Writing is HARD. There are just too many things one has to pay attention to during the writing process: the context (audience and purpose), the right register (=formal or informal, depending on the latter), the task (and its various components), generating relevant ideas and planning structure; and of course language (grammar, vocabulary, spelling, punctuation and capitalization). To do all this well in time requires a lot of practicing your different writing subskills. To help you discover the fun in this, here are some ideas of some free writing activities that can be done on your own. Pick a few and get into the habit of writing regularly, to gain confidence, as well as speed and accuracy by the time you take your IELTS.
One of the most popular free writing activities learners wishing to improve their English (writing) skills tend to resort to is keeping a diary that they try to write into daily. Setting the time, the topic(s) and/or the word count for each entry can help create the structure and discipline to make journal writing a useful habit. If you make sure you always write about the interesting parts of the day, you will be able to maintain the motivation to keep going.
Goal: To acquire writing confidence and tempo and improve your brainstorming skills.
Added benefit: Other than practicing your English, they say that reflecting on your day might have a positive psychological and even spiritual side effect.
Listening to interesting TED talks (at www.ted.com) or any podcasts whose transcript is available online and stopping the recording after every sentence or so to try to write down what you have heard is an excellent way to help you get used to sentence structure and rhythm in English, as well as improve your spelling and capitalization habits. Although TED talks expose you to spoken English, the lectures are quite scripted (written in advance) to provide for good writing practice.
Goal: To improve your spelling and capitalization skills.
Added benefit: All the advanced vocabulary you will hear in context, as well as listening comprehension.
3, ‘I disagree with you because…’
If during your day you come across a personal or social topic that is controversial, you could use it to practice your critical thinking, brainstorming and argument skills in writing by collecting three (distinct, clear, and relevant) points why you disagree with somebody or something. (Alternatively you can write mini essays starting with ‘I agree with you about…’ as well).
Goal: To hone your critical thinking, brainstorming and argument skills.
Added benefit: All the vocabulary that you will look up in the dictionary along the way. Given that this is free writing and you are not under exam conditions, so allow yourself to use a dictionary, if need be.
4, Summarizing an Article
If you have read something interesting on a blog or in an article, either in your mother tongue or in English, you could pick an imaginary audience (e.g a friend or your college professor) and summarize it to them in 10-15 sentences or 100-150 words.
Goal: To develop your critical thinking and composing skills, as well as target audience awareness. (To a friend you will be writing using an informal tone, while to your teacher more formally).
Added benefit: Reading comprehension.
5, Chatting Online
Chatting with people on social media or other forums is not going to give you much practice of structured writing, but it will help you get into the habit of writing faster, informally.
Goal: To increase your writing speed and help you prepare for writing task 1 in the general training module of IELTS, where you have to write a letter.
Added benefit: All the new friendships you make or old ones you maintain. ☺
6, Story Writing
Goal: Although in IELTS you do not have to write a narrative, if you are the creative type who likes to invent stories of any kind, maybe you should start writing them down in English. This will help you practice basic composing skills, spelling, and capitalization.
Added benefit: All the advanced descriptive vocabulary you will revise (or look up and learn) during the process.
7, Brainstorming and Drafting
One of the hardest parts of the writing process is coming up with ideas and finding the right key words to express them with. If you practice (timed) brainstorming and drafting even without writing up the final letter/essay/descriptive report, you will gradually become more efficient at coming up with relevant thoughts to any task.
Goal: To increase brainstorming speed and relevance.
Added benefit: Your note-taking skills will improve, which might come in handy if you ever have to quickly write something down in English (e.g during university lectures or the listening part of your IELTS exam).
8, ‘My Role Model’ (description)
You might have a role model, whose life you find fascinating and have read a lot about, hopefully in English. You could try to summarize the information you found about them perhaps even using different sources, in a biography.
Goal: To practice general composing and summarizing skills.
Added benefit: Vocabulary, reading comprehension and a revision of the narrative tenses.
9, ‘My Role Model’ (letter)
A variation to the above activity is writing a letter either to the person themselves saying why you admire them and what you have learned from their example, or to a friend about them (-or both!). The first version would most likely require the use of a more formal register, while the latter an informal tone.
Goal: To raise your awareness to the importance of differences in style, depending on your target audience.
Added benefit: You might find reading about successful people inspiring and even help you stay motivated on your course towards IELTS!
If you feel that you are extraordinarily bad at spelling or punctuation, you might decide to start improving these writing skills at a very basic level, that of copying parts of or whole model letters, essays, or descriptive reports. As a variation to the same task you could also experiment with changing some of the vocabulary, grammar, or facts in it as well.
Goal: To give you very controlled practice of spelling and punctuation.
Added benefit: By doing so you will also learn some of the typical set phrases and the layout features pertinent to each genre.
11, Google Images
In Google Image you could look for interesting pictures to either describe or write a story around. (For this, you will have to think of some imaginative key words first.)
Goal: To provide you with brainstorming and free writing practice by developing your creativity.
Added benefit: The ability to generate ideas around any topic or type of prompt will come in handy during the speaking part of your IELTS exam as well.
12, Describing Authentic Graphs
If you are into business or are an (aspiring) engineer, you could use authentic graphs taken from economic or professional newspapers or blogs to describe.
Goal: To practice describing visual information as presented by bar charts, line graphs, pie charts, table, flow charts or diagrams for task 1 in the writing part of IELTS.
Added benefit: Developing your (academic) reading comprehension skills.