The Best Way to Teach Speaking and Writing for the TOEFL

In a recent post, I wrote about how to teach TOEFL skills without “teaching to the test.” This is important, because the TOEFL is not the end of your students’ journey in English education. In a way, it’s may be just the beginning. Of course it’s important that your students pass the exam. But you’ll also want to make sure that your students learn long-term language skills that will help them on an English language campus.

Last time, I looked at reading and listening instruction. Now, let’s look at some practical ways to teach good speaking and writing skills while also preparing your students for TOEFL Speaking and Writing.


TOEFL Speaking

The first two speaking tasks really do connect well with academic English on campus. Once your students pass the TOEFL and enter an English language university, they will be expected to speak about their lives and personal opinions. Having your students plan, practice, and give in-class speeches is a really great activity for a TOEFL class. And remember, classroom speaking is almost always followed by feedback from teachers and classmates. Have your students use the official TOEFL speaking rubrics for peer feedback. Better yet, when students practice out of the classroom, review the recordings they create—online preparation material is a huge help with this—and provide them feedback on how to better communicate what they intend to.

The remaining Integrated Speaking tasks don’t connect all that well to “real” English. Like TOEFL Listening, TOEFL Integrated Speaking involves passively listening to conversations and lectures. In actual university classes, your students will actively participate in conversations, and they will be able to ask questions during the lectures or shortly after them. Make sure you have a lot of classroom discussion activities. Have your students talk to each other in pairs or small groups. This kind of speaking is more dynamic and complex than TOEFL Integrated Speaking. If you can get your students to master these real speaking skills, TOEFL Speaking Tasks 3 through 6 should be more comfortable, although it is important that they understand how to time and structure their answers—even the most confident conversationalist can be tripped up by the format of the test on test day if they’re not fully prepared. Like it or not, there is a time and place for “teaching to the test,” even if it’s not all you do in class.


TOEFL Writing

This is the one TOEFL section that measures almost the exact same English skills your students will use once they pass the TOEFL and get accepted into an English language degree program. On English language campuses, students will be asked to write essays based on lectures and readings, just as they would in the Integrated Writing Task. The Independent Writing Task, which asks students to state a personal opinion and support it, also resembles common writing assignments in university courses.

Still, it’s important to remember that the essays in English language university classes are longer than TOEFL essays. TOEFL Writing Tasks are usually 3 or 4 paragraphs long. Typical university writing assignments are at least 5 paragraphs long, and can be much longer. In fact, many students have problems keeping their writing short enough on the TOEFL. To teach both longer writing and shorter writing, have your students write essays that are five paragraphs long, or longer. Then have them re-work those essays into shorter TOEFL-length writings.

Another aspect of college writing that’s missing from the TOEFL is research. Looking up and correctly citing sources is very important in actual university classes. After they pass the TOEFL, your students will have a lot of chances to develop this skill in their first year university classes. But you should probably touch on this skill a little bit in a TOEFL course, so your students know what to expect in the future.


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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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