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TOEFL Writing Task 2: Model Prewriting and a Model Answer


In TOEFL prep books and in English writing classes, you’ll often hear about prewriting. But what is prewriting, and why is it so important? Today, we’ll look at the basics of prewriting for the TOEFL Independent Writing Task. I’ll use a sample task and show you some examples of prewriting for that specific question. Once I’ve shown you all the steps of prewriting for the sample Writing Task 2 question, we’ll look at the most improtant part of prewriting: turning your prewriting into a full essay!

Table of Contents

Click the links below to go to each section of this TOEFL Writing Task 2 Tutorial With Model Essay.

What is prewriting?
Brainstorming Your Essay
Outlining Your Essay
Turning the Outline Into a Full Essay


 

What is prewriting?

Prewriting is organizing the ideas in your essay before you actually create the essay itself. Prewriting is a two-step process. First you brainstorm — you write down your ideas in no particular order, using simple words and phrases. Then you outline. Outlining involves putting the ideas in a logical order, the order they’ll have in the essay itself.


 

Brainstroming in TOEFL prewriting

In TOEFL Idependent Writing, brainstorming should be a very quick response. Look at the question, think of the first ideas you can, and write them down. So, here’s the question:

  • Some people prefer to leave their house and see movies in the theater. Others would rather stay at home and watch movies on their TV screen or on a computer. Which one do you prefer? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

As you brainstorm for this question, you want to express your ideas in simple phrases. For the question above, here are the words and phrases I thought of (these would be my brainstorming notes):

  • watch at home
  • theater = too expensive
  • more choices @ home
  • home = easier w/small children
  • theater = stress
  • theater = sometimes good — popular movie releases

So those are my basic ideas. Once you’ve written down a list of ideas for your essay, you should double-check your brainstorming notes and see if there are any ideas you should get rid of. In my case, I’ll get rid of the idea that it can be good to go to the theater to see a popular movie that’s just been released.

“Theater = sometimes good — popular movie releases” is a counter-argument to my main claim that watching movies at home is better. It’s a somewhat complicated counter-argument. How is “popular movie” defined? Why is seeing a popular movie “sometimes” a better experience in the theaters? I’m not sure I’d have time to fully develop this counter-argument. And besides, as I’ve mentioned before, counter-arguments aren’t actually necessary in TOEFL Writing Task 2.

So with one item crossed out, these are my brainstorming ideas:

  • watch at home
  • theater = too expensive
  • more choices @ home
  • home = easier w/ small children
  • theater = stress

Once you’ve chosen your best “brainstormed” ideas, you’re ready to put those ideas into a logical order in an outline. The outline will be more complex than your brainstorming notes, but it will still be simpler than your essay. For your outline, you’ll want to continue using words and phrases. You shouldn’t write in complete sentences until you’re actually writing your essay; including complete sentences in your prewriting takes up too much time.

In the section below, we’ll take the brainstorm notes I made and turn them into an essay outline.


 

Turning Your Brainstorming into a TOEFL Writing Task 2 Essay Outline

As I’ve mentioned above, prewriting a TOEFL Independent Writing essay involves two steps: brainstorming and outlining. Brainstorming involves writing down your ideas for the essay, in the form of words and short phrases. From there, you choose which ideas you’ll actually use in your outline and essay. As you saw above, in this tutorial, we have been using this TOEFL Independent Writing question:

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.
  • Some people prefer to leave their house and see movies in the theater. Others would rather stay at home and watch movies on their TV screen or on a computer. Which one do you prefer? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

And I came up with this as my list of brainstorm ideas for making my outline and essay:

watch at home
theater = too expensive
more choices @ home
home = easier w/small children
theater = stress

From here, we’ll build on these brainstorm notes to make an outline for the essay.

Making a TOEFL Independent Writing outline

Now to turn these simple brainstorming notes into an outline. For the outline, I will create a brief description of the essay’s introduction, body, and conclusion. Here is my outline:

Paragraph 1: Introduction, prefer watch movies @ home
P2: more choices at home — all available movies, recent and past (theater — only newest ones)
P3: home watching = best if you have kids — hard to get kids into car, to movies, kids more comfortable @ home
P4: home movies = cheaper, theater many expenses (gas, snacks, movie tickets)
P5: conclusion: choices, family friendliness, budget >> home watching = best

Now obviously this outline doesn’t have anywhere near all of the things I’ll write in the essay. But that’s the idea; the outline should be a short list of the main ideas that you’ll write. Think of the outline as a “recipe” for your essay. Each idea is one of the ingredients for the essay. And the order of the ingredients, with paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, are the instructions on how to put the ingredients into the essay, so that the final product is good.

But we’re not done with this “recipe” yet! Notice that the outline provides for five paragraphs of writing, the kind you’d see in a five paragraph essay. But as Kate has mentioned before, your TOEFL essay should be a simpler version of a five paragraph essay. You won’t have time to write a full five paragraphs. So you’ll want to put your introduction, body, and conclusion into just three paragraphs.

So we’ll revise out outline slightly, just as we made small changes to our brainstorming notes before we moved on to the outline itself.

Here is the changed outline, now designed for a four-paragraph TOEFL Writing response:

Paragraph 1:  Introduction, prefer watch movies @ home, for choices, convenience, save money
P2: more choices @ home, home = more kid friendly environment, save money @ home
P3: Movie: inconveniences (smaller selection, kids not comfortable) expenses (gas, snacks, movie tickets),
P4: Conclusion: choices, family-friendly, save $ >>> home watching = best

As you can see, I’ve now rearranged the outline so that all the benefits of watching movies at home are in one paragraph. Then, all the disadvantages of watching movies in the theater are mentioned in the second part of essay body.

And now we have an outline that’s perfect. It’s simple, well-constructed, and ready to be expanded into a full essay. Finally, we’re ready to look at the next step after prewriting: changing your TOEFL Independent Writing outline into a full essay.


 

Final Step: Review Your Prewriting, and Turn it Into a TOEFL Integrated Writing Essay

So far, we’ve looked at the two steps for prewriting a TOEFL Independent Writing essay: brainstorming your ideas, and putting them into an outline. In this post, we’ll take the outline that I made and turn it into a full essay.

But before we do that, let’s review the prewriting that I’ve done so far. First, I took this TOEFL Independent Writing question:

  • Some people prefer to leave their house and see movies in the theater. Others would rather stay at home and watch movies on their TV screen or on a computer. Which one do you prefer? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

Then I brainstormed. Which is to say, I quickly thought of some ideas for my answer and wrote those ideas down, making this list:

watch at home
theater = too expensive
more choices @ home
home = easier w/small children
theater = stress
theater = sometimes good — popular movie releases

After that, I got rid of one of the brainstorm ideas that didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of my notes. My new brainstorm notes looked like this:

watch at home
theater = too expensive
more choices @ home
home = easier w/small children
theater = stress

And from there, I created an outline — a list of my main ideas and my supporting details, in the same order they’ll appear in when I write the essay:

Paragraph 1: Introduction, prefer watch movies @ home
P2: more choices at home — all available movies, recent and past (theater — only newest ones)
P3: home watching = best if you have kids — hard to get kids into car, to movies, kids more comfortable @ home
P4: home movies = cheaper, theater many expenses (gas, snacks, movie tickets)
P5: conclusion: choices, family friendliness, budget >> home watching = best

Next, I simplified my outline into a plan for four paragraphs rather than five. (Four paragraphs is a more appropriate length for a TOEFL Integrated Writing response.) Here is the revised outline:

Paragraph 1:  Introduction, prefer watch movies @ home, for choices, convenience, save money
P2: more choices @ home, home = more kid friendly environment, save money @ home
P3: Movie: inconveniences (smaller selection, kids not comfortable), expenses (gas, snacks, movie tickets),
P4: Conclusion: choices, family-friendly, save $ >>> home watching = best

Finally, we can turn the outline into a model response.

TOEFL Independent Writing: model answer (written from an outline)

In my opinion, it is better to watch movies at home, compared to watching them in the theater. I feel this way because watching movies at home gives you more viewing choices. In addition, staying home to watch movies is easier if you have children, and costs less money.

You have more choices of what to watch at home because you can watch movies that are on TV or the Internet. This means you can watch thousands of different films, both old releases and new. It’s also a lot easier to get the kids together for a home movie because they don’t have to leave the house to watch the movie with you. Not only that, but watching movies is simply cheaper. Tons of movies are available for free on the web and on broadcast TV, and you can eat and drink affordable refreshments from your own kitchen while you watch. All of this makes watching movies at home a great choice.

In contrast, if you go to the movies, you face a lot of inconveniences. The selection of movies is tiny. On any given day, your local theater might be showing only 10 different movies, or fewer. In addition, you need to get your kids dressed, get them into the car, drive them to the theater, sit them down, buy them snacks, and so on. Speaking of snacks, going to the theater has many financial costs. Cinema snacks are expensive, and you also need to pay for gas to drive to the theater, and buy tickets for the movie.

Compared to watching movies in the theater, watching movies at home is so much more enjoyable. You get to choose almost any movie you want and enjoy a relaxing time at home with your family, and you save money too. So for me, I prefer watching a movie at home over a trip to the cinema.

Where to Find More Sample TOEFL Essays

I hope this sample essay has helped, and I definitely recommend looking at additional model TOEFL Writing responses. They’re a great study aid. Where can you find more? Glad you asked. Check out the model essays and links in Magoosh’s complete guide to TOEFL sample essays. And be sure to also check out Magoosh’s roundup of free TOEFL Writing topics.

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