Teaching Ideas for the ESL Classroom
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Teaching Follow-Up Questions

Do your students have interesting conversations in English? Do they know how to keep a conversation going? After you teach them how to ask follow-up questions, they will!

To begin, students should be in the habit of asking yes or no questions. Give them lots of practice using Teacher Joe's timed pair practice exercises. Asking yes or no questions is possibly the very best way to begin a conversation, so this practice is a very important first step.

The next step is to get students to listen carefully to their partner's answer and formulate good, interesting questions to continue speaking. This is easier said than done! Do three to five examples with the whole class. You might ask a student, "Did you watch TV last night?". If the answer is "Yes", then ask students how they can follow-up. List students' ideas on the blackboard and discuss which is best. If appropriate, also consider why some questions are better than others. Of course, if the answer is "No", hopefully the students will come up with completely different answers!

Next, prepare students for pair practice by having two students perform in front of the class. Give them the initial yes or no question, then they must try to keep the conversation going themselves, without your help. Make note of their follow-up questions and give feedback after each pair. If they have trouble keeping it going, ask the rest of the class to help. It sometimes helps to bring your best students up to do the modelling!

The final step is to do the pair practice. You can give one yes or no question to one partner first, then when they are finished give a different question to the other partner. Or, you could give students a list of yes or no questions so they can choose a topic that really interests them. This means students don't have time to prepare an answer, they have to respond immediately. When students are finished with pair practice, ask them if they learned anything new or interesting about their partner.

The first time Teache Joe does follow-up questions, he uses everyday topics such as TV, music, food, etc. Later, he moves up to opinions and debate, when follow-questions are especially useful!