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Lesson 1a
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ielts academic writing module > lesson 3


In lesson 2 we looked more at how to describe tables for task 1 of the IELTS writing test. You also learned some tips on how to organise an ‘advantages and disadvantages’ type discursive composition. In this lesson, we’ll take a first look at another common kind of task 1: describing charts. Then we’ll examine more ways of developing an argument for task 2 compositions.

In this lesson you will…

learn about different types of chart.
practise getting information from charts.
learn to recognise static and dynamic charts.
review simple verb tenses for describing charts.
learn how to organise a balanced discussion.
become more aware of formal language for compositions.


Activity 1 > Types of chart > 8 minutes

Numbers and statistics can be shown in many different types of chart. Don’t worry too much if you are not used to reading charts. The charts in the test will not be complicated. However, you do need to know how to read and understand these basic chart types:

  1. Bar chart
  2. Proportional bar chart
  3. Pie chart
  4. Line graph

Here are some examples:

Types of chart, image

a) Click to match the four types of chart with the charts shown here.

b) Click for an activity.  Which of the charts show(s) the type of information mentioned here?  

Activity 2 > Understanding charts > 10 minutes

The first things you should do when you attempt IELTS task 1 are:

  • read the question twice very carefully.
  • look at the table or chart very carefully until you are sure what it shows - and what it doesn’t show.

There are three important things to look at in a chart before you write:

  • the title of the chart - this will tell you what is being shown overall, and it usually gives the time period that it represents (e.g. 1980-2000)
  • the titles of the vertical and horizontal axes - these will tell you what the units of measurement are (e.g. centimetres, kilos, euros) and what groups are being compared
  • the key or legend (if there is one) - this will tell you what groups or time periods are shown.

[Tip: The titles and labels on the chart also give you useful vocabulary to use in your description]

Look at the chart below and decide if the statements are true (T) or false (F) according to the information shown, or if it is impossible to tell (I). Click to see the statements and do the activity.

Foreign workers going to Australia, chart

Activity 3 > Understanding charts > 10 minutes

Describing a chart is similar in lots of ways to describing a table of figures. Remember that you have to do the following when you first look at a table:

check dates to see what the time period is
check what the units of measurement are
decide what the most important information is
decide what details are not so important
make comparisons between important figures
round figures up or down when possible

You should do the same things when you study a chart.

a) Look at the pie chart below and look for all the things in the list above.

Immigrant labour force in Australia, chart

Check you understand the chart by clicking here to complete the text with phrases, words and numbers from the box.

Activity 4 > Static and dynamic charts > 10 minutes

The pie chart in activity 3 showed the situation at one point in time. This kind of chart is called a static chart. When you describe a static chart, you only need to use simple tenses (present simple or past simple, for example).

a) Look again at the description you completed in Activity 3 and find all the verbs in the past simple.

Now look at the chart below. It compares the size of the immigrant workforce in Australia 1991 with that of 2001. In other words, it shows change over time. This kind of chart is sometimes called a dynamic chart. To describe dynamic charts, you need to use a variety of tenses, such as:

  • simple past -  Between 1991 and 2001, the population increased.
  • past perfect - By  2001, the population had increased

Immigrant labour force in Australia by origin, chart

b) Now click here to complete the description of the chart by putting the verbs in the correct tense.

Activity 5 > More about dynamic charts and verb tenses > 10 minutes.

Some dynamic charts, like the one in Activity 4, show a change in values from one time in the past to another time in the past. Other charts, however, may compare the past with the present. Occasionally, charts even show predictions about the future. In each case, you need to make sure that you are using the correct verb tenses to describe the chart. For example, you could use…

  • Present perfect: The price of oil has risen by €0.10 every month since January.
  • Present perfect continuous: Average temperatures have been increasing since the beginning of the century.
  • Future perfect: The population will have reached sixty million by 2030.

a) Click here to choose the phrases which can go in the gaps.

b) Now look at the chart below and complete the description with the correct verb tense.

People over 65 and labour force, chart

This lesson continues with Task 2 here.

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