Although I get more and more requests to assist my learners with their IELTS exam preparations, the exam, or at least aspects of it, remains elusive to me. Due largely to my inexperience in teaching for this test, I endeavoured to learn more about approaches to teaching IELTS materials and this increasingly popular exam itself by reviewing Oxford’s Foundation IELTS Masterclass books. This work is geared towards candidates at the IELTS band of 4.5 to 5.5, which correlates with the Common European Framework of Reference’s (CEFR) B1/B2.
The first plus I noticed in the Masterclass Student’s Book (SB) was the Guide to the IELTS Exam on pages 4 and 5. So often books leave such guides out and I end up searching for how long the writing section is, for instance, on the internet or flipping through textbook pages. The SB is additionally very clearly laid out, with a section of 10 topic-based, colourful units, followed by an Information File, which contains information missing from the units themselves, such as sample writing answers and speaking parts for pairwork.
The next file in the SB is the Grammar File, which the Teacher’s Pack (TP) suggests be used for general revision. It offers a brief outline of a grammatical concept, followed by short exercises. Unfortunately, the organisation of this valuable section of the book puzzles me. It appears to be organised according to the difficulty of the grammar topic. It begins, for instance, with ’It’ and ‘There’ (Empty subjects)” and ends with the passive. The page reference to that initial grammar topic is page 68, whereas the third grammar topic, ‘Much/Many/A lot of’ appears already on page 39 in the SB. In contrast, the first unit of the SB refers to a Grammar File entry, Gerunds already on page 9. I think the link between the Grammar File and the units could have been easier to follow had the areas covered either been chronologically ordered, based on a grammar concept (tenses, followed by conditionals, for instance), or alphabetized.
The Vocabulary File, in contrast, is laid out according to the units and offers an additional page of exercises per unit. Those ten pages offer a variety of exercises and are well thought out. Finally, the Study Skills and Writing Files, as well as the Exam Tips and the IELTS Practice Test are practical additions to the SB. Thorner and Rogers also included the audio script of the listening tasks, which I find invaluable.
One of my favourite characteristics of Foundation IELTS Masterclass is the full-page, colour infographic with the unit’s topic and ‘What do you think?’ questions at the start of each unit. So often in other textbooks the starter activity is on a page with other tasks, such as reading or vocabulary. Using such introductory activities, some of my students will jump right in to the following task and won’t focus on what is to be discussed. Thorner and Rogers found a clever way around that.
The authors have been generous with the page layout, spreading the content out in an appealing and non-overwhelming manner. Having taught for many years, I find cramped pages of textbooks discouraging and frustrating, so this is a very welcomed approach. My final praise for the SB goes to the Exam Challenge, which falls on the last half page of each unit. After having done several exam-related tasks in the unit, all of which should be sufficient regarding giving the learner exam feedback, the final challenge offers one last test of skills. This is not a typical review of a unit, but a timed task, speaking activity, reference to the Practice Test, or writing challenge. It’s surprisingly refreshing while still being focused on the unit’s content.
The Teacher’s Pack is less enticing being in black and white. However, it offers many optional activities and background notes, which I find helpful. For example, unit one’s listening topic is Private Tuition for which the TP gives updated information on how many pupils you’d find in a British state school, which my students would surely find interesting. The TP also includes a DVD with sample IELTS speaking test interviews, which complements the materials in the books.
I can recommend Oxford’s Foundation IELTS Masterclass book to teachers looking for engaging exam preparation materials for their 4.5 to 5.5. IELTS exam candidates. If you choose to use the materials, make sure you get a copy of the SB as well as the TP, since you’ll otherwise miss out on the colourful and motivating materials.