Here are some ways of helping your students through parts 1 and 2 of the IELTS writing paper using minimal resources.

Writing part 1: Describing graphs

As a way of practising the language of graphs, the students could draw their own graphs. One student dictates their graph while the other draws what they hear and then vice-versa.This activity works well for practising the language they have learnt for describing graphs in earlier lessons and also demonstrates how clear their language of description really is.

Step one: Give each student two sheets of squared paper. Elicit from the students reasons for having graphs and what kind of information they could illustrate, e.g. rate of unemployment or inflation or sales of goods.

Step two: Get students to decide on a topic. Students draw their own graph on the squared pieces of paper. The ‘Y’ axis should represent the chosen topic with units given, e.g. sales in dollars and the ’X ’axis should represent time in years or months. Make sure the students give their graphs a title.

  • Don’t let the students see each other’s graphs before dictating. I usually tell the students that their graph contains secret information and to keep it well hidden.

Step three: Let the students dictate their graphs to each other and then compare only when finished. Also while one student is dictating their graph to the other don’t allow students to look at what the other is drawing.

  • Finally, don’t allow students to use their hands to convey meaning. Often students will be keen to illustrate the trend on their graph using sign language.

 See also, Sam McCarter’s material on describing graphs for IELTS. 

Writing part 1: Describing 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.

the life of a letter


Stage 2:

Elicit language for the 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 room The 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 1: Students rewrite the process using linking words, pronouns and relative pronouns e.g.: Firstly,………. next…………………….then…………….after that, etc.

For example:

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 2: 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 to illustrate the process.

Writing part 2: Language of comparison

You can do this on any topic but here I’ve given an example of comparing living in the city compared to living in the country. Not only does this activity help the students with grammar and vocabulary but it also gives them ideas of things to talk about in the speaking test and possibly what to write about in the writing test part 2.

Draw a table on the board as follows and elicit examples of the advantages of living in the country and the city. I use a smiley face to illustrate advantages. The students can continue the activity alone or in pairs.

Living in the cityLiving in the country

• Job opportunities

• Amenities

• Education

• Health

• Public Transport


• Peace and quiet

• Natural environment

• Communities

• Cost








Complete the table with the students’ answers. In the table only write the nouns. Now you have the nouns in the table the students can practise comparing the two using comparative structures, e.g. there are more job opportunities in the city while finding the job you want may be more difficult in the country.

You could decide beforehand what structures you want the students to practise. e.g. comparative -  than, on the one hand…….on the other hand, . This exercise kills many birds with one stone, e.g. forming comparatives, generating ideas, practising planning an essay, etc. You could do the same activity focusing on disadvantages.

Finally, it would be a good idea to get the students to write down some of their sentences or write an essay on the topic.