How to use lists of questions
Lists of questions can be a godsend when planning a lesson. Questions are the building bones of conversation, an art form in their own right in english and they enable practice, controlled and otherwise of many varieties of target language. ‘Lists of questions’ includes textbook exercises as well as many ressources to be found on the net. The trouble with lists is that they are linear, predictable, difficult to have fun with. They take us back to school with its bad memories and make us feel that we have no control over what’s going on. Good questions are thought provoking and elicit information. However, put them in a list and you’ll usually kill the communication factor dead. Here are some ideas for reviving them.
- Cards In a word. Deconstruct your list and put it on on cards. It’s easy enough to do with a computer and printer. A set of little cards can be tucked into your handbag or brief case and will help you out on those days when the photocopier/projector/voice is on the blink, or on long friday afternoons when your class doesn’t want to write. You can select questions, students can select questions. They can be used with the whole class or you can split the pack and have autonomous sub-groups. Like a deck of cards, they lend themselves to games…
- Cards with a twist If you’re going to the trouble of making cards, you can also consider adding a processing step. Un-conjugate the verb, remove a word leaving a gap, jumble the sentence so that the ‘asker’ must re-assemble it before posing it to the ‘askee’. See – you can already think of more!
- Nominate .. Simply put, I retain the list format (although I would never exceed 20 items) but ask a student to select a question and nominate someone to answer it. Anyone can be nominated, as long as they are not the student to your right or left. The aim of the activity is to put some of the randomness, the unpredictability of real-life communication back into the class. Surprisingly this simple trick works really well. With low-level groups who are feeling their way I give each student a copy of the list. With stronger classes I may just print off the one and have them pass it round.
- Nominate, and pass it on A slight variation on the last activity. When working on discussion skills I often have trouble training students to sollicit input from others. This is especially important for professionals involved in meetings. An easy way to remedy this is to add some passing on of questions into the ‘nominate’ format. Student a picks a question nominating student b to answer it. Student b does so, and asks student c to comment. Student c comments, asking student d for his opinion also. Just make sure you pre-teach more than one phrase for the passing on or it will get very tedious for you, the teacher.
- Human bingo This is the traditional, if unappetising, title for an activity which americans know well. Draw up a grid and fill each square with a category. For example, ‘someone who likes champagne’ or ‘someone who has never tasted champagne’ or even ‘someone who is allergic to champagne’, ‘someone who had champagne last christmas’. You can see where I’m going. Each student receives a grid – you may have just the one version, or produce two or three variations. Each participant must ask correct questions of his/her classmates to ascertain whether or not they correspond to any of the categories – ‘Do you like champagne?’ ‘When was the last time you had champagne?’ … the name of the clasmate who fits the bill is written onto the square. The aim is to be the first to identify one person for each square. Not really suitable for more complex questions, this simple activity enables you to have students practice target forms and vocabulary in a fun way since they must mingle with classmates. Make sure that you limit the number of questions which may be asked of an individual or the novelty will be lost – and pre-teach all the language needed thoroughly.
- Board games Love them or hate them, they come into their own for work on questions. If you have no experience of teaching with board games get hold of a copy of ‘Communication Games’ or the teacher’s book from any edition of ‘International Express’ by Longman. By using a blank ‘board’ you can put your own questions in. Alternatively, and far superior as a learning opportunity, give the students the blank and the list, and have them produce versions for each other.
- Deck of cards Suitable for children rather than adults, organise your list into a grid which corresponds to the values and suites of a deck of cards. You will need one copy of the grid per group, and one deck of cards. In turn each student takes a card and must answer the corresponding question. Excellent for revision, and a hit in junior schools.
So there you have a few ideas to consider. There are many others – make sure you comment if you have any to share!