Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Inspired by Matthew (again), as well as the lessons I’ve been teaching this week…

My current favourite getting-to-know-you activity to do with new students, especially 121s, is simply to get them to write a list of questions they want to ask me. With 121s I’ll write a list of things to ask them at the same time, so it doesn’t feel so awkward watching them write, and we take it in turns to ask them. 10 questions seems to work well in 121; in groups it’s about 5 each with students then selecting the ‘best’ from their lists. Questions are inevitably an area that students need to practise, regardless of their level. Students rarely form questions themselves, and are much more likely to answer other people’s/the teacher’s questions in the average lesson [I know I’ve read blog posts about this before, but can’t remember where – all links gratefully accepted].

The lists of questions students produce in this activity tend to show up the same kind of problem areas: present simple v. continuous, present perfect (or the lack thereof), word order, common mistakes (like Where are/did you born?), articles, etc, giving you a starting point for grammar areas to focus on. They may also throw up slightly more unusual problems: one of the ones I’ve noticed this week is capitalisation of ‘you’, following the Polish pattern of politeness, e.g. Where are You from? In addition, student-generated questions demonstrate which topics students are most interested in, as they tend to ask at least one or two questions about those areas. To push higher-level students to show off their grammar, especially if they’ve picked very simple questions to ask, you can encourage them to reframe one or two things from their list as indirect questions, and talk about politeness, especially if you’ve never met the students before.

Of all the things this activity makes me consider though, I have to say the oddest thing is how often the question How old are you? comes up in a typical student list. It’s one of those things students often ask at the start of lessons without thinking twice, though I’m pretty sure they would be unlikely to ask it that quickly if they were meeting people at a party or a conference!

Have you tried this kind of activity? Do you have a similar experience of it?

Stop asking me questions!

Based on an ELTpic by @ij64 (I believe!)


Comments on: "Questions (paragraph blogging)" (3)

  1. Hana Tichá said:

    You say that you think your students would be unlikely to ask “How old are you?” if they were meeting people at a party or a conference. I agree and I must admit that the older I get the more I hate it when somebody asks me this question. 🙂 Anyway, I think that in this case, L1 would help: let them brainstorm the questions in L1 first. This may prevent the situation you describe. I sometimes have a feeling that when you switch into an L2, especially if you are a lower level student, you change into a slightly different person and you may do things you wouldn’t normally do. Just a thought.


    • That’s a very good point. I don’t think it helps that it’s a question we often practice in very early lessons, so it feels somehow appropriate in the English classroom when it might not outside.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. […] write questions for me and their teacher (who was observing and data collecting), then ask […]


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