A letter to the teachers of English: 60Asking questions in the classes is an art [Archives:2004/774/Education]

September 20 2004

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb

Dear Fellow teachers,
I am sure all of you know the value of asking questions in the class while teaching. Asking questions in the tests is equally valuable. Questions are essential in the teaching process as they have learning potential (they help the learners much to learn in the classes).
The recent thinking in English language teaching values teacher questions in the classroom so much that several researches are carried out involving them. One of the researchers believes that questions maximize the interaction between the teacher and the learners thereby increasing the learning opportunities for the learners in the English classes and so teachers should ask more questions in the classes.
However, not all questions are of the same value. Experts talk of four kinds of questions that a teacher can use in the class. They are choice questions, product questions, process questions and metaprocess questions. Choice questions demand yes/no response from the learners; product questions demand factual response such as the year of an event or the place of an event etc; process questions ask for the learners' opinions or interpretations; and metaprocess questions demand reasoning for the answers. It is obvious that the first two are easier to answer than the last two, because the learners can pick out the answers from the text for them without much thinking, whereas the last two demand a lot of thinking by the learners. It is also true that the last two create interaction in the class that is essential for learning.
Most often we ask only the first two types of questions in the class as well as in the examinations; the excuse that we give for this is that our learners may not be cut out for difficult questions, as English is a foreign language for them. This is only a lame excuse and does not merit any serious consideration. The real reason why our learners are not able to answer such questions even at the college level is that we have hardly exposed them to such questions at any level. Another reason is that framing such questions needs a bit more time and effort and most of us are not willing to invest this in our teaching.
Asking good questions in the class is an art and it needs a lot of practice and preparation. Take the format of the questions. Many of us ask questions such as 'When you came to college? Where you put your books?' very frequently, especially in our conversations with our students. Such questions are not uncommon in our classroom teaching. Unless we prepare the questions before the class, we are bound to make mistakes. Experienced teachers may be able to frame their questions on their feet but it is always good to prepare the questions for each lesson beforehand as a part of our lesson plan.
Then the quality of the questions. Each question we ask should make them think and answer and should not let them lift words or sentences from the book. Even a small twist in the question will make it challenging and this challenge is necessary for learning. For example, look at page 7 in Pupil's Book 5. When you ask questions about Salman Nasser, asking 'Why does Salman love his job?' will be challenging and demands thinking by the learners. The first two types of questions do have a role, especially in lower classes, but their number should be reduced as the course proceeds so that the learners may get used to challenging questions. Try them. Good luck.

Yours fraternally,