TOEFL Instruction Success

John B. Collins, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: TOEFL preparation, dictogloss, grammar, listening
  • Learner English level: Pre-intermediate to intermediate
  • Learner maturity: University 
  • Preparation time: 30 minutes
  • Activity time: 45-60 minutes

Collaborative dialogue is generally not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of TOEFL instruction; repetitive drills, decontextualized grammar exercises, and bewildered students are more likely – particularly for lower ability students. The following task draws on the established benefits of the dictogloss as an exercise that requires students to engage in collaborative dialogue not only to co-construct communitive meaning, but also to focus their attention on grammatical forms and accuracy, both of which are required for success in the TOEFL listening and structure/written expression sections. Dictogloss is essentially a dictation task during which students listen and take notes on a passage of text which is read aloud twice by the teacher. The primary difference between dictation and a dictogloss task is how students must attempt to recreate the original text through dialogue in small groups, rather than passively and individually in a dictation situation.


Step 1: Select a grammar point which often appears in the TOEFL structure/written expression section, which is suitable for your students’ level, such as possessive adjectives. 

Step 2: Locate a range of two-part TOEFL conversations (with answer options) which include at least one instance of a possessive adjective. You should ideally locate, or create, a conversation for each of the possessive adjectives (my, your, his, her, its, our and their). For example, the conversation below includes two: your and my. 

  • Woman: How was your vacation?
  • Man: What vacation? My last one was two 
  • years ago.
  • (Narrator: What can be inferred about the man?)
  • (Source: 5-Minute Quizzes for TOEFL Test, Macmillan LanguageHouse)


Step 1: Read the first conversation two times at normal speed. Students write down the conversation as best as they can. 

Step 2: In groups of three or four, students must then co-construct the complete conversation through collaborative dialogue. 

Step 3: Monitor how each group is forming their conversations. Students will invariably miss or include incorrect words. Here teachers should guide the students’ collaboration by helping them to notice the relationships and references between the words in each sentence.

Step 4: Once a dictogloss for all the sample conversations is complete, provide students with the TOEFL listening question and answer options for each conversation. Students then select the best answer.

Step 5: Invite the students to search for a common grammatical theme across all the sentences, in this case possessive adjectives.

Step 6: Elicit the target grammar rules and introduce a TOEFL-style multiple choice exercise drill that focuses on the same target. 

Step 7: In the same collaborative dialogue style as steps 2 and 3, students should attempt to complete the exercise before seeking feedback from their teacher.


The efficacy of this task lies in the necessity to produce accurate output, in this case in the form of a short conversation. This written output then becomes an object for students to analyze and reflect upon. They can notice gaps and incorrect hypotheses in their interlanguage (Swain, 2000, p. 100) which have now been made salient through multiple exposures to the target form. Through collaborative dialogue, students can then work to fill these gaps by accessing other group members’ metalinguistic resources. Furthermore, having had their attention drawn to the target structure and analyzed it more deeply, students are more likely to benefit from the exercise drill which followed. 


Swain, M. (2000). The output hypothesis and beyond: Mediating acquisition through collaborative dialogue. In J.P. Lantolf (ed.) Socicultural theory and second language learning (pp. 97-114). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Tashiro, J. & Lougheed, L. (1998). 5-Minute quizzes for TOEFL Test. Tokyo: Macmillan LanguageHouse.