Why Questions?: One of the problems with teaching Grammar is that all too often the only thing we do in class is simply language manipulation activities. Students do not get the chance to actually use the new language forms in any meaningful way. Yet another problem is that we tend to focus on one structure at a time, whereas in real life we very rarely encounter, say, the Third Conditional or the Passive Voice in isolation. On top of that, and more importantly perhaps, students very rarely get to practice asking questions (Qs) as in most exam situations they find themselves being questioned – or rather interrogated! The following activities should improve the situation somewhat…
The Yes-No Game: This is one of my favourite games! The idea is very simple: students work in pairs. One of them bombards their partner with questions (most of them of the ‘Yes/No’ type, but they also throw in some ‘Wh- Qs’ as well). The other person has to reply immediately, but they cannot say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. If they do so, they lose. The whole process lasts one minute. For the students to get a taste of the game, it is best if they get a demonstration first – so just play the clip below:
Questions – Questions: [See the ‘Sample Materials’ file at the bottom of the post] The initial appeal of this activity is the challenge to find the Qs hidden as they are in the ‘paragraph’. Having identified them, students then have to match them to the answers below. This is a necessary step as they then have to ask each other these Qs by looking at the answers alone – which means they have to construct the Qs themselves! An added bonus is that these are personal Qs, which means this is an excellent ice-breaker for the beginning of the year. [Adapted from Kay & Jones 2000 – p. 1C]
Spot the Differences: [See the ‘Sample Materials’ file at the bottom of the post] This is an information-gap activity. Here students have to spot the differences between two near-identical tests by asking Qs (they cannot look at each other’s text). Once again students have to formulate these Qs themselves (e.g. ‘When was A. Scott born?’ [see sample materials below]). By varying the text we can focus on a different GR point – e.g. in this text it is the Q form of Past Tenses. The fact that all the Qs relate to the same thing (in this case the life history of A. Scott) lends coherence to the whole activity. [Adapted from Watcyn-Jones 1995 – p. 90]
Ask the Right Question: [See the ‘Sample Materials’ file at the bottom of the post] Students simply love this game – perhaps because it reverses the normal course of things, as normally we start with the Q in order to get an answer! Again, this is an information-gap activity. The idea is this: student A has a set of words/expressions. They have to ask Qs in such a way as to elicit these specific items (e.g. A: [has the word ‘tennis’] ‘Which sport is Federer great at?’ [see sample materials below]). The more such words/phrases they get their partner to come up with in a certain amount of time (say 1 min) the more points they score. The diverse nature of the words / expressions means that students are forced to come up with a great range of different Q types and its brisk pace ensures high student involvement. [Adapted from Watcyn-Jones 1995 – p. 70]
Last Words: These activities can be used independently or as one complete lesson. Notice that all four of them are actually ‘Tasks’ in the sense that the object is not language manipulation; the students’ aim is ‘extra-linguistic’ (e.g. to spot the differences or to score more points than their partner). This has huge motivational value. Setting this aside however, I believe an additional benefit is the psychological one – helping students feel more comfortable about asking Qs, especially since research shows that this is something non-native speakers are reluctant to do in NS – NNS interactions. But perhaps the greatest benefit is to make students realise that the word ‘Grammar’ need not be a synonym of the word ‘boredom’! 🙂
[To see some sample materials, just click here].
Kay, S. & Jones, V. “Inside Out – Resource Pack [Intermediate]” Macmillan 2000.
Watcyn-Jones, P. “Grammar Games and Activities for Teachers” Penguin Books 1995.