We teach our students to make presentations, to answer discussion questions, to describe pictures, but sometimes we forget to practise asking questions. And it’s an essential skill to have in daily life. Asking questions in English can be especially challenging because of complicated grammar rules.
Why is it important?
In real life people don’t just listen to questions and answer them. Meaningful communication means an exchange. And it involves asking as well as answering.
We ask questions in many everyday situations:
- asking for recommendations
- asking for details
- asking for information
- asking for directions
Another reason for teaching students to ask questions is that forming questions in English can be tricky. English grammar is challenging, and asking a question isn’t just a case of adding a question mark at the end. It requires adding a specific operator or applying inversion. And it can be a lot to remember for someone who’s just started learning English.
When you run an activity on practising questions, it’s usually an exercise focused on accuracy. You want to make sure your students can form grammatically correct questions. In that case, you need to correct any errors on the spot, as they come.
Alternatively, you can write down all the errors and ask the students to correct them after the activity is completed. It’s way more effective when students correct their errors themselves.
Another way of doing corrections is to put your students in pairs and ask them to correct each other’s errors. Note: this will only work in groups which are open to peer correction. Don’t do it with students who are not so confident in their English.
But, don’t forget about fluency practice! The students might be 100% accurate but if they haven’t practised fluency, they won’t be able to confidently hold a conversation.
Ideas for activities
Below we have some ideas for activities that practise asking questions.
#1 A topic
Students work in pairs or small groups. Give each group a topic, for example, travelling, books, shopping, etc. Students’ task is to think of as many discussion questions as they can for that topic. You can give them a time limit or a number of questions to come up with.
As a follow up activity, the groups swap their questions and discuss the answers.
#2 A photo
Before the lesson prepare a few photos of people talking in different situations. Students’ task is to come up with questions that these people could be asking.
Additionally, students might come up with a series of questions that would help them find out what happened before this photo was taken. It’s a great activity for practising questions in past tenses.
#3 Wh- questions
Students get a topic or a photo. They have to come up with questions starting with each wh- word: when, what, why, where, etc.
#4 Missing questions
Before the lesson prepare a few short statements or phrases. For example:
- No, thank you.
- Only on Wednesdays.
Write them on the board or distribute them among the students. Their task is to write questions that these phrases could be answers to.
For more ideas and ready-to-use resources, check out our pack Questions, Questions. It provides you with over 100 activities.