Making sure that students understand what is happening in the lesson and that they have understood the language you have taught them can at times be very difficult.

Just asking "Do you understand?" isn't really enough. You need to be sure.

Tips for asking questions
Here are some tips for asking questions to check that students have understood you.

  • Don’t ask 'Do you understand?' They can easily answer 'yes' to avoid losing face.
  • Ask everyone. Vary who you ask, don’t just pick on the keenest or the best. You will never know if they all understand if you go for the safe bet!
  • Avoid repetition parrot fashion. Questions which require little more than 'lifting' the answer from a text will not indicate if they understand the meaning.
    For example: John gets up at six except for weekends when he has a long lie in.
    Q "What time does John get up during the week?" "Does he have a long lie in at the weekend?"
  • Encourage interpretation. Use questions which involve thinking about the meaning. "Does John always get up early?" "When does he stay in bed late?"
  • Personalise. Use questions which involve the students personally in the topic. "Do you like having a lie in?" "Does John get up later than you?"
  • Encourage discussion on meaning. Use questions with more than one possible answer to encourage discussion. "What time might he get up on Sundays?"

Tips for promoting self checking
An important skill in communicating with others in a foreign language is the ability to clear up misunderstanding. You need to check if you have understood by yourself.

  • Encourage students to ask for clarification. Build in a checking exercise to your activities. Encourage verbal checking, not just looking at each other's answers.
  • They should not feel ashamed or embarrassed that they haven’t understood.
  • Discourage any mockery and encourage those who self-correct. Practise dialogues where 2 people mishear/misunderstand each other and clear up the misunderstanding verbally. Use these for intonation practice. A: Ok so that’s sixty Euros B: No, it isn’t sixty, it’s seventy. A: seventy? B: Yes, that’s right.

Play clarification games
This is a game called 'What does that mean?'

  • Make a list of sentences with one word in bold in each sentence. Give pairs or groups the sentences.
  • Students take it in turns to ask what the word in bold means.
  • Practice first with the whole class and encourage them to give further examples, synonyms or opposites.
    For example. We aren’t going to the beach as it’s too chilly today. What does chilly mean? Oh, that’s describing the weather. It is cold, not freezing but quite cold.
  • Give out a reading text with words underlined which you wish to check. Students ask each other in pairs before checking with the whole class.


By Clare Lavery

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