Students notoriously have lots of problems learning about helping verbs and creating questions.
One of the reasons I enjoy teaching tag questions is because it seems to solidify their question making abilities. I’ve devised some fun and interesting ways for you to successfully incorporate tag questions, as often textbooks gloss right over them. Put these tips for teaching tag questions into action and marvel at how much better your students begin forming questions in general!
He’s Funny, Isn’t He?
Introduction to Tag Questions
The best way I have found to introduce these tricky little buggers is to first start with sentences and then display how to incorporate questions into the statements. You’ll want to use a variety of examples (with a variety of helping verbs) and may as well get some good pronoun practice in as well. Here we go:
Statement Confirming Question (I know this to be true): (I think this is true (90%), but I need confirmation): John is a teacher. John is a teacher, isn’t he? (Isn’t John a teacher?) You are smart. You are smart, aren’t you? Mary runs every day. Mary runs every day, doesn’t she?
When explaining tag questions, there are a few questions that you need to answer. For example, what is the purpose of using a tag question? And when is it appropriate to use a tag question over a regular question? In order to answer those questions, you need to discuss what it means to make assumptions or draw conclusions. When you use a tag question, you are essentially making sure that you are correct about something by confirming what you think or assume to be true. For example from above, I saw Mary running on Tuesday and Wednesday, and on Friday she talked about getting ready for a marathon. I’m not 100 % certain that she runs every day, but I am making an assumption that she most likely runs every day. I am using the tag question to confirm my idea. You’ll want to provide several examples about this usage explanation.
The format is pretty straightforward for tag questions. They are called tag questions, because the question is tagged onto the end, almost as an afterthought. The same helping verb that is used in the statement is used in the question, but in the question it is turned into a negative. This is great practice for pronoun usage and subject-verb agreement. Show a lot of examples and show what you mean on the board.
Some examples are:
She is a teacher, isn’t she? Or Mary is a teacher, isn’t she?
We are happy, aren’t we? Or The students are happy aren’t they?
The only exception to seeing the helping verb in the statements is with “do”. Do is always a bit tricky, so provide examples that make your point clearly.
John likes to eat pizza. (We don’t say John does like to eat pizza, it is implied)
John, likes to eat pizza, doesn’t he?
Here the helping verb does is implied because generally when we make questions with action verbs, we use a form of do for the helping verb.
Simple sentence Question? Tag Question John likes chocolate. Does John like chocolate? John likes chocolate, doesn’t he? John spoke to Sue. Did John speak to Sue? John spoke to Sue, didn’t he? John loves Sue. Does he love Sue? John loves Sue, doesn’t he?
Practicing Tag Question is Fun, Isn’t It?
Practicing tag questions takes some creativity because the language point isn’t the most natural. I have found that if you practice general question making along with tag questions, you will really be able to view comprehension first-hand. One of the best ways you can do this is to give out surveys to pairs of students. Provide prompts instead of full questions so that part of the activity requires the students ask the right questions. Prompts could be simple words or phrases, like Hawaii, Baseball, and Karaoke. Once they have gone through the Q and A discuss each prompt as a class. Create a tally of answers to the questions so that they can practice making assumptions and drawing conclusions. For example: John and Mary like playing baseball, don’t they? Mark has never been to Hawaii, has he?
Tag questions can lead to practice of all types of other questions, so keep that in mind when you introduce them.
You’ll want to have a variety of activities lined up so that students get a good hands-on work out, and the opportunity to ask lots of questions!