Published 10th May 2016

If you look into any EFL classroom you probably want to see students with their hands raised, wanting to ask questions. Sadly, often these questions are along the lines of Can I go to the bathroom? Or Which page?  and so they are not good indicators of a thinking classroom.

Because that’s exactly what we want: a thinking classroom. We want our students – young or old – to ask questions in the English as a Foreign Language classroom. Questions they don’t know the answer to, questions we don’t know the answer to, questions that are not strictly related to the topic at hand, even those annoying questions which are asked at a very inconvenient time.

Because questions mean that our students are thinking and if our students are thinking, it means they are learning. Of course, not asking questions doesn’t mean they are not learning, but questions show us that our students are thinking in certain ways.

First of all, the fact that they are asking questions means that they feel comfortable in the classroom. This is important because anxiety and stress can hinder learning.

Asking questions means that they are responding to the information they are given. They are processing that information and something is not right, so they are asking to clarify. This is important because if this doesn’t happen, they will not achieve the clarity of comprehension.

What’s more, if they ask questions based on the world around them rather than on the classroom content, this means that they have found something interesting they want to engage with. This should not be shut down and time should be made to discuss the question, no matter how seemingly unrelated to the lesson. Not necessarily immediately, obviously, but at some point.

Our fundamental goal is to have our students talking about the world around them in English, functioning in English, and this begins with asking questions.

As a teacher you can encourage your students to ask questions. Besides making it clear that all questions are welcome, get into the habit of asking opinion and lead-on questions instead of closed right-or-wrong questions. Ask your students if they have any questions and open the door for disagreement and discussion.

All in all, if your students are asking the right questions, this is a good sign and should not be discouraged in any way. If they are not asking questions, try and find ways that you can help them learn to ask.