In one of my last posts I discussed different techniques which can be used for clarifying meaning of new language. Here I wanted to talk about the next likely stage, that is checking understanding.
I entitled the post “Do you understand?” because it’s perhaps the most natural, yet the least welcome, way to find out whether your students have understood the explanation or not. And if you’ve done CELTA , then you know that it’s THE persona non grata of language teaching. But I’ll come back to this point later and first start with the more “acceptable” techniques for checking understanding:
The teacher asks a question or a series of questions which focus on the underlying meaning of the target language, and check if the student has grasped the concept. Keep the responses short so more students can participate, and less demand is put on their production, e.g. I bumped into a friend yesterday. CCQs: a) Did I meet a friend yesterday? (YES) b) Was it planned? (NO) c) Was it an accident? (YES)
Very useful when dealing with expressions where the tense is the problematic bit (although can be culturally dependant), e.g. I’ve been teaching for 6 years.
Useful for any language concepts which can be ranked, e.g. frequency adverbs, modal verbs for probability, degrees of reality/imagination, although it can be tricky to decide on the exact degree (e.g. I love, I’m crazy about, I’m keen on)
Standard CCQs can be followed by something more personal, i.e. a question which uses the target language or one which elicits a response with the target language. For example, for the verb to ban you could ask:
- Should the government ban smoking in public places?
- Is banning soft drugs a good idea to prevent their use?
Students finish a prompt given by the teacher; they’ll only be able to finish if correctly if they understand the concept, e.g. CC although:
- T: Although it was raining…
- S1: …we went out.
- S2: …we went for a walk.
This is normally frowned upon, especially on initial TEFL courses. However, if you speak students’ L1, it can sometimes be useful to translate in order to dispel any doubts. L1/L2 comparisons can also be a useful tool, raising students’ language awareness of similarities and differences between the two languages. It’s also very quick and relatively unambiguous.
Well, technically this question is persona non grata and all CELTA candidates have a really hard time avoiding it. Probably because it’s the most natural thing in the world for god’s sake! Of course, it is not to say that it should be our only concept checking technique. Having said that, if we know that our students usually speak up when they don’t know something, asking do you understand?can:
- tell us when our previous concept checking has failed and we need to re–clarify
- save us time by avoiding unnecessary CCQs
Do you use any of the techniques more often than others? Are there any you use which I haven’t put on the list? Would love to hear from you in the comments section.
In the next post I’ll present a few activities in which you’ll be able to try out and practise some of the techniques described above, so stay tuned! 🙂
For now, you might find these sources useful:
- Concept Checking Revisited by EFL Recipes
- Workman G. 2005. Concept Questions and Timelines. Chadburn Publishing
- Darn S. and White I. 2006. Checking understanding. http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/checking-understanding