Concept Checking: What is it and How to Do it

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Have you ever found yourself teaching your learners a new vocabulary item only to realise later in the lesson that, even though they were nodding enthusiastically and saying “Yes, teacher, I understand”, they actually had no idea what you were talking about? We’ve probably all been there at some point in our careers because it can be easy to assume that your learners are taking in what you are teaching.

But remember the saying: teaching is not the same as learning?

What is Concept Checking?

Well, the thing is, no matter how much explaining you do, there is no guarantee that your learners will grasp exactly what you are trying to tell them. To be fair, even though it may be clear in your head it doesn’t necessarily mean you convey it as clearly to your learners.

Which is why you should use concept check questions to ensure our students fully comprehend the meaning of new vocabulary.

Concept Checking

What are concept check questions?

Concept check questions are questions we can ask to establish whether our learners have understood the language we have presented. As we all know, asking “Do you understand?” is not a reliable indicator of comprehension, so we need to ask other questions to find out indirectly if we are all on the same page, both in terms of vocabulary and grammar.

How do we construct concept check questions?

The most important aspect of a concept check question is that it should be simple. Using more complex language or unfamiliar vocabulary will not help your cause. Using simple, familiar language will help your learners express their understanding of the language.

Easy concept check questions are yes/no questions, 50/50 questions and closed questions.

For example, to check the comprehension of sitcom, you could ask:

Is Friends a sitcom? Do I read sitcoms? Are sitcoms funny?

Which is a sitcom: Friends or E.R.?

How long is a sitcom? What’s your favourite sitcom?

Remember that you cannot use the target language as the answer to the question, as your learners will soon realise that it is the answer.

The following are bad examples of concept check questions for lion:

What animal roars?

What animal is the “King of the Jungle”?

What animal lives in Africa?

Because the answer to all of these questions if the target language item, there is no way to know if the students actually understand the word or if they just know that it is the answer to any question you ask.

So keep it short, sweet and simple. There is no need to concept check everything but it is very useful for language that may be confusing or difficult for your students. Rather make sure your students understand the language when you are presenting it than finding out much later that they had no clue what was going on.

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