Published 7th December 2015

Learning English is difficult, isn’t it?

Question tags are structures we use to prompt a comment from the listener. They are essentially not questions, but rather a way to get feedback from the person we are speaking to. Question tags are used in spoken English and not written English and more in informal than formal situations. Formulating question tags is not difficult but instead the challenge for our EFL students comes in using them fluently and appropriately. All of these factors must be considered when teaching them to your students. (Trouble with motivating your EFL students?)

Focus on form

Firstly, make sure your students are aware of the structure of question tags:

  • If a statement is positive, the tag will be negative. If the statement is negative, the tag will be positive.
  • Use the first auxiliary in the statement in the tag and invert the auxiliary and the subject.
  • If there is no auxiliary, use do.

Look at these examples which illustrate these points:

It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?

You’re not hungry, are you?

You live here, don’t you?

Use guided discovery

While it would be easy to spell out the formula to your students, rather use guided discovery and let them figure out the rules for themselves. You can do this by providing the students with a conversation which has a few question tags in them and give the students time to compare and contrast the different examples. Because this is a relatively straightforward structure, they should have no difficulty discovering the formula for themselves. (How to get your students conversing)

Focus on function

As mentioned before, the trick with question tags is knowing how to use them appropriately. Provide your students with numerous examples of dialogues with question tags, so that they can get a feel for when it is relevant to use them and what responses are expected; this is the key to sounding natural in English.

Allow time for practice

Give your students ample examples of question tags which they need to form in order for them to practice the form of the structure. Spending time on this will give your students confidence that they can produce the structure accurately and appropriately.

Free practice

Now put your students in situations in which they can practice question tags in a free context. In other words, set up a situation in which your students will need to use question tags and let them come up with their own creative productions. One example would be for the students to write down a set of facts they think is true of their classmates. They can then mingle and, by using question tags, find out if they were right or wrong.

For example: I think Sara comes from Basel.

                        Sara, you come from Basel, don’t you?

Using question tags is a way of sounding very natural and so it is an important skill for our EFL students to master. By following these ideas you’ll be guaranteed that your students will soon be using question tags effortlessly.