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Perspectives on the future- & TOEFL writing help ED 135
September 03, 2019

Perspectives on the future- & TOEFL writing help

The reading links and discussion in this issue serve two purposes: they give you thought-provoking English practice in reading AND writing.

The writing practice will be especially useful if you are preparing for the TOEFL exam, but it’s worth the effort if you ever need to write in English, even if you don’t plan to take the TOEFL. (For the usual English Detective reading/listening selections jump to the next section.)

TOEFL Writing task 1 asks test-takers to read one perspective on a subject, listen to a lecture discussing it from a different perspective, and then follow the test’s instructions (prompt) to write a response to both.

It’s not so easy to find reading and listening materials on the same topic to practice task 2 (after you have used the official practice materials). So, I tried designing a sample task myself, using several of the reading passages and talks I was considering for this English Detective issue. You can read the results, and try an integrated writing essay, here.

If you want to learn about the TOEFL Integrated Writing task (writing task 1), or practice with official sample essays (& some good unofficial samples) click here.

(I’m reviewing and adding to the TOEFL and IELTS pages on EnglishHints this fall. Please let me know if there’s anything that helps you—or any suggestions you have. You can just reply to this email, or to a contact form on EnglishHints.)

Future Perspectives: a TED talk+

Bina Venkataraman spoke at TED about the value of considering future generations, some reasons we don’t, and some ‘tools’ that can help us escape our short-term focus and do that.

The first tool she talked about is finding a way to make long-term goals pay off even now. She gives two examples involving farming and preserving top soil: a current researcher developing longer rooted grains, and George Washington Carver’s research on peanuts 150 years ago.

She also talks about using knowledge of the past to help us imagine and prepare for the future. A Japanese engineer remembered a story of a tsunami near his village over 1,000 years ago. So he insisted that they locate the nuclear power plant he was responsible for farther inland. It became a safe haven during the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima reactor.

A third tool is passing on resources as shared heirlooms for the next generations. She tells the story of lobster fishermen in Mexico and other parts of North America who do that. She finishes with a fascinating story of a musical instrument her great-grandfather saved and passed down to her grandmother, who passed it on to her. Now she feels responsible to pass it on as well. “It makes me feel part of a story bigger than my own.”

Scientific American has a related very short podcast with transcript (1-1/3-minutes). It discusses an experiment that showed that people are more likely to consider the effects of their choices on future generations if thy have just been reminded of their own mortality.

(The researchers had some people read an article about an airplane crash before they were asked to make a decision about whether a company should use more energy now or save some for the future. Those that read the article were more willing to give up some current benefits so there would be more available for future use.)

More on George Washington Carver: Helping Farmers to a Better Future

This children’s article gives a good general summary of the life and importance of George Washington Carver to American history. (I’ve been waiting for a chance to share something about him. He’s one of my heroes: a gentle man whose research was all to improve the lives of the struggling farmers of the post-Civil War South.)


This issue’s practice is with reading, listening, note-taking, and writing. (See the first link or the picture above.) I wanted to add a couple notes on very frequent vocabulary, though—just in case some is not familiar.

Ancestors are our distant forebears (forefathers and foremothers): relatives who lived long before us who made it possible for us to be born.

A botanist is someone who studies plants. (Botany is the science of plants.)

Crop rotation is planting different crops in a location from time to time (sometimes each time a crop is harvested, more often after several turns with the most profitable crop.) It helps replenish soil nutrients, as each type of crop uses different amounts of various nutrients. Legumes (pea family crops like peanuts and soybeans) are especially useful since they add nitrogen to the soil via micro-organisms in their roots.

A generation is a group of people of similar ages living at the same time. (Examples: Baby Boomers or Generation X r Z.) My grandparents’ generation were born before 1900; my generation mostly in the 1950s-60s. Many of our grandchildren are millennials—born around the year 2000.

An heirloom is something precious passed from one generation to another, usually in a family. (It has the same root as ‘heir’—a person who ‘inherits’, or receives things from another person when they die, and ‘heritage’—a shared inheritance of values and culture as well as things.

Mortality means death. (In literature people are sometimes called ‘mortals’ because we all will die. Immortal means undying.)


Catherine Simonton,

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