Skip to main content

Question types

In January one of the training day sessions will be on questioning. It's being led by a chemist and I've no idea what his focus will be. Maybe we shall be referred to Bloom's hierarchy of questioning. He lists six types of question based on the following notions: knowledge (identification and recall of information), comprehension (organisation and selection of facts and ideas), application (use of facts, rules and principles), analysis (separation of whole into component parts), evaluation (development of opinions, judgements or decisions) and synthesis (combination of new ideas to form a new whole).

This may apply well enough to some subject areas, but in language teaching we have very specific goals when asking questions. Usually our aim to use skilled questioning to get students to understand and practise an area of grammar or vocabulary. We are often focused on form as much as content. If we question really carefully we can sometimes get students to induce rules for themselves, a process somewhat akin to natural acquisition of language. At a more advanced level our questioning aims to allow students to develop fluency and to communicate in a more authentic fashion.

Here is a hierarchy of question types for language teachers, starting from easiest:

(1) Yes/No questions: C'est un livre? (This can be done using true/false) The simple answer is oui or non, but you could get studenst to complete a sentence: Non, c'est un cahier.
(2) Either/or questions: C'est un livre ou c'est un cahier? (A longer answer is invited than with Yes/No; more decoding is required of the student. A variation on this is to make false statements which students have to correct. In this case a whole sentence answer is always demanded.)
(3) Choice from several options: as above, but you offer at least three options. This requires more decoding than (2)
(4) Question word question: quand est-ce qu'il arrive au collège? (This is harder as the student has to grasp the meaning of the question word and formulate a whole sentence answer.)
(5) Open-ended question: qu'est-ce qui s'est passé? (This demands a more open-ended response, maybe using more than one sentence.)
(6) Asking for opinion: que penses-tu des frais d'inscription à l'université? (This kind of question should elicit a longer answer. It demands more from the student since they have to supply their own view, not just give a factual response.)

It would be reasonable to assume that the more advanced a student is, the more use will be made of the harder question forms. But even advanced students can be encouraged to talk by throwing in very basic question forms. As language teachers we should always be aware of the full range of questioning techniques. With experience we use the full range of questions instinctively, but it does no harm to plan to use the full range.

This is all pretty basic stuff, but it is worth remembering the value and limitations of question-answer: it is an excellent way of controlling the selection and grading of language to be presented and practised, it ensures plenty of target language use in a meaningful way and it is a form of real, if classroom-based, communication. It is also highly adaptable.  The limitations are the relative artificiality of the communication, especially at beginner and intermediate level and the fact that, if it is conducted with a whole class, only one person can answer at a time. Pairwork questioning overcomes this limitation to some extent.


Popular posts from this blog

What is the natural order hypothesis?

The natural order hypothesis states that all learners acquire the grammatical structures of a language in roughly the same order. This applies to both first and second language acquisition. This order is not dependent on the ease with which a particular language feature can be taught; in English, some features, such as third-person "-s" ("he runs") are easy to teach in a classroom setting, but are not typically fully acquired until the later stages of language acquisition. The hypothesis was based on morpheme studies by Heidi Dulay and Marina Burt, which found that certain morphemes were predictably learned before others during the course of second language acquisition. The hypothesis was picked up by Stephen Krashen who incorporated it in his very well known input model of second language learning. Furthermore, according to the natural order hypothesis, the order of acquisition remains the same regardless of the teacher's explicit instruction; in other words,

The 2026 GCSE subject content is published!

Two DfE documents were published today. The first was the response to the consultation about the proposed new GCSE (originally due in October 2021) and the second is the subject content document which, ultimately, is of most interest to MFL teachers in England. Here is the link  to the document.  We are talking about an exam to be done from 2026 (current Y7s). There is always a tendency for sceptical teachers to think that consultations are a bit of a sham and that the DfE will just go ahead and do what they want when it comes to exam reform. In this case, the responses to the original proposals were mixed, and most certainly hostile as far as exam boards and professional associations representing the MFL community, universities, head teachers and awarding bodies are concerned. What has emerged does reveal some significant changes which take account of a number of criticisms levelled at the proposals. As I read it, the most important changes relate to vocabulary and the issue of topics

What is skill acquisition theory?

For this post, I am drawing on a section from the excellent book by Rod Ellis and Natsuko Shintani called Exploring Language Pedagogy through Second Language Acquisition Research (Routledge, 2014). Skill acquisition is one of several competing theories of how we learn new languages. It’s a theory based on the idea that skilled behaviour in any area can become routinised and even automatic under certain conditions through repeated pairing of stimuli and responses. When put like that, it looks a bit like the behaviourist view of stimulus-response learning which went out of fashion from the late 1950s. Skill acquisition draws on John Anderson’s ACT theory, which he called a cognitivist stimulus-response theory. ACT stands for Adaptive Control of Thought.  ACT theory distinguishes declarative knowledge (knowledge of facts and concepts, such as the fact that adjectives agree) from procedural knowledge (knowing how to do things in certain situations, such as understand and speak a language).

Pros and cons of pair and group work

Most teachers have made frequent use of pair and group work for many years, notably since the rise of communicative language teaching in the 1980s. Even before then it would have been common for pupils to work in pairs on simple role-play and dialogue tasks. So pair and group work is standard practice, if not universally supported by language teachers. It’s always worth evaluating, however, whether a practice works - whether, in this case, it helps students develop their proficiency. Pros Rod Ellis (2005) summarises the advantages of pair/group work (based on Jacobs, 1998) “1. The quantity of learner speech can increase. In teacher-fronted classrooms, the teacher typically speaks 80% of the time; in groupwork more students talk for more of the time. 2. The variety of speech acts can increase. In teacher-fronted classrooms, students are cast in a responsive role, but in groupwork they can perform a wide range of roles, including those involved in the negotiation of meaning. 3. There can

La retraite à 60 ans

Suite à mon post récent sur les acquis sociaux..... L'âge légal de la retraite est une chose. Je voudrais bien savoir à quel âge les gens prennent leur retraite en pratique - l'âge réel de la retraite, si vous voulez. J'ai entendu prétendre qu'il y a peu de différence à cet égard entre la France et le Royaume-Uni. Manifestation à Marseille en 2008 pour le maintien de la retraite à 60 ans © AFP/Michel Gangne Six Français sur dix sont d’accord avec le PS qui défend la retraite à 60 ans (BVA) Cécile Quéguiner Plus de la moitié des Français jugent que le gouvernement a " tort de vouloir aller vite dans la réforme " et estiment que le PS a " raison de défendre l’âge légal de départ en retraite à 60 ans ". Résultat d’un sondage BVA/Absoluce pour Les Échos et France Info , paru ce matin. Une majorité de Français (58%) estiment que la position du Parti socialiste , qui défend le maintien de l’âge légal de départ à la retraite à 60 ans,