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Apr 21, 2015
Andrew Walkley

Questions about words

In my talk at IATEFL this year, I explained some of the limitations of asking traditional concept questions, especially when looking at vocabulary. What follows is a list of alternative types of checking questions about vocabulary. You may see some of the same question frames I used in the talk. The questions that I give below are about vocabulary that comes from an exercise I explored in a previous post in this section. There were some comments and questions about that particular exercise there, but please do add your own or suggest other questions below.

Stick to prototypes 

It can be good to ask personalised questions using the vocabulary being explored as a follow-up activity, but as checking questions to generate related vocabulary, it’s better to base your questions around the prototype of the word, how we typically use it: what might happen …? What might you say …? etc. This is likely to be more productive than going straight in and asking, for example, Have you ever experienced violence?!

Open questions can be difficult

Open questions offer more opportunities for students to find the limits of what they know, but can be difficult to think of. In the list under consideration here, I found the words claim, intend, probablepossible and account all pretty difficult to ask anything sensible about and you may well feel I have failed even now! Some words lend themselves more to pattern practice of the kind we explored in this post. There is also value in asking closed questions about word forms and grammar such as prepositions, although this can also be drawn out in other questions we ask too (see suspicious below).

Spread the love

In the original material, there was a series of exercises that practised the vocabulary: comprehension questions, gap-fill task, and story retelling. Good material will always provide these kinds of multiple opportunities and we can use these as chances to ask questions about different key words throughout the class. So when rounding up the first exercise, we might ask about three or words, then during the next task four more, and then after the speaking, correct and ask about two or three more.

Answers and boardwork

We might want to write some of the language which is generated by students on the board – especially where students were unable to produce it without our help. However, again, don’t feel you have to to begin with. Sometimes the language which is generated will already be known or half known and we are encouraging recall, repetition and integration with new language – which is good in itself.

The questions:

violence:Can you give any examples of violence? What’s the adjective form of violence? Why might a crowd turn violent?

claim: If you claim something, does everyone believe you? Elicit endings: He claimed he wasn’t there but … / They claim they’ve found the murderer, but …

evidence: What kind of people look for evidence of something? How do you find evidence? What do you need evidence for?

temper: What often happens if you have a temper?

suffer: What preposition follows suffer? What else can you suffer from? What happens if you suffer from …[hayfever]?

commit suicide: So what’s another common way of saying commit suicide? Do you know why it’s commit? What else do you commit? How do people commit suicide?

overwhelming: Hmm tricky…. What might happen if you find a situation overwhelming?

liar: so what does a liar do? What happens if you are a terrible liar?

be armed: What can you be armed with? Who do you normally describe as armed? Why might they be armed?

lively: other things that can be lively? What happens in a lively party? What do you have in a lively area?

join someone: In what situations might you ask “Do you mind if I join you?

an exception: When might you make an exception for someone – and why?

intend: If you go out armed, what might you intend to do? If you didn’t intend to do something, you did it by …? What’s the noun of intend? We sometimes say we have no intention of …ing.

rapidly: you can rapidly become friends, unemployment can grow rapidly, what else might you do rapidly? What’s the opposite?

mental illness: What kinds of mental illness do you know? How might you recover from / overcome it?

furious: how do you know when someone is furious?

a row: how do you say the word? Why might you have a row with a friend? What about with your parents? What might be the result? How do you stop a row?

summon: Why might someone be summoned to court? Who summons you?

accuse: what might you say to accuse someone of something? What might be the opposite? What happens if you are accused of a crime?

account: you usually give an account of the events to the police or a reporter.

witness: What happens if you witness a crime? What do you call the person who witnesses a crime?

suspicious: if someone looks suspicious, what do you think they intend to do? Who else might you be suspicious of? Why? And what’s the noun? What about the person? And the verb?

haste: probably I would avoid getting into this one!

depart: what’s the noun? What’s the opposite? Where do you have a depature lounge?

lack of: what happens if there’s a lack of rain? What if a hospital has a lack of resources? Anything else we often have a lack of?

possible / probable: we might have a possible / probable cause or explanation or outcome? Anything else?

withdraw: what’s the opposite of withdraw money? And withdraw an accusation? And withdraw from the competition? What might a government withdraw? Why?

be attracted to: why might you be attracted to someone? And why might you be attracted to a job?


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