Teacher spotlight: Shaune Peebles and TOEIC® prep


Today’s post will be another in the fine series of …

I recently crossed paths with Shaune Peebles after he started using Test Simulator TOEIC® in class, and our expat discussions about teaching in China, living in Europe and Edulang’s apps have been quite enjoyable, so I asked Shaune if he’d like to share a bit more here. Hence, without further ado…

One of the most important and time-consuming parts of my week is lesson prep.

For me, it’s important to have quality, practical, and, if possible, unique materials to give to my students.  While I agree with the necessity of textbooks in certain situations, I’ve always felt that there’s more that I can do than just the standard “turn to page blah-blah-blah in your textbook and we can begin with…”

I currently work at a bank in Milan, and last June, I started a TOEIC® course with 9 students, in part because we had to follow an exam format, but also because after a year or so of just talking about the government and the EU economy, we were all feeling like it was time to start following something a little more structured (even though there are LOTS of different political/economic topics to discuss in Italy).

We decided to use TOEIC® instead of some of the other test structures because, first and foremost, it was the best fit for my students’ needs.  I had some experience with both TOEIC® and TOEFL® test preparation, and as I think is often the case for a teacher when developing a course, the materials available play a big part in the direction(s) I can go.

The bank provided us with a ‘fat’ TOEIC® textbook, which I made some good use of initially.  I managed to find some other materials online to use for exercises, but spent more time during the first half of the course using news articles and videos, and reviewing things like phrasal verbs, vocabulary, and hoping that enough of a variety of collocations would come up that the students could remember when it came time for the exam.

Quite honestly, I found that the textbook we had was more on the ‘easy’ side of the difficulty spectrum.  What was difficult was finding materials that were still going to be relevant to all of my students for their TOEIC® prep, but also challenging enough that they would see a decent increase in their score from last year.  I picked up another book of practice tests, but they were all a bit easier than I wanted, and making 45 pages of photocopies for each student was becoming a bit of a nightmare (and a waste).

So, after about 8 months of this kind of structure, (which was working well enough, I suppose) I stumbled across a link to the Edulang page from a site I often use and have contributed to in the past (The English Blog).  It had a bit of a write-up on the “pay what you want” feature, as well as a few comments about the 3 simulation tests.  I signed up for a student account right away (I’ll admit, I’m cheap, I paid the minimum; BUT I just signed up for the TOEFL and podcast packs and paid more, so my conscience is clear(er)), and started looking for ways to use the materials in my lessons.

What worked really well for me was this; in my one-to-one lessons, I used the simulation tests in practice mode.  Sitting with the student, listening to the audio (repeatedly when necessary) and discussing whatever we needed, and then going through each of the reading sections, all the while keeping an eye on their actual test strategies (time management, scanning, etc.)

For the lower level students, particularly with parts 1 and 2, I started with just 3 or 4 questions at a time, then discussed the ones they had trouble with, while with the higher level I was doing 10 or 15 questions; the idea being to work on their concentration, and to understand a bit of the rhythm.  I still had them mark everything on a TOEIC®-style answer sheet that I found, so they could stay in the habit of using it while preparing for their test.

For the reading section, we did everything online; for part 5 I took things a step further and actually started timing them using my phone, keeping each question to around 30 seconds.  It helped for them to be able to see how much time they were using, and thereby eating away at time they would need for part 7.

What I found with these online tests is that they were actually closer to the difficult side of the spectrum, which I thought was perfect for our practice.  There were lots of collocations, which led to some great discussion, and the ability to do everything on my laptop in front of them was certainly a bonus.

My students had their exam last week on Friday, and after they finished, they ALL told me the same thing; the test was easier than what we had been at with the simulations, and having that kind of directed practice (hopefully) made a huge difference.  Fingers crossed when the results come in next week…


Shaune Peebles comes from Alberta, Canada and began teaching English at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in Guangzhou, China in 2005.  In 2008 he moved to Milan, Italy where he started teaching business English in various banks, universities, government and commercial institutions.  He also spends a lot of time creating didactic content for online/podcast and corporate use.  He has a cat named Dexter, and his favorite color is blue.

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  • http://eflnotes.wordpress.com/ mura

    thanks for sharing your TOEIC experience.

    i teach adults in evening classes, generally following the Cambridge Target Score book, in addition to activities from Vocabulary(Morgan and Rinvolucri) and 700 Classroom Activites (Seymour and Popova). more recently i have been encouraging my learners to use corpora web tools in their efforts to build their lexis.

    i was wondering if you have come across any ambiguous items in the edlang test simulator? since i find these sometimes in the practice tests in  books like Target Score.

  • Shaune Peebles

     Hi Mura…  Thanks for the comment/question.  In the simulator, I didn’t find the ambiguity to be as much of an issue as it was in our (Barron’s) textbook.  There were some questions which, depending on the context, could be acceptable in some spoken situations (especially in Canada, where I think we’re quite lax with a lot of things), but there was still always a ‘better’ answer.  For example, one question from part 2:

    When did they notice their car wasn’t there?
    A. It wasn’t their car.
    B. The notice says no parking.
    C. Sometime after lunch.

    While ‘C’ is certainly the right answer, I think a case could be made for ‘A’ as well (especially in a spoken context). 

    There were more of these in some of the online exercises I found, but I think being able to talk it through with the students also helped them understand the method of filtering out these kinds of answers; in that it’s not always about finding the one(s) that ‘could’ fit, but the ‘one’ that ‘does’ fit. 

    Other than the ambiguity you talk about, how do you find the practice tests overall in the Target Score book?  Relatively close to the level of difficulty of the actual exam?

    Shaune :)

  • http://eflnotes.wordpress.com/ mura

     yes i see so not too much uncertainty there in the example you give.  i teach groups and so won’t be able to exploit the one-to-one approach as you do with the simulator.

    i find the Target Score full pratice test okay level wise, the +review+ tests are easier though. also the variety of accents now in the TOEIC listening can’t obviously be matched since the book has not be revised recently.

    one quick question for the reading part in the simulator am i correct in assuming you can do part 7 before part 5 and 6 if you wanted to?

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Hey Mura,

    Really glad to have you on board and thanks for sharing your thoughts/questions here.  Yes, just like in a real test, a student can move back and forth between the reading parts (both in practice and test mode).  

    Have a great day!  -Brad

  • Shaune Peebles

    So, just to follow up on one thing…  We got our TOEIC results back, and the average increase was 27%! 
    New high score is 905 (previously 700), and even my lowest guy
    went from 440 on the first exam to 645 this time.  Certainly the
    students did all of the hard work, but I’m convinced that having
    materials like those used in the Test Simulator, which were challenging
    for all levels, while also very accurate to what the exam itself asks,
    made a big big difference for them (and for me).  I’m very (VERY) happy
    the results! :)    -Shaune, Italy

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing, Shaune! (FYI cleaned up the paragraph as the copy and paste with Disqus always makes the formatting funny… yeah, meticulous ;-) )