Common problems in teaching IELTS essay

Teaching IELTS essays: problems and solutions

Teaching IELTS essays: problems and solutions


  • Writing
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

IELTS Writing Task 2 requires candidates to write an essay. More specifically, test takers should be able to present and justify their opinion, suggest and develop arguments, evaluate, summarise, elaborate on the causes and suggest solutions, etc. All this makes teaching essay writing a challenging task for teachers.  

In this article, we are going to focus on several common problems teachers often face and suggest some practical solutions

How to teach IELTS Writing?

7 tips

1. Students did not understand the task well and went off topic in their essays

In this case, it is of great importance to teach the students how to analyse the task. You can prepare a task that will check how your students understand the topic of the essay and the task. This can be done in the form of questions or True/ False statements

For example, the essay task is as follows: 

Some people think that art is an essential subject for children at school while others think it is a waste of time.

Discuss both views and give your opinion.

The suggested questions could be:

  1. What is the topic of the essay? (art as a school subject / the value of art as a school subject in the curriculum)
  2. How many views are expressed in the task? (two)
  3. What are the views? (1 — art is an essential subject at school; 2 — art is a waste of time)
  4. What should you write about in the essay? (discuss 2 views and give your own opinion)
  5. Should you express your opinion? (yes)

2. Students use simple vocabulary and grammar

First of all, it is crucial to raise students’ awareness of the importance of using advanced vocabulary and grammar in order to obtain a higher score. You can show the public descriptors and explain how the essay is assessed.

In terms of practical solutions, while correcting the essay and giving feedback, you can suggest more advanced alternatives for grammar structures and vocabulary. Another way of dealing with this problem is to collect some common simple grammar and vocabulary, e.g., “I think”, “good”, simple linkers “and”, “but”, “because” and during the lesson, ask the students to think how to upgrade them and suggest more advanced synonyms.

Tips for assessing students' writing

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3. Students have problems with organising the essay in clear paragraphs

While solving this problem, it is important to familiarise the students with the structure of writing tasks and an essay in particular. To begin with, read and analyse a sample essay with the students. Give your students an essay task and elicit what they think the structure should be like, for example, how many paragraphs they can write and what each paragraph will focus on. 

IELTS Essay Types and Structure

Then, let your students read the sample essay and analyse it: elicit the number of paragraphs and the function of each one. At this moment compare the students’ predictions and see how accurate they were. If this task turns out to be complicated, you can suggest that your students do a matching exercise — match the paragraph and its function, for example

1 Paragraph  

A — main body paragraph analysing View 1

2 Paragraph

B — introduction 

3 Paragraph

C — conclusion and the opinion

4 Paragraph

D — main body paragraph analysing View 2

Then elicit what each paragraph consists of, e.g., introduction — a paraphrased task, opinion and the essay focus. 

In order to raise the students’ awareness of the essay structure, you can suggest the following activities: 

  • ask the students to put the paragraphs of the essay in the correct order; 
  • give the essay as one text without division into paragraphs and ask the students to divide the essay into paragraphs.

4. Students have problems with writing the arguments in the main body

The main problem here is connected with the fact that students may often fail to build up arguments logically. Instead, they tend to write a story without a clear structure.

In order to tackle this problem, first and foremost, show the sample of the main body paragraph and analyse the structure. Here, the students can label the parts of the paragraph and identify the topic sentence, main arguments, supporting details, and examples. 

After that, you can move on to more complicated tasks:

  • ask the students to put the sentences of the main paragraph in the correct order;
  • give the paragraph without a topic sentence and suggest 3 options of the topic sentence for the students to choose and justify their choice;
  • give the paragraph without the topic sentence and ask the students to write it themselves;
  • give the prompts for the arguments and supporting details and ask the students to develop them in full sentences. 

5. Students do not seem to have a clear idea of how to begin to write an essay

Essay writing may seem a daunting task for many students as they often do not know how to start the writing process. 

First, make sure you show the cycle of the essay writing preparation and do it with the students. What we mean is doing the task analysis, brainstorming the ideas, and planning the structure. See if you can actually do it with the students and then elicit what they have just done. After that, the students are supposed to write the essay, edit and proofread it. 

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We hope that the practical ideas and the examples of the suggested exercise will help you to tackle some of the problems and will enable you to develop your students’ writing skills. 

Article authors & editors
  • Olena Bochkarova

    Olena Bochkarova


    DELTA, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English, IELTS Prep, International Speaking Examiner



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