In my quest to interject more ‘meaningful’ communication between my students I now often start my classes with a ‘Question, or questions, of the Day’. These are in the target language and on a pdf file that I project to the class. What the question is depends upon the class and level. It may be as simple as ‘how was your weekend?’ or more controversial such as ‘school uniforms are good/bad for school spirit’.
More important than discussion, my goal is to develop the students ability to ask the ‘follow up’ questions. I often annotate the questions as we go but not in the Target Language. Rather I pose questions in English – to provoke them to ask more. For my novice learners it’s often “why? who with? where? when? how is/was it?”. For my higher level students it extends the topic such as ‘why do we wear uniforms in general?’.
The activity usually lasts for 5 -10 minutes sometimes changing partners a couple of times. Students have a question sheet – filled with things they ‘wanted to know how to say’ when we started this activity. Gradually we have added things such as school subjects, how to disagree with a person, how to ask ‘anything else’. Many pull out their ‘conversation sheet’ when we start – to use as a resource. Even better, some no longer need it. We also practice helping someone to understand using gestures, giving their own answer and, as a last resort, the dictionary.
It’s great for their confidence in the new language. As I continue the experiment I see that students now know what to do continue the conversation – and in lulls they reach for these extras questions. Working in pairs encourages even the ‘reluctant’ speaker to safely participate. I am now delighted to see them going ‘off the prompts’. Given extra time they are reaching back to past items to ask about or formulating new questions. Their ability to carry on a conversation with someone they know, or don’t, is greatly improved.
I don’t use this strategy everyday but at least 1 or 2 times a week. It’s a great energy ‘starter’, establishes Target Language use and reinforces learning – almost without them knowing it. And that works for me!