Interesting Questions

Page No.: 
Lorraine Kipling, Kanda University of International Studies

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Discourse, Question forming, Surveys, Ice-breakers, Conversation, Mingle
  • Learner English Level:  All levels
  • Learner maturity: Middle school to adult
  • Preparation time: None
  • Activity time: 30-60 minutes (with possible extensions)
  • Materials: Writing utensils, handout, scraps of paper

This survey-style activity involves a variety of skills by engaging students to find out interesting information about their classmates. It is scaffolded to raise students’ awareness of using open-ended, personalised questions and follow-ups to stimulate a conversation, to provide controlled practice of question formation in producing their survey, and to facilitate freer practice of speaking and listening skills in two survey-style mingles. This activity can be used as a springboard for a writing task, a mini-presentation, or data analysis. It can also be used as an ice breaker at the start of the semester, to consolidate lexico-grammatical input from previous lessons, as a component within a topic-based unit, or as a stand-alone lesson with student-led input. It requires minimal preparation and set-up, and can be adapted for very low level and young classes (with minor adjustments), up to high proficiency- level students and native speakers.


Step 1: Provide a handout of the survey outline (Appendix A) for students to prepare questions and make notes while conducting their surveys.

Step 2: Cut up some scrap paper and write a student’s name on each piece.

Step 3: For lower level classes and young learners, teachers might choose to prepare some appropriate questions for students in advance so they can focus on the speaking and listening rather than constructing their own questions. In that case, skip Step 2.


Step 1: Instruct students to discuss the example questions (see below). Questions may be adapted to practice a particular area of grammar or vocabulary as necessary. Give the students plenty of time for discussion, and reassure them they don’t have to finish answering all of the questions. If they end up talking a lot about one question and don’t get to the end, that is fine.

Example questions:

  • How old are you?
  • Do you like chocolate?
  • If you had 100,000 yen to spend by the end of the week, what would you buy?
  • Where is the most beautiful place you have ever visited?
  • What’s your favourite thing about your hometown?
  • Do you think school uniforms are a good idea?

Step 2: Get feedback on the discussions. Most students will report that the first two questions were less productive (unless someone really loves chocolate). Explain the difference between open and closed questions, and highlight that questions that focus on personal experience and background (i.e., present perfect), opinions (school uniforms), and character or personal values (i.e., conditional structures), are more likely to stimulate interesting conversations than closed, short-answer questions.

Step 3: Instruct students to write two ‘interesting’ questions. Monitor closely and give feedback on lexico-grammatical errors. This is important, as the students will be repeating the questions multiple times as they conduct their surveys.

Step 4: Students conduct the survey by going around the room asking their questions and making notes, and answering their classmates’ questions.

Step 5: The teacher then hands out a slip of paper to each student showing another student’s name. Each student must then gather as much information as possible about their designated person. This involves going around the class again and asking people what they found out about this person during the survey stage.


Students are usually very engaged in finding out their classmates’ answers to their questions, so these survey-style mingles provide a motivating focus for speaking and listening practice.


The appendix is available below: