Just Ask Me and Ask Each Other

Karen Fedderholdt, Toyama University


Key Words: Classroom management, Speaking
Learner English Level: Intermediate
Learner Maturity Level: Junior College, University
Preparation Time: 10-20 minutes
Activity Time: 30-45 minutes

Here are two activities to help students learn classroom English. I use the activities to help overcome students' reticence in asking the teacher for repetition, clarification, spelling, etc. I also use it to help improve listening comprehension. Both activities help prevent students from falling asleep during those late afternoon classes, especially on Fridays. Try them!

Just Ask Me!

Preparation: Before this activity, teach or review expressions connected with asking for clarification or repetition, possibly asking students to learn the expressions as homework. Stress that students will need to be familiar with the expressions as they will need them in order to complete an activity with their partner.

Some expressions could be:

Could you say that again, please?
I'm sorry, but could you say that again, please?
Did you say _____?
What do you mean?
What does _____ mean?
I'm sorry, I don't understand.
How do you spell _____?

Prepare a number of questions --short ones to begin with, longer ones later--on a topic that students are interested in and have worked with recently.

Procedure: Tell the students that they are going to do an activity which is similar to the questionnaire activities they are accustomed to. However, instead of having a written questionnaire, one person from each group must come to you for the question. Those persons must listen to the question, remember it, and go ask their partners. If the person does not hear or understand the question, he or she must use one of the classroom English expressions that was learned or reviewed. If the persons forget the question by the time they have reached their partner, then they must come back and ask you again. Stress the importance of hearing/understanding/remembering the question, so that the partner can answer it and the task can be completed.

Divide the class into groups of 3 in a class of 30 or in pairs in a class of 20. Seat yourself as far as possible at one end of the classroom, with students situated at the other end of the room as far away from you as they can comfortably be.

Tell one person from each group or pair to come to you for the first question.

Tell them the question. If they do not hear it (speak softly) ,then they must ask you for repetition. If they do not understand it (speak quickly or use a word they are not familiar with), they must ask for clarification or spelling.

When they have understood the question, they go and ask their partner(s) the question and write down the answer on a piece of paper. If these papers are to be collected later, it increases incentive to do the assignment as well as possible.

The persons in procedure c above continue to come back for the next question until all questions have been given, asked, and answered. Halfway through the activity, students can change roles so their partners come to hear the question.

Additional Comments

The thought of having to repeat the same question to several students may be off-putting, but in fact, although you will have to repeat the same question more than once, it is seldom necessary to do so for several students at different times. Students generally regulate the timing themselves, taking approximately the same time to understand, ask and answer the question. In addition, the fact that some students are already with you waiting for the next question automatically speeds up the rest so they all arrive more or less at the same time. Once students have experienced this activity once, they know the routine and the activity can be done very smoothly and with a great deal of fun.

Ask Each Other!

This activity provides students with an opportunity and a reason to use a number of important communicative expressions and provides listening practice.

Materials: Necessary materials for this activity are tape players (3 for a class of 30 students) and audiocassette tapes (one for each tape player).

Preparation: Prepare a suitable number of questions that you would like students to work with, and record them, making copies for each tape player to be used.

Teach or review expressions such as:

What did she say?
I think she said _____ .
No, it was _____ .
Stop, just a minute, didn't she say_____?
Play it again.
Rewind it.
What does_____ mean?
What does she mean?
I heard _____.

Procedure: Explain to students that they are going to do a listening activity during which they have to help each other to complete the task. One member of each group listens to the tape, and when they are sure they have understood the question correctly, they go and ask their partners. However, you don't expect them to catch the question by themselves. To complete the task students have to work together. They should use the expressions they have learned, pool information, and manage the tape until they understand the questions.

Divide the class into two sections. For example, in a class of 30, there should be two groups of 15. Further divide each group of 15 into groups of 5.

Put the groups as far at one end of the class as is comfortable. Place the tape players on separate tables spread out at the other end of the room, with the required number of chairs around each table.

Begin the activity.

When the groups listening to the tapes have understood the question, they go and ask their partners. When the question is completed they go to listen to the next question.

Halfway through the activity, the students change roles. Those who have been answering questions now listen and ask them.