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.