TOEFL: 10 INDEPENDENT WRITING TOPICS (FOR PRACTICE)

The TOEFL exam allows 30 minutes to complete the “Independent Writing” section. This should usually be 4-5 paragraphs in which you defend a position (viewpoint) you choose on an assigned topic. We will post something soon which breaks down how much time to spend on different activities during this time to complete your essay (e.g. brainstorming, writing, editing & proofreading).

toefl write

To begin practicing writing essays, here are 10 writing prompts which have appeared on ACTUAL (real) past TOEFL tests.

(These are also good for practicing independent speaking questions, too — just give yourself 45 seconds to talk on these subjects.)

1. People attend college or university for many different reasons (for example, new experiences, career preparation, increased knowledge). Why do you think people attend college or university? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

2. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Parents are the best teachers. Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

3. Nowadays, food has become easier to prepare. Has this change improved the way people live? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

4. It has been said, “Not everything that is learned is contained in books.” Compare and contrast knowledge gained from experience with knowledge gained from books. In your opinion, which source is more important? Why?

5. A company has announced that it wishes to build a large factory near your community. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this new influence on your community. Do you support or oppose the factory? Explain your position.

6. If you could change one important thing about your hometown, what would you change? Use reasons and specific examples to support your answer.

7. How do movies or television influence people’s behavior? Use reasons and specific examples to support your answer.

8. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Television has destroyed communication among friends and family. Use specific reasons and examples to support your opinion.

9. Some people prefer to live in a small town. Others prefer to live in a big city. Which place would you prefer to live in? Use specific reasons and details to support your answer.

10. “When people succeed, it is because of hard work. Luck has nothing to do with success.” Do you agree or disagree with the quotation above? Use specific reasons and examples to explain your position.

SHAKESPEARE INVENTED & PRESERVED THOUSANDS OF ENGLISH PHRASES

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is one of the most famous and influential English writers. He wrote dozens of plays and poems. But he also introduced thousands of words and phrases into the English language which are still popular today. However, today many people believe that Shakespeare may not have invented some of these words and phrases, but rather his works are the first time the words were actually written down. This does not discount the fact, however, that Shakespeare was a master of English and a huge influence on the language lasting until today.

Below are many phrases from Shakespeare. Below that list are many words we got from Shakespeare. Have a question about any of them? Just ask us!!

Phrases from Shakespeare we still use in everyday communication

  • “It’s Greek to me” (Julius Caesar) – When you say, “it’s Greek to me” you are admitting that you do not know or understand something.
  • “Fair play” (The Tempest) – Follow the rules, especially in competitions or sports.
  • “All that glitters isn’t gold” (Merchant of Venice) – We usually use this phrase after we discover the fact that something that looks good turns out not to be that great.
  • “Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve” (Othello) – To be a hopeless romantic (or be open and honest about how you feel) is to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve.
  • “Break the ice” (The Taming of the Shrew) – Often when you meet someone for the first time, you “break the ice” by asking them polite questions about themselves.
  • “The lady doth protest too much” (Hamlet) – If someone denies something more than once, you can say “the lady doth protest too much,” meaning you think that they feel the opposite to what they are saying.
  • “Clothes make the man” (Hamlet) – Although not always true, this phrase implies that how a person dresses tells you something about who they are as a person.
  • “A laughing stock” (The Merry Wives of Windsor) – To be a laughing stock is to be considered a joke by many people.
  • “Too much of a good thing” (As You Like It) – It is said that “too much of a good thing” (i.e. money, love, food) is not necessarily good for you.
  • “In a pickle” (The Tempest) – To be “in a pickle” is to be in trouble or a situation that you cannot easily get out of.

More Phrases

“All our yesterdays”— (Macbeth)

“As good luck would have it” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

“As merry as the day is long” — (Much Ado About Nothing / King John)

“Bated breath” — (The Merchant of Venice)

“Be-all and the end-all” — (Macbeth)

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be” — (Hamlet)

“Brave new world” — (The Tempest)

“Break the ice” — (The Taming of the Shrew)

“Brevity is the soul of wit” — (Hamlet)

“Refuse to budge an inch” — (Measure for Measure / The Taming of the Shrew)

“Cold comfort” — (The Taming of the Shrew / King John)

“Conscience does make cowards of us all” — (Hamlet)

“Crack of doom” — (Macbeth)

“Dead as a doornail” — (Henry VI Part II)

“A dish fit for the gods” — (Julius Caesar)

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” — (Julius Caesar)

“Devil incarnate” — (Titus Andronicus / Henry V)

“Eaten me out of house and home” — (Henry IV Part II)

“Faint hearted” — (Henry VI Part I)

“Fancy-free” — (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

“Forever and a day” — (As You Like It)

“For goodness’ sake” — (Henry VIII)

“Foregone conclusion” — (Othello)

“Full circle” — (King Lear)

“The game is afoot” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Give the devil his due” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Good riddance” — (Troilus and Cressida)

“Jealousy is the green-eyed monster” — (Othello)

“Heart of gold” — (Henry V)

“Hoist with his own petard” — (Hamlet)

“Ill wind which blows no man to good” — (Henry IV Part II)

“In my heart of hearts” — (Hamlet)

“In my mind’s eye” — (Hamlet)

“Kill with kindness” — (The Taming of the Shrew)

“Knock knock! Who’s there?” — (Macbeth)

“Laughing stock” — (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

“Live long day” — (Julius Caesar)

“Love is blind” — (The Merchant of Venice)

“Milk of human kindness” — (Macbeth)

“More sinned against than sinning” — (King Lear)

“One fell swoop” — (Macbeth)

“Play fast and loose” — (King John)

“Set my teeth on edge” — (Henry IV Part I)

“Wear my heart upon my sleeve” — (Othello)

“Wild-goose chase” — (Romeo and Juliet)

Words that come from Shakespeare

Here are some common words that first appeared in Shakespeare’s plays and their meanings:

Auspicious – favorable; promising success; a good omen. A wedding is an example of an auspicious occasion.

Baseless – without a foundation; not based on fact. If you accuse someone of wrongdoing, make sure that you have support to back up your claim and it is not a baseless accusation.

Barefaced – shameless; without concealment or disguise. When someone tells a ‘barefaced lie’ it is not a very good one and you immediately know it is not true.

Castigate – to punish harshly. Sometimes celebrities and politicians are castigated in the press more harshly than ordinary citizens.

Clangor – a loud (clanging) sound. Ghosts are sometimes said to be followed by the loud clangor of chains.

Dexterously – skillful, especially in the use of one’s hands (or also one’s mind). A good carpenter can dexterously build a bookshelf very easily.

Dwindle – to get smaller; diminish. Often used to describe money. Many people’s savings dwindle after losing a job.

Multitudinous – a lot; a great number. You are in luck if you can say that you have a multitudinous amount of friends.

Sanctimonious – pretending to be very religious or righteous. Sometimes people who judge others harshly are sanctimonious.

Watchdog – a person or group that keeps close watch to discover wrong or illegal activity. A popular watchdog group is PETA, which exposes wrongful actions against animals.

ACADEMIC WORDS YOU NEED TO KNOW (TOEFL, COLLEGE, SAT, etc.)

How can you know which words are the most important in a language? One way linguists find this out is by taking large samples of language and storing that in a computer database. They can run tests and analyses on the data, such as finding the most common and least common words in a language. This is called corpus linguistics.

More recently, some researchers have looked at written and spoken academic language to find the most common words used at the college level. This list is called the Academic Word List, or AWL. If you are preparing for college in the U.S. or some type of college entrance test (including the TOEFL), these words are essential to learn.

There are many websites that use the AWL and provide exercises to learn these words. Here are just a couple examples that you may find helpful:

http://www.uefap.com/vocab/select/awl.htm

http://www.englishvocabularyexercises.com/AWL/

What Does “Don’t Give Up the Day Job” Mean?

Sometimes someone wants to show off a certain new skill or joke. But what if that skill is not very impressive, or the joke is not very good? Or what if it is a little impressive, but not enough for that person to really boast about? We might say to that person: “Well, don’t give up your day job.” It means, whatever you just said or did, it wasn’t good enough to be a professional!

It may sound like it is a rude comment, but actually most Americans just think it’s a slightly funny comment.

In the case of this cartoon, this spider’s joke isn’t funny enough to make the man laugh. He even says, “Don’t quit your day job.” It means, just keep being a spider. Don’t try to be a comedian because you’re not that funny!!

WHY SHOULD WE BE CONCERNED ABOUT CULTURAL DIFFERENCES WHEN WE WRITE A BUSINESS E-MAIL?

maildude

This video makes some excellent observations about differences in emails between members of different cultures. For example, business emails written by Americans might be quite a bit longer than emails from Germans or Swiss business-people. Becoming fluent in a language is not just about knowing the vocabulary and grammar, but major cultural features as well based on where the language is spoken. At CCB School in Atlanta (Duluth), Georgia, we focus on language AND culture.

WATCH HERE: http://www.videojug.com/interview/cultural-differences-in-business-e-mail-2

FIVE PARAGRAPH ESSAY IS LIKE A HAMBURGER!

Writing a five-paragraph essay is one of the most important skills you need to succeed on the independent writing section of the TOEFL (and many other tests including the GRE and GMAT) and in order to write papers for American college classes.

Americans love hamburgers more than you thought!

One easy way to remember how to do this is to think of your essay like it’s a hamburger. You can find a million examples like this online (just type “essay hamburger” into Google Images). College papers usually must be at least several pages long (and often can be 10-20 pages long) but they can still follow the “hamburger model.”

The basic idea:

TOP BUN = Paragraph 1 = Introduce the topic and present the argument you are trying to make (thesis)

TOMATO = Paragraph 2 = First type of support for your argument, with at least one specific example

LETTUCE = Paragraph 3 = Second type of support for your argument, with at least one specific example

MEAT PATTY = Paragraph 4 = Third type of support for your argument, with at least one specific example

BOTTOM BUN = Paragraph 5 = Conclusion; repeat your main argument and find a good way to end. For example, make a prediction about the future.

Some essay hamburger examples:

This model can also be use for writing a single paragraph: