Published 12th June 2018
We’re pretty sure you know how to ask questions. Every day in every lesson we ask our students a million questions in the EFL classroom and they ask us two million back. Questions are part and parcel of the classroom (well, they should be. If they’re not then something needs to be changed!). The question is, are you utilising questions in the EFL classroom in the best way for your students? Or are you asking questions for the sake of asking questions?
What questions should we be asking?
There are a range of questions that are necessary in the EFL classroom. The first type of questions are those we ask at the beginning of the lesson or when you have a few minutes to spare. Questions like: What did you do last night? Did you watch the football game? Who’s going to the festival tomorrow? These questions are all totally valid as a way of improving rapport in the classroom and building relationships with your students.
Then there are the comprehension questions, the ones we ask to make sure our students are following us. These can be as simple as Does that make sense? Any questions? Or they can be more specific, such as Is this a real or hypothetical situation? What’s a synonym for this?
Finally, there are the questions we ask to create interest in a topic or to stimulate conversation. Examples of these questions are What can you tell me about the royal family? Or Who knows what this symbol represents? These questions are used to find out how much your students know about certain topics or to get their attention.
How to ask questions in the EFL classroom meaningfully
First of all, listen to the answers. Don’t just ask questions to fill up time in the classroom. Don’t just run through your questions without following up on your students’ answers. How they respond to your questions may lead the conversation in a totally different direction and that’s ok. This will usually introduce much-needed teachable moments.
Give your students time to think. Remember that even though you know what questions are about to be asked (because you came up with them!) your students don’t. They need time to process your questions, think about how to answer them and then think about how to do that in English.
Don’t be afraid of silence. This thinking time will mean there are periods of time when no one in the classroom will be speaking. This is perfectly acceptable. Don’t make the mistake of answering the question or moving onto the next question because you think they have nothing to say. Give them time and they will answer you.
Finally, don’t target individual students with questions. Putting students on the spot usually doesn’t get the best results. Open the questions to the class, allowing any student to answer. Be careful that certain students don’t dominate the conversation. Alternatively, let your students discuss the questions in groups first before making it a class discussion.