You can quickly learn more about your ESL students by asking them the right questions.
Unsurprisingly, your vocabulary matters more than theirs, so paying attention to what you ask and how you form your questions is of great importance.
The right question, using the most appropriate vocabulary, will elicit the most detailed response from your ESL students. The suggestions in this article will help you construct questions that work well with ESL learners age 14 and older, and can also be adapted to younger students.
While some suggestions are more complex than others, this shouldn't pose any problems. Each student will be able to form their response drawing on their available vocabulary, no matter how limited or limiting that might be.
Use this guide at the start of the school year in an effort to get to an estimation regarding each student's personality, and their learning strengths and weaknesses. It can even be used throughout the school year, either orally or as a writing assignment, or in a group question-and-answer session. The purpose will still be the same: to help you, and the students themselves, get to know different perspectives on their own approaches to learning.
How to Get to Know Your Students by Asking the Right Questions
Tap Into Their Emotions
Emotions are the most brutally honest reflection of people. You can learn a great deal about your ESL students by asking them about their feelings and emotional reactions to current events, to timeless principles, or to their English skills, for that matter. Start by asking this question:
“How do you feel about your English learning progress so far?”
This is a question that can unveil the student’s attitude and feelings towards English, learning, and you as a teacher. Knowing if they have a positive or hostile attitude will help you adjust your approach to them accordingly.
Focus on Knowledge
Asking a ESL student about their attitude towards learning and knowledge as a form of life asset can reveal a lot about their subsequent learning performance and is more likely to foretell how much effort and practice they are eager to invest in their learning,
“Why are you learning English?” or “How do you think English might help you advance professionally?” are good questions to ask in this area.
Questions of this sort illustrate how seriously they take their classes and might even help you identify any impediments that don’t let students take full advantage of their learning potential.
Call on Experience
Experiences, academic and otherwise, can also be a great resource of information when getting to know your new ESL students. Students are usually eager to share past experiences that are fondly remembered, or even ones that had a negative emotional impact. Get an inside peek into your students’ experiences and current skills by asking a question like this:
“What’s the one most defining moment in your life so far? Why?”
Such questions encourage your students to think and critically form a reply that encompasses not only what they experienced but also how that experience affected and shaped their present mindset and life situation.
Creativity is not a defining factor when it comes to learning English as a foreign language, but it might nonetheless reveal their learning aspirations.
“How would you define creativity” or “Do you consider yourself a creative person?” can be ways to get students to realize their own untapped potential.
Look for Ambition
You can learn a great deal about a student’s learning success by asking questions that unveil his or her aspirations and goals in life, and “What would you change/do differently if you were a teacher/leader/an influential individual?” is a good question that helps a student focus on their desired future.
Get to know your students by seeing how much they believe in their power to make a difference in the world.
Young ESL learners are most likely to refer to sports and pop starts as their role models. Asking a student about their role models often shows that there is more than meets the eye to that student's character. Not everyone aspires to be rich and famous; students will often pick up on and strive to emulate other more subtle qualities, such as charity, empathy, leadership, and influence.
“Who do you look up to?” is a question that could manifest qualities your didn’t know your students possessed. You can use your instructional skills to advance and hone these qualities through your teaching.
Imagination and Innovation
Students have great ideas, and if there’s one population segment that handles technology well, it's the younger generation. Asking for innovative ideas not only gives them a chance to voice their thoughts and often out-of-the-box ideas, but it also gives you a sense of how agile and active their imaginations are.
A great question to ask is “How do you think we should use technology/the Internet in class?”
This is a win-win question that reassures your ESL students that their opinions matter and at the same time allows you to examine ways their ideas might be implemented to promote learning in ways they find appealing.
Love and Passion
These two words may be seemingly unrelated to English, but you’d be surprised how much they can reveal about a student’s learning motivation and potential. Ask questions of this sort:
“What’s so precious for you that you would risk your life for it?
“What’s your hobby?/What do you want to be great at?”
What’s more revealing about a person than their lifestyle? What they faithfully do each day or each week is what they value the most. Asking your ESL students about their lifestyles can elicit a great deal of information regarding how well or badly their learning will go, and help you structure their classes around their schedules.
“Can you describe your lifestyle in three words/adjectives?” and “What do you consider a quality lifestyle?” are questions that help your students practice their vocabulary by describing their daily lives.
By asking a student's opinion on a topic that unveils their mindset, you will help them to clarify their priorities, hone their moral compass, and even articulate their challenges in life. You can touch upon their more personal aspects with simple questions such as these:
“How do you spend your pocket money?”
“How do you feel about X (a major current event, scandal or political development in the world)?”
“What would you do if you had one wish/three wishes?”
These questions unveil their empathy level, and even show how willing they are to listen, embrace, or tolerate opinions contrasting with their personal beliefs.
“What’s the most valuable advice anyone has given you/you’ve read?” will open up all sorts of windows into your student's minds.
Another manifestation of their personality and their principles, this question is capable of giving you an accurate image of your students’ learning progress, just by knowing what they value or pay heed to.
All of these questions will help you elicit valuable insight about each ESL student in your class. They can unveil personality traits, capacities, talents and challenges as well as their learning and academic potential. Use them either at an introductory class, or throughout the school year to enrich your knowledge about the best ways you can advance their English language learning.
This is a guest article by Jovell Alingod. Jovell is a Project Manager for eReflect – a world leader in self-improvement software for all ages. eReflect strives to provide the best in vocabulary, spelling, typing, and speed reading software. Currently these products are being used by tens of thousands of happy customers in over 110 countries