How do you design good ICQs and CCQs?
When I saw the topic for #ELTChat was CCQs, I simply had to join. They were always one of the main points of feedback during my observations – CCQs a little untargeted, ambiguous, using target language etc. The bane of a small part of my existence one might say. Naturally, this topic was right up my street. I am still learning, (aren’t we all?), and knew that my chat peers tonight would have lots to pass on to me.
Oh so they did!
What is a CCQ?
@SueAnnan kicked off the chat by asking if everyone knew what a CCQ was.
There were mixed responses from participants with @noamishema not being entirely positive and @HanaTicha and @HadaLitim tweeting “concept checking questions”. @Eilymurphy added “Short questions to check Ss understand vocab and grammar.”
There was a bit of confusion throughout the chat as to the classification of CCQs with @naomishema using questions for reading comprehension, called ‘comprehension questions’, not concept checking, and yours truly forgetting the difference between the CCQ and ICQ (instruction checking question), for a spell. Summary writing was also mentioned, but again rejected as a CC method.
In short, @Marisa_C explained that “CCQs originate from semantics (componential analysis)  Transformational Generative Grammar (deep vs surface meaning).” Doing a quick Google search for ‘Transformational Grammar’ will lead you to some papers based around the subject.
Going back to a definition for CCQs, it seemed the consensus centred around Eily’s thoughts, with final responses coming in from @KateLloyd05 and @ClassWired:
“questions we ask to determine whether students have understood our explanation.”
“finding out if a learner has understood a new item.”
Should we limit CCQs?
With definitions decided upon, tweeters moved on to the nitty-gritty. At the beginning of the chat @ChristineMulla, well, I, asked whether it was possible to ask too many questions. This was reformulated later on by @KemparisKostas to include whether we should put a limit on the number of CCQs asked in a 60 minute lesson. @ShaunWilden pointed out that too many depended on the quality of the question, with which Marisa_C agreed, adding that lots of questions can also seem like a machine gun. @HanaTicha granted that wholeheartedly and put forward, quite nicely I believe, “Your Ss should definitely not feel as if interrogated by the police.”
Asking too many CCQs was generally believed to be ineffective and ran the risk of “students tuning out” (@MicaelaCarey). It was also agreed upon by all that, “Do you understand?”, is quite taboo .
While we cannot ever predict completely the language that will come up in a lesson, and therefore require concept checking, it was widely agreed by all participants that CCQs should be concise and limited to a couple per language item. One way to help limit this, a method used by @HanaTicha is to focus on weaker Ss when asking. “If they know, the stronger ones will too.” On the whole it was agreed that we can’t really limit the number of CCQs without limiting language items, but we can alternate interaction patterns. (@KemparisKostas)
Naturally, some Ss still won’t get a concept even after CCQs, but what can we do about this? Well, says @ShaunWilden, get Ss to generate questions themselves. @SueAnnan wasn’t sure about this if we are supposed to be checking students’ understanding. @Marisa_C offered an approach she calls ‘ideas behind’ as an activity. The idea is that you have a handout with the target language on it, which is given to students. They then write “ideas behind” each sentence. e.g. “I wish you wouldn’t smoke.” Ss have to say, “But you do.”; “I don’t like it.” Another idea was to pair Ss up to set a couple of questions for another pair. @mary28sou and I plan to try both of these out. How about you?
Moving back towards the initial #eltchat topic, types of CCQs, design, planning, examples and language came up.
When should we ask them?
At any point, though usually, “after the presentation stage to check sts are on the same wavelength.” @ShaunWilden
Can we use them for things other than vocab?
All agreed that when using CCQs to check a grammar point, the target language should be avoided at all costs. An example given for this came from @eilymurphy:
“Has gone to lunch vs has been to lunch – Where is she now?”
‘Lunch’ is substituted with China by @KateLloyd and bathroom by @HanaTicha.
When asked if things like pronunciation, register, form etc. could be checked as part of a CCQ – @SueAnnan offered that register is important, but she doesn’t do this during CC.
Can we use timelines and clines?
Oh indeed! The question, asked by @Marisa_C, “Can you ask Ss to make a timeline or choose one?” was popular among participants especially for dealing with different learning styles and Ss who prefer visuals. Giving two timelines and asking Ss to choose which suited best generated a lot of interest. I recall doing this during my CELTA and learning a lot about making sure your question was graded perfectly when doing so. (More on grading and the pitfalls of CCQs shortly).
On clines, chatters were all for them, in particular when checking gradable items like adverbs of frequency and adjectives. “A thermometer activity,” was mentioned by @Marisa_C; getting Ss to draw thermometers or glasses of water to show grading. A nice one to steal I reckon.
What are the pitfalls of CCQs?
#ELTChat’s hour began to come to a close with one final question remaining unanswered. @HadaLitim broached the all important subject:
“What are the pitfalls of CCQs?”
Making lessons inauthentic at times was mentioned, in addition to the possibility of students sometimes feeling a little patronised (I know I’ve had some looks of disdain). Inane questions, it was added, can heighten this feeling. The amount of grading and planning involved was also touched upon here, with questions which aren’t well thought out leading to confusion, a circle back to the initial language point and sometimes having to start over.
A flood of approval came in for as much planning as possible when it comes to CCQs, at any level. Although agreed that not all language can be planned for, @harrisonmike summed up tweeters well saying, “I think it’s better if frames are planned out, as you can never be sure what concepts will need checking.”
On not using CCQs with higher levels:
There was a slight to and fro on the approach to the finish line on using CCQs at higher levels with @SueAnnan admitting; “am guilty of assuming they understand.” Conceding it was a common assumption, @ShaunWilden retweeted an absolute truth from @Marisa_C, “What can go wrong will go wrong.”
@Ashowski posted the closing top tweet of the evening on this issue:
“I always use CCQ and ICQ even with highest levels – can a native always 100% understand a task?”
Gold for this writer. We most certainly cannot I am sure you will agree.
Well readers, that brings us to the end of this weeks’ stimulating #eltchat on CCQs in the classroom. You’ll find a link here to a wonderful post on CCQs by Marisa_C.
In similar fashion to the way @Marisa_C ended our chat, by sending some T/F CCQ’s, I shall leave you with some CCQs to check what you understood from this summary:
- Summaries and comprehensions are types of CCQ, T or F?
- We should limit the number of CCQs we ask, T or F?
- CCQs can only be used for vocabulary, T or F?
- CCQs can be asked at any point, T or F?
- CCQs should include target language, T or F?
If you’re still not sure, scroll down and check the answers.
See you next time!
About the Summary Writer
Christine Mullaney is an IELTS and Business English teacher currently working in Kaplan International English in Dublin. She is currently a communications officer on the committee for the newly established ELT Ireland, building a PLN and learning about blogging, Twitter and anything else that can help her enhance, learn and share.
She is @ChristineMulla on Twitter
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