Skip to main content

An example of intensive question-answer work for near beginners

File this under nuts and bolts techniques for language teachers. This is mainly aimed at inexperienced teachers, but be useful for fine tuning the practice of experienced practitioners. Apologies if it seems obvious!

This may be of particular use to any teachers who have not, for whatever reason, had a grounding in question-answer technique. The term "circling" is sometimes used in north America.

I'm going to show you an extract from one of my parallel reading texts for near beginners, then give a detailed breakdown of questions I would use with it. Let be clear on the aims of this: to develop alert listening, improve comprehension, practise vocabulary and syntax, give pupils a chance to develop early oral skills (accurate pronunciation, phrase and short sentence level proficiency).

Question types used: true/false (yes/no), either/or, correct false sentences, choice of options, open ended.
Techniques used: whole class repetition, group repetition, individual repetition, use of brightest pupil, hands up, no hands up. (I am not so keen on random selectors as they can slow the pace down.)

Here's the extract from a text I wrote earlier today. Best to display it on the board so all students are looking up and to the front.
 
Ma mère s’appelle Kate. Elle a 38 ans. Elle est assez petite. Elle a de longs cheveux châtain et les yeux bruns. Elle habite avec moi, mon papa David et mon frère Michael. On a un chat tigré qui s’appelle Raoul. Ma mère aime les livres, la télé, faire les magasins et des promenades à la campagne. Elle est membre d’une chorale aussi. Elle adore la cuisine italienne, mais elle n’aime pas faire la cuisine à la maison. Mon papa fait ça d’habitude.

Here is a possible sequence. Remember you can use a range of the techniques mentioned above. Expected answers are in brackets.

C'est la mère ou le père? (la mère)
Elle s'appelle Kate ou Anne? (get pupils to use elle s'appelle - seems artificial but provides more practice)
Elle s'appelle Anne, non? (Non, elle...)
OK - elle s'appelle Anne. (NON! Elle...)
Répétez: elle s'appelle Kate. (Elle...)
Elle a trente-huit ans? Oui ou non? (Oui)
Elle a trente-sept ans? (Non)
Quel âge elle a? (Use this order to avoid phonetic confusion of a-t-elle; it's natural anyway)
Elle a quel âge? (maybe go to good pupil for this one)
Elle est grande, non? (Non, elle est...)
Elle est grande ou petite?
Elle a les cheveux longs ou courts? (use gesture) (Longs)
Répétez: elle a les cheveux longs (Elle a...) (Use whole class, small group or individual repetition. if an individual struggles, go to quicker one, then back to slower one later)
Elle a les cheveux châtain. Vrai ou faux? (vrai)
Répétez: elle a les cheveux châtain (do it at least three times)
Elle a les cheveux blonds, non? (Non, elle a...)
OK, elle a les cheveux blonds. (NON, elle a...)
Elle a les cheveux blonds, bruns ou violets? (Elle a...)

You could have a little release of tension at that point. Maybe get a good student to read the first couple of lines to see how well pronunciation is embedded. Or how about whole class reading from board. Maybe get pairs to make false statements to each other, or get partners to read to each other and correct each other's pronunciation.

You could then, if the class is still alert enough, do similar questioning on the next chunk.

You can see that there is an awful lot you can do with a very short piece of text. If well managed, this type of question-answer drilling can, in the long run, build up quick responses, sound comprehension and good retention of vocabulary and syntax. Although artificial in its nature, this type of communication does provide meaningful input and can be fun to do if the teacher uses their acting skills to make it so.

Weaknesses of it? Some might argue that it is not authentic communication, too teacher-centred, too demanding of attention, too dull, based on an ill-conceived methodology. I can only say in response that I know, after many years experience, that it worked with the students I taught as one part of a much broader diet of activity.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

A zero preparation fluency game

I am grateful to Kayleigh Meyrick, a teacher in Sheffield, for this game which she described in the Languages Today magazine (January, 2018). She called it “Swap It/Add It” and it’s dead simple! I’ve added my own little twist as well as a justification for the activity.

You could use this at almost any level, even advanced level where the language could get a good deal more sophisticated.

Put students into small groups or pairs. If in groups you can have them stand in circles to add a sense of occasion. One student utters a sentence, e.g. “J’aime jouer au foot avec mes copains parce que c’est amusant.” (You could provide the starter sentence or let groups make up their own.) The next student (or partner) has to change one element in the sentence, and so on, until you restart with a different sentence. You could give a time limit of, say, 2 minutes. The sentence could easily relate to the topic you are working on. At advanced level a suitable sentence starter might be:

“Selon un article q…

Google Translate beaters

Google Translate is a really useful tool, but some teachers say that they have stopped setting written work to be done at home because students are cheating by using it. On a number of occasions I have seen teachers asking what tasks can be set which make the use of Google Translate hard or impossible. Having given this some thought I have come up with one possible Google Translate-beating task type. It's a two way gapped translation exercise where students have to complete gaps in two parallel texts, one in French, one in English. There are no complete sentences which can be copied and pasted into Google.

This is what one looks like. Remember to hand out both texts at the same time.


English 

_____. My name is David. _ __ 15 years old and I live in Ripon, a _____ ____ in the north of _______, near York. I have two _______ and one brother. My brother __ ______ David and my _______ are called Erika and Claire. We live in a _____ house in the centre of ____. In ___ house _____ …

Preparing for GCSE speaking: building a repertoire

As your Y11 classes start their final year of GCSE, one potential danger of moving from Controlled Assessment to terminal assessment of speaking is to believe that in this new regime there will be little place for the rote learning or memorisation of language. While it is true that the amount of learning by heart is likely to go down and that greater use of unrehearsed (spontaneous) should be encouraged, there are undoubtedly some good techniques to help your pupils perform well on the day.

I clearly recall, when I marked speaking tests for AQA 15-20 years ago, that schools whose candidates performed the best were often those who had prepared their students with ready-made short paragraphs of language. Candidates who didn't sound particularly like "natural linguists" (e.g. displaying poor accents) nevertheless got high marks. As far as an examiner is concerned is doesn't matter if every single candidate says that last weekend they went to the cinema, saw a James Bond…

Worried about the new GCSEs?

Twitter and MFL Facebook groups are replete with posts expressing concerns about the new GCSEs and, in particular, the difficulty of the exam, grades and tiers. I can only comment from a distance since I am no longer in the classroom, but I have been through a number of sea changes in assessment over the years so may have something useful to say.

Firstly, as far as general difficulty of papers is concerned, I think it’s fair to say that the new assessment is harder (not necessarily in terms of grades though). This is particularly evident in the writing tasks and speaking test. Although it will still be possible to work in some memorised material in these parts of the exam, there is no doubt that weaker candidates will have more problems coping with the greater requirement for unrehearsed language. Past experience working with average to very able students tells me some, even those with reasonable attainment, will flounder on the written questions in the heat of the moment. Others will…