How To Plan & Write
IELTS Discussion Essays

Students can find it difficult to identify IELTS discussion essays and often confuse them with either opinion essays or advantage and disadvantage essays.

This is one of the issues I’ll be covering in this lesson. I’m also going to show you how to plan and write discussion essays step-by-step.

Here’s what we’ll be covering:

  • Identifying IELTS discussion essays 
  • 3 Common mistakes
  • Essay structure



Want to watch and listen? Click on this video.


Click the links to see lessons on each of these Task 2 essay writing topics. 

Once you understand the process, practice on past questions. Take your time at first and gradually speed up until you can plan and write an essay of at least 250 words in the 40 minutes allowed in the exam.



The Question

The first part of the question for an IELTS discussion essay will be a statement containing two opposing views.

You will then be asked to discuss both sides of the argument and give your own opinion. Here is some typical wording that might be used:

  • Discuss both views and give your opinion. 
  • Discuss both these views and then give your own opinion. 
  • Discuss both sides of this argument and give your own opinion.

Here's a question from a past test paper.

Some people think that zoos are cruel and should be closed down. Others, however, believe that zoos can be useful in protecting wild animals.

Discuss both views and give your opinion.

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

Write at least 250 words.


I’ll be using this question to guide you through the process of planning and writing an IELTS discussion essay.

 

The key to identifying this type of question is the fact that you are required to discuss BOTH views. This is different to opinion questions where you must decide between two opposing views and make an argument to support your own opinion.

Opinion essays, also known as ‘agree or disagree’ essays, a generally worded in one of these ways:

What is your opinion? / Do you agree or disagree? / To what extent do you agree or disagree?

 

The other essay type that students mistake for discussion essays is advantages and disadvantages essays. With these, the statement will contain just one view and the question will typically be written as shown in this sample question.

School children are using computers in school more than ever.

Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this and give your own opinion.


The consequence of incorrectly identifying the question type is that you will use the wrong structure for your essay. This is a major reason why people make the mistakes we’ll now look at.




3 Common Mistakes

These three errors are common in IELTS discussion essays.

  • Not stating your opinion.
  • Not giving arguments for both views.
  • Not developing both sides of the argument equally.


The most common mistake that students make is not giving their opinion. The question will clearly state that you must choose one side of the argument to agree with. If you fail to do this, you will get a low score for task achievement.

It doesn’t matter which side of the argument you take or even, that you actually agree with it.

However, you must give equal attention to both sides. A common error is to provide a stronger argument for the view you favour. This leads to an unbalanced essay and a low score for task achievement. 




Essay Structure

Now let’s look at a simple structure you can use to write IELTS discussion essays. It’s not the only possible structure but it’s the one I recommend because it’s easy to learn and will enable you to quickly plan and write a high-level essay.

1) Introduction

  • Paraphrase the question
  • State two supporting reasons
  • Give your opinion

 2) Main body paragraph 1

  • Topic sentence – outline the view you don’t agree with
  • Explanation – explain why this view is held by some people
  • Example – give an example

 3Main body paragraph 2

  • Topic sentence – outline the view you do agree with
  • Explanation – explain why this view is held by some people
  • Example – give an example

 4) Conclusion

  • Summarise the key points and state your opinion

This structure will give us a well-balanced essay with 4 paragraphs.

We now need some ideas to add into the structure and we’ll have everything we need for our essay.




How To Plan IELTS Discussion Essays

# 1  Analyse the question

This is an essential step in the planning process and will ensure that you answer the question fully. It’s quick and easy to do. You just need to identify 3 different types of words:

1. Topic words

2.  Other keywords

3.  Instruction words


We’ve already considered the instruction words (the actual question) so we’ll focus on the first two.

Topics words are the ones that identify the general subject of the question.

Some people think that zoos are cruel and should be closed down. Others, however, believe that zoos can be useful in protecting wild animals.

So, this question is about ‘zoos’.

Many people do this first step of the process and then write about the topic in general. This is a serious mistake and leads to low marks for task achievement.

What we need to do now that we know the general topic, is to understand exactly what aspect of zoos we're being asked to write about.


The other keywords in the question tell you the specific topic you must write about. They define the opinions stated in the statement.

Some people think that zoos are cruel and should be closed down. Others, however, believe that zoos can be useful in protecting wild animals.


By highlighting these words, it’s easy to see that you are being asked to write about the opposing views that zoos are cruel and should be closed down and that zoos can be useful in protecting wild animals. Your essay must only include ideas relevant to these ideas.



# 2  Decide on your opinion

As already mentioned, it doesn’t matter if you genuinely agree with the view you take in your essay or not. IELTS discussion essays are about your ability to write a well-structured essay in the English language and you will not be assessed on any opinion you might hold.

So, choose one view and make sure that your opinion is clear throughout the essay.

For this model essay, I’m going to agree with the statement that zoos are cruel and should be closed down.



# 3  Generate ideas

The next task is to generate some ideas to write about.

There are several different ways to think up ideas. I cover them fully on the IELTS Essay Planning page.

We’re going to use the ‘friends technique’. This is my preferred method as it allows you to take a step back from the stress of the exam situation and think more calmly.

Here’s how it works. Imagine you are chatting with a friend and they ask you the question in a casual conversation. What answers would you give them off the top of your head? Plan your essay around these ideas.

Doing this will help you to come up with simple answers in everyday language rather than straining your brain to think of amazing ideas using high level-language, which isn’t necessary.

You might want to try this yourself before reading on for my ideas.


Here are my ideas:

Cruel – closed down:

  • Cramped cages – animals distressed

  • Unnatural environments
  • Most animals not endangered
  • Animals become a public spectacle for entertainment

Useful – protect wild animals:

  • Research work to learn more about wild animals
  • Breeding programmes for endangered species
  • Some species saved from extinction
  • Seeing wild animals close up inspires people to want to help protect them

I’ve got more ideas here than I need so I’m going to pick two to develop in the essay – one for each of the main body paragraphs.

Idea 1 – Cramped cages & unnatural environments, animals distressed.

Idea 2 – Breeding programmes for endangered species, some species saved from extinction.


We’re almost ready to start writing our IELTS discussion essay but first, we have one other small task to do.




# 4  Vocabulary

In an IELTS essay, it’s important to be able to say the same things in different ways, either by paraphrasing and/or using synonyms. During the planning stage, quickly jot down a few synonyms of key words you could use to save you having to stop and think of the right language while you’re writing.

For example:

zoos – animals in captivity, collections of wild animals, menagerie, wildlife park

cruel – to cause suffering, inhumane

protect – safeguard, preserve

animals – creatures, species


With that done, we can focus on the first paragraph of the essay – the introduction.




How To Write an Introduction

Good introductions to IELTS discussion essays have a simple 3 part structure:

1)  Paraphrase the question

2)  State two supporting reasons (outline statement)

3)  Give your opinion (thesis statement)


It should:

  • Have 2-3 sentences
  • Be 40-60 words long
  • Take 5 minutes to write


1)  Paraphrase the question

Start your introduction by paraphrasing the question.

Question: Some people think that zoos are cruel and should be closed down. Others, however, believe that zoos can be useful in protecting wild animals.

Discuss both views and give your opinion.

There are various phrases you can use to do this. Here are three examples. They all say the same thing using different language.

  • Some people argue that… while others say that…
  • It is considered by some…. while there are others who think….
  • It is often argued that... whilst others disagree and think...


Choose one and add the details in the question statement in a paraphrased form. I recommend putting the view you don’t agree with first.

Paraphrased question: 

Some people argue that zoos help to preserve wild creatures, while others say that they are inhumane and should be abolished.

Note my use of synonyms. You don’t have to replace every key word but do so where possible whilst ensuring that your language sounds natural. There aren’t any suitable synonyms of ‘zoo’ that I can think of, so I've repeated this word from the statement.




2)  Thesis and outline statements

Now we need to add an outline statement where you outline the two main points that you’ll cover in the rest of the essay (ideas 1 and 2 above) and a thesis statement where you state your opinion.

Outline & thesis statements:

While the development of breeding programmes contributes to the preservation of endangered species, I believe that the poor conditions that many animals held in captivity are kept in make the existence of zoos unacceptable. 

So, let’s bring the three elements of our introduction together.


     Introduction


This introduction achieves three important functions:

  • It shows the examiner that you understand the question.
  • It acts as a guide to the examiner as to what your essay is about.
  • It also helps to keep you focused and on track as you write.


The two ideas in your introduction will become your two main body paragraphs.

Main body paragraph 1 – Breeding programmes for endangered species, some species saved from extinction.

Main body paragraph 2 – Cramped cages & unnatural environments, animals distressed.




How To Write Main Body Paragraphs

Main body paragraphs in IELTS discussion essays should contain 3 things:

  • Topic sentence – outline the view you don’t agree with
  • Explanation – explain why this view is held by some people
  • Example – give an example


It is easier to begin by discussing the opinion you don’t agree with and then present the reasons for the opposing view that you support. So, we’ll start with idea 1.


Main Body Paragraph 1

The topic sentence summarises the main idea of the paragraph. That’s all it needs to do so it doesn’t have to be complicated.

It plays an important role in ensuring that your ideas flow logically from one to another. It does this by acting as a signpost for what is to come next, that is, what the paragraph will be about.

If you maintain a clear development of ideas throughout your essay, you will get high marks for task achievement and cohesion and coherence.

We’ll now take the idea for our first main body paragraph and create our topic sentence.


Main body paragraph 1 – Breeding programmes for endangered species, some species saved from extinction.

Topic sentence: 

On the one hand, there are many projects in existence in zoological parks around the world where species facing extinction have been successfully bred in captivity and their numbers increased substantially.


Next, we must write an explanation sentence that expands on the idea. This explains to the examiner what we mean or why this is the case.

Explanation sentence: 

This is important for ensuring the survival of animals under threat from poaching and the destruction of their natural environments.


Finally, we add an example to support our main point. If you can’t think of a real example, it’s fine to make one up, as long as it’s believable. The examiner isn’t going to check your facts.

Example sentence:

A good example of this is the golden lion tamarin from Brazil which nearly died out because of logging and mining activities which are destroying its habitat. Today, a third of wild golden lion tamarins were raised in captivity.


That’s the 3 parts of our first main body paragraph complete. Here’s the finished paragraph.


We now follow the same process for our second main body paragraph.




Main Body Paragraph 2


Main idea 2 – Cramped cages & unnatural environments, animals distressed.


First, we write the topic sentence to summarise the main idea. I started main body paragraph 1 with the phrase ‘On the one hand...’, so main body paragraph 2 will naturally begin, ‘On the other hand... .

These are great cohesive devices to use when making a direct contrast between two opposing views and they link the ideas together well. They can be used in most IELTS discussion essays and will help to earn you a good score for cohesion and coherence.


Topic sentence:

On the other hand, a significant percentage of zoos house their animals in cramped cages with very little space to move around or behave naturally.

Now for the explanation sentence where we expand on this idea.

Explanation sentence:

This can lead to them becoming distressed and depressed as well as suffering physically through lack of exercise.

Finally, an example to support this point.


Example sentence:

A friend of mine recently visited a wildlife park while on holiday abroad and was very upset to see the lions pacing up and down in a narrow, bare pen and eagles in enclosures so small that they were unable to fly.

That’s the 3 parts of our second main body paragraph complete. Here’s the finished paragraph.

Now we need a conclusion and our IELTS discussion essay is done.




How To Write a Conclusion


Conclusions to IELTS discussion essays should do two things:

  • Summarise the main points
  • State your opinion

This can generally be done in a single sentence.

If you're below the minimum 250 words after you’ve written your conclusion, you can add a prediction or recommendation statement.

Our essay currently has 231 words so we’re on target and don’t need this extra sentence but you can learn more about how to write a prediction or recommendation statement for IELTS discussion essays on the Task 2 Conclusions page.


The conclusion is the easiest sentence in the essay to write but one of the most important.

A good conclusion will:

  • Neatly end the essay
  • Link all your ideas together
  • Sum up your argument or opinion
  • Answer the question

If you achieve this, you’ll improve your score for both task achievement and cohesion and coherence which together make up 50% of the overall marks. Without a conclusion, you’ll score below band 6 for task achievement.


You can start almost any final paragraph of an IELTS discussion essay with the words:

  • In conclusion

        or

  • To conclude


Now all you need to do is briefly summarise the main ideas into one sentence.

Here’s a top tip. Go back and read the introduction to the essay because this is also a summary of the essay. It outlines what you are going to write about.

To create a great conclusion, you simply have to paraphrase the introduction. Let’s give it a go.


Introduction:


Here is the same information formed into a conclusion:


That’s it. We’ve completed our essay. Here it is with the 4 paragraphs put together.

Question:

Some people think that zoos are cruel and should be closed down. Others, however, believe that zoos can be useful in protecting wild animals.

Discuss both views and give your opinion.

Finished IELTS discussion essay.

 

Go through this lesson as many times as you need to in order to fully understand it and put in lots of practice writing IELTS discussion essays from past exam questions. Practice is the only way to improve your skills.


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More Help With IELTS Discussion Essays
& Other Task 2 Essays

Task 2:

IELTS Writing Task 2 – The format, the 5 question types, the 5 step essay writing strategy & sample questions. All the key information you need to know.

The 5 Types of Task 2 Essay – How to recognise the 5 different types of Task 2 essays. 15 sample questions to study and a simple planning structure for each essay type.

Understanding Task 2 Questions – How to quickly and easily analyse and understand IELTS Writing Task 2 questions.

How To Plan a Task 2 Essay – Discover why essay planning is essential & learn a simple 4 step strategy, the 4 part essay structure & 4 methods of generating ideas.

How To Write a Task 2 Introduction – Find out why a good introduction is essential. Learn how to write one using a simple 3 part strategy & discover 4 common mistakes to avoid.

How To Write Task 2 Main Body Paragraphs – Learn the simple 3 part structure for writing great main body paragraphs and also, 3 common mistakes to avoid. 

How To Write Task 2 Conclusions – Learn the easy way to write the perfect conclusion for a Task 2 essay. Also discover 4 common mistakes to avoid.

Task 2 Marking Criteria – Find out how to meet the marking criteria in Task 2. See examples of good and poor answers & learn some common mistakes to avoid.



The 5 Task 2 Essay Types:

Step-by-step instructions on how to plan & write high-level essays. Model answers & common mistakes to avoid.

  Opinion Essays

  Discussion Essays

  Problem Solution Essays

  Advantages & Disadvantages Essays

  Double Question Essays


Other Related Pages

IELTS Writing Test – Understand the format & marking criteria, know what skills are assessed & learn the difference between the Academic & General writing tests.



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