Motivating Students for the toefl® iBT

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Motivating Students for the TOEFL® iBT

  • Roger Fusselman
  • Lee Sang Hee Preparatory School
  • Pohang, Kyungsangbuk-do
  • OR
  • Daegu KOTESOL / Kyungpook National University Conference
  • Saturday, June 3, 2006 * Daegu, South Korea

Test Changes: Global Impact

  • The TOEFL changes are important for international students seeking global education opportunities in the USA and Canada.
  • International students wanting admission to US and Canadian universities must learn about how the TOEFL changes their admissions requirements.
  • Teachers needing to prepare students for academic American English should incorporate these changes into their lesson plans.

Test Changes: Good news

  • Grammar/Structure section gone.
  • Speaking section added.
  • Integrated tasks added – tasks where test-takers combine two or more of the four skills.
  • Combinations include: read  listen  speak; listen  speak; read  listen  write.
  • Reading and listening passages are longer (600 words) and more authentic.
  • New ways of assessing reading and listening.

Even more good news!

  • All writing tasks are answered via keyboard typing. No handwritten answers allowed. Many people write faster on the computer.
  • Note-taking is allowed.
  • Greater communicative opportunities.

Why prepare students for the iBT?

  • iBT measures communicative competence.
  • The test demands and requirements (note-taking, computer knowledge, four skills) reflect American academic demands more than previous tests.
  • Skills useful for the PBT and the CBT not found in the iBT (shorter listening tasks, shorter readings, grammaticality test items, etc.) are already taught in Korean schools and many hogwans.
  • ETS wants to replace the PBT and CBT with the iBT.

Why the changes should motivate you.

  • You can
  • teach academic skills and content, not just test-taking strategies (the secret of teaching TOEFL).
  • use the four skills to promote variety.
  • use ESL/EFL and native-English-speaking materials to teach these skills.
  • promote integration – mental connections – across skills.
  • have goal-directed students that excel.
  • Your enthusiasm will encourage them.

Technical assistance

  • Check out “TOEFL iBT Links 101” from toeflsmeagle on Dave’s ESL Café TOEFL forum.
  • Advice and documents -- ETS.
  • University websites.
  • BBC website on learning English.
  • Supplementary materials allow tasks to seem academically relevant rather than merely TOEFL-relevant.
  • Many precious resources on the Internet

Pacing and Variety

  • A skill every hour or hour and a half (e.g., reading vocabulary in context, etc) or faster.
  • Rotate the four skills: reading for 1-2 weeks, writing for 1-2 weeks, etc. Don’t be too linear.
  • Avoid becoming too divergent; move in a mostly predictable, productive, planned fashion.
  • Always bring supplements from websites with academic content, e.g., from online writing labs at universities.
  • You can overwork them, but not underwork them.

An essay topic as a gift

  • TOEFL topics are not known in advance, so how does one assign them to simulate the test?
  • Essay topic on A4, with paper folded over so as to hide the topic, with a red circular sticker keeping the fold closed.
  •  Topic underneath reads:
  • People learn in different ways. Some people learn by doing things; other people learn by reading about things; others learn by listening to people talk about things. Which of these methods of learning is best for you? Use specific examples to support your choice.

An essay is a forum for discussion

  • 30-minute time limit, 300 words, but not over yet.
  • “Some people learn by…”- a good first essay topic, for seeing your students’ learning preferences.
  • Pair work: students discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the methods they prefer. Students challenge each other.
  • Whole class: discuss advantages and disadvantages of students’ preferred methods.
  • Teacher: makes chart on board: Possible Advantages and Disadvantages of Various Learning Preferences. Note-taking by students.

Assessment is an opportunity to learn

  • Use the ETS rubric for the Independent Writing Task. This provides the holistic rating.
  • On the other side, have an analytical rubric keyed to the text of your choice.
  • The Longman rubric and the McGraw-Hill rubric (attached) have areas checked that need work.
  • Electronic version of the analytical rubrics allows students the freedom to research on their own.
  • Mark to teach about 3 items that need improvement.
  • ABCDF grades? If so, grade on effort, not quality.

Essay topic types suggest activities

  • E.g., the agree-disagree topic type:
  • Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Grades (marks) encourage students to learn. Use specific reasons and examples to support your opinion.
  • The agree-disagree lends itself to a debate format.
  • Answer objections, work on transitions.
  • Support/oppose-the-plan topic (e.g., for a new factory being built in your neighborhood)  a town-hall discussion.
  • Have a purposeful learning objective more than just practice.

Additional ideas on independent writing

  • Essay topics can have writing objectives attached to them (e.g., sentence variety, correct use of transitions, particular grammatical forms/patterns, paragraph types) rather than merely practice for practice’s sake.
  • Essay topics can sometimes be chosen by students, or previewed as discussion topics (board game).
  • Putting paragraphs in order activity (pair work): can be used to teach various aspects of essay writing, such as coherence or use of examples.

The Integrated Writing Task

  • Read (about 300 words, 3 min.)  listen (about 600 words, 3 min.)  write (20 min., on the relation between the reading and the listening)
  • Academic readings of 300 words in a TOEFL preparation book can be expanded on.
  • E.g., Golden Age of Comics (in Longman)
  • Additional lecture (by me) on how the Golden Age of Comics ended.
  • In-class writing.
  • Academic listening recordings available on the Net (e.g., at the BBC Learning English website).

Suggestions for teaching the reading section

  • Spoken summaries and paraphrases of passages.
  • Expansion questions on the reading. E.g., in the Longman: territoriality. Ask students to give an example of territoriality not given in the reading.
  • Teach WHY the reading skills the prep books focus on are important for learning.
  • Make Q-MS-D-T charts on reading skills that show
  • 1) a particular question type;
  • 2) A mental skill it trains;
  • 3) How to identify that particular question type; &
  • 4) How to answer that particular question type.

A sample chart (very incomplete): Put the pieces dictated by the teacher in the right place

  • Question
  • Mental skill
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Sentence insertion
  • Boldface sentence.
  • Look for transitions.
  • Vocab. in context
  • Understand
  • meaning
  • Ask for synonyms
  • Substitute to check answer
  • Summary chart
  • Think in essentials
  • Choose sentences
  • Remove true but minor
  • Fill in the chart
  • Choose sentences
  • Know the kinds of writ.

Mental skills can justify academic skills

  • Paraphrasing – it’s about avoiding plagiarism.
  • Even deeper – it’s about making someone’s thinking your own, digesting it by rephrasing it.
  • Summarizing – necessary in many academic situations, such as writing conclusions.
  • Even deeper – it saves space in your head to identify the important essentials of a subject.
  • Such academic skills are not merely cultural requirements of Western academia; they are helpful brain builders in many situations.


  • Pause to discuss academic content listened to, but discuss briefly. Content IS learning.
  • Oral summaries/paraphrases of listening passages.
  • Call attention to vocabulary items on the listening, including words, fixed expressions, clichés, etc.
  • Always require note-taking! Teach different kinds of note-taking (key word, outline, Cornell, etc.)
  • Take notes in class and show them to your students.

Speaking Suggestions

  • Time limits on the speaking (e.g., 15 seconds to plan, 45 seconds to speak) make for an interactive, competitive class.
  • Get students to be timekeepers.
  • Find English conversation topics that are similar to the speaking prompts, e.g, Some prefer X, others prefer Y. Which do you prefer?
  • Bring in readings for individual students to summarize for the rest of the class, similar to the length they would have to summarize orally.

The summing up

  • Embrace the iBT for its challenges.
  • Use variety and pacing purposefully.
  • Exploit learning opportunities in writing, listening, and reading.
  • Emphasize learning, not “cracking the TOEFL.”
  • Provide academically challenging supplements.
  • Give content a chance – provides a sample of a possible future U.S. academic life.
  • “Those who fight for the future, live in it today.” –Ayn Rand

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