Academic task 1: Describing a natural process

Process diagrams are quite frequent in academic writing task 1 and many students find them quite overwhelming as the processes can look quite complicated and they are often scientific.

These process diagrams can include anything from recycling, concrete making, solar panels, heating systems to making glass.

You are NOT expected to know about any of these!

You are given the key vocab you need!

So, if you are not very confident in matters of science or geography, you don’t need to panic. 

In this tutorial we are going to take you through how to describe a natural process in task 1 writing and a natural process is more closely linked to animals, the weather, growing trees or plants and marine life and this tutorial will show you:

  • Where to start in understanding and interpreting the picture. 
  • Which language to use to connect your ideas and link the stages in the process together.
  • How to improve your coherence.
  • Grammatical suggestions to score really highly in this task by using the passive voice and participle clauses.

Following these tips will ensure your response to describing a natural process is both coherent and well structured. 

Step 1. Looking at the diagram. 

Understand the cycle and identify stages.

The first thing to remember is that your aim is to describe what is happening (it can help you to imagine that the examiner does not have the picture in front of him) so you need to be very clear about the start, the different clear stages, and the end.

Quite often, and this is really important to reassure yourself, it simply does not matter where you start as long as you include most of the key stages and are clear and coherent in your response. 

Hunting for visual clues. 

Look to see if the diagram is divided - for example if the cycle starts in one place and then splits, or if there are any arrow to show you the direction of something.

This might help you find a clear start. Very often in a natural process - as the name suggest is cyclical so whether you start with a chicken or an egg does not matter! 

Natural cycles. 

This diagram (source Internet, unknown) is labelled The Life Cycle of a Frog and includes key vocabulary to guide you.

You can use these words but equally if you can find your own better or alternative words then we recommend you do as this will score you marks in lexical resource. 

The rubric will say:

You should spend about 20 minutes on this task.

The diagram illustrates the Life Cycle process of frogs in a pond.

Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features and make comparisons where relevant.

You will notice that the rubric for task 1 is always the same whether it is a pie chart, bar chart , map, graph or process. 

academic task 1

The life cycle of a frog - how to start. 

  • Use arrows (if there are any) to help you. Here there are no arrows.
  • The arrows take you from mature frog, through the reproduction process (not shown but assumed), the stages of development of tadpoles in the pond and back to the fully grown frog again.
  • It is a circular diagram - a life cycle so it does not matter where you start.
  • We are going to start with the embryos as this feels logical!
  • This cycle is not difficult so all you have to do is explain the stages and describe this clearly using academic language.

Step 2 - Decide which connecting words and vocabulary you need. 

Use CHUNKS or FRAGMENTS of language.

To score highly in this task 1 you need to link the stages together. Here are some key words for this and you will see these in my answer. Adverbs to connect stages in a cycle - grammatical coherence.

  • First stage.
  • The first stage is when + noun + verb
  • To begin with,
  • The process commences with
  • Initially,
  • MIddle stages.
  • This step involves + ing
  • Then,
  • Once,
  • After that,
  • The next stage in the cycle/ process is...
  • After the completion of this stage, the next step is usually…
  • While / As
  • Once A is finished, B is able to start.
  • As a result of ….
  • When,
  • As soon as,
  • Where
  • Final stages.
  • Subsequently,
  • Following this,
  • Once this stage is complete, …
  • This results in ..
  • Finally,
  • Eventually.

Vocabulary and synonyms - lexical coherence. 

This diagram gives you a certain amount of language. You have the choice of whether to repeat it in your description or try and vary it.

What you do here will depend on how well you understand the diagram and the words. It is not an absolute disaster in this task if you do repeat some of the words from the diagram as they are technical terms.

You should, however, try and find alternatives for the more general English words if you can and this will help you score marks on lexical range. It will also help your lexical coherence as you are using words belonging to the same lexical field or group. 

Frog : amphibian, toad.

Mature: adult, fully grown. Mating: reproduction process or cycle.

Frog spawn: fertilised eggs.

Pond: water. Tadpole: no alternative.

Growing: developing, maturing. Young frog: baby, small frog, young.

Legs: limbs.

Step 3 - Quickly plan and organise your answer.

  • Write an overview using words to describe a sequence such as stage, step, phase.
  • Use the correct tense to describe the sequence. As this is a natural cycle which is repeated, use the present simple.
  • Make sure you use transitive and intransitive verbs correctly - these are verbs which can / can’t be used in the passive voice.
  • Make sure that you form the active and passive correctly.
  • Use linking words / adverbials related to sequence and ordering (see above).

Step 4 - Model answer

The diagram shows the natural process life cycle of a frog from the embryo stage, through seven  developmental phases from tadpole to fully grown amphibian.

Initially, the fertilised eggs grow into embryos from which very small tadpoles emerge and shelter under plants in the water or pond. The tadpole begins life black in colour and it has a long tail and shorter body. As it grows, external gills for breathing are produced while subsequent stages in its development include a longer tail and when this stage is complete back limbs begin to appear which allows the tiny creature to swim faster.

The baby frog is nourished from food and nutrients stored in its tail, and the next stage in the cycle is for front limbs to begin growing while the tail shrinks and eventually disappears. At each stage the creature continues to enlarge significantly and changes in colour from black, to dark green and ultimately to bright green.

Once the tail has disappeared the frog is supported on four limbs and continues, in the final phrase, to develop into a full sized amphibian. (183 words).


  • Use of adverbial phrases to connect the sentences together and add coherence and connection between the stages. 
  • Use of vocabulary / lexis connected to animals, frogs, growth, development, food and size. This variety of words keeps the answer well connected and precise while avoiding repetition when possible.
  • Use of passive verbs is suitable when describing any kind of process.

Useful links to help you prepare for academic task 1:

Audio tutorial

You can download or listen to the audio version here:

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