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Prewriting for TOEFL Independent Writing: Brainstorming

prewriting for TOEFL Independent Writing

Photo by Andy Mangold

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.

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 my next post on prewriting for the TOEFL Independent Writing task, we’ll take the brainstorm notes I made and turn them into an essay outline.

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