- For Teachers
All teachers have experienced students who obviously have questions about the class or their homework but don’t ask even when given the opportunity, and the same can be true for whole classes. For teachers of some nationalities and age groups, this can be more common than students who are happy to stick up their hands. Signs that they have questions they aren’t asking include:
Reasons why they might be reluctant to ask questions are mainly connected to shyness, language problems, relevance, and the teacher’s and students’ roles. Examples of these and other reasons include:
As we have seen, there are many reasons why student might not want to ask questions, and some of them are legitimate (e.g. wanting to spend class time on other things) or connected to intractable things like personality. It could therefore be argued that students who don’t want to ask questions should just be given that choice. However, there are plenty of reasons why we might want all our students to ask us questions:
Things teachers might want to encourage questions about include:
Perhaps the simplest way to get more questions out of your students is to give them examples of the kinds of questions they might want to ask. For example, if they check their own answers with the answer key after a workbook homework, you could suggest the questions “Is this answer also possible?”, “Why is this wrong?” and “What’s the difference between… and…?” These questions can also be put on the board, on a poster or on worksheets.
Another way of encouraging them is to tell them how important this point is, e.g. “This point will be in the test”, “I’m going to ask you to use this language in a minute”, “The rest of today’s lesson/ the rest of this week/ this unit/ the next homework is about this point”, or “This is a particular problem for Japanese speakers/ for people studying abroad/ in this class/ in the IELTS test”. A related method is to tell them “This is your last chance to ask me questions before…” or “If you don’t have any questions for me, let me ask some questions to you”. This in turn is connected to the important tip of making sure that they will be able to use what you tell them after (preferably straight after) you answer their questions.
The other major tip for making students ask more questions is to teach them the language they will need in order to do so, mainly meaning typical phrases like “Can you write it on the board?” and language to talk about language like “adverb” and “syllable”. Practice of these phrases can be combined with vocabulary revision by getting them to test each other on the spelling, word stress, different parts of speech etc of a list of vocabulary from the course up to that point. They can then use the same language to ask the teacher about any words and phrases they aren’t sure about. It may be possible to tie this kind of practice in with language points on your syllabus. For example requests and question formation can be tied in with typical classroom questions like “How do you pronounce this word?”, and determiners and giving advice can be tied in with self-study tips, e.g. “If I was you I would learn as many new words as possible”.
A good way of making sure they do make the leap to using those questions in front of the whole class is to ask them the question you think they probably should be asking you, e.g. “What is the difference between ‘last week’ and ‘in the last week’?” If they can’t answer, get them to ask the same question back to you before you answer it.
It may also be possible to change their attitudes about asking questions, e.g. do a lesson on cultural differences in education that includes the willingness or not to ask questions in lectures in different countries. This is particularly useful if they are likely to face that situation themselves, e.g. when studying abroad. A more basic way of trying to change their attitudes is simply by telling them when something, e.g. not following your instructions or doing badly in a test, is a symptom of not asking questions.
There are also certain classroom and homework activities that are likely to prompt questions. One is giving them the answer key in the next class rather than with their homework exercises, so that they can call you over and ask you questions as they are checking their answers. A more unusual one is to give them a test and tell them after you take it in that they will be able to make changes to their answers in the next lesson. This should make them very motivated to study the relevant points at home and then ask questions before their last chance to get the answers right.
Other useful things to say when inviting them to ask questions are:
Despite all the nice tips above in some cases you might want to actually almost force them to ask you questions, e.g. by telling them that you expect one question each by the end of the class and you will pick on people in the last five minutes if they haven’t all asked you something by then. You can also do this by giving them all two pieces of card that represent questions and telling them they all have to use at least one of them by the end of the class, getting them to pass them to you as they do so. You could also allow them to pass them to each other for questions to their partners as long as their questions are in English.
In other cases, you might want to assume that questions in front of the class are not likely to be forthcoming in the near future and find other ways of making sure you find out what they want to know and of answering their questions. Tips include:
Copyright © 2012 Alex Case
Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com