Teaching TOEFL and IELTS essays – a technique students love

There has been a great  discussion of a problematizing approach to correcting students’ grammar on Scott Thornbury’s blog (An A-Z of ELT). Well – this post has little to do with the debate itself, but one commenter there mentioned a problem with written assignments: it is hardly useful for the learner to receive the corrected paper full of red marks and crossed out words. Not only is it immensely discouraging,  but it is also very brain-unfriendly. It’s doubtful that the student will benefit at all.

This remark made me think I could  write this post describing an approach that:
– teaches how to write better essays without intimidating or discouraging the learners
– is far more brain-friendly that the conventional “red ink method”
– results in significant improvement of the essays
– is loved by the students.
– does not require too much preparation to produce a good 2-hour lesson involving all 4 skills.

If you are too busy to read the notes below, you can simply download the file with all the 4 stages of the approach 🙂 The detailed notes are under the ‘more’ tag.

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Error correction: having SS do your work.

To pot the redThe best way to correct your students is, naturally, getting them to correct themselves. Moreover – I see it as THE ONLY way to really achieve the results (and it is especially true of getting rid of fossilized errors).   There are a few problems here, however (a free material shared below, click “more”):

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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.

TOEFL biology: a topic-based cluster of materials

I find topic-based (not skill-based) approach to TOEFL the easiest to handle and the most beneficial for the students as the lack of vocabulary is the primary concern, as I feel it.

Provided you equip the students with the right inventory of words, they will be cracking reading and listening, as well as speaking questions 4 and 6, way better. However, planning your syllabus around a topic means you have to browse lots of materials as most TOEFL preparation coursebooks tend to me skill- and strategy- focused, which I find less effective. Hence, I’ll be sharing my “clusters” of links and materials I have already compiled to make some teacher’s life easier.

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