Speaking Part 2: Storytelling

January 29, 2018 by Ashlee Hunter Ashlee Hunter

Once upon a time, there was a brilliant student who needed to pass a difficult test…

Storytelling has been around since people could speak. Some people are good at it, while others struggle. Part 2 on the IELTS speaking test is essentially the same skill: telling a story about a particular topic.

Candidates get nervous when telling a story, particularly about their grammar. Here are some tips you should be focused on when storytelling to keep the examiner intrigued by the content, and less on your grammar mistakes.

  1. Knowledge of the Content

When you know the story well, you tell it with confidence. You should always tell the first story that comes to mind once you have read the topic.

For example:

Describe something you own which is very important to you.

You should say:

  • Where you got it from
  • How long you've had it
  • What you use it for

and explain why it's important to you.  

What's the first thing you think about after you read the first sentence? Whatever it is, talk about it. The reason it comes to mind first is that it's important to you for a special reason. Try not to invent the “perfect” answer or the answer you think the examiner would prefer. There are no right or wrong responses, so talk about whatever is easiest for you. This will allow you to feel confident about whatever topic you've been given.

  1. Intonation

Make your story interesting by changing the sound of your voice. Try not to be monotone when telling your story for two minutes. Creating interest with your voice may mask some of the grammar or vocabulary mistakes in your story. Using your voice for storytelling includes increasing or decreasing your volume, stressing certain words in your sentences e.g. subjects, objects, nouns, adverbs, etc., using different tones in different parts of your sentences, and pausing between sentences or ideas.

  1. Transitions: Words and Phrases

Don't just answer each part of the question separately.

My necklace is important to me.

I got it from my grandmother.

I’ve had it for 10 years.

I use it to dress up for special events such as weddings.

It has been passed down from generation to generation.

First, it will be much more difficult to fill two minutes without using transitions. Second, and most importantly, the story will be too straightforward and thus, uninteresting. Connect your ideas together with transitional words and phrases in order to make the story more alluring for the examiner.

The most important thing I own is my necklace because I got it from my grandmother. I’ve had it for 10 years. It's not only beautiful but also full of memories. I wear it to dress up for special events such as weddings for the most part, but I also wear it on days that I’m missing my grandmother. In fact, this necklace has been passed down from generation to generation. Therefore, this necklace is very important to me.

Adding these words and phrases make this more story-like and more interesting to listen to.

  1. Colloquialisms

Adding informal language or slang can add a bit of naturalness to your speech. Having these in your answer can also make the examiner feel more connected to your story.

The most important thing I own is, hands down, my necklace because I got it from my grandmother. I’ve had it for 10 years. It's not only the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen but also full of wonderful memories. I wear it to dress up for special events such as weddings for the most part, but I also wear it on days that I’m longing to see my grandmother. In fact, this necklace has been passed down from generation to generation. Therefore, this necklace has a special place in my heart.

This allows the examiner to get a vivid picture of what is important you.

  1. Fluency

You want your story to flow from beginning to end, so try not to fix every little mistake or take long pauses because you are thinking of the most accurate word form or tense. Doing this will cause your story to sound discordant and may cause the examiner to feel disconnected from your narrative.

GettyImages-846406172 man with hands up

Although grammar is important, focusing on the above tips will allow your storytelling abilities to shine, resulting in a potentially higher score. Grammar is only a part of your overall speaking score, so don't let it be your only focus.

Practice Part 2 by imagining your friend or family member asking you the same question. Tell your story as if you are talking to someone you know. Record and time yourself and then listen to it, first picking out ways to improve the aspects listed above. Once you have done that, then you can fix your grammatical mistakes. When it comes to the speaking section of the IELTS test, practice definitely makes perfect. Improving your speaking in these ways may leave you pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

… and the student lived happily ever after. The end.



Ashlee Hunter

Ashlee has been involved in the ESL world for over ten years and has now planted her roots in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Nothing gives her more pleasure than watching students and candidates reach their language and IELTS goals.

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