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Why Asking Obvious Questions Is Useful in ESL Classrooms

Sometimes, as English language teachers we may feel like we’re asking some pretty silly questions.

Have you ever felt that way? I mean, for example, when you ask a student why they like the color blue or if they enjoy being out in sweltering summer weather, you might feel kind of silly.

At times, we feel like we’re using obvious questions that you’d expect a learner to look at you and say, “uh, no, duh, it’s too hot.” But to be honest, I can count on only one hand the times I’ve heard a class member say something to that effect.

Students I’ve met simply answer the questions put to them without getting too bothered by the obviousness of them. In other words, they just want to practice their English skills. But believe me, there are times when, after asking an obvious question, I expected the student’s answer to be something like, “seriously”?

So, what’s the justification for using such basic questions in an English language learning classroom, you may be asking. In today’s blog, we’re going to share reasons why obvious questions are useful. Plus, we’ll tell you why they’re actually beneficial. So, please read further to learn more.

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answering questions

They Are Simple but Answerable Questions

Imagine asking complex questions requiring high-level answers. For example, you ask class members, “What are the differences between advertising and marketing?” Or, you might ask, “Do you feel family reunions are a necessary element of raising children? If so, why? If not, why not?” What might the result be?

You’d probably have a classroom filled with flustered students. With their confidence in shambles, they probably wouldn’t be feeling too apt to respond to further questions.

Using simple or obvious questions means asking questions that are readily answerable. Now, I know that’s an obvious answer (pun intended), but asking answerable questions enables learners to answer. And, isn’t that the point of the question?

We have to keep in mind, that as teachers, we’re not daytime TV talk show hosts. We’re not necessarily trying to discover the lives of our learners or the secrets of the universe. We’re trying to get them to speak. Asking readily answerable questions accomplishes that.

Read: Using Progressive Questioning Technique to Get ESL Students Speaking

They Facilitate Level Checking

When you meet a student for the first time, an obvious question such as, “How big is your hometown, Tokyo?” can give you an opportunity to gauge learner responses. If they fumble around looking for a simple one-word answer such as, “big,” you may have a lower-level beginner on your hands.

If they reply with a quick response of, “well, it’s pretty good-sized …”, you’ve likely got someone who can handle the more advanced questions. You get the idea here. There’s nothing wrong with starting conversations with simple questions to help you gauge learner levels.

They Offer Opportunities to Speak

Which question might facilitate more answers: 1) Why do you like playing golf? or 2) What are the rules for golf? Yes, in my experience too, it would be the first choice.

We want to offer opportunities to speak for our class members. When we ask a difficult question, perhaps only the advanced levels get opportunities to speak.

Others will likely be shut out by their inability to respond to a question like a number two above.

Read: Teaching Grammar: Elicitation Through Concept Questions

They Enable Can Help Develop Fluency

When you ask students a series of questions they can answer, what do you think might happen? You got it—they’ll answer! And if they can answer, what might happen to their confidence? Yes, they’ll likely feel more confident.

As learners gain more confidence, their fluency may very well develop more than if they had little to zero confidence.

That’s one of the benefits of asking obvious questions: Learners can answer them without overthinking. This helps train them to think more in English instead of translating in their minds which impairs fluency levels.

Paving the Way for More Difficult Questions

After answering obvious or basic questions, learners are primed for more. They’ll likely be more apt to answer scaffolded-type questions. These are questions that branch out from the previous question. Scaffolding can be something like starting with a sport they like. Then you get into the benefits of it. Then, the rules of golf.

As the class continues, they’ll be able to branch out to answer questions that are more complex. And, if you’ve read previous blogs, you’ll know we shared how to use leveled questions effectively. That means you’ll be able to use questions more strategically.

Read: Teaching Speaking Skills: Debates in The ESL Classroom

They Are Only Initial Questions

We don’t need to be too worried about these initial questions. Remember, they have a purpose. And, if students comment about them, you now have answers.

As a less experienced teacher years ago, I realized that I needed to have logical reasons for the things I do in class. Here is yet another point that you can add to your list of strategies when managing an English language classroom.

Final Thoughts

Remember, you don’t have to feel awkward anymore when asking those obvious questions. They’re a necessary part of teaching English language classes.

I mean, hey, if we didn’t ask them, we’d lose simple opportunities to get learners talking. We’d lose opportunities to gauge learner levels.

Learners would lose opportunities to develop greater fluency. Teachers could lose a foundational scaffolding point. And students could lose opportunities to warm up to the more difficult question.

You also have a better idea if or when someone asks you about the questions you’re asking. Asking obvious, basic, answerable questions can promote level checking, provide more opportunities to speak for lower-level students, enable the development of fluency, and pave the way for a more difficult question.

What are your experiences with asking obvious questions? Have you ever felt embarrassed asking them? What are your thoughts about the reasons we provided today? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments.

And, if you are interested in becoming a more qualified English language teacher, consider our high-quality online TESOL training. Our certificates are internationally recognized. We also offer free job placement assistance. It’s a win-win with OnTESOL.

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Teaching Speaking Skills: Debates In The ESL Classroom

Speaking Activities For Large ESL Classes

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