Teachers throughout the world generally shudder in fear at the thought of teaching TOEFL, and with good reason.
Possibly the most alarming thing about TOEFL are the massive textbooks, often resembling a phone book and coming with 12 CDs. Many first-time TOEFL teachers think ‘what the hell am I going to do with this?’ It is in the teacher’s best interest to know how to teach TOEFL, as this is one of the money subjects of ESL, plus some of the topics in the reading and listening can be quite fascinating. The exam is generally conducted on computer and covers all four key areas, including speaking, reading, writing and listening. Teaching TOEFL is like teaching anything else really, except the biggest differences are that you will be emphasising the structure of the exam and dealing with integrated activities. The integrated activities require the use of different skills, such as a spoken response to a reading passage followed by a listening passage. No matter what, with a little bit of preparation and some guidance, any teacher can weave a little magic in the classroom and become a terrific TOEFL teacher!
How to Teach TOEFL
In your first class, to give your students a feel for what they are aiming for, a practice test is a good idea. This should set the tone for the remainder of the course and show them that the TOEFL test is not a walk in the park. You should tell your students that learning TOEFL is not easy, and that they must do an incredible amount of work in order for them to get the score that they require. If you strongly doubt a student’s ability, you should do the right thing and be honest with the student, informing them that perhaps a lower level of English course may be beneficial to them to prep them for the TOEFL exam.
Plan Your Lesson Backwards!
An alternative method of lesson planning, this little gem often comes up (but not often remembered) from various ESL courses. Planning your TOEFL class backwards means that you can effectively go through the class, work from the aims, and then work the necessary steps, activities and exercises in order for the students to reach those aims and objectives. This is especially helpful when it comes to a subject like TOEFL, which involves a great deal of structure in the lessons.
Know Your Subject!
If you can, try to take a few practice TOEFL tests on either the internet or even your language centre may have a copy of the software that you can use in a demo mode. This allows you to get an understanding as to how the test is structured and learn the different steps involved. Even old hands at TOEFL should regularly undertake a practice on the computerised test to help learn of different pointers that will help the students and how they can make the most of the timing in between the questions.
Record the Students When They Speak
When you get your students to complete a spoken activity, for example, where they must speak for 45 seconds on a given topic, record them! This is important, as they have to become used to speaking on a microphone while being recorded. The recording places the additional pressure on the student that they will find during the exam, as well as giving you and the student the chance to review and look for errors with their work.
Successful TOEFL students are good note takers. Questions in the listening do not allow the students to answer them as they hear them, but encourage the students to take notes, with the questions appearing on the screen after the passage. The teacher needs to teach the students some methods on how to take effective notes and to organise information in a way that they can understand and refer to later on. They shouldn’t need to write down everything they hear, but only take down what’s relevant.
This is a unique point for both teacher and student, as English language training is generally broken down into the four parts of speaking, reading, writing and listening. The TOEFL examination is unique as it forces the students to use multiple skills when answering a single question. More than just using the two skills, it involves effective note taking skills and structure. The unfortunate aspect of the integrated components is if a student is weak in one area, their score on the overall question will be lower. To teach the integrated task effectively to students, teachers must start simple. The best way to introduce students to the integrated task is to give them news articles to read, then watch a TV news bulletin on the same subject and then get them to use their notes to give a quick talk about it. It is quite likely that the students have never done any exercises like this, so start them off on sometime simple and then slowly increase in difficulty.
Structure is king!
Like all English proficiency examinations, students must be aware of the structure that must be given in their answers. For example, in terms of the TOEFL writing, they must know to include all the essential tidbits that an examiner looks for, such as a thesis statement, topic sentences and the supporting sentences.
Focus on the time aspect
No matter whether it’s reading, writing, speaking or listening – all of these are strongly bound by time restrictions. After students become aware of the structure of the test, they should then focus on achieving the structural requirements within the appropriate time limits. If they can’t finish the tasks within the required period of time, then this is something that you, as a teacher, must begin to focus on to give the students the best chances at achieving their goal for the TOEFL examination.
Teach them to use their psychic abilities
One nifty tip for making the most of the timing of the TOEFL test is to get the students to use their power of prediction. As the TOEFL test is run on computerised software, there are numerous slides and images that allow the student some extra time for planning and to predict some of the vocabulary of the topic coming up. During the reading and the listening, students are often shown an image that will be related to the topic. After knowing the topic, and seeing an image, it could be about stars for example, they will know that that the upcoming listening passage will be a lecture by a professor about stars. By predicting the vocab, this puts them in a better position to know what they could be listening out for, such as a comparison between two constellations, etc.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
The teacher should give writing tasks to be completed for homework. This task should be done within a time limit and submitted to the teacher, with appropriate feedback given. If students don’t do the work, don’t get angry – remind them that it is simply in their best interests to complete set work. Homework doesn’t always need to be TOEFL related, encourage the students to watch English TV shows, read English language current affairs online and even listen online to some news broadcasts. This is a great way to take a break from the dryness of TOEFL and still gain the necessary skills using other resources and materials.
While TOEFL is not the easiest subject in ESL to teach, it is definitely a challenge that many enjoy.
Some of the reading and lectures can be interesting to listen to, and provide a great alternative for those who have had enough of general English topics like shopping, the weather and hobbies. Try following the few rules above - these are just a few pointers that should get you in the right direction for TOEFL teaching success!