Story Structure: IELTS Speaking Part 2

Being able to tell a story is an important IELTS skill. I don’t mean spinning a fictional tale… You don’t have to be the next J.K. Rowling! But you should be able to talk fluently about your own past on the common IELTS topics – jobs, family, sports, friends, etc.

When you’ll need to tell stories

This is really going to come into play for the IELTS speaking part two. Here, you will be given a cue card with something that you’ll need to describe, and quite often it’s asking you to talk about something from your own past. It might be a person you admired growing up, a place you visited, a treasured memory, or a job you once did. In any case, you need to be able to talk confidently in the past tenses.

How to structure these stories

Of course, you can’t just memorize answers for the IELTS exam. Even if you did manage to memorize a story about a teacher who inspired you and the topic did come up in the test, unless your answer exactly matched the examiner’s question, it’s going to sound suspicious.

Instead, let’s look at a formula. This doesn’t apply to 100% of IELTS speaking part two questions. However, it does cover most of them – certainly the ones that deal with the past.

Introduction One sentence to introduce what you will talk about. Consider using a rhetorical question or a simple introductory phrase like, “I’m going to tell you about…”
Background Set the scene. Be vivid and descriptive. Use as many adjectives as you can to adequately describe what was happening.
Main event/Problem Get across all the most important details about the event or problem. Here, you’re probably going to have to use the past continuous together with the past simple.
Your feelings Don’t forget to say how you felt. Even a simple sentence can add an important layer to the story.
Result/Resolution Make sure you have time to explain how it finished. Don’t rush it, though. Try to address any issues you raised in the third section.

Example

Describe a memorable journey you have made.
You should say:

  • where you were going
  • how you were travelling
  • why you were making the journey

and explain what made the journey so memorable.

Answer:

I’m going to talk about a trip I took to a small beach town when I was about ten years old. At that time, I was living with my mother and father in a big city, and I had never seen the sea before. I really wanted to visit the seaside because I kept seeing it on TV or reading about it in books, but we didn’t have much money in those days. However, one day my day came home from work and told us that he was taking us to the beach for a weekend trip because he had gotten a bonus. So we set off on the train and I was really excited. I kept asking my mum questions about what it would be like. I could hardly imagine it. When we got there I was overwhelmed. Everything was perfect – the weather, the scenery, the feel of the sand. It was the happiest moment of my life, and in fact it still is. These days I make it a goal to visit the sea once a year, and when I’m older and settled down, I’d love to live in a small house by the beach just like those I saw many years ago.

Why use this structure?

The IELTS speaking part two can be very intimidating. Students have to speak for between one and two minutes and they are only given one minute to prepare. This is not a lot of time to think of a story, even for a native speaker. The best strategy is to speak slowly and confidently, based upon a simple series of notes that outline the structure. If you are able to speak for an average of twenty seconds per point, you can easily get to one and a half minutes – a nice finish time.

Warning

Be careful when using this or any pre-arranged structure because it won’t fit all questions, and you obviously need to make sure that you fit all aspects of the question into your answer. However, this does give a nice dramatic flourish

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Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel.

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