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Teaching English

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Write the right question

ESL questions

by Lynne Hand

It's happened to the best of us. We ask a question that we think will light a fire under our students and get a stoney silence for our effort.

Sometimes it's because the question is at the wrong level. What we find facinating or interesting might be too advanced for the class. Your questions should help the students reflect on previous vocabulary and sentence structure. If that means asking about the weather - so be it.

Sometimes it's because the question is outside the student's experience. We are generally older than our students and have different life experiences, so asking about things specific to our own culture, or things in the news from our country, or even things from our generation, can leave many students confused, they just don't know about it. And for fear of looking stupid, they won't tell us.

Even worse it might be because the question is embarassing or culturally sensitive. That can damage the student teacher relationship and result in problems with parents / bosses etc.

You need to keep notes about what floats their boat. If you're teaching in an education establishment speak to other teachers about what your students are studying at the moment. In an organisation see what's in their literature or on their intranet. Keep an eye on the local news. Find out about what films, books, genres etc your students are interested in.

And remember that just because the DNA of a platypus is interesting to you, it might leave your class cold.

Do you have an article, handout or a teaching idea/tip that you would like to share?

Teacher's Zone