The Power of Questions – #ELTchat summary 15/05/2013

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The Power of Questions – #ELTchat summary 15/05/2013

The Power of Questions – #ELTchat summary

Posted on  by  on her blog – reroduced here with her kind permission


This is a summary of an #ELTchat discussion which took place on 15th May 2013.


The inspiration for this chat came from an IATEFL workshop called ‘The Power of Questions’ by Margit Szesztay who spoke about the types of questions teachers ask in class, and the effect these have on our learners. The idea was to watch this online before taking part in the discussion.


What did we learn from watching the workshop?

We can group questions into three categories: questions teachers ask themselves, questions they ask their students, and questions that students ask each other.


Pic courtesy of ELTpics by @ij64

Margit suggested ‘tweaking’ normal questions by changing perspectives. For example, asking ‘why did this picture choose you’, rather than ‘why did you choose this picture’? More practical questions included asking if students want to listen to a recording again. She also encouraged us to get students the questions, rather than it always being teachers doing the asking. Of course, she also talked about the power of questions in reflecting on our own teaching, for example asking ‘how can I make my classroom more democratic’?


@theteacherjames said the workshop made him realise he’s always asking questions but probably not enough variety. So we started talking about different types of questions, moving beyond just the scope of the IATEFL workshop.


Questions that teachers ask students

– elicitation

– checking (CCQs and ICQs)

– stimulating/provoking

– philosophical questions that you can never truly answer (suggested by @sandymillin who said her students are currently hung up on the chicken and egg issue!)

– questions which stimulate students to pursue further knowledge

– questions that show interest in students as people, and create rapport

@hartle pointed out that it’s difficult to understand what’s going on in students’ heads if we don’t ask them how they feel, and @sandymillin suggested that one of our questions should always be: ‘how would I feel in your place?’


Frameworks for types of questions

@ Marisa_C said Francoise Grellet has a great typology of questions for reading in her book. One type of question is what Grellet calls a supposition question, an example of which could be to ask students what they would have done in the shoes of the main character in a story.


@hartle said Bloom’s taxonomy provides a useful model, and @jankenb2 provided a link @Marisa_C explained that Bloom indicates cognitive engagement, and so matches question types to levels of complexity, from higher to lower thinking. @hartle said it can be used to ensure a balance of questions, so not just lower order questions but moving up the scale.


@jankenb2 raised the point that using complex questions may limit the number of questions you focus on during class, but that is ok.


 More complex questions

@Marisa_C highlighted research about the connection between the types of questions and the size of responses. For example, closed – convergent thinking questions lead to shorter student responses. She shared a link to this type of research.


@jankenb2 said the paper shows that teachers tend to over-estimate the number of complex questions they ask. @jankenb2 pointed to research showing that many teachers do not even accurately identify complex questions.


@hartle identified that one of the problems with trainee teachers is that they ask too many display questions, rather than real communication questions. @hartle shared a link to an example of exam preparation questions that go beyond display.


@Marisa_C suggested recording yourself, and each time you ask a question make a note of what type of question it was, to generate a profile of yourself as a teacher.


What about students asking the questions?

@Marisa_C pointed out that where a lot of materials are lacking is that it’s usually the teacher who is asking the questions. Students don’t get to ask enough questions. There were some great suggestions of activities that get students asking questions:


–       ‘Questions Please’ game with the teacher only allowed yes/no answers for students to guess something like a story or text (@Marisa_C)


–       Getting students to remember questions they had before they arrived in their new school / new country and then answer their own questions by making a video (@sandymillin)


–       Exploratory practice with students choosing questions about the learning process such as ‘why is spelling difficult?’ and then researching it and giving a poster presentation to the class (particularly for EAP). Inspired by an IATEFL talk (@KatySDavies)


–       ‘Question Tree’ game. Pen one general question and then drill down with specific questions only. Teams create a concept map using questions instead of facts, for example ‘what is weather? What are seasons? What is winter? (@jankenb2)


–       Personal mindmaps for students to ask each other questions about their research questions (@MarjorieRosenbe)


–       Challenge students to reveal bias by asking them to generate a counter question for every question the teacher poses on a discussion topic. (@jankenb2)


–       Flipping the tables on the students may generate more questions e.g each group bring a text and test the teacher (@Marisa_C)


–       If you get students to write questions on small squares of paper before discussions, it gives them processing time, time to check grammar, and means everyone should have something to ask (@sandymillin)


–       Materials from @englishraven to get students to ask questions (@sandymillin)


Wait time

The problem…

Everyone felt that a big problem with using questions is teachers not waiting long enough for students to answer before jumping in. @shaznosel said we sometimes don’t acknowledge our students need time to think and then use the L2 to express themselves. Wait time needs to allow two-step processing of translating target language to L1 and then processing the concept, according to @jankenb2, and @ aphi_cao pointed out that timing is particularly important in multi-lingual classes to avoid quieter groups being drowned out. @theteacherjames said teachers are often scared of silence.



Count 1000,2000,3000 like a parachute jumper before intervening (@sandymillin remembering tip from @AnthonyGaughan)


Record yourself and time the wait time between a question and a student answer (@Marisa_C)


Think how long it would take you to answer the question yourself in a foreign language that you know (@shaznosel)


Teachers also often rely on one type of question and overuse one form. The trick is to plan out questions as part of an overall strategy (@jankenb2)


I suggested trying the Silent Way approach, which I did for my Delta experimental practice, as it taught me a lot about the benefit of silence.


@shaznosel said there’s less silence in YL classes because they’re less scared of taking risks. To reduce fear of taking risks, @Marisa_C said she often suggests the pair and share idea to her trainees – ask a question, let students discuss answer in pairs and then discuss publicly.


@sandymillin shared two links: a post by @yearinthelifeof (which isn’t strictly about questions but could be), and part of a six-week self-reflection from @geml1 which incorporated one week about questions and wait time


@theteacherjames concluded that he sometimes wonders if the job is really just about asking the right questions at the right times!


Links from the chat

British Council article about questions (shared by @hartle)

Some useful websites showcasing Teacher Questions according to Bloom’s taxonomy (shared by @Marisa_C):

Research on how teachers use questions; soem case studies indicating how size of responses depends on question types utilized  (@Marisa_C)

@englishraven materials to get students to ask questions by @sandymillin)

@hartle ‘s link to an example for exam preparation with questions that go beyond display.

Francoise Grellet’s typology of questions for reading in her book (@Marisa_C)

Bloom’s taxonomy link (@jankenb2)

a post by @yearinthelifeof (which isn’t strictly about questions but could be)

a six-week self-reflection from @geml1 which incorporated one week about questions and wait time

The IATEFL workshop that inspired the #ELTchat discussion called ‘The Power of Questions’ by Margit Szesztay


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