TOEFL preparation at our English school

02/13/2012 12:44
Hi, my name is Aylin Bardavit, aka "the TOEFL guru" of the school :)
Aylin Bardavit - TOEFL Preparation class guru

I have been an ESL instructor here since 2001; first started teaching when I was newly married, then had 2 kids and I am still here and loving every minute of it ! My ultimate goal is to have grandchildren and still be teaching here :)

TOEFL stands for "Test of English as a Foreign Language" and it evaluates the English proficiency of an individual in an academic environment. Most of the time, it is a requirement for admission for non-native English speakers at many English speaking colleges. Moreover, institutions such as government agencies, licensing authorities, businesses, or scholarship programs may also see this test as a prerequisite. A TOEFL score is only valid for two years and then the score will no longer be reported to a specific school taking into consideration the fact that a candidate's language proficiency could have immensely changed since the date of the test.

I first started teaching paper-based and computer-based TOEFL 10 years ago. At the time, paper-based TOEFL consisted of four sections: reading, listening, writing and structure and written expression. Although it is still being used in some locations, IBT which stands for Internet-based Test, slowly replaced both the computer-based (CBT) and paper-based (PBT) tests.
IBT was introduced in 2005 in the US, Canada, France, Germany and Italy and I have been preparing students for the IBT, at our school, since then.

To summarize it in a few words, the IBT consists of four sections: reading, listening, speaking and writing. The reading section includes 3-4 long passages on academic subjects with 12-13 questions for each passage. Each passage has to be completed within 20 minutes, adding up to one whole hour of reading.
The listening section consists of six passages, 3-5 minutes in length and questions about the passages. Two of the texts are dialogues between students or academic staff and four of them are lectures on academic topics. The whole section takes about 30-45 minutes to complete.
Whereas the speaking section is made up of six tasks: two independent, and four integrated questions which include reading, listening and speaking skills. It takes about 20 minutes to complete the speaking section.
The writing section includes two tasks, one independent and one integrated. The time frame designated for this section is 50 minutes.

I teach TOEFL three times a week, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and I teach conversation on Thursdays and Fridays. In my TOEFL classes, we prepare for the reading, listening and speaking sections. Another great teacher covers the writing section with the TOEFL class on Thursdays and Fridays.

To make classes more efficient and less boring, I cover all three sections in one day. We always start with reading in the morning, keeping in mind the fact that people in general are sleepy and not in a mood to talk in the morning. People can focus more on their reading when they are rested and when the classroom is considerably quiet.
After the break, we do listening and towards the end of the class, when people are no longer sleepy but awake, alert and talkative, we do speaking.
While doing reading, I make sure that everyone does individual, silent work and then we read the passages out loud in class, which enables me to hear their pronunciations and to correct them. Moreover, we go over all the vocabulary they are not familiar with, I explain each and every word to them and give several examples to make sure they understand.
Individual work is essential for listening as well. Each student has to have their own material in hand; they listen carefully and take down notes while doing listening. Then we check all the answers together, giving every student a chance to answer and we discuss all the vocabulary or questions they are not sure of. The discussions about the texts, passages, vocabulary are always in pairs, in groups or as a whole class. For the speaking section, keeping in mind the fact that they will be recording their answers individually on the test, I try to create a similar testing environment, giving each student a chance to answer a question out loud, individually, while I time and listen to that particular student, take down notes, and evaluate at the end of the speech. I correct their grammar, their vocabulary, their pronunciation and most importantly, their organization of the answer based on the TOEFL standards. For the speaking part, we also sometimes do pair work or group work, speak in pairs, evaluate in pairs and we occasionally do peer correction.

On top of all the exercises we do throughout the session, I also give them a real, complete TOEFL test at the end of each session. They all take the test individually within the given time frame and we correct and score the test at the end of the class.
This score gives them a preliminary assessment of their future performance.

Knowledge of good vocabulary is also a must for TOEFL, therefore, besides the three sections that we cover everyday, I give them a list of TOEFL vocabulary in each class. We go over them one by one in a game like manner at first, then I define each and every one of the words, give sample sentences and then the students try to build sentences with them to strengthen their understanding. At the end of each session, I test their knowledge of vocabulary with a vocabulary quiz which enables them to review and improve their language skills.

As for material, we use very good reference books, resource books, audio CDs, DVDs, an overhead projector, handouts, and articles and exercises that I send the students via email. Our classroom is equipped with an advanced computer for each student, has comfortable desks and seats and a relaxing atmosphere.

Looking forward to seeing you all in my TOEFL class ! :)

Aylin Bardavit