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Prewriting in TOEFL Indepednent Writing: Outlining

TOEFL independent writing outline

As I mentioned in my last post, 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. In my previous post on brainstorming, I used 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.

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. In my next post, we’ll look at the next step after prewriting: changing your TOEFL Independent Writing outline into a full essay.

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