How to prepare for Academic IELTS in 35 hours (+ free syllabus)

It's Leave the Office Early Day! (1)

I have been preparing others for Academic IELTS for more than five years now, and I can see its growing popularity – especially among young people who want to study abroad. To be honest, I do encourage my students to choose a nice university abroad – most Polish universities are not famous for their friendly and creative atmosphere.

Yup, I may be extrapolating my own experiences, I’d be happy to be wrong but somehow I don’t think I am…

The only problem with IELTS is that people usually wake up a bit too late – the most typical opening is: “I want to study abroad and I need to pass Academic IELTS with band 7 in five months, but I can only meet once a week”. At first I considered the idea of smashing a head (either mine or the student’s) against a table, but after some time I got used to it and I decided I simply need to adjust my approach and rise up to the challenge. Because if there is one thing certain about Academic IELTS it’s this: if you are a typical young adult who wants to pass IELTS with band 7, you won’t make it with self-study only.

The idea I came up with regarding IELTS preparatory course was designing a curriculum for a new one, focusing solely on the exam techniques and being supplemented by general English classes depending on student’s proficiency level and needs. Being a DoS in a private language school gave me the opportunity to offer our students two independent ways of IELTS preparation – a typical general English course to develop language skills and a specialised intensive course preparing strictly for Academic IELTS.

The general English course is offered to students as a highly personalised way of developing linguistic abilities and improving communication skills. Some students need a full course to achieve the level required to pass IELTS at expected band, others want to polish some particular skills during individual classes. From the organisational point of view they may be allocated to various types of already existing courses (communication, grammar -oriented etc.) without the necessity of organising a typical level-oriented exam preparation course. Moreover, a second teacher is very helpful when it comes to giving feedback on student’s progress and implementing individual work.

The intensive IELTS preparatory course may be as short as 18 weeks (including two mock tests) giving the possibility of preparing to the test much quicker than during a traditional course (not to mention time required for a school to start a test-preparatory group on a particular level).

It worked pretty well with my students for the last few years, but it was mainly thanks to the coursebook I chose. The book that allows me to plan and conduct such an intensive course is Direct to IELTS” by Sam McCarter (Macmillan). It’s a really great book, but it must be noted that even if techniques are the same for every test candidate, a teacher must personalise the course to a much higher extent than a traditional one. Depending on students’ goal I supply them with the vocabulary exercises from books like Check Your Vocabulary for IELTS” by Rawdon Wyatt (Macmillan) and Check Your Vocabulary for Academic English” by David Porter (Macmillan).

To make your life easier, I prepared a syllabus for my course – feel free to download and use it, as I share it under the Creative Commons license: IELTS syllabus

As you see, there’s a huge amount of exercises I marked as “suggested homework” – simply because there will be no time in-class to cover the whole book, however, it offers a great possibility for further self-study practice I find irreplaceable, especially when a student’s copy has its own key.

Are you surprised with the amount of work? So are my students – but when we run through the test tasks and try the speaking part (which they naively believe to be easy), they begin to comprehend the challenge. And the result? All of my students who worked hard and followed my instructions passed with the result they expected – some of them decided to study abroad, some preferred to stay home, but I’m really proud of them all.

If you want to try and follow my syllabus but you’re stuck somewhere or have a question – let me know in the comments, or on my Facebook page, I’ll be happy to help.





Murders in the classroom (doom doom!)

Murdersin theClassroom

It’s September, which means most of you have just finished well-earned holidays and got back to school. Yay, I guess? Well, ever since I escaped the gilded cage of public educational system my favourite back-to-school activity is drinking morning coffee on the balcony watching pupils all in white and navy, trotting hopelessly to celebrate the first day of school.

Yes, I’m evil, I know.

Oh, you already hate me? Good, good, let the hate flow through you… Because sometimes even hate can bring you fun in the classroom. Or murders, in this case. Seriously, I think everyone, teachers and students alike, feels more or less murderous in September, especially on Mondays. So what can we do? Absolutely: bring proper crime to the classroom, have fun and relieve the negative feelings!

If I were to list my favourite authors, Agatha Christie would be in top ten – I love murder mysteries and I find them a really nice activity in the EFL classes as students actively use a lot of vocabulary items and grammar constructions – be they on pre-intermediate level or ready for their CAE exam. So today I want to share some of the mystery-solving activities I’ve been working with for a surprisingly long time, and they’re still loved by my students.

Murder in the Classroom by Graine Lavin

Level: pre-intermediate+

Min. number of students: 7

I absolutely love this game because the victim is a cranky English teacher – purrfect! It’s a school reunion party and the person who dies seems to be an old spinster… but the truth is far more complex: love, hate and guilt end up with a crime – and everyone is a suspect!

Mystery at Mr. Grim’s Mansion by Graine Lavin

Level: intermediate and above

Min. number of students: 3

When an old rich man invites a lot of people to the party and suddenly dies, there are more secrets to be revealed than one can truly wish for. During investigation one question arises: had anyone ever liked Mr. Grim?


I already wrote a note about Mystery of the Abbey which is one of my favourite games ever, as you can play it with students on all levels.

The other game my friend recommended and I played with my students more than once is Deception: Murder in Hong-Kong. In the game, players take on the roles of Investigators attempting to solve a murder case – but there’s a twist. The killer is one of the investigators (which makes everything even funnier). Each player’s role and team are randomly assigned at the start of play and include the unique roles of Forensic Scientist, Witness, Investigator, Murderer, and, optionally, Accomplice. While the Investigators attempt to deduce the truth, the Murderer’s team must deceive and mislead in a classic battle of wits. The Forensic Scientist has the solution but can express the clues only using special scene tiles while the investigators (and the murderer) attempt to interpret the evidence. I have changed the rules slightly and as I usually am the Forensic Scientist (who’s a Game Master, to put it simply) I am completely silent, just hovering my finger above the scene tiles, making students talk and guess. I find this board game great for all students from A2 to C2: it’s fun, very communicative and witty.

19 Murder Mysteries

A great collection of murder mystery worksheets can be found on iSLCollective – be they dialogues, activities focusing on describing pictures and locations or using Past Simple and Past Continuous in the game of Alibi. There is even a lovely worksheet for one of the most terrifying murder films ever!

I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun – you and your students alike. You don’t really have to bring props (although it greatly adds to the effect), but I’m sure once you start incorporating a little bit of crime in your classes, you’ll appreciate its communicative merit.


your Evil Mistress of the World (in the Making).

7 Free Online Courses in September


Between all the new school year themed workshops and IATEFL I feel like I’m back at school… only as a student. It’s an interesting feeling for someone who’s left her official educational process years ago, but it’s always better to learn new things than forget the old ones.

If you feel you could do with a little bit of learning yourselves, worry not – here’s my traditional set list of seven great courses you may enjoy in September: they’re online, they’re free, they’re awesome! And since I remember how hectic Septembers can be for teachers, I’ve tried to find courses that are either short or self-paced, so you can start them on your own:

1 Creating Effective Online and Blended Courses by Stanford University

If you’ve ever thought of switching your classes online (to a lesser or greater degree), this course may be a good beginning. It is designed to help develop online courses or incorporate online learning approaches in on-campus classes. It’s also nice for those who are rather busy: modules are self-paced, so there are no deadlines, and the materials will be available indefinitely for you to work through on your own schedule.

2 Becoming an Expert Learner by Northpoint Bible College

This course will explore the diversity of intelligences – and helping develop student’s own. You will also explore study and note-taking methods and techniques to support a variety of learners, helping each to become an expert learner. This course may be great for teachers who want to experiment on various methods of teaching – it may also be useful for your students.

The course is also self-paced, which means you can take it or leave it whenever you want.

3 Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills by University of Melbourne

This course explains the social and cognitive skills that are known as 21st century skills. It focuses on their representation in the curriculum, but also explores how teachers can recognise these skills in students, how the level of skill of a learner can be assessed, and then how learners can be supported to develop their skill. This course is designed for teachers who are wondering exactly how they can incorporate teaching and assessment of 21st century skills into their classrooms.

The course starts on the 25th of September and takes 6 weeks.

4 Positive Behavior Support for Young Children by University of Washington

This is an experimental course, hence no certificates will be given, however, it may turn out to become a proper support for those teachers who start working with kids. A lot of children may happen to experience various issues, and this course will focus on current research on the developmental trajectory of children with early-onset aggressive behaviours; positive behaviour support program models; and intervention efforts that promote positive early childhood mental health.

The course is self-paced, which means you can take it or leave it whenever you want.

5 Business English for Cross-cultural Communication by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Everyone who’s ever dealt with international business knows how important CCC (cross-cultural communication) is. This course is focused on common cross-cultural theories and how they are relevant to everyday business practices in a globalised world. You are going to learn some savoir-vivre tips along with strategies to overcome possible cross-cultural issues and misunderstandings in communication. I find this course great not only for teachers, but also students of Business English.

The course starts on the 4th of September and takes 6 weeks.

6 TOEFL® Test Preparation: The Insider’s Guide by ETS

This course may turn out to be extremely useful not only for teachers, and not only in September. This course is highly interactive, using videos, sample questions with explanations, short quizzes and collaborative discussion boards, so anyone deciding to take this test will learn all they need to know. Moreover, this test preparation course is developed by the experts who create, administer and score the TOEFL® test. In addition, there will be free resources and discounted test prep offers throughout the course.

Here’s the best thing: the course is self-paced, which means you can take it or leave it whenever you want.

7 Understanding Classroom Interaction by University of Pennsylvania

This course is perfect for the beginning of school year. Have you ever wondered why some classroom discussions are lively and engaging and others more like painful interrogations? Why everybody (or nobody) laughs at a teacher’s jokes? You’ll learn the analytic tools to answer these and more questions about classroom communication. Sounds great and is probably my pick of the month!

The course starts on the 19th of September and takes 5 weeks.

I hope you’ll pick something useful for you – let me know which course you’ve decided to participate in!


From Goal Setting to the Effect – workshop with Luiza Wójtowicz-Waga

From Goal Setting to the

I’ve been learning Spanish for a while now and it’s been a great time, save for a time when my profesora was replaced by a native. The new profesora was a really nice lady, I guess, and a teacher with an impressive potential for development; the thing was, however, we had no proper coursebook and relied on her materials… and I had no idea what was going on in the class, what new skills I developed, what things I was supposed to learn. I tried talking to her DoS, but soon I got frustrated and eventually I quit.

This “traumatic” experience made me an advocate for a clear specification of the lesson goal and, naturally, sharing it with students. So when Luiza, who’s a highly experienced trainer and a very inspiring woman, invited me to her workshop on goal setting, I was on cloud nine.

Goal setting a’la holiday planning

Goal setting is pretty much like going on holidays, explains Luiza. First, you choose your destination and then you plan your journey and pack your luggage.

The most important aspect of a goal, though, is its relevance. Guided by Luiza we worked hard trying to make our goals SMART (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-bound) and then making them appropriate for our students’ needs (depending on their age, type of classes etc.). To make this task more challenging, we worked on sign-posting methodology – addressing the goal not only at the beginning and the end of the lesson, but keeping it visible throughout all activities.

Do I even need this?

The most difficult activity was, as always, defining the goal and making it relevant both from students’ perspective and from teacher’s viewpoint. “Do I really need this?” was the question we imagine our students ask, and we planned our goals accordingly.

“Student learns how to describe a photo” doesn’t really sound exciting for any student, but we can add a little bit of magic by paraphrasing it into “student can describe a crime scene basing on a photo”. The activity will be pretty much the same, but suddenly the goal sounds more useful – and that’s why students’ brains will accept the unavoidable necessity of acquiring knowledge with ease.


Sugar, spice and everything nice

I’m not going to reveal all the secrets I’ve learnt – but we discussed Test-Teach-Test approach, an amazing activity-planner idea by Ewa Torebko (I’m going to share it soon, because this particular idea deserves a separate note, it’s sooo awesome), von Restorff effect and John Hattie’s ideas.

Things I’ve learnt? How important the last exercise is, how easily you can manage the whole goal-setting process and how important summary of the classes is.

If you ever have the chance to attend this workshop – do not hesitate, simply put your name on the list and prepare for a great time: six hours of learning, fun and meeting new, friendly and inspiring people.

Just be sure to take the next day off work, your mind will be buzzing!

7 lifesaving websites for EFL teacher

7 websites

I already made one list of my favourite websites months ago, but there are so many great things you find while websurfing that I’ll probably make more of such sets.

Also, it can be easily seen that I love making lists.

Being a DoS I happen to be a “victim” of non-English language teachers complaining that English teachers “have it easy”. Well, I have to admit that’s quite true… So let’s use some of the great sources we may find online – and here’s my present top seven:

1 Twinkl

I’ve already written about some features that are great for teaching English (Spring Poems – lesson plan and Twinkl Imagine), especially communication. But the site itself is far more than that and I encourage everyone to browse it a bit – I’m sure you’ll find something to your liking. I’d definitely use Twinkl for CLIL classes. Perfect source for home schooling as well.

2 Truetube

It’s one of the websites my fellow teacher showed me (thanks, Krzysiek!) and I find it a great source of topics perfect for teenagers and young adults: culturally relevant, sometimes taboo, sometimes controversial – great for discussion, and full of various authentic accents, awesome help for the students who love debating serious issues.

3 Elllo

When we’re talking about accents and listening, I have to admit Elllo is top of the tops. It’s an online library of thousands of free lessons with audio or video materials for all language levels. It’s a real treasure chest with each lesson having audioscript, grammar part and a quiz. You can use it in the classroom or encourage students to use the exercises at home.

4 Lyrics training

Students usually like learning a language by listening to music. This website provides you with literally everything: popular songs, fill-in-the-blank exercises on four levels (from beginner to expert) and it’s not only in English! Now the teachers of other languages may brighten their lessons with Rammstein or Despacito (oh, sweet Cthulhu).

5 Busy Teacher 

Warning: you may spend hours browsing through this website and finding more and more useful stuff: articles, posters, warm-ups, review materials and lesson plans galore! Seriously, with this site you’d be able to teach a proper 120-hour course without even a page from a coursebook. Awesome help from a busy teacher… to a lazy one.

6 Flo-Joe

If you’re stuck with Cambridge exams, or simply want to prepare your students for their FCE, CAE or CPE test – that’s the best source you’ll find on the Net. All the exams are clearly explained, and there’s a lot of exercises on skills development. There are also practice tests, and there’s never too many of those!

7 Film-English

I’ve used this website more than once, as it’s the perfect source of films and communicative exercises connected to various topics – friendship, growing up, life as it is… You can adapt those free lessons to various needs, age groups and language levels and have fun with all your students.


I hope you’ll like the websites I’ve shortlisted today – they’re really helpful for teachers who want to bring something new to the classroom… Or who are basically quite lazy (like yours truly).


Role-Playing Teaching (Part 1:Why do we play games?)


Why do weplay games (3)

I guess I’ve mentioned more than once that I really love role-playing games and I can tell they’re pretty much like educational process – I’ve decided to write a series of short blog-notes about this phenomenon, explaining why games, especially RPGs, are so vital in my approach to teaching.

Some of you have probably heard about RPGs, but I need to clarify one important thing – I’m not going to talk about computer games (so-called cRPGs), I’m going to focus only on good, old pen-and-paper ones (yeah, like Dungeon & Dragons or Warhammer) as their construction and communicative aspect are the most important aspects.

Before I get to RPGs themselves I want to focus on the idea of a game – it can be easily observed that games are more and more popular in TEFL, and in teaching in general, they are enjoyed by students and teachers alike and I wonder: have you ever thought what is the reason of the enjoyment?

Well, before answering this question, the main problem is the game itself. Have you ever tried to define it? Ludwig von Wittgenstein tried (and died, oops), and came to conclusion that each explanation we’re able to construct only restricts the concept of the game – thanks, philosophers! Fortunately there were some academics who got inspired by Wittgenstein’s endeavours and tried to define it nonetheless.

In his book “Games People Play”, Eric Berne (who was a psychiatrist, but he also came up with an idea of transactional analysis, one of the most wicked ideas from a linguistic point of view) defined game as “an ongoing series of complementary ulterior transactions progressing to a well-defined, predictable outcome. (…) Every game (…) is basically dishonest, and the outcome has a dramatic, as distinct from merely exciting, quality”. Marta Wołos in her study gives her own classification of the game, based on ludicity of a game, existence of rules, established and repeatable structure, an element of choice or chance and artificiality of the world of the game.

So we know that the game is a series of established and repeatable activities/transactions where the participants know the rules and try to use them (or cheat, but that’s still playing according to rules), where the world is artificial and there is always an element of chance or choice.

Now, to the main question: why do we play games? When we look at the cultural aspect, we can see how imitative children games teach archetypes and social roles without which society can’t exist. At least Jung said so.

But what about the adults? What about games we bring to our classrooms?

One might think playing games is a form of escapism (quite a common theory when we talk about video games), however there’s more to that. Eric Berne says games are helpful in relieving the tension caused by social pressure. The opportunity of playing games is also helpful for people who are shy or not keen on showing emotions in public. Johan Huizinga (probably the first person to look at the games from a scientific point of view) mentioned four aspects that make games enjoyable: direct competition between players (e.g. snakes&ladders), chance activities (like gambling), mimicry (acting out in role-plays) and pleasure of movement (most games for children).

Everyone enjoys either some form of competition, or a little bit of (safe!) gambling. People like showing emotions by acting out someone else. We all feel that playing a game is a way of relaxing from everyday life and its stress.

That’s why we play games – unconsciously looking for a way of learning by proxy, trying to introduce some fun into tedious classes. How many students have you met who claimed there were “too many” games in the classroom and they “didn’t feel they were learning”? It’s because they associate games with pastime, and not with educational process. Now, you and I know better, right?

Role-Playing Games are special snowflakes when it comes to playing games. They are amazing not only from the educational perspective, but also from psychological, linguistic and sociological point of view. I am going discuss RPGs in the next part of my short series.

If you want to read more on the topic:

Berne, Eric (1996): Games People Play, Ballantine Books

Wołos, Marta (2002): Koncepcja gry językowej Wittgensteina w świetle badań współczesnego językoznawstwa, Kraków: UNIVERSITAS

Huizinga, Johan (1938): Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture (you can read it here)

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953): Philosophical Investigations (you can read it here)


5 free online courses in August

Tidal Rise

Aaaaand my summer break is over – I didn’t write literally a single word during the past fortnight. No, I wasn’t chilling out, I was doing a total makeover of my flat: painting walls, changing floors – I really love the results of my endeavours, especially that I have learnt something really valuable: doing physical work puts your mind at ease. Sure, you may revise your Maths while calculating the amount of paint you shall need for this particular wall, but I didn’t think about my work, teaching, CPD – and even though I’m slightly tired physically I do feel mentally rested.

Still, I’m not going to do similar makeover in this decade, thank you very much.

August is actually on, so this time I have only 5 online courses you may still catch up on and enjoy while the summer lasts.

1 Becoming a Confident Trainer by TAFE SA

If you’ve just started working with adult learners it’s a course for you: focusing on gaining confidence, and understanding an idea of a trainer as someone who presents concepts in a professional manner, is an effective communicator and has developed an awareness of the learning needs of their learner group.

The course started on the 7th of August and ends on the 5th of September.

2 Art & Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies For Your Classroom by the Museum of Modern Art

This is a very interesting course focusing on integrating art into classroom environment, ways that you can incorporate inquiry around a work of art into your classroom and types of resources that you can access to supplement your lesson development and planning. It may be a really nice idea if you have a IWB in your classroom and want to show something special.

The course started on the 7th of August and lasts 4 weeks.

3 Teaching Tips for Tricky English Grammar by University of California, Irvine

That is a really great course for fresh teachers – it literally shows you some problematic areas of grammar common for most learners, and it gives you ideas on how to explain grammar so that you avoid your students’ frustration. It’s on the intermediate level (so you may recommend it to your students as well) and the issues include e.g. nouns, quantifiers, articles, word formation and phrasal verbs.

The course started on the 7th of August and lasts 4 weeks. You need to be able to make videos of yourself demonstrating your teaching, using a webcam or phone.

4 K-12 Blended & Online Learning by University System of Georgia

If you’re interested in incorporating technology in your classroom and your work with young learners either in a public school or in a private language centre, you may be really interested in what this course has to offer. You will not only focus on technology, but also on specific content and even creating syllabus! Frankly speaking, this course would be my pick of the month.

The course started on the 7th of August and lasts 8 weeks – plenty of time to learn.

5 Teaching EFL/ESL Reading: A Task Based Approach by University of London, UCL Institute of Education

Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) is the most common method alternative to the old PPP – and in this course you will get familiar with this approach. TBLT uses communicative tasks as the key unit for creating language learning activities. You will explore how TBLT and teaching second language reading can be successfully integrated in practice through analysing task-based reading materials.

The course starts on the 14th of August and takes 6 weeks.

As you can see from my set, Coursera doesn’t seem to have summer break! If you’re still on holidays you can spend some time on learning – and if you do, let me know which course you’ve chosen.

Enjoy your learning and your summer break (if you’re lucky to have one)!