Questions for a guest 2: forming questions in English. This post is a continuation of Questions for a guest 1. The learners realised that they were unable to form questions well, so we are working on this.

We read Ch 8 of Wow! 5, a dialogue in which the children ask questions about recycling and about their parents’ jobs. First I wanted them to have a bank of questions to work on, so they went through the dialogue and picked out all the questions they could find. I realise that this bank is very small and limited, but I thought we could start with it.

What does your mum do? What does your dad do? Where does this go? Does your mum like her work? Does your dad like animals? Where does your dad work? Does he like to work at night? Does this go in the yellow bin? Does your dad recycle things? Do you recycle?

Step 1  Making room for thinking 

SORTING TASK: I then asked them to sort these sentences into at least two groups and to give their reasoning for the groupings.  They found it very difficult, but they did spend a long time looking at the sentences and thinking about them. They said some have people in them and some not, some are about work and some not. One pair made three groups depending on the first word in each question – What / Where / Do or Does. They were quite happy to have do or does in the same group, though they didn’t know why.

Step 2 Building the stairs

I’m not sure if this can be said to be making a tool, but I helped them by asking them questions that I thought might help them to get the answer themselves, and by, in the course of our discussion, teaching them the necessary grammar terms in English (question word, verb, auxillairy verb, main verb). I realise that at a later point it would be better to have symbols, like V for verb, but at the moment I feel they need to know what the actual words are so that we can talk about them.

Of course, it was difficult as they didn’t yet know why they were grouping the sentences, but when I said they were grouping them so that they could try to work out the rules for how to form a question, one pupil realised that What and Where should be in the same group, because they’re both questions words. I then asked them what do and does are and they had no idea at all. We then considered what parts of speech they know (in Finnish) and came up with verb, agreeing that they’re verbs.

When I asked what do or does mean in this context, they had no idea, so I introduced the idea of auxillairy verbs, explaining them as ’helping verbs’ , which help to make a question. Now we had two groups and we started to look together at what the similarities and  differences between the groups were.

The similarities they came up with were: all the questions have questions marks, they all have do or does. The  differences were: lots of things!...and the question words in one group. All this is pretty obvious, and I don’t know if it got us anywhere, but then I asked how they would answer the questions in the different groups, and they realised that the questions starting with do or does can all be answered by yes or no.

This still wasn’t actually helping us to form questions, but it helped us to have a label to distinguish between the two question types. I then wrote up the vocabulary they’d learned, verb, auxilliary ’helping’ verb, question word, yes/no question... and asked them to try to write a formula, as in maths using a + sign, to describe how to make a question, first for the yes/no questions and then for the questions with question words.

They started to do this, and started quite well, with helping verb +__________ + verb, but then realised that they didn’t know the word for noun, and actually, some of them are not yet good at recognising nouns in Finnish. We replaced ’noun’ with the word, ’doer’, which I’d seen in posts about Irina’s lessons.

Step 3 Relecting

Step 3 will be reflecting on and testing their ’formulae’, but we haven’t done that yet. I intend to take sentences from the next chapter on which they can test their ideas. They’ll find sentences with is and are, which will force them to think again, and might be overload at the moment. After that we’ll return to their questions for a ’new friend’ and see if they can correct at least some of them themselves.

Teacher reflections

I haven’t looked at grammar in this way before, and I wanted to see how it would work out. I’m not sure exactly how it should be done. I expected that it might be too difficult for the pupils, and at first it seemed to be. They were trying hard, but not getting anywhere. However, as we discussed things they gradually got more interested and they were especially interested when they noticed yes / no questions. They hadn’t realised it at all, and it hadn’t occurred to me before to talk about it, but I think it was very useful. I also haven’t spoken much to them before using expicit grammatical terms, so I’ll be interested to see if this helps them or not. This is a long-term process and we’ll keep returning to it.

Even if this doesn’t help with grammar, in the process of doing this the learners read the sentences many times and all of them became very clear about what they mean (many checked carefully as they started the sorting through meaning) and so they became very familiar with questions and how they look. They wouldn’t normally have had a reason to read the same thing so many times, and for it to hold their interest.

This obviously took a lot longer than usual ( when we look at the ’Cool Rules’ in the book and do exercises) but I explained to them that I hope they might understand this much better and then remember and be able to use it better. I don’t yet know if that will be the case, but I’ll give it a try. Next, we’ll be returning to their original questions.                              


# Irina Buchinska 2012-02-19 21:05
Working with questions I can advise as a next step to compare interrogative and affirmative sentences. This can be a sorting exercise (with limiting examples of questions to yes/no questions in the beginning) where they can make a formulae for both interrogative and affirmative and make conclusions about differences; or you can give pairs of sentences (interrogative and affirmative), using the same verb to make it easier to recognise teh structure
e.g. "Where do you come from?
I come from Finland"
and compare the structures making a list of similarities and differences.

Introducing 'does' is more complex as they should also remember the change in the main verb.

In general, the idea is to build the model with different formulae step by step, adding to it and then to generalise the model, and then to write the algorithm, e.g.

1. Think about the doer of the action. _____________________
2. Think about the auxiliary verb and the main verb _________________
3. Think where you put down the 'doer of the acton' __________________
4. Write the question.
5. Check if you have written it correctly.

This is just a possible example of the algorithm, you can think of a better one.

When I worked with this topic in Form 5 I referred to their knowledge of sentence structure they learn in their native language lessons, they use a certain way to underline the subject and predicate:the subject by one line and predicate by two lines and we used the same symbols, and that was our formulae, then we practised a lot, by a lot I mean a lot of lessons, not a lot of time on one lesson, as they get tired of the same thing very quickly and lose concentration of attention. But whenever they wrote a question I asked them to underline the structure and to compare it with their 'model'. It takes time for them to understand and remember but asking questions, I think, is one of the main skills they have to acquire.
# Susan Granlund 2012-02-25 09:13
These are very helpful comments - thank you! I need reminding too that only a little can be done at a time - a whole lesson of grammar is too much at this stage.

I was wondering about the algorithm - did you first do it as a whole class, or did the pupils make their own? I could imagine many of my pupils would find this extremely difficult without continual guidance and discussion. When you said they compared the questions they wrote later to their model, where was their model, so that it was always easily accessible? Do they use folders all the time, also in the 5th grade?

I'll also have to ask how they deal with sentences in the Finnish class - it's a good idea to use the same system.

Now that you have the same learners in the 7th grade, do you feel they understand the grammar better / are better at using it, than before you used TA? I know it's hard to say because acquiring grammar is such a long process, but it would be interesting to know how you find this develops, and how the learners develop in using it.
# Irina Buchinska 2012-02-26 20:50
Susan, speaking about creating a model for questions:

1. we collected a bank of questions from texts/exercises we had in a course book. The banks were collected individually but as the texts were the same they eventually were very similar, which I consider is not a problem for this age.

2. I gave them a very short exercise on comparing affirmative and interrogative questions - something like in one column 'Winnie likes honey very much' and a couple more similar sentences, and in another column
" Does Winnie like honey?" and alike. To make it easy you can start with "Do" questions not to include this 3rd person 's', which can be introduced later, then to introduce sentences with 'be'.

3. I asked them individually to find as many differences and similarities between the sentences ( affirmative and interrogative), I told them to focus on the structure of the sentences.

4. Then we worked together when I asked them to give their variants of the answer and we collected all possible answers:
e.g. in affirmative sentence there is only 1 verb while in questions 2 verbs

the affirmative sentence begins with "Do" but interrogative with a 'doer'

in the affirmative sentences the doer is before a verb in interrogative between verbs.

then we all together (students who wanted, came to the board and) drew the schemes of the affirmative/interrogative sentences better several not one student, then we discussed, compared and I invited the students this time again individually to write the conclusions they consider most successful/clear for them into their model of a question structure.

So my procedure at the moment is 1. offering a task and inviting them to work individually, then we share the answers, discuss them all together and then they put down the conclusions again individually.

5. we went back to the bank collected in the beginning and they checked their general scheme of a question with the examples they had in a bank individually. Then again was a discussion with their questions, checking, conclusions and changes to the model if necessary.

6. Since then whenever they worked or work with questions I asked and ask now to check the structure ( word order) of the question as I find it the most difficult thing for them to remember because in Russian we make questions intonationally not by the word order.

RE- if their grammar knowledge now is better than when I worked without this approach - It's difficult to say as I haven't worked with this age for a long time, and this is the only group I have worked for the last 2,5 years, but I think they have a better understanding and a more conscious and systematic approach to grammar than my previous young learners.
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