Time to offer you what all practising teachers want: something practical.

I do think that a way John Morgan taught me to use comprehension questions is genuinely productive.

From story to comprehension question and from questions to story.  ( Lower Inter to advanced)

Ask each student to think of a story they know but that other students will most likely not know. A personal story or anedote is fine for this activity. Ask each student to  write 8-10 questions about the plot, questions like this:

Where was the man?        What did he see through his bedroom window       What was the unicorn doing?

What did his wife say when he told her about the animal?   etc........

Ask each student to exchange their questions with someone not sitting near them. Tell the students to read their classmate's questions carefully and then write the story they imagine them to be about.

After the writing phase get the students to move and sit next to their comprehension questions partner and exchange texts. If the written texts are different to the story behind the questions the writer of the questions will want to tell the original story. 

I am not sure what it is about this John Morgan technique that fascinates me; maybe it is the genuine pleasure it has given to many groups I have used it with. It is interesting how techniques can become associated in a teacher's memory with thrilling or dreadfful moments in class.

Good night,   Mario

ps: I hope this return to practicality will feel useful to you. I have an instinctive worry when I feel I have jabbered too much, and been too "theoretical". We have more than enough intellectualising bleaters around in language teaching. You will often find such people in the univerities [ the omission of the letter "s" in the last word is intentional] The teacher fellowship of Pilgrims has always stood for practical classroom stuff and this has been the bedrock of our thinking for the past 30 years.



Hi Mario


It's great to see this suggestion here. I first learned of the idea when I read "Once Upon a Time' (Which I believe you wrote along with John Morgan).


I used it a lot, often basing the questions on genuine stories that students could later read ( An Old Man With Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marcez was a real favourite)

It always worked really well and I even used it for my diploma observed lesson (not usually a positive memory) and it helped me get through.


Thanks for that




Nik Peachey | Learning Technology Consultant, Writer, Trainer
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"I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance"
e. e. cummings

Hi Nik,

        It had never occured to me to use this technique to get students geared up to wanting to read a short story. This is further proof of how marvellous collaboration with other teachers is. Another person will tell one, as you have just done, something enriching that alone one could not see. If only John and  I had put your idea into ONCE UPON A TIME, back in the mid eighties of the last century! Too bad.

Warmly yours,  Mario

Sorry, not making a comment, except to say it's great to experience ideas with you again, so long after the Cambridge days. Still working. keep in touch. Kate (Trinidad)

Dear Kate,

                 You mention the Cambridge days... a long time ago!

Would you agree that two thirds of the  pleasure of teaching lies in experiencing idea exchange with your students and that one third comes form idea exchange with colleagues? I recently met a colleague who teaches Spanish in Barcelona. Her students are Africans who got to the Spanish Canary Islands, off the West African coast, by risking their lives on rafts.   She was doing a lesson on modes of transport and asking the learners which types of transport they liked best. Myabe a fairly language teacherish thing to do? One guy answered her question: " I like raft"! ( me gusta la patera). The colleague was gobsmacked by this answer. She asked a goofy question and got a really heartfelt reply.

I have enjoyed this exhange with you, Kate!

 Warmly yours,  Mario


It was great to read your blog. I'm an English teacher of China, worried aobut my students' writng. This is my first time to come here.Lukily, I got your technique.Thank you.

I believe that some colleagues are inspired, others give inspiration, and some learn to do either or both. It is the mix which is forever exciting and stimulating. However, whatever the 'percentage,' as teachers, we are also learners, and we are lost without the huge knowledge and experience of life our students share with us, and through which we can explore language and culture together. Your example of the 'raft' illustrates how very important it is for us to know our students in some measure before we launch into 'goofy' questions, a pit I am sure most of us have fallen into at some time or another, even unwittingly.

The tools at our disposal, (our approaches) even though these may not always suit all learners, allow us to open avenues for them to express their own feelings about themselves and gain insights into our lives, and comment on them also. If teaching and learning remain only in the sterile (unadapted) context of published materials, then in my opinion we remain 'on the page' and forego the magic and chemistry which happens when we need to communicate our ideas, whatever the difficulty. Somehow, at all levels, it is possible for this to take place. Thus, I agree with what you say about the types of questions we encourage our learners to ask about texts, and the tpe of questions we ask them in the name of communication.

Mario, I was so happy to read Rod's contributions, and left a comment for him also. It is years ago we were all together in Cambridge, but the things we explored endure, and are so good.

Please keep in touch.


Seasons Greetings

And what about doubling techniques, Mario? Could you revisit these with us? Ever open to new thoughts on the subject. Kate

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