METHODS OF TEACHING
HOW TO GET LEARNERS TOASK QUESTIONS
A constant problem for language instructors is the task of getting learners to ask questions in class. This is caused mainly by the lack of confidence in their own ability to form questions correctly and partly by an inability to create questions. I have experienced something similar many times myself, especially when I came to a class where learners have seldom been given the opportunities to actually speak in class, but often have the necessary grammatical and lexical knowledge to do so. I think that the following practice may be productive.
It consists simply of using ask me/him/her... and tell me/him/her... forms. “Ask me where I live” or “Ask me if I like coffee”, to which the responses might be, respectively “Where do you live?” and “Do you like coffee?”
At first, learners find this both strange and difficult, as it entails both comprehension and grammatical manipulation. However, I have found that learners quickly understand and become quite used to necessary operations.
First, the learners have to understand what is required. If one knows the native language of the learners, there is a very simple solution. One simply does the exercise in that language, and the learners very quickly catch on. However, I will assume that this is not always the case and that one is limited sometimes to the use of English alone, apart from making sure that they understand the meanings of ask and tell, though I am assuming that the aim of such exercises is to practice what has previously been covered in class.
Initially, as is often the case in such situations, one has to play both parts. Thus, the language instructor says, “Ask me where I live”, and then jumps dramatically to a facing position, saying “Where do you live?” He/she then moves back to the original position and answers the question. After some repetition most learners will grasp the principle involved. One can then do it with some of the better learners to further make sure that it has been understood.
However, although the general principle may have been grasped, the question of how to form the question remains. Here it is a problem of transporting from the unusual ask me... to question forms the learners already know. One resorts to using the blackboard or handout to demonstrate the manner in which to form the desired question. The first step is to drive home that when the learner hears such forms as ask me... followed by a wh-word, a wh-question is required. Then one goes on to show that this wh-word will be the same one as in the ask me... form.
The third step will entail using the appropriate verb word. This will pose no problems for many language instructors. The learners must now learn to select the correct auxiliary or “helping” verb. They will have already done this in previous classes as part of the teaching of the formation of questions. Following this, they must understand how the pronouns will change to other pronouns. Lastly, they must learn how to recognise the main verb and to change it (if necessary), into the ordinary infinitive form without “to” for the question. With a less advanced class this step can be initially delayed by using only the present tense of verbs so that no change is necessary. In such cases, the learners only have to learn to recognise the verb and then transfer it and any words following it to the end of the question.
Expressed in written form like this, the task may sound somewhat daunting. The following five diagrams demonstrate these five steps in a graphic and more readily understandable form:
These steps may seem necessary to make sure that everyone in the class understands what to do. This can be initially facilitated by doing it as a writing exercise.
Having done the wh-questions to the point that learners are able to produce the desired questions, one can then move on to what I regard as the great advantage of this exercise: pair work. For this, one produces a list of 20 or 30 forms such as those below:
1. Ask me where I live. Where do you live?
2. Ask me what I like. What do you like?
3. Ask me where I work. Where do you work?
One then divides the class into pairs of A’s and B’s. A turns
his/her paper over and B poses the ask me... form. A asks the appropriate question
and B answers it.
B: Ask me where I live.
A: Where do you live?
B: I live in ...
The advantage referred to here is the partial control it gives over the accuracy of the form produced. The problem with most pair work is that the learners produce many incorrect forms without correction. In the case of this type of pair work, B has in front of him/her the correct form. He/she can make A repeat it if he/she has made a mistake. One can also demonstrate here how one can give some clues to help the learner form the question by doing all the things we do ourselves as language instructors to prompt learners to help them produce a correct form. For example, one can say the first letter or syllable of the required work. A further positive aspect is the apparent enjoyment that learners derive from having to act in the role of the language instructor.
Having done the wh-questions one can then move on to the ask me if... forms that produce general or yes/no questions. Here again, blackboard diagrams such as the ones used above are useful.
Here the learners must learn that the word if signals a yes/no question and that, therefore, they must first produce the correct auxiliary verb. Subsequently, one uses the same manipulations as in the wh-questions.
For pair work, one again provides the learner with a list of some 20 or 30 examples similar to those below.
1. Ask me if I like English. Do you like English?
2. Ask me if I did my work. Did you do your work?
3. Ask me if I am going out tonight. Are you going out tonight?
One can also extend the pair work to groups of three with forms such as the following: Ask him/her if he/she likes fish.
Here the group is formed of A, B and C, with B and C having their
papers turned over. A produces the ask me if... form, B asks the question, and C
A: Ask her if she likes fish.
B: Do you like fish?
C: Yes, I do.
With more advanced classes this type of group work is ideal for
practising reported speech. After C has answered the question, A addresses B and asks,
“What did she (C) say?” B must then answer in reported speech, saying, “She said
that she does” (or “did” if you wish to be prescriptive).
There are two other forms that lend themselves to this type of exercise. They entail using tell me... and ask me... forms, as in the following examples:
1. Tell me to open the door. Open the door.
2. Ask me to open the door. Would you open the door, please?
One needs here again to demonstrate with diagrams what the learners
need to do to produce the correct form. They need to understand that tell... with
the “to” form of the verb will produce a command, and that ask... with
the “to” form of the verb will produce a request using would... It is
important that in these two cases, as in the other two, the learners complete the
exchanges by doing what is ordered or requested.
The tell me... form exercise is comparatively easy. Language instructors may therefore prefer to begin with it and move on to the more difficult ask me... forms later.
These types of exercises are appropriate for most types in a syllabus, as most of them will involve the asking of questions. One can, therefore, build up a bank of materials to enable such exercises to be used as new items are introduced.
In conclusion, I have to say that these are not communicative exercises in the contemporary sense of this word. There is no information gap and the concern is mainly for accuracy in question formation and not for communication as such. But it is only after such type of exercising that learners start using real questions correctly and in connection with this I would like to recommend to you the exercise which works well both as a warming-up and a grammar-targeted exercise with photographs and pictures.
The language instructor is encouraged to prepare some photographs of men and women performing different jobs, sitting or standing, wearing formal or casual clothes – just real life photographs from magazines.
He/she is then asked to show them to the class one by one with the reverse side to it. The learners are told to ask 10 or 15 questions, either only yes/no or wh-questions or both of the following type.
Is it a man?
Is it a woman?
Is she/he tall/short, etc.?
Is she/he sitting/reading, etc.?
What is she/he reading, etc.?
If learners are given a task to ask, let’s say, 10 yes/no questions,
a learner who asks by mistake a wh-question is told by the language instructor to
retry. This game-like activity should be performed with a quick tempo, while possible
mistakes are best corrected when the exercise is over.
For a more advanced level of class the language instructor can play a game called “Celebrities”, when he/she collects photographs of famous people. Learners, by asking all possible questions, are to find out what kind of a well-known personality they are discussing. The learner who guesses the name rightly is announced a winner and may be given a prize.
By Natalia Predtechenskaya