In this lesson, I’m going to explain what an IELTS discussion essay is and how you can write a good one. I will talk about structure and content, as well as looking briefly at discussion essay thesis statements, which many people find tricky. I’ve also written a sample essay, which you can find at the bottom of this page.

What is a Discussion Essay?

As the name suggests, a discussion essay is an essay that discusses things! More specifically, it is a type of IELTS writing task 2 essay that requires you to look at two different points of view. You can easily recognise these essays by the following phrase:

Discuss both views and give your opinion.

When you see this, you know that you need to write a discussion essay. Importantly, this instruction tells you that you need to do two things:

  1. Discuss both views (there will have been 2 views mentioned in the previous sentence(s))
  2. Give your opinion (ie which view you agree with)

If you failed to do either of these things, you would not have satisfied the basic criteria for Task Achievement.

Example Discussion Essay Questions

Here is a list of 5 discussion essay questions either from the IELTS exam, reportedly from the IELTS exam, or from reputable publications that have copied the IELTS question style. (Not that you absolutely should avoid fake IELTS questions when practising.)

Some people say that parents should encourage their children to take part in organised group activities in their free time. Others say that is important for children to learn how to occupy themselves on their own.

Discuss both views and give your own opinion.

Some people prefer to spend their lives doing the same things and avoiding change. Others, however, think that change is always a good thing.

Discuss both views and give your opinion.

Some people feel that manufacturers and supermarkets have the responsibility to reduce the amount of packaging of goods. Others argue that customers should avoid buying goods with a lot of packaging.

Discuss both views and give your opinion.

Some people believe that higher education should be funded by the government. Others, however, argue that it is the responsibility of individuals to fund their higher education.

Discuss both views and give your opinion.

Some people believe that it is important for children to attend extra classes outside school, while others believe that they should be allowed to play after school.

Discuss both views and give your own opinion.

You can see in these questions that there is a similar pattern. In each case, the question phrase (“Discuss both views and give your own opinion”) is the same and that in the previous sentence or sentences, there are two opposing views.

How to Answer IELTS Discussion Questions

First of all, it is important when answering any IELTS task 2 question that you read the question carefully so that you understand it, then provide an answer that directly responds to the question, following its instructions carefully.

As discussed above, you are required to do two things: 1) Discuss both views, and 2) Give your own opinion. You absolutely must do both of those. It doesn’t really matter what your opinion is or whether you give equal weighting to both sides of the argument. Instead, you must cover both sides and also give some sort of opinion. (It is important, though, according to the marking rubric, that you are consistent in your opinion.)

Your answer of course should be structured carefully so as to present your ideas in a thoroughly logical way that is easy for your reader to interpret. I almost always use a four-paragraph structure in my essays, but some people prefer to use five paragraphs in this sort of essay. The difference would look like this:

 Four-paragraph essayFive-paragraph essay
IntroductionIntroduce the main idea State your opinionIntroduce the main idea State your opinion
Body paragraph 1Discuss the first point of viewDiscuss the first point of view
Body paragraph 2Discuss the second point of viewDiscuss the second point of view
Body paragraph 3Give your opinion
ConclusionSummarise the issue and reaffirm positionSummarise the issue and reaffirm position

You might be wondering why I have given my opinion in the body of the five-paragraph essay but not in the four-paragraph essay. Well, actually I would give my opinion in the body of both. However, my opinion would be more subtly woven into the text of the four-paragraph essay. I personally find this to be a better method, but it is equally possible that you could write an amazing five-paragraph essay. That issue is discussed further in this video:

Discussion Essay Thesis Statement

In academic writing, a thesis statement is the part of the essay where you insert your opinion. It typically comes at the end of the introduction and guides the reader by explaining your opinion on the issues that have been introduced.

But do you really need to provide one in such a short essay? Well, a 2018 study into successful IELTS essays concluded that thesis statements were “obligatory” – ie you absolutely do need one. In fact, that study found that thesis statements appeared in 100% of successful IELTS discussion essays! Therefore, we can conclude they are very important.

Because a discussion essay will tell you to “Discuss both views and give your opinion,” you must introduce the two views and then give your opinion in the introduction. Here is an example:

Question:

Some people believe that it is important for children to attend extra classes outside school, while others believe that they should be allowed to play after school.

Discuss both views and give your own opinion.

Introductory paragraph:

In some parts of the world, children are forced to go to cram schools and other facilities of extracurricular learning, but many people believe that this is unfair and that they should be allowed to enjoy their free time instead. This essay will look at both perspectives and then conclude that it is indeed unfair.

My first sentence clearly introduces two different ideas:

  1. Children should do extra classes
  2. Children should not do extra classes

Note how I have successfully used synonyms to avoid repeating anything from the question. I have also framed the issue in a new way so that I am not just paraphrasing. (You can learn why paraphrasing is not always helpful here.)

My second sentence is the thesis statement. In this sentence, I outline what the essay will do (“look at both perspectives”) and then given my opinion (“it is unfair”). This is a simple but effective thesis statement.

Thesis Statement Advice

Your IELTS discussion essay thesis statement should do two things:

  1. Tell the reader what the essay will do
  2. Present your opinion

Because this is a formal essay, it is best not to be too personal. Instead of saying “I will…” or “I think…” it is better to say “This essay will…” Here are some simple templates that you can follow most of the time:

  • This essay will look at both sides and then argue that…
  • This essay will discuss both views but ultimately side with…

Just make sure to avoid being overly vague. You are required to give your opinion consistently throughout the essay, so don’t say “This essay will look at both sides and then give my opinion.” It is not really the best approach because the examiner wants to see that you can be consistent in presenting an opinion. That is clearly stated in the marking rubric. For band 7, it says:

  • presents a clear position throughout the response

It could be concluded, then, that your opinion is not clear from the start and so you have not done enough to warrant a band 7 for Task Achievement.

Body Paragraphs

As I mentioned above, there are really two main approaches you could take to the body paragraphs:

  1. Discuss one view per paragraph and incorporate your opinion into each.
  2. Discuss one view per paragraph and then have another for your opinion.

I suppose there is also a third option:

  • Compare and contrast the two view points in each paragraph.

This last one may be a little harder to do successfully without jeopardising your score for Task Achievement or Coherence and Cohesion, but advanced candidates may find it useful.

Remember that there is no single perfect formula for an IELTS essay. That’s not how languages work and that’s not how IELTS works. Different people could come up with different ways to present a successful essay. The most common essay structures are mere guidelines for particularly useful methods of approaching an essay.

Does a Discussion Essay Have to be Balanced?

Because the question says “Discuss both views,” it is quite logical to think that you must provide some degree of balance, but you certainly don’t need to give equal weighting to both sides. Remember that you are also going to give your opinion, so if you come down strongly on one side of the issue, it might be odd to give equal attention to both.

If you do feel very strongly about one side, you might want to present your discussion of the other side as quite negative. However, IELTS is a thinking exam as well as an English exam and an intelligent person can always look at both sides of an issue and explain – at the very least – why someone might believe a thing that is different to his own view. This seems quite important, but there is nothing explicitly mentioned in the marking rubric.

I would suggest that if you think a two-sided issue is basically one-sided (ie you strongly disagree with the other view), you should still write one or two sentences about why people believe that and then devote the rest of your essay to disputing their view.

Another approach is to write BP1 as a very short paragraph that explains why people might think one thing, but then have BP2 as a very long paragraph that debunks the opposing view and then explains why the other is correct.

(You can read more about IELTS essays and balance here.)

Sample Answer

Here is my full sample answer to the above question about whether or not children should be made to do extracurricular activities:

In some parts of the world, children are forced to go to cram schools and other facilities of extracurricular learning, but many people believe that this is unfair and that they should be allowed to enjoy their free time instead. This essay will look at both perspectives and then conclude that it is indeed unfair.

In countries like South Korea, most children are made to go to an array of cram schools outside of regular school hours. Their parents do this in order to give their child a better future because it helps the child to learn more and thus gives them the academic advantages needed to apply to the best universities or jobs in future. These schools often provide children with an advantage over their peers because they improve their foreign language or math skills more quickly, and thus the children who do not attend these schools might have comparatively poor grades.

However, whilst this attitude may result in better academic performance, it is certainly not good for the mental health of these children. It is no coincidence that places like South Korea have the highest rates of suicide among their young populations. The fact is that children are not equipped to spend fourteen or sixteen hours per day in classrooms, memorising facts and figures. In a sense, it is a form of child abuse. Children should be allowed to go home and spend time with friends and family to build social skills. They should be allowed to occupy themselves in order to become more creative and learn how to understand their own mind instead of being trained to repeat what they are told.

In conclusion, it is understandable that some parents want their children to go to extra classes, but this is damaging to children and they should be given the freedom to play and socialise outside of regular school hours.

Notes

In BP1, I have looked at the topic of cram schools (ie the side of the argument in favour of extra lessons). I explored why parents might want their kids to do this and show the supposed benefits. Note that I never embraced any of these benefits. I was careful to use language that distanced these ideas from my own opinion, which was the opposite, so I said “Their parents do this in order to…”

In BP2, I looked at the opposite side. I was careful to make sure that my first sentence linked in to the previous paragraph, highlighting that the benefits are quite minor compared to the drawbacks. All of my sentences here justify my position, which is that it is cruel to force these extra lessons on children.

My conclusion ties all of this together. The first clause references BP1 and the second summarises the main argument in BP2.

You can find two more sample essays here: