A New York TOEFL Teacher Responds…

I have been teaching our TOEFL preparation classes for over three years, almost four.


I have tried many different methods to make this difficult exam easier for my students to understand.


Although I usually explain different strategies for taking the exam, the students respond most to the answers that I myself give.


It’s the one method that my students find most useful.


Reading or listening to my answers to the TOEFL writing and speaking questions is interesting to them for a few reasons.


First, some students appreciate that I’m willing to risk failing in front of them. They understand I have a special commitment to their learning and my embarrassment is a small sacrifice.


Second, some try to imitate the things that I write and say and I think that’s good.


“Steal everything you can from me,” I tell them fondly. “Steal everything you can.”


I recently wrote the following essay in response to a TOEFL independent essay question that I wanted my students to write.


I basically wrote most of it in class and then re-wrote it again at home. You’re supposed to write these essays in 30 minutes: I admit it that this one took about an hour including the revision.


However, the essay does display the four-part structure that I like my students to use in their essays: an introduction, two supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion.


The two supporting paragraphs should have the most “meat.” The big ideas at the top of the paragraphs are supported by examples and personal stories at the bottom.


The essay is also about an important New York artist. It tells you something about the vibrant city culture that once attracted me to New York and continues to attract many students from around the world.


The EC NY Blog thought it would be right for inclusion here. The EC NY Blog is also proud to publish another wonderful illustration by Mr. Michael White.


Texts by Mr. Michael Lyons. Illustration by Mr. Michael White.

Well, maybe a statue would be cool...
Well, maybe a statue would be cool...




Your city has decided to build a statue or monument to honor a famous person in your country. Who would you choose? Use reasons and specific examples to support your choice. You have 30 minutes to complete your answer.


If my city of New York were going to build a statue in honor of a famous person, an interesting choice might be Lou Reed, the so-called Godfather of Punk Rock music. I think Mr. Reed should be honored because (1) his music has been influential, and (2) there would be something provocative – if not very funny – about commemorating an old punk with a statue.


Lou Reed should be honored for his importance to world music. Although Mr. Reed is not very famous (even among his fellow New Yorkers), many talented artists and musicians in America, Europe, and elsewhere have been influenced by his music. As the leader of the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed’s rebellious attitude and shocking creative choices brought something new to popular music in the 1960s. By writing about the disturbing realities of life in the big city and experimenting with the noise of rock & roll, Mr. Reed is now remembered as the creator of punk rock music. Although the label “Godfather of Punk” simplifies both the complexities of popular music and Mr. Reed’s achievement, it’s true enough. Mr. Reed has also influenced me. When I was a teenager growing up in suburban Connecticut, I listened to the legendary album The Velvet Underground and Nico again and again. Its words and sounds created a vision of New York as a dangerous playground where only the strong survived and the beautiful were doomed. Its romance captured my imagination; I promised myself to move to New York, so I could have a chance to be as cool as the characters in Mr. Reed’s songs.


Lou Reed should also be honored with a statue to be provocative. If the conservative impulses of human culture produce icons (= figures to be revered, obeyed, or paid), the most creative artists are iconoclasts – destroyers of the old and creators of the new. Lou at his best was a fierce iconoclast. Each Velvet Underground song broke some rule in popular music and pushed in a new direction. With great songs like “Rock & Roll” or “Pale Blue Eyes” available on CD, the last thing poor Lou needs is to have a stodgy statue dedicated to him. The statue would be a caricature: It would reduce the complex man into a ridiculous cartoon figure with a guitar. Young punks would vandalize it, uninformed tourists would photograph it, and Lou himself would avoid it. I think it would therefore be funny and provocative to see the statue of Lou Reed. The statue would be like a riddle that all young artists and musicians would have to contemplate.


I think the city should therefore erect a statue of Lou Reed because he has been important and because it would be provocative.






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