In this lesson, I will show you how to do that by giving you some advice on interpreting the cue card, picking the right language, and then making effective notes in order to give a great answer. I will end this with my own sample band 9 answer, which you can hear in the following video:
The Cue Card: Describe an Animal
First of all, be aware that there are millions of potential IELTS cue cards because every topic could have a vast array of variations. You would not just be asked to “describe an animal” in each situation. It might be a certain type of animal: a pet, a wild animal, a cute animal, an animal you like, and so on. I have even covered a cue card before that asked you to describe an animal in your country. Thus, you have to read the cue card carefully.
Today, we will look at this cue card:
Describe your favourite animal.
You should say
– what it is
– where it lives
– what it eats
and explain why you like it.
The important thing to consider here is that you must really like this animal. Even if you hate animals for some reason, you should at least pretend you like one. Pick something that you can describe easily, then explain why it is your favourite.
This might sound obvious, but in the pressure of an exam situation, people often make silly mistakes like changing their ideas halfway through the animal. You might, for example, start talking about a tiger but then later mention that your favourite animals are dogs. This would be a problem.
As for the bullet points, they are there to guide you and help you to talk for at least one minute. You don’t really have to answer all of these, but you should certainly try.
Vocabulary for Describing Animals
When it comes to describing animals for IELTS, there are of course many different words you could use and it’s better to think about one specific type or group of animals rather than just learning “animal vocabulary.” Think about it: would you use the same words to describe a blue whale, a cockroach, and a monkey? Not really.
Instead, perhaps it is better to learn vocabulary in groups of words:
|Habitat (ie where an animal lives)||The sea, the forest, the jungle, the rainforest, the desert, gardens, hedgerows, the polar regions, the tundra|
|Its physical size||Enormous, tiny, about the size of a common dog, not much bigger than a mouse, huge, little, pocket-sized, microscopic, almost as big as a horse|
|Its skin/coat||Rough, furry, hairy, shaggy, smooth, slimy, scaly, coarse, silky, soft, feathers|
|Physical features||A pointy nose, pointed ears, floppy ears, stripes, a long tail, short legs, big eyes, fangs, eight legs|
|Personality||Friendly, fierce, wild, mysterious, graceful, affectionate, aggressive, cold, inspiring, silly|
Obviously, this list could have gone on and on. However, as I mentioned before, your description will totally depend on the animal you want to describe.
One great way of learning vocabulary is to Google the animal you want to talk about, then pick some words from the links that pop up. Wikipedia is a great source, but any major website written by native speakers of English or professional English-language writers would work. For example:
This website is run by Cornell University and is a great resource for bird vocabulary if you want to talk about birds. However, please note that in descriptions like this, whilst the words are useful, they sometimes use shortened forms that are non-grammatical. Thus, you might be better off with Wikipedia, or else confirm your new vocabulary by searching specifically for those terms. You can put them into Ludwig, for example, if you want to see more sample sentences.
When you are given a cue card, you will have one minute to make notes to help you give your answer. Don’t waste this time writing full sentences, but instead note down some ideas, vocabulary, or structure that you think might help.
Honestly, though it is tempting to write as much as possible, it’s better to spend this time thinking and just note a couple of words. If there’s a really great word you want to use, write it down, but perhaps ideas are better. Even I, an IELTS tutor, sometimes forget the things I want to talk about, so I would personally note down ideas to come back to later in my description.
Also, I do recommend that you start your answer with a personal story or memory. That’s because this allows you to build naturally from there, instead of giving an artificial beginning and then trying to add detail after detail in an awkward way. This approach is explained here:
Sample Band 9 Answer
I have always loved animals and ever since I was a child I have had a particular fondness for rhinos, or rhinoceros as it is properly known. These are found in many countries around the world, although unfortunately it is an endangered species and so its numbers are generally decreasing. You can find rhinos across Africa, including South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as throughout Asia, in places like Northeast India and Nepal. Typically they live in grasslands because they subsist on a diet of grasses and leaves. I like rhinos a lot because they are quite gentle and trusting animals, and I feel a great deal of sympathy for them. They have lived on this planet for millions of years but humans are now hunting them to extinction. Their gentle, peaceful way of life should be an inspiration for us; not something we take advantage of in order to kill them. I hope that we are able to avoid driving them to extinction and then move towards restoring their habitat and increasing their numbers so that they can thrive once again in the future, but that does not look likely as the human population grows and climate change worsens.
Notes on the Answer
I used some good phrases here that might help you:
- it is an endangered species
- You can find rhinos across Africa
- Typically they live in grasslands
- they subsist on a diet of grasses
- hunting them to extinction
- Their gentle, peaceful way of life
- move towards restoring their habitat
You may be thinking that this answer was quite short, and you are right. However, remember that you should not speak too quickly in the IELTS speaking test, particularly for part 2. Not only will speaking quickly make you slip up with more errors, but also you will run through all of your ideas and have to say more and more. If you keep a good pace, you can give error-free sentences and spread your ideas out over a longer period so that you don’t have to cram dozens of ideas into your answer or repeat yourself.
If you want some more vocabulary related to rhinos, you can check out this reading exercise that I made many years ago.