequently Asked Questions list on, for you to visit!

Dear Colin

This is Shao Lizhen from Hubei.

Thank you for your sharing of the latest information and teaching resources in the IELTS Teacher workshop [in November]. It was nice to have my knowledge of IELTS refreshed, and the teaching methods and materials you introduced could be really supportive to my future teaching.

However, I've got a question that I am confused about.

For Speaking band descriptors, when you referred to Lexical Resource, you clarified the difference between "precise words" and "big words" for "less common words", but what about idioms? As the phrase "idiomatic vocabulary" appears only in band 7 description and above, as "uses some less common and idiomatic vocabulary…", which means if someone is targeted at band 7 or above in lexical resource, he/she must show his/her understanding of and be able to use idioms in the test.

Therefore, as a teacher, shall I teach and encourage students to use idioms? As for me, some of the idioms are really NOT COMMON, and sometimes it is odd to use idioms in informal talking, just as what you mentioned about "cheng yu" in Chinese, which makes you sound not real in daily conversation if you use a lot of them. But "idiomatic vocabulary" is there in the band descriptors! Thus, I am quite confused about this, and hesitated in teaching idioms to students.

What should I do? If it is essential for me to teach idioms, do you have any suggestions of effective teaching methods or teaching materials, like which idioms are more actively used by native speakers?

Your suggestions would be of great value to me. I'm looking forward to your reply.

Hi Shirley,

Thank you for your questions. Hopefully the following will be useful 

You are correct when you say that some idioms are not common and sound odd when use in informal spoken language. For this reason the band descriptors don't talk about idioms but rather idiomatic vocabulary/language i.e. vocabulary that is characteristic of native-like speech. It's not about using those very colourful idioms such as 'it's raining cats and dogs' or 'every coin has two sides'. It's more to do with using language which is typically used by native speakers. For the classroom, this means focussing on collocations and colligation. Making sure that students find and learn sequences of (high-frequency) words such as fixed expressions, semi-fixed expressions which they hear very proficient users of English saying.

A simple classroom activity is to work with good quality audio transcripts. After students have understood the ideas in the transcript, ask them to categorise words, and probably more importantly sequences of words, into three groups: 'English words/sentence patterns/sentences that I use', 'English words/sentence patterns/sentences that I understand but don't use', 'English words/sentence patterns/sentences that I don't know'. Then get them to ignore the final group of words ('English words/sentence patterns/sentences that I don't know') and try to retell the passage using the words in the first two groups. This exercise focusses on moving passive knowledge into active use. As a teacher you can also see what kind of language patterns they focus on, after all, a good learner will be able to identify what is useful and what is not useful for usage – often poor learners just fill up their brain with more and more individual words and often words which aren't used that much.

From a research perspective you could also look at this article:…on pages 17 and 18 you can see examples of idiomatic vocabulary.

Hope this helps!

By the way, could I use your questions in our IELTS Newsletter?



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