How to Ask Questions | Help for Low Level ESL Students

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Teaching our students how to ask questions

Inability to Ask Questions: It’s a Big Problem!

One of the biggest problems my lower-level students have is knowing how to ask questions, especially of the follow-up variety. They’re pretty decent at answering the basics, like:

“What’s your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“What’s your favourite_____?”

But once that question is finished, they have no tools for asking a follow-up question. And English conversation, if one can’t ask appropriate questions is awkward and not really a conversation at all.

It’s easy to fall into the habit of teacher asks questions, students answer questions. Even just think about the warm-up that you did in class today. Did it consist almost exclusively of this? It’s easy, but it’s totally and completely ineffective if our goal is to prepare students for the real world of talking to real people.

We can do much better! Here are a few quick tips to get your students asking follow-up questions like pros.

Asking Questions: Teaching The 5 W’s

While I still do the question/answer in partners thing almost every class, and once in a while the teacher ask question/students answer question thing, I move beyond that as much as I can.

It’s quite simple. I get the student who is asking the question to listen to the answer and then ask an appropriate follow-up question. Every single time with almost no exceptions for any kind of activity. There is ALWAYS a required follow-up question, or two, or three.

It’s helpful to do a couple examples and write the “5 W’s + how” on the board for the students to refer to if they get stuck. I’ll give a quick review on question forms at this time too.

Here’s an example of what my students are required to do:

A. What’s something you want to achieve in the next 5 years?
B. I want to finish school and get a good job.
A. What kind of job do you want? …or… Where do you want to work? …or…When will you be finished university?

How to Ask Questions Help: Surveys!

ESL/EFL textbooks often have survey type activities. For example, mingling with your fellow students and find someone who can drive a car, or could read at age 4, etc, etc. The book often does not leave space for a follow-up question. When this is the case, I will make up my own worksheets with a column for “one more ?”

The follow-up question is not given as students have to think of their own unique one. Then in the blank spot on the sheet, they can jot down a word or two about their partner’s answer. I encourage active listening, and thinking of an interesting follow-up question based on the original response.

I give the following terrible examples to show what NOT to do.

A. Do you like fruit or vegetables more?

B. I like fruit.

A. What’s your favourite kind of vegetable?

Or, an example of a boring kind of follow-up question.

A. Do you have a pet?

B. Yes, I do.

A. How many pets? (not that interesting!) vs. Who looks after your pet when you’re at school? How long have you had your pet? What kind of pet is it?

How to Ask Questions Help: Teach Forms

It’s not so uncommon for textbooks and teachers to skip right over question forms when teaching grammar. For example, the simple past. You teach regular verb ending, and irregular verb endings. Do you also teach questions? You should! It’s not that easy for some grammatical constructions.

Even higher level students struggle with questions in the simple past, even though they’ve been studying it for years. Don’t assume your students know this stuff. Hit the highlights, even for intermediate or advanced students if the lesson lends itself to it.

Need More ESL Games and Activities?

If you’re looking for some fresh, new ideas for your ESL/EFL classes, then you’ll need to check out this book on Amazon: 101 ESL Activities for Teenagers and Adults. It’s lesson planning made easy, guaranteed.

The activities in the book are divided into skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking, warm-ups) and also by skill level (beginner-advanced) so it’s very easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. You can grab one or two of these activities to supplement your lesson and your students will love it!

You can buy the book on Amazon in both digital and print formats. The (cheaper!) digital version can be read on any device by downloading the free Kindle reading app. You’ll have more than 100 interesting, engaging ESL/EFL activities and games at your fingertips anywhere you go.

Check out 101 ESL Activities: For Teenagers and Adults on Amazon today:

Last update on 2019-09-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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