What do you really teach (learn?) when teaching TOEFL?

This is not really a sudden idea. Another TOEFL student tonight, another discussion based on the “environment” vocabulary worksheet (thank you Ted Power!) – and another revelation: being a biologist, she enlightened me about the innovative plastic they are now developing made of starch, completely bio-degradable and not dependent on oil… (we were pondering over what life might be like when oil has come to an end). I learn such a lot of wonderful things from my future academicians! This is one reason I LOVE teaching.

Yet – and this is more important – I’ve noticed it once again today as she was responding to one of the questions against the clock (15 secs to prepare, 45 secs to speak, question # 1) – her fluency is really improving from lesson to lesson, dramatically. Academic as TOEFL is, highly formal and structured, it DOES stretch the students, since faced with the necessity to be able to speak under pressure, think quickly, write an essay on a topic they don’t give a damn about – they soar one level up twice, three times as quickly as the “general course” lads and lases…

This urges me to re-consider my methods with the general course.


2 comments on “What do you really teach (learn?) when teaching TOEFL?

  1. Don’t you find that students learn for the exam tho, and not for use in the real world? I mean, my Chinese students who have gone on to take the TOEFL have all passed thanks to their mastery of ‘revising’, but their general English has lagged well behind the verbatim learning that TOEFL has demanded.
    I’d like your opinion, I have only ever taught 3 students for TOEFL, and the book we used was sickening… there was very little need fr a teacher.

  2. waykate says:

    In my experience, I have found quite the opposite – hence the post. TOEFL is in a way a wholistic approach, as different from the odds-and-ends (grammar mc-nuggets, as it is fashionable to call it now) general coursebook syllabus, which results in a more tangible, wholistic outcome. TOEFL demands fluent speaking (iBT only, sure) on a vast array of topics – this is another thing that stretches my students. The responces are to be highly structured and coherent – and this, too, helps oral expressions providing the necessary scaffolding… Above all, TOEFL enriches the vocabulary immensely. It’s the teacher’s role, though, to make sure the part of that vocabulary that might me useful in life, gets activated (through essay-writing with subsequent ideas discussions, for example).

    As for the books – I find most of them inaproppriate and only rely on them as sources of texts, listening and sample essays, maybe some useful strategies. My approach is, rather, a cognitive-communicative one – so a solution might be a good “communicative” book that still prepares for TOEFL (North Star series, maybe?)

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