I have just uploaded another sample essay. This one is on the old “a restaurant is opening in your neighborhood” question that has been in the Official Guide for ages. I actually dreaded writing this one (and, indeed, skipped it last year) as I find the question a bit tedious, but I am happy that I was able to come up with something at least somewhat logical and convincing. You can find the essay here. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: independent essay
I’ve written a few more sample TOEFL essays. Here’s the one about “books vs Internet.”
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? It is better to use printed material such as books and articles to do research than it is to use the internet. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.
When students conduct research for their class assignments they use both printed and online sources, and both types have distinct advantages and disadvantages. However, I agree that it is better to use printed materials rather than Internet-based resources. I feel this way for two reasons, which I will explore in the following essay.
To begin with, printed materials such as books and articles are more reliable than online sources of information. This is because websites can be edited by anyone in the world, regardless of whether or not they are qualified academics. As a result of this, articles in online encyclopedias often contain faulty and biased information. I have even heard that some people insert incorrect facts into online databases as a mischievous joke. My own experience demonstrates the danger of relying too heavily on online sources of information. Two semesters ago, I was assigned a research paper in a freshman history class. I cited data that I found on Wikipedia which turned out to be completely incorrect. The information that I included in my essay was so hopelessly wrong that my professor spotted it immediately, causing me to fail the assignment and receive a fairly low grade in the class at the end of the semester. If I had taken the time to compare what I had read online to a book or a scholarly article I would not have included it and not have received such a bad score in the class.
In addition, books are superior to online articles because they provide a greater depth of information. Books are much longer than online articles, which makes them useful to learners of all ages. Students who use printed resources when doing research also benefit from the meticulously curated bibliographical information which they include. I have personally experienced some of these benefits during my time as an undergraduate student. For example, when I wrote a paper last semester in a history class, the very first book that I consulted contained a long description of the both the underlying causes and long-term effects of the historical event I was writing about. In contrast, most of the online articles that I consulted contained little more than facts and dates. As a result of basing my research on the book rather than the articles, I was able to write an insightful and nuanced essay.
In conclusion, I strongly believe that print resources are more useful than online resources. This is because printed sources of information are less likely to be biased or error-prone, and because books provide a superior level of detail on most topics.
I just uploaded a video that shows how to write a TOEFL Independent essay using the templates that I’ve written about on this site many times. Let me know if you like it, as if the reaction is positive I will make one about the integrated essay as well.
Welcome to part two of our “How to Teach TOEFL” series. Before reading this article, you might want to check out part one, which covers basic concepts and language acquisition techniques.
TOEFL writing tutors are in high demand. Students often feel that they can prepare for the reading, writing and speaking sections by themselves, but they rarely feel that they can prepare for the writing section alone. The difficulty lies in mastering the required grammar, organization and structure.
I’ll outline how to teach writing below, but before you read on I suggest that you familiarize yourself with the two essays (independent and integrated) that students must complete on the TOEFL. The best way to prepare is by reading the Official Guide to the TOEFL. You can also read my own guides to the independent essay and the integrated essay.
If you want a textbook just about TOEFL writing I do endorse Writing for the TOEFL iBT by Barron’s. It is top notch.
Teaching the Independent Essay
The independent essay is often seen as the easier of the two essay. Here the students are required to answer a short question about a personal experience or about their opinion on some matter. The phrasing will be longer, but a typical question might be something like “What is the best gift to give to a child?” This can be answered in a four paragraph essay consisting of an introduction, two body paragraphs and a conclusion.
So how do you teach a student to answer this? Here’s how:
Step One: Teach them how to plan and outline an answer
Here’s what a TOEFL essay outline for the question given above should look like:
And here’s what that outline looks like when it is filled in:
Teach your student that the “main point” serves as a specific answer to the question at hand, while the two reasons are, logically, reasons why the answer is true. It is important that the reasons be unique… overlap is bad practice. The details, as you can see, expand and justify the reasons. Make it clear at this point that each reason+detail+detail set will serve as a single body paragraph in the essay.
Note: some students and teachers create THREE reason+detail+detail sets, which leads to three body paragraphs in the final essay. This is fine, though I recommend against it – with only thirty minutes to write, I find that most students cannot complete three well-developed paragraphs.
Step Two: Teach them how to write an introduction
The first paragraph of the TOEFL independent essay is, of course, the introduction. The introduction is easy. Every introductory paragraph can be written using a six sentence template that you can easily teach to your student. Here it is:
- Sentence one: A “hook” that serves to introduce the topic. This sentence references the question/topic of the essay and draws the reader into the essay.
- Sentence two: The main point. The key thing here is to state the main point in a short, concise, grammatically correct way. Getting too fancy will lead to grammatical errors (at best) or confusion on the part of the grader (at worst).
- Sentence three: A transitional sentence. Something simple like “I feel this way for two reasons” always works. More advanced students can try alternatives.
- Sentence four: A single sentence summary of the first reason. This sentence should begin with something like “first.”
- Sentence five: A single sentence summary of the second reason. This sentence should begin with something like “second.”
- Sentence six: A very short conclusion that restates the main point.
Using this template, one could answer the above question like this:
“There are many wonderful gifts that one can give to a young child. I am of the opinion that the best gift to give to a child is a pet. I feel this way for two main reasons. First, a pet is a very educational gift. Second, an animal can be a good friend to a child as her or she grows up. For these reasons, I feel that there is no better gift to give to a child than a pet.”
That’s a pretty simple introduction, but it works. If you are working with an advanced student you can spice it up a bit, but if you are working with a low-level student the above is exactly what he or she ought to be writing. In either case, you should stress to your student that following a familiar template every time they write a practice essay is the key to writing a concise, readable and grammatically correct introduction. If they go “off template” they are more likely to make errors. Some students will argue that using a template is boring. Don’t listen to that… the TOEFL is about getting a high score, not about using rhetorical flourish to impress your friends and neighbors.
Step One: Teach them how to write a body paragraph an answer
As I said above, tell your student that they should make one body paragraph from each of those reason+detail+detail groupings. Teach them the importance of writing a topic sentence which summarizes each “reason,” and teach them to begin this topic sentence with “first” or “to begin with.” The topic sentence of the second body paragraph should begin with something like “secondly.” Again… simple, but effective is the key!
Your student should devote about half of the paragraph to elaborating on each reason, separating the two with a transitional phrase like “moreover” or “additionally.” Stress that it is important to use such transitional phrases throughout the paragraph. For a list of useful transitional phrases, check out this guide. In addition to encouraging your student to use transitional phrases, stress the importance of including personal examples to bolster arguments.
Here’s a sample body paragraph:
“To begin with, a pet is a very educational gift. Children who have a pet can easily learn about responsibility. A pet has to be fed each day and must be given a chance to exercise. A pet owner also has to observe the health of their pet and take action if it becomes ill. Practicing this kind of responsibility will help a child to mature. Moreover, a pet can help teach a child about the stages of life. Pets grow much faster than humans and a young child can learn a lot by observing how their pet grows up. I had a pet gecko as a child and watching it grow from a baby to a full-sized adult taught me a lot and got me really interested in biology and nature.”
“Secondly, I feel that a pet makes great friend and companion. It is beneficial for children to have pets because animals are never judgmental. A child might have a bad day at school or he might get in a fight with his friends, but he will never fight with his pet, for it will love him unconditionally. Furthermore, pets can prevent children from being lonely. In modern society, parents are often too busy to spend time with their children and often leave them home alone. This might make some kids feel lonely, but those children who own pets will never feel alone.”
These are pretty basic, but I think you get the idea. Encourage advanced students to write more grammatically complex paragraphs.
Strep Three: Teach them how to write a conclusion
Finally, teach your student how to write an effective conclusion. I always recommend that my students write a very short conclusion. I don’t feel that it is necessary to write a very long conclusion, as the independent essay doesn’t need to be any more than four hundred words.
Anyhow, the conclusion serves as a basic summary of what has come before. I teach a basic, three sentence template. Here it is:
- Sentence one: re-state your main point, begining with a phrase like “to sum it up…” or “in conclusion.”
- Sentence two: restate your two reasons, beginning with a transitional phrase like “this is because…”
- Sentence three: Once again, restate your main point but using different words
Here’s a sample:
“To sum it up, I feel that a pet is the best gift for a child. This is because pets are very educational, and because they make great friends. There really is no better gift that a child can receive than a pet.”
And that’s the end of part two. You can now continue on to part three of the series, which discusses the integrated essay.
A student asked me recently about the best way to organize his time while writing the independent essay. Here’s the breakdown I’ve always suggested:
- Planning: 3 minutes
- Introduction: 5 minutes
- Body paragraph one: 8 minutes
- Body paragraph two: 8 minutes
- Conclusion: 2 minutes
- Proofreading: 4 minutes
Some teachers recommend more time for planning, but I suggest to my students that they just write a quick outline and simple take a break while writing the body of their essay if they need to think about the topic some more.
This breakdown doesn’t allow much time for the introduction and conclusion, but if you memorize some good templates, you should be able to crank those out really quickly.
Some might say this is too much time for proofreading, but I strongly disagree. Students might be able to increase their score by a point or two just by correcting some grammatical errors.