The right question, the right time

20150630_152802During the first minutes of Luke Meddings’s presentation for the iTDi  Summer Intensive Course, one thing immediately caught my attention, and it’s been on my mind ever since. It’s not directly related to the topic of the talk called Punctuation Marks?! Exploring Learner Stories and Teacher Interventions in the Unplugged Classroom…; it’s more to do with what the presenter said and what happened afterwards.

At some point, we, participants, were asked to think about our favorite punctuation mark. The iTDi crowd is usually very active and immediately floods the chatbox with ideas and all sorts of comments. But before anyone got to hitting the first key, the presenter promptly asked us to wait and think about the question for a few more moments. He told us he would ask the same question again later on when would be able to share our answers.

I intently watched the chatbox which had suddenly remained completely silent. I had to smile inwardly; I think people were trying hard to keep their mouths shut and I would really love to know what was going on in their heads at that moment. I’m saying this because I knew my answer a millisecond after Luke had asked the question, and I believe that most of the participants actually did.

These things happen in our classes every day; we ask a question and the fastest swot’s hand is immediately up. If we know our stuff as teachers, we wait a couple of seconds before we allow somebody to answer. This is what good teachers do. But why not take it a step further and use Luke Medding’s strategy. Why not ask the students to think about the answer but to keep it to themselves and then come back to it later on in the lesson.

I believe that this approach will have an enormous impact on overall participation. Those who knew the answer the moment the question was asked will get an opportunity to rethink and reconsider their original idea because, as the lesson proceeds, the teacher will provide more information and context. In other words, their original idea will gradually be remoulded and refined. Even if the answer eventually stays the same, the reasoning behind it will have developed.

Those who are not so fast, on the other hand, will gain plenty of time to come up with a confident answer. So, when the time comes, every student will have something valuable to share and their answers will make more sense to them than they did before.

There’s one more thing that pops up in mind related to fast learners; instead of checking their Facebook accounts, those who finish a task earlier might have something to occupy their minds while weaker students are still working. However, this will only happen if your question is challenging and interesting enough to attract the fast finishers’ attention.

Such a question will definitely stimulate students’ curiosity. It’s like giving someone a present which they can’t open till the next day. When your students are asked to keep the answer to themselves for a while, they might think: What’s the teacher up to? What’s going to happen next? Where is this headed? What’s actually behind the question? Based on my experience, students like to think they can ‘read the teacher’s mind’. And when they finally discover what the teacher’s intention was, the eureka moment, the sudden understanding of the previously incomprehensible problem, will bring even more satisfaction.

Last but not least, between A (the moment of asking a question) and B (the moment of sharing the answers), your students will hopefully be exposed to plenty of meaningful language input which will make it easier for them to finally come up with a decent output.

Obviously, this magic approach needs a bit of planning beforehand; otherwise you would only look scatterbrained. You need to know your goals and lesson aims very well to be able to make good questions that would create a sort of information gap. I’d say that once you decide to use this strategy, you’ll actually be forced to think things through thoroughly. As a result, your teaching skills will improve noticeably and your lessons will get a more professional tint because you’ll prove to the world that you know what you’re doing and why.


About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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2 Responses to The right question, the right time

  1. swisssirja says:

    Dear Hana,
    I’m back from hols and brushing up on my teaching skills (rather sunburnt, I must admit). One of the ways to do it is to restart reading all the amazing blogposts my fellow educators have written. So there I was looking at the long list of unread posts and yours here was one of the first to catch my eye. What a lucky thing!
    First of all, I cannot stop admiring your incredible capacity of transferring ideas, skills, reflections from any field of life to teaching / classroom. It’s been a recurring feature in your posts, how you do / see / hear something and boum! it sparks a teaching-related idea in your brilliant head!
    I love that!

    Secondly, I find this question and belated answer idea great! I will definitely use it in my classes.
    I am a strong believer in taking ones time before speaking up (something I cannot always successfully apply to my own poor communication skills 😉 and I strongly believe that students need time before coming up with interesting answers to the myriad of questions we throw at them.

    Anyhow, great to be back. Great to read your inspiring thoughts.

    Hugs from the Alps

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Dear Sirja,

      Thanks for stopping by after the holidays. Judging by your Instagram pics, you must have had a fabulous time (despite the sunburn). 🙂 I feel lucky you’ve decided to read one of my posts, even though there’s a long list of other unread articles awaiting you. And I’m happy you took the time to leave such a wonderful comment – I really appreciate your enthusiastic support. Finally, I’m glad to hear you find the idea of ‘postponed answer’ useful (or whatever it might be called). I’m definitely going to put it in practice as soon as I start teaching again in September.



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