Number one for English language teachers

IELTS set two - writing part 1

Type: Teaching notes

Using the present simple passive to describe a process.

Time: 40 minutes +

Language focus: use of present simple passive to describe a process

Usually in part 1 of the IELTS exam candidates are asked to describe a graph, chart or table of data. Occasionally, however, candidates are given a diagram showing a process which they then have to describe in at least 150 words in approximately 20 minutes. Describing a process will make use of both the present simple and the present simple active tense.

Start with an activity that focuses on a process that all students will have a knowledge of. I’ve chosen the process "the life of a letter" to demonstrate this. The rationale behind this is that by focusing on a familiar process the students can focus on the language and not be confused by the process itself.

Stage 1

Draw the process on the board with each stage represented by a simple drawing, linking each stage with arrows. I've numbered the stages to make it clearer.



Stage 2

Elicit language for first stage – "The letter is written".

At this stage students may come up with 'someone writes a letter'. This is a great opportunity to revise or introduce the passive voice by asking questions such as:

Who writes the letter?

Is it important who writes the letter?

Are we interested in the person or the letter?

Put 'the letter' in the initial position i.e. The letter...........

Elicit the rest of the sentence. If students have some knowledge of the passive voice they will probably come up with:

The letter is written by somebody

Ask the students - Do we need 'by somebody' in the sentence? The answer is no because we are only interested in 'the letter'. So the final sentence for stage 1 should read 'the letter is written'.

You may need to focus on the structure of the passive voice at this stage, for example:

Somebody cleans the roomThe room is cleaned by somebody

Draw students’ attention to:

Change in position of 'the room'
The word 'is'
The word 'cleaned'
The word 'by'

For the passive voice

  • Why has the word 'the room' changed position? Because we are interested in the room not the person.
  • Why do we use the word 'is'? Because the passive voice always contains a form of the verb 'to be'.
  • Yes, but why 'is'? Because we are using the present voice and 'the room' is singular not plural (in which case we use 'are').

I like this step-by-step concept checking because it highlights whether students understand the concept, use and structure of the passive.

Get the students to copy the pictures from the board and in pairs let them work out the language for the other stages of the process writing down their ideas on their picture. The language produced will vary but you could get something like what is shown below:

  1. The letter is written
  2. The letter is put in an envelope
  3. An address is written on the letter and a stamp stuck on
  4. The letter is posted
  5. The post is collected and taken to the post office, where it is sorted
  6. The letter is delivered
  7. The letter is received, opened and read
  8. The letter is thrown away
  9. The rubbish is collected
  10. The paper is recycled
  11. The paper is bought from a shop
  12. The letter is written

Follow up activities

Activity one

  • Students rewrite the process using linking words, pronouns and relative pronouns e.g. firstly,.......... next.........................then................after that etc. e.g. Firstly the letter is written and then it is put in an envelope, which is addressed and a stamp stuck on. Next the letter is posted in a post box from where it is later collected. After that the post is taken to the post office where it is sorted..........

Activity two

  • Students think of a process that is familiar to them. This could be one that they know from a procedure at work or could be something more academic that they are interested in. They could draw simple pictures and prepare the language to tell the group. Get them to draw the pictures on the board or on an OHP transparency to illustrate the process.


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Readers' comments (1)

  • Great activities for IELTS Richard - I have found your ideas and suggestions really support the students. I have used your IELTS strategies with my class as quick reminders of the basic skills needed.
    Cheers, Helen

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