It was so good to be present at Language World when Dr Geoff Brammall was honoured as an ALL fellow. He has worked tirelessly for the language community and I respect him so much. Carol Hughes nominated him and asked us why what we thought about this. Carol has written this post on questions and mentions one of Geoff’s ideas. He is always willing to share teaching ideas. Thank you Geoff, and thank you Carol for this post and being so generous with your time to teachers and trainee teachers!! We really appreciate it!
If you think about the MFL classroom who asks the most questions? Well it’s usually the teacher and yet questions are a key element in GCSE, particularly in speaking, and students ability to ask questions is one of the aims of the KS2 and KS3 National Curriculum. In the current GCSE students must ask questions in the Edexcel social interaction speaking assessment and in the new 2016 GCSE mark scheme students need to understand the questions being asked if they are to achieve fluency and spontaneity and be able to ask questions to initiate conversation develop the conversation independently. So in this post I would like to suggest some ways to promote students’ ability to use questioning, not just in KS4 but strategies which could be used in all key stages.
Students need to know question words but go beyond the basics. Word tennis is an activity often used to start lessons where students work in pairs giving items of vocabulary on a particular topic. So why not word tennis on question words seeing which pair can come up with the most introductory question words so students are increasingly familiar with not just “who” but “with whom” , “from whom”, not just “how” but “how often”, “how much”, “how long” etc.
Another starter activity to revise question words is “Dump it down” using post-it notes or scrap paper. In silence students have one minute to write as many question words and phrases they can. They then pair up and the activity has two options. One each pair reads out a word/ phrase and gains a point if their partner does not have that phrase. This would lead well into a class discussion about the less familiar question phrases. Alternatively students read their lists to each other in pairs and then have one minute to rewrite a longer list, including words they did not recall previously.
Students are very good at answering questions but we could encourage them to make up the questions. As authentic material is increasingly used in the classroom why not ask the students to make questions to ask about the text. This would make a very good group activity or alternately display the text on the whiteboard and remove text as students make up a question about that part of it (an idea from Geoff Brammall, former chair of the German committee of ALL). The latter activity will encourage students to participate, as the more of the text disappears the harder it will be to form the questions.
Another useful activity has often been presented by Rachel Hawkes in her presentations on spontaneous speaking. By giving students the answers they have to think about what the question would be. We can add an extra dimension to this activity as by adding adverbs of time or intensity students need to think more carefully about the question. Thus the question for “I watch sport programmes on TV” would be different for the response “I watch sport programmes every Saturday on TV”. But if we just give students the answer “Sport programmes” how many questions can they then come up with? Having a list of questions we can then encourage students to think about how they would produce more detailed answers for the different questions they have produced.
Questioning is an important skill for learners of a foreign language. It may not have always had a key focus in the past in the classroom but there are very good reasons why it should do so in future teaching.
I’d love to hear your thoughts – how have you used questioning in your classroom?