Tag Archives: IELTS

May I present Richard Brown (another PLN interview with the other half of IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills)

Richard Brown, me and Keith Barrs before a gruelling 10-mile race through gale-force winds and hailstones.

Richard Brown is another valuable member of my PLN that I would like to introduce to you all.  But more than that, he’s a good friend and a great guy.  So that’s disclosure out of the way. 🙂  While living and working in Spain he co-authored the new release, IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills, with Lewis Richards (whose interview can be read here).  I know Richard to be a great supporter of his fellow teachers with lots of great ideas and patience for his colleagues as well as his students.

I won’t bore you any further with introductions; over to Richard!

The Standard 5 Questions

1.  If your students were to describe you with 3 adjectives, what would they be?

I would like to think they would say passionate, patient and supportive. Maybe optimistic too?

2.  What would we find in your refrigerator right now?

Half a giant watermelon. I’ve been helping my friend down at his allotment here in Spain. It’s great because I learn about growing vegetables, a bit of Spanish culture and it saves me money at the same time!

3.  If you weren’t a teacher what might your profession be?

I originally trained and worked as a news journalist for 4 years and have always carried a passion for creative writing. Like many people, I think there is novel in me – I just haven’t been able to extract it quite yet.

4.  What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession?

This is a nice problem to have but I think as the teacher, you never stop learning new things. The challenge then is to find room for and assimilate all that knowledge as you go along, hopefully fine-tuning your craft as you go.

5.  What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?

The last book I read was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The book which I love to read again and again is What Should I Do With My Life by Po Bronson. It documents the real life accounts of 50 people from all walks of life and what they did when they faced this question at some stage in their lives. For me, it is a true work of art.

Extra Questions

6.  You and Lewis just finished writing a book together.  Why did you write it?

First and foremost we wrote IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills because as teachers of IELTS for many years we knew that there was a clear need for a step-by-step guide to the writing module. To our knowledge, this type of one-stop book simply does not exist. And I think another big reason was that Lewis and I share a lot of the same ideas about teaching and we felt it would be a good experience to work on a project such as this.

7.  Who is it for?

It’s for students wanting to develop their proficiency in writing in preparation for the IELTS exam, or for the teachers who are guiding them. We wanted to create a book which could be used as a self-study guide but also something which makes the difficult job of teaching IELTS writing more accessible for both novice teachers and those with more experience.

8.  Why are neither of you imparting your knowledge through twitter or a blog yet?

We’ve been too busy writing this book!!!   Actually, Lewis and I are ‘guest-blogging’ on Delta Publishing’s development blog from September until November so please have a look and tell us what you think. You can find the blog by following this link.

9.  What do you like to do to unwind?

Now that I’m living in Spain and pretty much fully immersed in the Spanish language and culture, I actually like nothing more than actually speaking English every once and a while because I don’t have to think about what verb ending to use or whether I should be using the subjunctive form. Joking aside, this experience is really helping me to gain a greater insight and respect for my learners and the challenges they face.

New York City (Picture from kylemccluer on Flickr)

10.  What’s your favourite place in the world?

New York City.  Unbelievable.

11.  What do you want to do in the next year and how can I help?

Live more in the moment. You can try it too and can compare notes.

Final Question

12.  Next time we see each other, whose round is it, what’s everyone having and where will we have it?

It’s definitely your round if I remember correctly, how about a glass of bubbly to celebrate the good times and as it’s your shout let’s go somewhere upmarket.  (Gordon – How about a picture of some champagne instead?)

Glasses of Bubbly (Picture from waldoj on Flickr)

Thanks to Richard for the interview and I look forward to seeing more of him and his work online (fingers crossed).  If you want to get IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills you can get it on Amazon or from The Book Depository with free worldwide delivery.

For more information from Lewis and Richard about the book, watch these videos:

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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in IELTS, PLN Interview


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Grammar & IELTS Writing (Blog Recommendation)

In the introduction to my PLN interview with Lewis Richards a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Lewis hadn’t started blogging yet.  I was very pleased to see last week that this was no longer the case.  May this be the first of many from him!

Grammar & IELTS Writing by Lewis Richards on the Delta Publishing Blog.  A look at tailoring and improving English grammar for written assignments.

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Posted by on September 15, 2011 in Grammar/Structure, Recommendations


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My PLN Interview with Lewis Richards, author of IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills

I’m very pleased to finally accept the challenge laid out many months ago – interview someone in your PLN.  I present to you a guy who isn’t particularly active online… yet.  He doesn’t have a Twitter account and he doesn’t have his own blog… yet.  Hopefully we can change his mind about that soon because I know he’s got a lot of really great ideas to share.

I first met Lewis Richards in 2008 when I started teaching in Portsmouth, England.  With enormous patience, he showed me the ropes with regard to something I was going to have to start teaching soon called Eyelets, or Yelts, or IELTS or something like that. 😉  With another fine colleague of mine, Richard Brown, the two of them set themselves the goal of writing a coursebook.  IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills is the result.

So without further ado, I present a multi-talented Lewis Richards!

The Standard 5 Questions

1.  If your students were to describe you with 3 adjectives, what would they be?

Hopefully, passionate about teaching, fun, hard-working.  But I reckon some would also say strict!

2.  What would we find in your refrigerator right now?

Not a lot.  Leftovers.  Rotting vegetables.  It’s lucky you can’t see it, really.  (Gordon – I know this can’t be true because Lewis is actually a very good cook!)

3.  If you weren’t a teacher, what might your profession be?

Hard to say, I’ve been teaching for so long, and enjoy it so much, that I can’t imagine anything else.  But I’ve always enjoyed writing, so maybe journalism.

4.  What do you find most difficult about the teaching profession, or What has been your most difficult class as a teacher?

It might sound cheesy, but I’ve enjoyed every class that I’ve taught.  But I did have a class a few years back in Moscow of total beginners, and a couple of the students couldn’t read or write in Russian, so it was quite tough to teach them English.  We had fun, but I’m not sure we made a great deal of progress.

5.  What was the last book/movie you read/saw, and what have you seen/read way too many times?

At the moment, I’m reading Ian McEwan’s ‘Solar’ – I only started reading his books recently, and I love his style and wit.  The book I re-read the most is Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’, even the hundredth time around it makes me laugh out loud.  A work of genius.

Extra Questions

6.  You’ve just finished writing a book with Richard.  Why did you write it?

Well, both of us have taught IELTS for a long time, about 15 years between us, and we found that although there are lots of good IELTS books on the market, we couldn’t find a single book that made it easy to teach the writing to students.  So we ended up writing our own exercises and material, and over the years accumulated hundreds of our own exercises for the writing part of IELTS.  And it’s worked, our students have always done really well in IELTS, particularly in the writing, so we knew that we were on the right track.

A couple of years ago we thought to ourselves ‘well, why don’t we put all these ideas together into a book’, and so we did.  We hope it will be really useful for students, and help them to get a 6.5 or above in the writing, and also I think the book is great for IELTS teachers – because it contains everything that students need to get a good score, and it’s quite user-friendly, and hopefully easy to teach with.

7.  Who is it for?

We decided to write the book so that students can use it either as a self-study book, because we know that a lot of IELTS candidates just don’t have the time or maybe the money to go to a language school and do an IELTS course.  There are a lot of professional people, like nurses and doctors, who need a high score in IELTS, and have good English, but need help with the writing because it’s quite specialised and technical, but because they are working, they don’t really have time to spend a couple of months in a language school.  I’ve met lots of students who spoke fantastic English, and got a 7.5 or 8 in the speaking part, but couldn’t manage a high score in the writing, because they hadn’t had any training.  Our book will help those people.

Of course, it’s also designed to be used in the class with a teacher – and one of the things we think is really important about the book is that every single exercise in it has been tried out in class many times – so we know that the book works.  The aim in terms of a score, is a minimum of 6.5, hopefully more.  We also drew on our experience as IELTS writing examiners to show students what is required to get these kinds of scores.  One of the things we wanted to put into the book were some real pieces of writing by our students, with our comments and scores, so that students can see what a 7.0 answer, for example, looks like.  We hope that these will be really useful.

8.  Why are neither of you imparting your knowledge through twitter or a blog yet?

Well, just speaking for myself, I’m not very up with the latest technology, I’m more of a paper and pen man, but I know I should drag myself into the 21st century!

9.  What do you like to do to unwind?

I’m really into tennis, I play a few times a week, and find that a really good game gets rid of stress, and keeps me fit.  Beer helps too!

10.  What’s your favourite place in the world?

I think I’d have to say Paris.   Not especially for the landmarks, although it is of course an amazingly beautiful city, but because it was the first place I lived and worked abroad, when I was in my early 20s, and the excitement of learning a language and living in a new culture for the first time is something I’ll never forget.

L'Arc de Triomphe, Paris (Photo from OliverN5 on Flickr)

11.  What do you want to do in the next year and how can I help?

There are several ideas for other books in the pipeline, but it’s a bit early to say exactly what at the moment.  But, probably some more writing, along with teaching, of course.  Feel free to keep talking about our books on your great website!

Final Question

12.  Next time we see each other, whose round is it, what’s everyone having and where will we have it?

Well, I think it’s definitely my round – you’re actually a rare Scot who’s very generous with money, so I’m sure I owe you a few!  Summertime, a nice cold beer, somewhere by the sea sounds perfect!

Looking forward to it! Photo from bovinity on Flickr

Thank you for the interview, Lewis.  I’m sure the book will be a great success and help many students around the world.  Here are the links to the various Amazon sites where the book is available nowIELTS Advantage: Writing Skills on Amazon UKAmazon FranceAmazon GermanyAmazon CanadaAmazon Austria and Amazon Japan.
For more information from Lewis and Richard about the book, watch these videos:


Posted by on September 6, 2011 in IELTS, PLN Interview, Recommendations


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IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills – A Review of the Sample Pages

Next month IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills will hit the shelves.  I have to own up to a personal interest in this book as I count the two authors, Richard Brown and Lewis Richards, among my good friends and not only that but they are also exceptionally inspiring teachers whose enthusiasm for their work has certainly rubbed off on me.

You’ll get to meet them in a few weeks when I post my first PLN interviews inspired by Brad Patterson’s challenge which I’m sure anybody who has spent more than a few weeks on the teaching blogosphere will be aware of and if you aren’t, here’s the link to the idea.

However, that’s in a couple of week’s time.  In this post I thought I would go through the pages that Delta Publishing have made available and give a bit of commentary on them.  Each of the links below goes directly to the PDF so just right click and save.

Contents Page

The first thing you’ll notice is that the IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills tackles Task 2 first, reflecting the relative scoring weight of the two parts.  There is some explicit focus on grammar and I think this is necessary considering who the book is written for: higher level learners, upper intermediate and above, students looking to quickly refresh for retaking the IELTS exam or simply for higher level learners who are more in need of exam preparation than English development.

Writing Introductions/Writing Conclusions

I immediately loved the layout of this book.  Not too busy and with a clear progression.  There is no fluff here and each activity has a clear aim that leads on to the next activity.  A feature of this section which I like is its focus on analysis.  These pages start off with reading, getting learners to analyze and think about what makes good, cohesive and coherent writing.  Working from exercises that encourage analysis of the model paragraphs, learners have the framework to build their own well-structured introductions and conclusions.

Model Essay: Problem and Solution/Structure and Linking

The model answer is about 100 words over the minimum 250 needed for a Task 2.  This would be a struggle for those learners aiming for a 5.0 or 5.5 but, as I said, they’re not who this book is for.  Again, the model answer is followed by an exercise that deconstructs the composition, analyzing the purpose and function of each sentence.  This approach of starting with the finished product and then going into detail will work to keep the learner focused on what they ultimately need to produce for themselves.


In this part, learners are asked to produce a 150-word answer first of all.  Again, there is more reading available but this time the purpose is to provide additional useful vocabulary and phrases that could be inserted into an composition of this kind.

One activity asks the learner to discuss changes in their home town with a partner.  This may be difficult for a learner who is self-studying.  Nonetheless, this speaking/discussion practice is important for writing skills as many students can keep up with their thoughts far better through speaking than through writing.

This being the case, I would encourage self-study students to use their mobile phones and record themselves as they speak about the discussion points on their own.  Getting over the initial cringe factor, I know a lot of learners would benefit from listening and taking notes from what they themselves have said.  The act of note-taking and transcribing their own spoken words as a framework for a written answer is an incredibly useful activity for strengthening and enriching a student’s writing skills.  And it’s not bad practice for their speaking skills either!

That’s all for now.

I hope this has whetted your appetite for the upcoming book.  Be sure to come back to the blog in a few weeks when it will be my pleasure to introduce the authors to you, my PLN, and the teaching blogosphere in general.

If you like what you’ve seen so far, you can ‘like’ IELTS Advantage: Writing Skills on Facebook where you can be kept up-to-date on release information.


Posted by on August 15, 2011 in IELTS, Recommendations


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