PELA’s Intensive IELTS Program: Chris Quinn

2Do you know about PELA’s Intensive IELTS Program?  It is a very unique set of classes, and they are probably very different from other English classes you may have taken before.  

In this post, I interviewed the teacher who created the program, Chris Quinn.  He tells us about how he became interested in the IELTS and test prep, why he created this program, and what this program will help students to do.  

Anna:  Tell me about your background.  How did you become interested in the IELTS?

Chris: When I was a child, I loved puzzles and problem-solving.  I’ve always enjoyed that kind of challenge of searching for something that maybe other people can’t find.

About ten years ago, when I decided to go to graduate school, I had to take a standardized test: the GRE.  I hadn’t studied many of the subjects on the test, such as math, for ten years or more.  I hadn’t taken a class or a big test like that for at least ten years, and I had about three months to refamiliarize myself with what it meant to take a test.  While I was studying for the GRE, I realized that if I knew certain tricks and techniques, I could get through the test much faster.  I did really well on the test, and I got a really good score for a non-math person!

Because of that experience, I started teaching test prep to students.  That’s how I got into teaching TOEFL.  At that time, I was teaching with another school, and we had a special textbook we used that talked about the different techniques.  However, in about three months I figured out that everything that the book was teaching them was NOT helping them; the people that created the class did not understand that they were teaching to students who did not know English.  These people thought about themselves – native speakers – taking the test, and made techniques for those people – people that are already fluent in English.  

This became my challenge:  What can I do to help people that are not fluent in English?  How can I help them know how to pick out the correct answer without spending hours trying to figure out the complex English?  That’s where my inspiration for the class came from.

Anna:  Tell me about the Intensive IELTS Program.

Chris:  The Intensive IELTS Program is a creation that I have been thinking about for many years.  I’ve been teaching the IELTS test for about 7 or 8 years now, and I’ve noticed how students know a word, but they don’t have the ability to see it in other situations or contexts.  Students learn how to use the word in one situation, so they can’t see how the word may be related to other topics.

For example, they’d see the word “heart,” and they would only think of the body; they don’t think about “heart” as the core of something, like “the heart of the problem.”  But then students think, “But problems don’t have bodies.”

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Part of what we’re trying to do is get the students to see that words can be used in multiple situations, that they have more than one use.  And I want students to understand that they need to think deeply about the meaning of words and how they apply to multiple situations, not just to one situation,

Anna:  Do the test writers put tricky questions in the tests on purpose?  Do they try to trick students?

Chris:  Oh, yes.  A lot of students don’t know that!  If students just look in the reading passage for the same key words they see in a question, they will probably get the wrong answer.  The test is designed to asses your ability to look for an idea, not look for a word.

Anna:  Complete this sentence/paragraph:  “When students leave this program after three months, they will be able to…

Chris:  They will begin to feel verb tenses, instead of having to think about them.  Part of what we are doing is getting students to visualize what it means to move through time with verb tenses.  It will become an automatic process to talk about past, present, and future all at the same time.

They will also be able to read and more easily understand and use those verb tenses in writing.  Because they are learning about so many different topics, they will have much more vocabulary and exposure to thoughts and ideas.

They will also be able to go more deeply into their explanations of why they believe what they believe. If they are asked a question on the IELTS, they will easily be able to come up with things to talk about or write about.  They will also be practicing how to generate those ideas in their head, so they can come up with this ideas and pull them out more quickly.

In terms of listening, they will be able to hear what the speaker is focusing his or her attention on, so when the student listens, they will find the clues to the answers the IELTS is trying to give them.

Anna:  What makes your classes special?

ChrisWhen I talk to students in class, I talk to them like I would anyone else.  I talk to them like I talk to my friends, and I use pretty much the same vocabulary.  I try to say, “Hey, I’m over here.  I’m someone who’s fluent in English.  Come over here and play with me on my field.”  I could go and “play” with them on their “field,” but if we do that, they are never going to get better in their English.  They will stay comfortable at the same level on English and never get better.

I am going to talk to them at my level – I’m going to create an environment where they don’t understand everything.  Every day, when we do activities in this class, students walk away thinking:  “I didn’t get everything in class today.”  It pushes them.

Copy of Heart-2I’ve already seen a change after a few weeks. The other day, after we watched a TED Talk, one of my students wrote on the board:  “Even if it is hard, it doesn’t mean it is not helping you.”  These activities are designed to make your English improve as fast as possible, but it’s going to be difficult.  It’s like going to the gym every day:  sometimes you have fun, but a lot of the time you work hard and get sore and tired.  You need to work hard to get better.

Anna:  So, many IELTS classes help students get better at taking the IELTS, which may help their English.  Your class, one the other hand, will help students improve their English, and THAT will make them do better on the test.

Chris:  The skills that they are going to be learning in this class are the skills that they will need to be successful in college as well as on the IELTS:

  • They will need to be able to listen to a professor present a situation or story and point out a conclusion to it.
  • They will need to be able to listen to the professor and understand words they don’t know.  Maybe they don’t know a word or two, but because the student understands the context or the ideas around it, he or she can probably figure out what that word means.
  • They will need to analyze concepts that are very similar to each other, but be able to recognize and discuss how they contrast.

Anna:  They will see the subtleties.

Chris:  Exactly!

If you would like to take the Intensive IELTS Program, please contact us at the Front Desk at PELA or give us a call!