Friday, October 22, 2010

The Power of a Question: 4 Tricks to Creating Questions your ESL students can answer:

3rd grade textbook flashcards- "Look at your hands".
Anthony Robbins would say "There's Power in the Question"!
When faced with difficult life choices and what the universe brings you in solutions, the answer is always found in the question. Consider it like juggling Ali Baba's keys to find the password "Open Sesame"; in order for the universe provide you with the fitting solutions you seek, you must first ask the right question.

Undoubtedly, as an ESL elementary teacher in the Korean classroom, the same rule of theory applies. If you want students to answer you, they must first understand you; for them to do that, you must learn how to give easy to understand questions.

What's the right question?
This takes time and trial-and-error practice to figure out. I'm past my 2nd semester; I still have a bit of difficulty. Coming up with good questions are necessary for testing students' listening and
comprehension skills. When I first arrived, my questions were too conversational and open-ended. My students' response: silence and a sea of clueless gazes staring back at me. A dead-zone. As a teacher you feel like a mouse trapped in a corner when you get this response. You try to backtrack and end up confusing your students even more- by now you're just speaking garblish! When I got into enough of these uncomfortable corners, I knew I had to start changing the way I asked the question.

4 Tricks on Creating Questions your ESL students can answer:

• Keep it concise.

Easy tip, but hard to implement. So I like to treat it like a practice in creating bullet points.
I have a visual image of a sentence, which I carry in my head and it's something close to this sentence I'm typing. 
 When I go in front of my class I try to pare this visual image down to 1/2 its content and in bite-sized pieces.
•  I'm thinking of a picture.
•  It looks like this sentence.
• Avoid the open-ended question.

Asking What's happening in this scene?  can feel like asking an ESL student for the meaning of life. Try asking that to your 3rd graders.  Response? Clueless silence. Furthermore, "What's happening..." is more of a colloquial expression and not in the textbooks. While this type of questioning might generate many answers and brainstorming, your students may not have enough vocabulary at their grasp.

Also in the end, the students don't know what you want them to answer. Unless you have advanced students, this type of questioning might stump your kids. The younger you go, their vocabulary and comprehension skills are still forming so you'll have to state what you want in a more specific manner.

• Ask directional questions and ones which seek specific answers that the students have just heard or learned in the story.

The trick is to have your questions lead the answer and reinforce the vocabulary they know. Avoid the open-ended question. Say you show this video of an interaction... I'll use grade 3 as my example:

Grade 6; Lesson 6: How Many Cows.

My Questions:
• Who is this?
• Where are Nami & Tony?
• What did Nami ask Tony?
• How many dogs does Tony have?

• Omit unnecessary transitions.

To not revert to your own unconscious speech habits words, it can feel like you're giving up smoking.
Compared to Korean and Asian lanuages, the English language as too many words-- the, a, an, so, like, etc.. To make it worse, as westerners, we have the habit of littering our sentences it with unconscious pause/filler words and excess mutterings (i.e., yeah, okay..).  I have an unconscious habit of using my own nicotine space fillers and transitions. These days I've gotten to catching myself and omitting it can feel hard. Can you guess what my habits are?
"So class, now we're going to play a game, okay? Okay, so this is what you will do. Okay, you will separate into 3 teams..." 
This is really bad grammar, right? How many unnecessary pause fillers did I use? But taking the example I mentioned above, this is my new version-

"We're going to play a game now! First- Team A, Team B, Team C... Second- You will..." 

Let the students drive the lesson.

Rather than being a lecturer (which I enjoy), I need to have my students  drive the lesson. This lets me know if they understand the material. If no one can answer my question, that means no one understands what I'm saying and the lesson can't progress.  Consequences? I won't I complete my lesson within the 40 min time mark and we'll have a double load in the next class session.

As a native English teacher/N.E.T., having my students listen and comprehend my questions is just as important as what they learn in the textbook/CD-Rom lessons. While they may have a Korean co-teacher to explain should we hit a wall, the fact I'm asking questions makes the class a bit more of an immersive experience. I have to ask my students to process the story and what they just saw or heard in the dialogue. This is practicing conversation with me. So, I have to prepare a bit as to how I will ask them these questions.

Do you have any tricks to forming questions for your ESL  classroom?

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