If you are looking for a fun and creative way to review asking and answering questions with your ESL students, here are some activities you might want to try.
Tell Me About Yourself
Getting to know your fellow students is one of the greatest ways ESL class members can practice asking questions. This activity can be as simple or as complicated as your students can handle. For advanced students, have students work with a partner and ask questions to get to know them. Increase the challenge, however, by requiring students to use each of the twelve tenses in the English language. You might want to review the tenses and then give students some time to prepare before the interview, and have them make sure they have at least one information question written in each tense. Not only will this challenge their grammar use, it will also bring forth some interesting information about their partners that they might otherwise never know.
If you teach writing, this activity does double duty as a prewriting activity as well as a question review. One of the key components of fiction is having good characters, and that’s not as easy to do as some might think. Truly interesting characters are complex, and the writer knows much more about that character than ever shows up, overtly, in the fictional piece they write. One way to develop such a character is to think about the details of that person’s life and relationships. Many resources exist for character development through questionnaires such as this one. Have your students use these and similar questions to help a classmate develop a character for a fictional story. Either have students answer the questions in writing or have pairs of students ask each other the questions about the characters they are developing. If you want to make this activity work double duty in your reading class, have students speculate answers to the questions about a character in a piece you have already read.
Pin the Question on the Student
You will need a blindfold to play this simple question asking game. One person stands in the center of the room wearing a blindfold. The other students are free to move about the room, keeping a good amount of distance from other students, until you say stop. Once you have stopped your students, the blindfolded person points toward someone and asks an information question. “What is your favorite sport?” That person must answer, either in his normal voice or by disguising it. The blindfolded person must then guess who answered the question. If they guess correctly, the players switch places. If they guess incorrectly, they play another round.
Meet the Family
Family means a lot to most people, and this activity gives your students a chance to talk about their family, review family vocabulary, and ask and answer questions about their and their classmates’ families. Invite each person to bring in one or more pictures of his family. The person introduces his family to the class, and then the class members ask questions about those people.
Are your students familiar with the practice of speed dating? At a speed dating event, several women and men sit in two lines across from each other. The moderator gives the pairs two minutes to get to know each other, and then the men shift one seat to the right, facing a new partner. The moderator then times two minutes and the new couples talk. This continues until everyone has had an opportunity to meet every member of the opposite sex. Play a celebrity version of this game with your ESL students by assigning every class member a secret celebrity. Rather than meeting a significant other, your students will use their two minute sessions with their classmates to try and figure out what secret celebrity their partner is role playing while at the same time trying to keep theirs a secret. Students must answer each other’s questions as accurately as possible. Give each person a list of all the students in class so he or she can make note of which celebrity they think each person is playing after their two minutes together. At the end of the event, reveal the secret identities and see which student guessed the most correctly.
This activity is strictly for advanced ESL students, but it’s fun and challenging and worth a try if your students are very creative and capable. The basic premise is to have a conversation between two people where every question is answered with another question. You can see examples of the improve exercise on Whose Line is it Anyway? (Heads up – adults only.) Have two speakers come to the front of the room and give them a scenario. You might also want to have two or four other people ready to enter the dialogue as needed. Have the first two speakers jump right in to the scenario with question after question. If someone gets stuck and cannot think of a question that fits the scenario, he is buzzed out and another speaker takes his place. When you feel the scenario has gone on long enough, ask your students to sit down and see how many questions your class can remember from the activity. Write them on the board if you like.
This game is great for practicing yes/no questions with your ESL students. The rules are simple. Someone chooses an object. It can be anything – a person, place, or thing. Then the other students take turns asking questions and trying to determine what that object is. The class limit is twenty questions (hence the name), and those include the final guesses. (E.g. Is it the Sydney Opera House?) If the class guesses the object correctly, they win the round. If not, the person who chose the object wins.
Mother May I
Here is a simple game that gets your elementary ESL class outside for some fresh air and allows them to practice questions at the same time. (You can also play this indoors but it will probably require moving some furniture in your classroom.) One person play the “mother” who gives permission to move to the other players. She stands alone at one end of the playing area. The other players start shoulder to shoulder in a line facing her. These players take turns asking Mother if they may take a certain number and a certain type of step toward her. “Mother, may I take three giant steps?” Some classic steps are giant steps, scissor steps, baby steps, karate steps, and jump steps, but your students can be creative and come up with their own types of steps. The mother gives permission, or not, according to her whim (but no playing favorites). After everyone has had a turn, the first player goes again. Play continues until someone is close enough to touch the mother. When that happens, the round is over and that person is the mother for the next round.
Finding Your Way
Here is a question review activity that also practices use of specific vocabulary words. It will take some simple preparation on your part, but once you have the materials you can use them over and over. Have students all start in one corner of the room. Their goal is to move to the opposite corner of the room, but to do so they will have to ask and answer questions about specific vocabulary. For each vocabulary word, print a picture on a standard piece of paper and slip it into a plastic sleeve to minimize wear and tear. (You can also use flash cards if you have them handy.) Have each student take a turn moving to one of the pictures. He or she must then either ask a yes/no question using the word in that picture or answer a yes/no question you ask about that picture. (You can also play this game using information questions.) If she formulates her question or answer correctly, she moves on to another space. If she is incorrect, she stays on that picture till her next turn. No two students can occupy the same picture at the same time. Students will have to choose the best route from the starting corner to the finishing corner. The first one to reach the goal is the winner.
This simple children’s game is great for practicing yes no questions. Play by the standard rules or play using current vocabulary words. You will just need two sets of flashcards (either store bought or homemade and printed on card stock). Students must remember who is asking for what and make as many pairs as they can. The person with the most pairs of cards at the end of the game wins.
These are some of my favorite activities for reviewing both informational and yes/no questions in the ESL classroom.
What are your favorites? Share them in the comments below!