Geoff Richards

The 360 degree approach

A new way to teach TOEFL and IELTS

I've been teaching TOEFL and IELTS ever since I arrived in Thailand and I quickly realised that there's far more to passing the tests than simply memorising the strategies in the textbooks.

When I first came here I did a tour of the private language centres in Bangkok and managed to squeeze out of more than a few of them that it takes your average Thai student at least four attempts to pass the tests. Some of my private TOEFL and IELTS students have also confirmed similar.

Here's the approach that I've developed and I hope that it works for you and your students.

I only tutor TOEFL and IELTS privately and no longer teach the subjects at private language centres. I will not adhere to rules and regulations that mean students have to repeatedly sit tests. It's a rip-off.

I also only work with the most committed of students. There are two ways of sounding out potential students on this; [1] they must be able to provide their weekly schedules so that you can see their free time. Anything less than eight hours of available TOEFL or IELTS time is a big turn-off for me and [2] they must be able to tell you exactly what degree they want to study, which country they would most prefer to study it in and why, and what job/career they expect to have after graduation.

If they can't do this, especially with the latter, it's because mummy and daddy are footing the bill and pushing them towards something they have at best only a notional interest in. I won't work with these kinds of students.

Students study with me face-to-face for a minimum of six hours per week. Mistakes are treated as learning opportunities and we do not move on until both of us are confident that the same mistakes will not be repeated. Indeed, actively refer to ‘mistakes' as ‘learning opportunities' and praise every single success.

Tailor your lesson plans and teaching approach so that your students never feel disappointed with their efforts. TOEFL and IELTS are difficult subjects after all.

The remaining two hours of the TOEFL or IELTS week is spent on daily projects and contact with me via telephone and/or email.

What sort of projects? Whatever ones will help to develop weaker areas and reinforce the stronger ones.

For example, I might get them to actively watch and read BBC World and the Bangkok Post and report specifics back to me. But I only set them tasks in which they have a genuine interest. By focusing on what they really like, I find that it takes a lot of the pressure off of studying the subjects.

This approach ensures that students are immersed in English on a daily basis and it uses all of the four skills to mastering it; listening, speaking, reading and writing.

When I begin working with a new student I always stress that TOEFL or IELTS are a once in a lifetime activity and when they have passed either test they'll never need to sit it again.

The results that I've received from this 360-degree approach have been impressive too, with many students passing on their second or third attempts.

And, no, my rates aren't cheap but my students do get excellent value for money and are at least one step closer to realising their ambitions than they ever will be with your average private language centre.


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