In many language classrooms around the world teachers generally ask a lot of questions to students. They do this as a way to generate chat and discussion, as in ‘Did you have a nice trip?‘ or ‘What do you think Jbene should do now?‘, but they also do it to test the knowledge of the students, as in “What’s the past of go? ‘ and ‘How do we say سمك in English?‘
Recently, in my online sessions with groups of kids in Palestine, I’ve been experimenting with a technique that encourages the learners to ask the questions. What I do is ask their teacher to organise them into different groups of about six students. Each group is assigned a different topic – Geography, History, Science, Nature, Palestine etc. Their task is to plan and write down some questions to ask me. Their teacher helps them out with language queries that come up and then as a group they choose their most difficult questions that they think I won’t be able to answer. We then do it as a kind of competition. One representative from each group comes up to the webcam and asks me the question. If I get it right, I get a point. If I get it wrong, they get a point. Here’s a short excerpt of how it worked with one group in an UNRWA school in Deir-al-Balah, Gaza.
There are six things which I particularly like about this activity:-
- It provides a link between English and other areas of the curriculum.
- It changes the traditional classroom status patterns so that leaners are enabled to say what is right and what is wrong, rather than the teacher.
- It can work well when there are power cuts or the internet goes off, as learners don’t need to be connected to the remote teacher during the question planning stage.
- It provides many opportunities for scaffolding and upgrading of language -with the class teacher, the remote teacher, and between the learners themselves.
- It provides a nice balance between accuracy (the writing and asking of the questions) and fluency (all the conversation that happens around the questions)
- It’s less about what learners know about English, and more about what they can do with English. (This is the theme of our conference which is happening 2 weeks today – more info here )
So how would it work in your context? If you teach French to teenagers in the UK, could you use a variant of this where you ask the learners to plan questions for you in French about recent films or songs that the learners know and like? If you are a foreigner teaching EFL to a monolingual class of adults, how about asking the students to prepare questions about the customs or culture of the country you are in?
I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on this activity. Please leave a comment below.