I’m teaching TOEFL listening to the students who want to get a high score in the TOEFL test. The TOEFL1 test is designed to measure the English-language proficiency of people whose native language is not English. A lot of students wish to study at colleges and universities in the United States, but they have no idea how to get the better grade. Some students said they are poor at English, but in fact most of them come from International School and they actually have quite good master of the English at school. So when they come to me, They don’t just want to improve the English ability, but also want to increase the actual score.
What I’d like to discuss here is not about how to teach English, but about how to plan the lesson that can satisfy the expectation of raising the TOEFL grade. Take listening part for example.
First step is to research the the grading criteria2:
understand main ideas and important details,whether they are stated or implied
distinguish more important ideas from less important ones
understand how information are connected(for example, in a cause-and-effect relationship)
understand many different ways that speakers use language for purposes other than to give information(for example, to emphasize a point, express agreement or disagreement, or convey intentions indirectly)
synthesize information, even when it is not presented in sequence, and make correct inferences on the basis of that information.
From the grading criteria, we can see that TOEFL listening is more about listening comprehension than listening ability. Different students have different problems in TOEFL listening. Some students lack academic vocabulary, some cannot keep up with the listening speed, others can understand the passage well while they pick the wrong choice. The problems vary and the students have no idea what abilities they have and what they haven’t. Actually quite a lot of students came for help already. We assessed the student’s level and tailored the classes that was suitable for them. It’s a task-based and score-oriented class. In this kind of lesson plan, teaching listening lexical chunk and sentence pattern cannot directly improve students’ score.
Traditional listening class cannot feed the satisfaction of the students. There’s a large gap between what we teach and what students want. So additional test-taking skills should be taught and the students’ learning ends need to be classified.
Therefore, when the TOEFL listening lesson plan was created, it took the test-taking skills into account. We combined the Top-down strategy with the Bottom-up strategy3 and built the lesson content according to the grading criteria. In TOEFL Listening test, there are 2 conversations and 4 academic lectures and 34 questions totally.
The whole TOEFL listening curriculum can be made up of 3 levels:
Basic/Introductory Level teaching content: phonetics, academic vocabulary, lexical chunks, academic background
Intermediate Level teaching content: passage gist, subsection gist, syntactic structure, and sentence relationship
Advanced level teaching content: question prediction and location, question and choice understanding, choice location and choice exclusion
Here is a case study: a girl student got TOEFL test score 90, 4 subjects each reading23, listiening23, speaking22, writing22. She has swept all the listening passages and worked so hard in remembering the required vocabularies. In addition, She took dictation everyday. After the score came out, she began to suspect her own and wondered what she could do anymore to obtain a better grade.
I let her have a sample listening test in front of me and observed her answering process, then asked her some questions regarding the listening passage. Eventually, I found she could comprehend what she heard but failed to distinguish the answer options. The listening material is about a dancer created the modern dance style. The following is the first question:
What is the lecture mainly about?(click on 2 answers)
A. Differences between apical ballet and modern dance
B. Ways in which modern dance changed during the twentieth century
C. Factors that limited Isadora Duncan’s opportunities t perform
D. A pioneer of a new type of performing art
In fact, the four options are all appeared in the listening passage, but it’s a question of passage gist. A large number of students can hear and understand the context, while they’re not good at summarizing. What another challenge for the students is counting down. There is limit time making a choice. Even thought the student has reached an intermediate English level, she still will lose the point. So in the advanced level lesson plan, I set the classes that include wrong-answer elimination. Listening skill is not the point, rather, the question and the options themselves are focused. The discourse structure is also discussed in class.
Come to the point:
The option A reflects the passage structure is about a comparison structure. The option B is about a parallel structure combined with a chronological order. The option C means some “factors” is paralleling in the passage. The option D concentrates on the person introduction. Back to the listening material, there is no parallel statement and no chronological order, which means option B and C should be eliminated.
After test-taking skills was included in the course plan. The students’ accuracy was improved. Of course, the test-taking skills are designed to meet certain advanced-level students. If the students have other basic listening problems, intro or intermediate level courses should be applied.
1. “test and score data summary for the TOEFL 2016”
2. “TOEFL grading report”
3. “Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages” Edited by Ronald Carter and David Nunan (Page 7)