Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wow, that's a lot of TOEIC you got there!

Things are finally on their way now. All of the books have arrived, even the teacher's guides and CDs, too. I was also very happy to see that almost everyone had the book this morning; today we had our first actual TOEIC lesson, and overall, I think it went well. I think though that I need to encourage students more to tell me when they don't understand, but I am sure that in time as long as I continue to encourage them, they will become more comfortable asking me questions. I understand that in a big class, it can be difficult to ask questions, and that is why I told them to come to my office or email me if they have a question or problem.

Today's plan was to complete both units 1 and 2, and I almost achieved that goal - I was unable to do unit 2's mini test, but I will do that next week. One problem I noticed is that I have to go to class earlier, not saying that I go late, but it's just that I get there at 9, but due to the time it takes to set up the computer etc, the class doesn't start until 9:10 or so, which is not cool. I will therefore try to go earlier next time and hopefully that will give me the time necessary to finish both units.

I should also explain the reasoning behind doing two units per class, which I know, does sound a bit much, but the textbook has 28 units, so doing only half of the book would be unfair to the students. The chapters are only short, too, so one chapter would really not take a whole class to complete, unless you have a substantial source of supplementary materials, which could be a future option. Furthermore, each chapter while focusing on a new topic, does build on the previous chapters, so the students will be able to review to a certain extent past material over the course of the semester. However, I should also mention that while I would like to finish two units a class, this goal is not set in stone, so if there is not enough time, it is not that big of a problem. This is also my first time to use this book with this number of students, so obviously, as we proceed through the book, I may probably have to make some modifications, as I get to know the students better. It may even be worthwhile talking to them at some point to get an idea of how the class is for them even if it is only informally, and of course individually, as I think this is the best way to really hear what they want to say.

Well, here is how the class went today. The main goals were to focus on using the photo to predict answers and thinking about the meaning of wh-questions for parts one and two of the listening test. This included brainstorming and distractors, two things which I emphasized as much as possible.

After setting up my computer and opening the necessary files (I keep my lesson plans on my computer), I introduced the unit and its goal. I then had a student read the first test tip aloud (I should mention again that I am using Tactics for the TOEIC by OUP, which has tips written throughout the book. I also encourage students to reread these at home and try to remember them.). I then explained brainstorming and had them do the language building component of unit 1 in pairs. I gave them about 5 minutes and then I asked for individual answers. Once finished I had another student read the next test tip, and then I had two more read the examples for the next activity. I then gave them 5 minutes again to write sentences about the photos using the vocabulary that they had just brainstormed. I then asked for different examples and wrote them on the board.

One thing I noticed is that in this book they were using family with a plural verb whereas I usually use it with a singular verb. When I was planning this lesson, I didn't notice this so it threw me off a bit. I looked it up in Swan's (1998) Practical English Usage and he states that "In British English, singular words like family..., which refer to groups of people, can be used with either singular or plural verbs and pronouns." It then goes on to say that, "In American English singular verbs are normally used with most of these nouns in all cases (though family can have a plural verb)." That is why I was not sure because coming from Canada, I usually use family with a singular verb. Next week, I will mention this difference to my students. I think this example should also be telling me to watch out for such things because the book I am using is published by OUP, so there may be other little differences as well.

After finishing exercises one and two, I had them do the mini test using an answer sheet similar to the actual one used on the test. I then went around asking different students for the answers, explaining why the other answers were false. I think that next time it may be better to give them the transcript once we have corrected the test so that they can actually see why the other answers were wrong. I did explain it, but perhaps doing so orally may be difficult for some to understand.

Once unit 1 was finished, I moved on to unit 2. It took me about 40 minutes to complete unit 1, so if I had started earlier I probably would have had enough time to do both units. I went through unit 2 in the same way, having students read the test tips and examples when necessary, and having them do some of the activities alone and the others in pairs. In this unit the main focus was on key words and distractors, something which I should definitely try to focus on in upcoming classes because the TOEIC test is full of them. According to Tactics for TOEIC (2007) there are three types of distractors:

1. You have the same word in the question and answer, but the meaning is different.
Ex: The question asks if you have been to Canada, but the answer says that Canada is a big country or it's cold in Canada or skiing in Canada is great.

2. The subjects of the question and answer may be related, but it does not answer the question.
Ex: The question is asking why you want a new car, but the answer is talking about how you think gasoline is too expensive.

3. The words have similar sounds, but are different.
Ex: copy and coffee, sheep and ship.

By the time we got to the mini test, time was up, so I told them that we would do that first next week. I also assigned homework - vocabulary practice - to be completed for next week. They have the answers in their books, but I am not sure if they will notice or not. However, what I am thinking of doing is giving them a review test each week based on that homework, but modified so as to make it different from the actual questions. I really hope that students do the homework because vocabulary is one of the most important aspects of the TOEIC, something which I have already discussed in class, and probably something which I should continue to emphasize throughout the course.

Well, I think that is it for this post. If you'd like to leave a comment, by all means please do!


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