The way you use questions to engage with your students can have a big effect on your lesson. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your questions.

The first questions you ask are important.
Get students’ attention and arouse interest from the start of the lesson.

  • Start with a question on the board to focus them, arouse curiosity or give them a puzzle to solve:
    For Example: Is a couch potato a) a type of vegetable? b) a piece of furniture? c) a type of person?
  • Prepare the questions you need to ask to elicit the vocabulary or language you wish to practice. Working it through in your mind beforehand helps you teach more effectively – plan thoroughly. Do your questions get the answers you need? Check them again before your lesson.

Give students time to answer
In our keenness to get on with eliciting information or checking comprehension we do not always allow students enough time to reply. Remember that the answer is on the tip of your tongue but not on theirs. First they must process your question. Studies show that giving students 'thinking-time' has the following results:

  • Students were more willing to volunteer answers.
  • “I don’t know” responses decreased.
  • Students accuracy improved and the length of their replies too.
  • The teachers became more effective questioners.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence – wait at least 3 seconds for them to think and formulate a response.

Allow students to help each other

  • If a student cannot answer your question do not wait in silence and humiliate them.
  • Rephrase your question or ask them a further question to lead them towards the information you need.
  • Encourage others to suggest answers.
  • Allow answers to be whispered to help – make this rule clear at the start of the activity.
  • Do not settle for one correct response. Get suggestions from more students, involving the whole class.

Tailor the questions to your aims
Select your questions carefully and use them wisely.

  • If you would like students to discuss a topic or an issue it is best to use open-ended questions like What? When? How? Direct questions like : Do you like going to the beach? will not generate much language, only a Yes/No response.
  • Be wary of asking too many questions in a discussion. Pass the questions over to others. Encourage as many contributions as possible “What do you think...? Laurent, do you agree with Serge?
  • Hesitate before answering your own questions or you will dominate and risk inhibiting student talk.


By Clare Lavery

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