Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions

The “Question Formulation Technique” is being used from kindergarten all the way through to higher education across all disciplines.  What is it?  And, how does it work?

THIS ARTICLE, breaks down the process in detail, providing some examples and overviewing the benefits.

In a nut shell, it takes the act of asking questions in class and makes it 100% student centered.  Students are not only answering, but actually generating their own discussion questions.  It can be used at a variety of different points; for example to introduce or conclude a unit, or even as a formative assessment tool in the middle of a unit.  Once the technique is taught to students they can repeat it again and again with different content topics.  By having students generate and then discuss their own questions, we can vastly increase student engagement, participation and critical thinking.

The technique is fairly simple, but very powerful, indeed.  First, students are give a topic focus and they generate lots of possible discussion questions.  In the next stages, the questions are possibly improved and then prioritized and culled.  Finally, the student led discussion takes place, possibly with some teacher guidance at first, but once students get the hang of it they can have totally independent Socratic style seminar discussions.

Having tried it out in class, I can attest to the fact that it has two clear benefits; 1) it encourages deeper discussion and higher order thinking, and 2) it provides a key element of scaffolding to get your quieter, less active students actively engaged in the class discussion.

Put your student in the driver’s seat and try out the QFT in your next teaching unit!

Wheel of Names

Ever get tired of deciding which student to call on?  Or need to pick a random student to be a group leader?  Wheelofnames.com can help.

Wheel of names is a super fast way to make a “Wheel of Fortune” style wheel with any content you want on the wheel.  You can even save your wheels or get a link to share your wheel with others or yourself to use later.  Check it out!


I’ve been told that Scaffolding for Scaffolders is an odd name for a language teaching blog site.  And to any of you in the construction industry who may have been looking for building supplies and stumbled upon the site by accident, I apologize.

In light of all that, it seems appropriate to include a post on how scaffolding applies to education and provide some basic examples.

Scaffolding in education refers to support which we can give students such that they are better able to do the task.  The word scaffolding is used because it is assumed that this support can slowly be taken away as the learners develop.

Here are the usual 3 types that I apply to almost every lesson:

  • Break a task down into different stages or components. Instead of explaining the entire project or task in one go and then leaving students to get on with it, we can break it down into stages, check in with students after each stage, and only after checking in we then provide instructions for the next stage.
  • Provide a model. The teacher can provide or actually be a model, but we can also use a stronger student to provide a model, or we can find a model online or in a text to show them before they are tasked with producing similar.
  • Allow thinking time. If the task is to share an opinion or produce a short talk or explanation, students may benefit from think-pair-share in order to build both their confidence and quality of output.  Think-pair-share can go like this: individually, students have 3 minutes to brainstorm/take notes, then in pairs they share ideas, then finally as a whole class or larger group they share ideas.  Less confident or less prepared students will perform much better in the whole class share stage if they are allowed the support of the previous two stages (think-pair).  The simple act of sharing ideas and/or checking answers with the person next to them can be an invaluable scaffold that greatly boosts confidence and quality of work produced.

For some more examples, and to see scaffolding in action, check out this short video:

Vocabulary Acquisition: Lexical Approach

In 1993 Michael Lewis shook the foundations of the ELT industry with the release of The Lexical Approach.  In this seminal work, he suggested that practitioners would be better off stepping away from their traditional grammar based syllabi and instead putting a spotlight on formulaic chunks and collocation, arguing that this is in fact how language is stored in and recalled from our brain.  A few years later Lewis released Implementing The Lexical Approach and Teaching Collocation, much more practical and digestible texts for language teachers.  The theories and techniques he espoused have, in fact, been realized in the way language is presented in many of the more popular ELT textbooks of the past 20 years.  Have a look below for more info.

For anyone not so familiar, THIS Guardian article is a good introduction.

I came across Leo’s blog a number of years ago.  It’s a language teaching blog with a lexical touch!

And lastly, the two videos below were made to introduce students to the concepts of language chunks and collocation.

Considering the pace of a lesson

For students to learn, they have to be paying attention.  When a student or group of students are ‘bored’ in class, minds wandering, looking out the windows, we are seeing the symptom, but what is the root cause?   Assuming the material is appropriately challenging, then we might next consider the pace of delivery.   If the lesson seems to be moving too slow, then we need to consider lesson pacing.

Here are some articles on what to consider in order to keep the pace snappy.

Instructional Pacing: How Do Your Lessons Flow?  (on edutopia.org)

Chapter 6 of Jack Richards’ Reflective Teaching in Second Language Classrooms has some nice questions related to pace which educators can ask themselves and perhaps use as a starting point for an action research project on lesson pacing.

HERE is a great resource from Harvard Graduate School of Education for tertiary educators in considering pacing and general classroom management techniques.

One last tip on pacing is to time your lesson stages, especially when students are doing group or pair work.  If you have a projector in the classroom, its super easy to quickly board up an online timer.  If not, you can simply give warnings: “one minute left!”

So remember…

Demand High ELT

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.” (Mark Twain)

To my mind, the revolution that Jim Schrivener and Adrian Underhill are proposing for the ELT industry via their blog titled Demand High ELT is nothing new, and yet at the same time a well needed breath of fresh air.  It’s not hard to see how their ideas draw inpiration from the theories of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.

Its been nearly ten years since I found out about this blog, and their approach (or meme, as they call it) stays with be every time I am in front of a class.

This article Jim and Adrian wrote for the Guardian in 2012 is a good place to start.

Or HERE, on their site where they answer the question: What is Demand High?