Jackie McAvoy provides some student-centred ideas for using questions as a low-resource teaching material.

Following on from Alan Maley’s article on the importance of questions as a low-resource teaching material, here are some (mainly) student-centred ideas.

Round robin topic questions

  • Most students have something they are particularly interested in, whether it’s cooking, surfing the net or watching films.
  • Ask each student to think about this and to choose one interest. When they have decided, they write the word or phrase at the top of a sheet of paper.
  • Make sure they only write cooking and not I like cooking for my family.
  • The paper is then passed to a classmate on their right who reads the topic and writes a question they would like answered about it, e.g. What’s your favourite dish?
  • Once every student has written a question, the paper is passed to the right again.
  • Students read the topic, the previous question and then add another question, e.g. Do you like cooking for yourself?
  • This continues until there are plenty of questions. (If possible, each student reads everyone’s topic, but it depends how many students there are in the class – each subsequent question takes longer to write as there are more and more questions to read!)
  • Finally, the papers are returned to their owners, who: a) answer as many questions as they can, b) organize the information so that similar questions are grouped together, c) decide on an appropriate order, and then d) write about their interest based on their answers.
  • As an alternative final activity, students could use their answers as a speaking activity in pairs, or perhaps in the open class as a three-minute lecture.

Ask-me mingle

  • Introduce the idea of things that puzzle you. For example, I often wonder, when it suddenly gets cold, if there is a certain degree Celsius when you can see your breath.
  • This question is written on the board: Do you know what temperature it is when you can see your breath? For classes interested in sports, a potentially controversial question like this can also make a good example: Do you know why Liverpool don’t play so well any more?
  • Now ask students to think about something that puzzles them. When they’re ready they write a Do you know … question on a strip of paper.
  • Then all the students stand up and ask this question to their classmates. They listen to the answers, and if they like an answer they give the student with the good answer their strip of paper.
  • When most students have handed over their strips, find out which student has got the most strips and therefore gave the best answers.
  • Ask the student to tell everyone again what their replies were. Open-class discussion can follow if some students didn't receive a decent response – and don’t forget to join in with the mingle yourself!

Ask me anything you want!

This is great for a first class.

  • Tell students that today, and today only, they can ask you anything they want.
  • In pairs, students write down their questions – encourage them to go beyond the standard set questions.
  • While they are doing this, spot a lively character who would be suitable for the next part. When there are enough interesting questions, put a chair facing the students and ask your chosen student to sit down.
  • Tell the class that this student is you. Ask the student his/her name. If they have understood they should reply with your name and not their own.
  • Now the students ask ‘you’ their questions and the student has to reply. Sit back and refuse to say anything!
  • Students enjoy seeing a classmate decide how old you are and often ask more questions spontaneously.
  • At the end you can decide to say which questions were answered correctly or not – or just leave the students guessing.

Whose story is it?

  • Put students into two groups, A and B, preferably in different rooms (or send one group out into the corridor!).
  • One person from each group thinks of a true event, an interesting or unusual one if possible, and tells the story to the rest of the group. Everyone should understand the story and be able to remember it and tell it themselves.
  • When everyone is ready, both groups sit facing each other. The outline of group A’s story is told: The story is about a house that got flooded.
  • The students in group B ask questions to the students in group A, with the aim of deciding who the story really belongs to.
  • Students in group A have to reply as though it happened to them. Ahmed, when did this happen? Last year. Imene, were you in the house at the time? No, I was out shopping.

Lies! All lies!

  • Students realize that teachers have usually travelled to many different countries and no doubt have had many adventures.
  • Start by saying, Did I ever tell you the story about when I was in the Sahara / the Amazon / on safari?
  • Create an atmosphere of suspense and tell your story. (Some teacher-centred storytelling like this is a good use of teacher talking time as a ‘live’ listening.)
  • When you have finished, ask students whether the story was true or false. They may be surprised if you suggest that, perhaps, it was all a pack of lies.
  • Get them to vote: hands up those who believe the story and then those who don’t.
  • Put students into pairs. Together they should write questions to find out if the story is indeed true or not. (Personally, I think it’s a lot more fun if the whole thing is false – it’s great fun seeing the students’ faces when you tell the story and then when they find out you lied!)
  • Students then interrogate the teacher with their questions – the better the questions, the easier it will be to find out.
  • Have one more vote to see if any students changed their minds (followed, perhaps, by a short, no doubt lively, discussion), and then reveal the truth.

Lies! All lies again!

You’ll need a selection of pictures and blank pieces of paper/card for this.

  • Take an A4 piece of card and hold it so the students can't see it.
  • Tell them you have a picture of something and they must ask you questions to know what the picture is of. This can start quite slowly, but once they get the hang of it questions come more quickly.
  • Is the picture of something outside or inside? Outside, it looks very cold. Is it winter? I think so, there are lots of trees in the bottom left-hand corner with no leaves. Are there any buildings? No. It’s a kind of park? Yes.
  • When students feel they have a good idea of what the picture looks like, turn the card round to reveal – nothing! You made the whole thing up! Then put students into pairs and give student A one card face down.
  • Explain that some students will receive a blank card and others will really have a picture on it. Student A holds the card so that student B cannot see if there is a picture or not.
  • Student B then has to ask questions and decide if their partner is really looking at something or nothing. Student B then has a go.
  • This can be used for practising the speaking part of the FCE/CAE exam. Modals of speculation can be encouraged too: He might be running from the police. He could be a burglar  – he seems to be carrying something.