Random questions

John Spiri, Gifu Shotoku Gakuen University

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Listening, speaking, responding
  • Learner English level: Any
  • Learner maturity level: Elementary school to adult
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Activity time: 5-20 minutes, depending on class size
  • Materials: One paper with random questions for teacher


The activity described below encourages students to listen attentively and improves their ability to respond to a question on the spot. Teachers may create their own questions or use or adapt those written by the author (See Appendix). Students do not prepare for the activity by previewing the topic or checking vocabulary beforehand. Instead, each student immediately answers a question from a wide range of topics, such as science, current events, personal experience, or trivia. Making the questions random adds an element of surprise and forces students to pay close attention. This activity is also an excellent opportunity for teacher-student interactions, ideally with all students listening intently to every exchange.



Step 1: Compile a list of random questions or use one of the lists in the Appendix.

Step 2: Make sure the level of the questions is appropriate for your students. If using one of the lists provided here, revise the questions as needed.

Step 3: Make sure the total number of questions exceeds the total number of students in the class by at least a few. Make sure the questions cannot be answered with yes or no.



Step 1: Ask all students to stand up.

Step 2: Explain that students may sit down after they answer a question. The chance to sit down is motivation to listen and participate. Having students sit after answering also ensures that one student doesn’t answer repeatedly. A potential problem is that sitting students may no longer feel the need to listen, or worse, they may begin chatting with a classmate. Encourage sitting students to keep listening and allow them to whisper suggestions to standing students who are stuck and cannot answer.

Step 3: Ask questions from the list you have written or revised from the Appendix.

Step 4: Have students raise their hands to answer. I do not choose students who call out answers or make loud noises to get attention. When students accurately answer a question, ask them to sit down. When no one can answer a question, give hints and rephrase the questions as needed.

Step 5: Continue until all students are sitting.

Step 6: Repeat the process in a subsequent class. You can change most of the questions on a recently used list while keeping some particularly challenging but useful ones. For example, for three consecutive classes, I used, “Tell me something you are looking forward to.” For other questions, I merely changed key words, for example asking the capital of Malaysia rather than France. Other questions were entirely new.

Step 7: After students become accustomed to the activity over the course of two or more weeks, ask them to stand and ask the teacher a question. You might want to give students a couple of minutes to write several unique questions. Although each student will only actually ask one question, writing several will prepare students should another student ask a question they had prepared.

Step 8: At the end of the semester, print three to four different random question handouts with answers provided in parentheses and make copies. In class, put students in groups of three to four and distribute one handout to each student. This can be done after Step 5 above to provide the students with an immediate review and give them a chance for more interaction sooner. In pairs or groups of three to four, students ask their entire set of questions. When finished and if time allows, students can add some of their own questions.



This activity is ideally used as a change of pace or a time filler as it is easy to prepare and fun for students. It also provides students with a nice break from typical thematic-based listening activities. Standing forces students to actively participate and also gives them a brief chance to stretch. The subsequent activities provide a review of the questions and answers while putting students in a more active role.



The Appendix is available below: