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Question types and circling


In recent years there has been a focus in schools on using questioning effectively. In professional development sessions question types are analysed, teachers learn about interesting things such as Bloom’s taxonomy and teachers are urged to employ deeper levels of questioning whenever possible.
In language lessons, however, questions are used in a different way. In most cases we don’t use questions to explore concepts and help students get to deeper levels of meaning. In our field questions and other interactions are used mainly as a device to provide TL input and opportunities to practise. 

This means that questions may be quite shallow and even artificial (where is the pen?), but have the important goal of getting students to learn and practise the language.  Exceptions to this might be when we question students about grammatical concepts in English or, with advanced students, when we talk about issues at a higher level, using the TL as a means of communication as we would in English.
Let’s look at different types of questions you can use and how you can do effective question-answer or ‘circling’ (a term mainly used in North America). Below is a hierarchy of questions moving from least to most demanding for students.

Question type
Example
Commentary
True/false statement.
Tom is a cat. True or false?
Students simply process a statement rather than a question form where the sentence structure varies. Students just have to produce true or false.
Yes/no question through intonation.
Tom’s a cat?
Students just say yes or no. there is no question form to decode. The pitch shows it’s a question.
Yes/no question.
Is Tom a cat?
Students have to do a little more decoding here, but still only have to say yes or no.
Either/or question.
Is Tom a cat or a dog?
A little more decoding required, but students only have to choose between two options they are given.
Multiple-choice question.
Is Tom a dog, cat, elephant or crocodile?
Slightly harder than the above because of added options.
Question word question.
What is Tom?
Hardest question type since the students can’t use much in the input to help them produce their answer.

In doing question-answer work with beginners you can use these questions in order of difficulty, reusing vocabulary repeatedly. Students are happy to go along with the artificiality of the exchange. With higher level students you could choose question types to differentiate between students, saving the highest order questions for the most able.

This type of circling can be used to work on a single statement.

e.g. Donald arrived with his friends at the party at 10 o’clock.

Donald arrived at a party. True or false?
Did Donald arrive at the cinema?
Did Donald arrive with his friends or on his own?
Did Donald arrive at 9.00, 10.00 or 11.00?
When did Donald arrive?
Where did he go?
Who did he go with?
What time did he arrive?
Have you been to a party recently?
Who did you go with?
What did you do there?
What did you eat and drink?

Note how it’s useful to personalise questions whenever possible to raise interest. It’s often said that adolescents are quite self-focused and that teachers can use this fact to their advantage when planning topics and lessons. Now, there are clearly limits to what you can do with this technique. You don’t want to be too repetitive, but having a clear awareness of your full range of question types is valuable while the technique allows you to recycle a great deal of high frequency language, which is fundamental for acquisition.

For more about questioning and, in particular, Bloom's Taxonomy, see this by Gianfranco Conti:


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