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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.


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