In part 2 of the IELTS speaking test, you could be asked to describe many different things – people, places, prizes, plants, animals, and so on. Today, we are going to look at a cue card that asks you to describe a childhood memory.

In this lesson, I will show you some useful language, talk a little about structure, and give you my sample answer along with a little feedback on what makes it successful.

Cue Card – Describe a Childhood Memory

Whenever you are given an IELTS speaking cue card, you should try to quickly read it and identify the thing you are supposed to talk about. Here’s our cue card for today:

Describe a childhood memory you have.

You should say:

– what it is

– how old you were then

– what happened

and explain what effect this has had on your life.

It is not a particularly difficult one, but let’s look at the key information. Basically, you have to talk about a childhood memory. That means something that happened to you in your childhood. This could be almost anything… as long as you remember it. It could be an event or something someone said to you, for example. It could be a happy one, a sad one, or almost any other kind.

The cue card does, however, mention one thing that might be important. It says “explain what effect this has had on your life.” Well, you could potentially give a great answer and then say “it has had no impact on my life,” but it might be easier to talk about something that was significant, so consider that when making your choice.

Most of us have lots of memories and it might be difficult to choose, but remember that we should pick quickly because we only have one minute to prepare. I talked about strategies for succeeding in speaking part 2 in the video up below. You might find it helpful in giving better answers for this part of the test.

Language for Describing Childhood Memories

There is a lot of language you would need to know when talking about children, but what is most important is that you tailor this language to your specific memory. You’re not being asked to talk generally about children in this question, so you don’t need to worry about the distinction between a toddler, a pre-teen, and an adolescent, for example.

childhood stages vocabulary

Instead, think of your own memory and the words and phrases you would need to describe that. Even though the topic appears to be childhood, if you are going to describe a trip to the zoo, for example, it would be more important to know vocabulary about animals. If you wanted to talk about going to a theme park, then the words you used would need to incorporate some of that specific language.

What is perhaps most important is having a variety of words to talk about memories. Whilst maybe it is easier to think about childhood, this question is not about being a child but rather about a single memory. Thus, phrases might come in handy:

  • lasting impression – something that affected you deeply
  • takes me back – makes me recall something from the past
  • (something) escapes me – I can’t quite remember
  • flooding back – to suddenly remember in great detail

You could talk about your memory having a lasting impression on you. or you could say that something takes you back – meaning to make you feel as though you are in the past once again. You might say that something escapes you if you cannot remember it and the opposite of that would be flooding back.

Learn more childhood vocabulary for IELTS here. You might also want to take a look at the CDC guide to child development if you really want general vocabulary about childhood. The MacMillan dictionary also has a good page on language for talking about memories.


Most importantly, though, you need a range of tenses. Talking about childhood obviously requires looking into the past, and often requires telling stories. To do this with accuracy, you need to be able to differentiate between times in the past. Look at this story:

I remember coming home from school one time and seeing my brother covered in mud in the garden. He had been playing with the hose while mum and dad were out. I helped him get cleaned up, but he had gotten mud everywhere and it wasn’t easy. When mum and dad got home, they quickly figured out what had happened, but they found it funny. We still laugh about it today.

Notice how the verb tenses help tell the order of events. Some of these actions occur now in the present (remember, laugh) and others at various points in the past. By saying “had been playing”, we mark this action as occurring before “coming home from school.”

Most IELTS candidates fixate on learning new vocabulary because it is easier and they think it will help them get a better score, but it is important to master verb tenses because without these you cannot present any sort of accurate meaning.  Anyway, let’s take a look now at my sample band 9 answer:

Sample Band 9 Answer – Describe a Childhood Memory

When I was about eight years old, my family took a trip to a beach on the other side of the country. It was a small holiday resort that we sometimes visited. We stayed in a caravan near this beautiful horse-shoe-shaped bay, and all day I’d play in the sand. Most of the time we were together as a family. We would play games on the beach and have picnics, but it was too cold to ever go swimming. Sometimes I would play on my own. I especially loved looking in rock pools for fish and crabs and other sea life. I don’t know why, but it fascinated me back then.

On one occasion, I caught loads of crabs in my bucket and when it was time to go back to the caravan at the end of the day, my mum and dad told me I should put the crabs back into the water. I was really upset because, being a small child, I wanted to keep them. However, they eventually convinced me that if I kept them then they’d die and so it was best to put them back in the sea, where they’d be happy. I always look back on that time fondly. Those were wonderful, carefree days with my family, and I learned an important lesson that day that has served me well in life. It is important not to be selfish and to consider the feelings of others when making decisions– even if they are animals.

Notes on the Answer

Note that I did not answer each part of the cue card in order but I did give it a logical order so that the listener would be taken through the story naturally and sensibly. I began in a pretty simple way, which is to say “When I was about eight years old…” This helps locate the memory in time for the listener but also makes it easy for me to continue.

I guided the story from one point to the next, letting my own memories take me logically from one thing to the next and finally brought it to a conclusion, which was showing how the past affected my life.

In terms of vocabulary, you can see that I have used language that is specific to the beach, where my story was set. I said things like “horse-shoe-shaped bay,” which is nice and descriptive. I talked about the things we did there and even things we did not do – like swimming because the water was too cold. My main idea was about sea life, so I made sure to incorporate specific language related to that – rock pools, bucket, crabs, etc. There is nothing fancy here. This is just an English test – not an entrance exam for marine biologists!

Finally, let’s take two sentences from near the end, when I began to wrap up my answer. In this sentence, I started with the past simple tense to talk about the time I remembered, then switched over to the present perfect to tie this to the present moment. In the final sentence, I wanted to explain the lesson learned, so I switched to the present simple tense. Remember that vocabulary is great, but accuracy with grammar is also of the utmost importance.

Ok, that’s all folks! If you want to describe a childhood memory, then post it as a comment below. I’ll try to read and reply to each one.