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3 Steps to Improving your TOEFL Essay

26 Aug

The essay component, otherwise known as the Independent Writing component of the TOEFL test is a major contributor to your overall score and is often cited by my students as a difficult part to improve on.  Of the 50 minutes for the Writing Section of the TOEFL iBT test, 30 minutes are giving for writing a 4-5 paragraph, 300-350 word essay.  You write your essay in response to a given writing topic. 

Three steps to Improving your TOEFL Essay:

Focus on the first step and then move on to the second, and finally the third.  In other words, the steps are sequential and one should be mastered before focusing on the next. 

Step 1 – Concentrate on Content and Form.  Is the structure of your essay correct?  Is there a clear introduction, thesis statement and conclusion? Do your ‘body’ paragraphs each have one clear point and supporting details?  Is your essay accurately answering the question given and reflecting the writing sample provided (ie: is it logical)? Have you given examples where necessary?  Are your topic statements clear and is your writing concise?  Do your paragraphs flow from one to the other? Here’s an Essay Sequence Planner and Flow Chart to consider.

Step 2 – Focus on Accuracy.   Clean up the grammar, spelling and punctuation that all work to polish an essay and make it more pleasing for the evaluator to read.  Have you used a variety of sentence structures? Consider peer-editing with another student or friend.  Often editing another person’s work helps you learn more about your own areas of weakness.

Step 3 – Work on your Speed.  Now you want to try to get your polished essay done as quickly as you can.  If you spend 30 minutes, four times a week, that’s 4 essays a week you’d be writing.  Of course, while speed is the final step in polishing your essay-writing skills if you lack clean form, content and accuracy, then your essay is not going to score well.

If you’re looking for free online sample questions and essays, here’s a few places to start:

Happy TOEFL essay writing everyone!

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Get writing! Why it’s important for ELL’s to write daily

18 Oct

This Thursday, October 20th is National Day on Writing (in the USA) and it’s a great way to promote literacy, writing as a hobby and as a profession.  I am a firm believer that all teachers should be encouraging their students to write, but this is especially true for language learners.

Check out the blog: Common Grounds

My advice ‘to write’ comes not only from my experience as an ESL Teacher, but as a learner of the Korean language.  I tell my students to imagine that they have a separate muscle in their body that is strictly for learning a new language.  They need to work it out! Otherwise, it will become flabby from misuse and underdeveloped from lack of attention.  On my own personal road to learning Korean,  I try to take a little bit of time regularly to relax and write down some thoughts in my journal in Korean, without full regard for grammar and spelling.  If I’m consistent in my discipline to keep writing in Korean, I can quickly see improvements in even my verbal use of the language.

There are so many resources available on the internet to teach you how to write properly, correctly, effectively, and so on.  But the most important thing you can do as an English Language Learner (ELL) is this:

1) Write.

2) Then, write some more.

How Writing Can Improve on your Language Learning:

Writing in English helps you to overcome fears and build confidence.  It pushes you to expand your vocabulary to find the exact word you’re looking for.  It helps you to realize that language is not always “translatable,” and that your first language and the English language come from different cultural contexts.   Writing also helps you discover your language weaknesses or soft spots (what you need to work on).  And writing helps you to improve your overall use of the language.

So, if you want to improve your English, or encourage your students’ to improve theirs – I suggest getting cozy with a cup of coffee, a fresh notebook and a pen that makes your words sing… and start writing!

 

 

Transitional Words and Phrases for Essay Writing

16 Aug

Transitional words and phrases are very important when writing papers for academia, business or English proficiency exams.

Transitions help the reader to follow along with what you’re writing,  to make the points of your essay flow, and to show the relationship of your ideas to one another.  Transitions can go at the beginning ( Therefore, we ate at a restaurant.) or in the middle (We ate at a restaurant instead of at home) of a sentence.  When used properly, transitions can showcase your command of the written English language and get you top marks!

I’ve compiled a list of good transitions for you to use in your essays.  One of my favourite places to look for ‘transition inspiration’ is at Smart Words, have a look if you’d like.

Remember – not all transitions can be used in each instance.  You need to find the correct transition to express what it is you’re trying to say.  For example, you cannot use  “On the other hand, …” when you’re trying to compare two things that are similar as this phrase is for things that are contrasting or dissimilar.

When adding a thought or point:

  • also, moreover, as well as, in addition, furthermore, often, similarly, likewise, as expected, then, next, along these lines
When contrasting and comparing:
  • in comparison, instead, instead of, on the other hand, consequently, therefore, in contrast, similarly, yet, but, with this in mind, instead of, in place of, rather than, as a result, comparatively, likewise, correspondingly, however, still, rather, opposite, besides, conversely, on one hand
When giving examples:
  • for example, for instance, as you can see, as expected, namely, in this case, basically, often
When generalizing:
  • generally, often, typically, usually, in general, basically, mostly, in essence, at this time, nearly all
When outlining consequences:
  • consequently, therefore, finally, otherwise, so then, as a result, accordingly,
When sequencing your thoughts and points:
  • also, next, in addition, while, at first, first of all, next, soon, then, later, in time,
When restating a thought:
  • as mentioned, namely, that is to say, basically, as mentioned, to restate, in other words
When giving emphasis to a thought or point:
  • especially, particularly, above all, singularly, most importantly, primarily, as outlined, nearly all
When summarizing:
  • in conclusion, in essence, finally, in summary, on the whole, all things considered, to conclude

OTHER RESOURCES TO CHECK OUT:

Smart Words – List of transitional words for writing

Study Guides and Strategies – Transitional sentences

Writer’s Web – Transitional words and phrases

What to Look for in a TOEFL Study Guide Book

5 Jul

There are many reputable (and some less reputable) study guide books available in multiple languages, aimed at helping students better prepare for their TOEFL test.   With so many books to choose from, you want to find the one or two that will really help you achieve TOEFL success.

When you’re choosing a study guide book one of the first things you’ll want to do is be sure to consider the type of TOEFL test you need to prepare for.  Not many places still offer the written test, so you’re more likely to write a computer-based test (CBT) or an internet-based test (iBT).   Also, look for a current edition.

ETS (Educational Testing Service) is the company that manages and creates the TOEFL tests, and so naturally their study guides are really popular.

Look for guide books that have CD’s to help with listening comprehension and audio exercises.  Sample tests should also be included, preferrably with answer keys.   I find the student planners included in some books help my students reach their study objectives in an organized manner.

The essay-writing section of the book should be clear and with many examples and opportunities to write your own.  Practice drills of all aspects of the TOEFL test are key to success.

If the study guide your considering doesn’t meet the above recommendations, keep looking!  And remember, this is a challenging test and there is no “magic book” that will magically prepare you for your TOEFL  test.  You’ll need to study hard, work with an ESL Teacher or Tutor who specializes in TOEFL test prep and find opportunities to practice the language.

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