Discussing how to tackle issues


This past week I decided to do a business lesson on a topic I found from my IELTS resources. I realised there would be a bit of a risk since IELTS is quite academic in nature while incorporating some general English topics. My corporate clients are adults and usually are more talkative on more mature topics and work-related ones as well. Here’s a lesson idea I put together on the topic of starting a business and another one on innovation that you might also find interesting.

With that said I thought it would work because this resource on ‘Tackling issues’ covers social problems that adults can  comment on more confidently since they’ve probably have had some more life experiences than high school students who take the IELTS.

Suffice it to say it was a hit!

This topic covers some great synonym words for ‘problem’ as well as offer collocations with these synonyms. Here’s a great lesson idea that supplements this topic and it’s an activity that takes the whole lesson.

But let’s get into the lesson shall we?


So, start the lesson by writing ‘Tackling issues’ on the board and brainstorm with students as a class or ask them to do so in pairs or groups, what are the most common issues of our time. (You could ask them afterwards to rank them in order of most/least urgent(vocabulary word) for their country).

Here are some:

Unemployment         Genetically Modified Food        Cloning           Global Financial Crisis

Obesity                    Globalization              Homelessness           Environmental problems

Energy crisis          Climate change

Your students may come up with others but these can be a framework for your lessons.

You can expand on them by adding subheadings or spidergrams with some to prepare for conversation and/or debate later. This means adding additional topics within the issue such as automation for unemployment, food and diet for obesity and renewable energy or eco-friendly activities for Energy crisis.


Here are the synonyms: difficulty, trouble, hurdle*, obstacle*, predicament*, disaster, issue, challenge, controversy, setback*, catastrophe, dilemma*, crisis

Students of upper-intermediate or above will recognize some of these for sure.  However, the ones marked with an asterisk(*) are the ones that they typically need some additional explaining and examples with.

 I typically use examples related to physical problems when sport training and then try to relate it to their work. Check out my video for further explanations and examples of this.


This exercise and introduction to the collocations comes straight from the handout from my IELTS resources book (see attachment). It’s straightforward and just ask students to do it but highlight when you are going through it the words that are used to form a kind of expression such as:

Experience (minor) difficulties

Overcome a (major) hurdle

Get out of the (current) predicament

Lead to a (total) disaster

Presents a (significant) challenge

Experience a (minor) setback

Caused (considerable) controversy

At this stage, it’s a good time to recycle  the new language and you can proceed in two ways:

First, by asking students to discuss the “issues” brainstormed at the beginning of class using the language covered. Encouraging them to be specific and provide examples

Second, ask them to discuss the issues in the exercise, with their own examples and experience/knowledge. Sentence 8 can be discussed in straightforward manner: is it acceptable to cheat if everyone else is? Do some world competitions encourage it?

With the other sentences you can ask students to express their opinion related to the issues mentioned in the sentences.

For better or worse

The final stage of the lesson presents language that could be quite new to most students even if your class is advanced. The vocabulary is extremely relevant and helpful when describing making a situation better or worse when issues occur.

Ask students to categorize them: exacerbate, alleviate, hinder, mitigate, rectify, compound, complicate, improve, aggravate

Make better:

Maker worse:

You’ll have to provide examples and explanations here on the words. You can watch my video lesson on this for ideas, the same as the above link.

Once that is done and time permitting, you can ask students in pairs or groups to discuss solutions to some of these ‘issues’ and how to ‘tackle’ them 🙂

As I mentioned earlier this provides, great vocabulary and plenty of discussion for students. You can ask them to make sentences using the vocabulary if you prefer, and limit the speaking. You can ask them to make sentences on slips of paper with solutions, collect and redistribute and get students to guess the issue etc.

Additional ideas – listening and reading

For teachers who are looking to add some content that students can absorb related to the subject here are some ideas:


Enjoyed this lesson idea? Want more? You can click on the subheading or footer link titled lesson ideas for more or check out my YouTube channel with videos on language, teaching and more ESL ideas. Happy hunting!


This lesson is originally found from the Vocabulary for IELTS book and has been adapted to suit an upper-intermediate to advanced class of adult learners.

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