TOEFL Teaching Tips: A Practical Way to Assign ELLs Speaking Practice

One problem that many language teachers face is the dilemma of how to create and grade speaking homework.  I know colleagues who have simply told students to practice by having a conversation with someone on a particular topic, and although this would certainly be beneficial, there is no way to hold students truly accountable.  I attempted to create a solution based on what I had done as a language learner in the AP Spanish classroom.  To prepare for the test, occasionally we would be given a recorder and we would have to say our responses into the machine that we would later give our teacher.  To update this, I would have students use their phones to record, such as in the free Voice Memos app on the iPhone and then email me their response.  While this did help to solve the accountability and tracking issues, it still wasn't streamlined. The questions were given separately.  Students needed to input my email address correctly.  If I wanted to have them record more than one response, they might be submitting multiple files, creating disorganization in my own inbox.  In other words, having multiple steps meant there were any number of things that could go wrong.  But last year, my school had a professional development workshop on a new, free app that solves all of these issues.  It was the first time I'd ever heard of Recap, but now I have made it a standard part of the weekly homework I assign to my classes.  

How Can I Get Started With Recap?

Simple! First, you will need to sign up for a free account.  Fill in the relevant information, including the email address you want to link to your account.  

Next, click Add Class.  You will need to create a title for your class and select the way you would like students to sign in.  

It is that easy! Now you are ready to create your first assignment.  Hit Add Recap (the green button) on the right-hand side.  You can type your questions and they will appear as text or you can record yourself asking the questions for students to watch.  Once you've input the questions you want, click the green next button towards the bottom of the screen.  Select assign to the whole class (and you also here have the option to assign it to multiple classes if you have multiple sections of the same course).  Select the amount of time students are allowed to speak for (the default options are 15, 30, 60, and 120 seconds).  You will also need to select a due date.  I personally like to leave the Assess Yourself poll on because it allows students to do a short bit of reflection as well.  Click the green send button.  You've created your first speaking homework! Great work!

What To Do With the Recaps
Once the student responses come in, you can watch the responses by yourself and give them a grade and feedback just as you would have done with the recording sent from a mobile phone.  While this is good, doing this means you aren't taking advantage of one of the most interesting features of the app: the highlight reel.  Foster competition for the best response or the most creative answer by telling them that from the class only a few will be selected for the highlight reel.  I like to also give out extra credit points for some added incentive.  Play the highlight reel for the entire class and after the responses have the students that watched point out what made these responses so successful.  This is particularly useful if you have students preparing for a standardized test like the TOEFL.  Knowing the components of a strong response can be half the battle on those exams.

Ideas For Using Recap
Though the training that I attended was not specifically for language teachers, I think that Recap is particularly well suited for the language learning classroom.  Because Recap lets students respond to open-ended prompts, questions that make good writing questions will also make strong speaking questions.  Encourage students not to write out their entire responses, but just to take notes just as they would do on something like the TOEFL.  For teachers working with lower level ESL students, you can create prompts that allow them to show off their knowledge about specific grammar structures, like explaining what they did last weekend after your class had completed a lesson about the past simple.  For TOEFL teachers, the amount of speaking questions 1 and 2 that you can generate and assign to students is nearly unlimited, making this such a valuable tool.  Have students focus on speaking clearly and fluently in addition to giving answers that are grammatically correct and fully answer the question.  

Go beyond the obvious.  Have students work in pairs and submit a conversation that they have created.  This app would be an outstanding way to preserve role-play activities.  Do you teach English Language Arts (to native speakers or non-native speakers)? I have given students creative assignments related to the novel or short story we are reading and told them to use Recap to record their creations.  I've had students play the part of lawyers giving opening remarks or recording artists making a song or rap, and this app was a great way to submit these recordings. In the coming weeks, I'll be using this app to have my English I class record a slam poem, and I know the results will be amazing. Although this technology is great for capturing creative work, it also can be leveraged to show more concrete understanding of facts.  It can be used to review key concepts from class or reading passages.  For classes full of students that are reluctant writers, I find Recap particularly useful for giving students a different outlet for expressing their opinions.  They can back up their thoughts using information from the text without the pressure of writing a paragraph or an essay.  

Whether you use Recap to modify assignments to create scaffolding to better fit student needs, to allow non-native speakers additional speaking opportunities, or to streamline the process of recording and submitting creative assignments, Recap is a handy tool to integrate into your classroom.  

Want to make grading student work even easier?  Use the printable Recap Speaking Rubric I created.  It uses many of the same criteria that TOEFL scorers look for. And it's free.

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