Go Ahead, Ask: How to Use Surveys to Teach English

Go Ahead, Ask
How to Use Surveys to Teach English

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 21,015 views |

Are you tired of creating artificial reasons for your students’ conversation practice? Are you looking for a means for your students to talk to native speakers in an authentic setting? Surveys may just provide the solution to your dilemma.

They provide authentic setting and topic for conversation with native speakers and can be tailored to the level of your students’ language abilities. Besides, not only are they a fun activity to do, they may give your students something to talk about in the process.

How to Use Surveys in Your ESL Classroom

  1. 1

    Reviewing Question Format

    Before sending your students out to talk to strangers, take some time to review proper question format. For most students, this will be a grammar review, but if you have students with very limited English, it can be instructive. First, review the different question words with your students, and review when to use each one. Use who for questions about people. Where for places. What for things. When for times. Why for reasons. How for process questions. Encourage your students to use a variety of question words when they write their survey. You can also review commonly used question phrases like, “How do you feel about…?” and “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?” and “How would you rate the following?” Help your students understand that these types of questions are often used on surveys, but are not appropriate for casual conversations, so they should be careful under which circumstances they use them.

  2. 2

    Get In Some Practice

    Your students will benefit from some personal experience taking surveys, too. Though not exactly what they will be writing, magazine quizzes are easy and accessible, and they are fun for students. You can find quizzes in magazines from good housekeeping to highlights. Copy a few surveys your students will enjoy to use in class or challenge your students to bring in a quiz they found in a magazine on their own. Then take some time to answer the quizzes and discuss results in groups.

    You can use practice survey taking to your advantage, too. Every teacher can improve his or her craft. Use the occasion of teaching about surveys to write one of your own. Give your students a self-written survey about your class. Ask about the amount of group work, homework and whether they connect with your teaching style. The feedback will be invaluable, and you will not get any surprise bad news at the end of the semester from their official evaluations!

  3. 3

    Keep It Simple

    Today everyone is busy, and it is very unlikely that a person on the street has time to fill out a ten-minute survey. The best surveys are simple, straightforward and have easily answerable questions. When your students are designing their surveys, encourage them to write straightforward questions with a scale option for answers. The most common scale will be

    1. Strongly agree
    2. Somewhat agree
    3. Neither agree or disagree
    4. Somewhat disagree
    5. Strongly disagree.

    Survey takers will be more willing to help if questions are as easy to answer, and limiting their effort to circling a number on a page is a great way to do this.

  4. 4

    Write It Out

    Now that you have covered question grammar, explained what surveys are for and given your students some experience taking surveys, it is time for them to write their own. Every good survey will contain some questions on demographics. For most surveys, age brackets and a choice of gender will be enough, but do not be afraid to suggest other areas for survey if they relate to the subject of your student’s survey.

    Then have each student determine the subject area he wants to research. He should think about the type of data he wants from the takers’ answers. Will he ask about international drivers’ licenses? The quality and variety of food in the cafeteria? The desire of students at his school to do studies overseas? Encourage your students to research something in which they are interested and can learn useful information about.

    Your students should also include a section near the end of the survey for open comments. A good survey will always give the participant an opportunity to speak his opinion about anything related to the survey. This section may also provide quotations that your students may want to cite in a final paper or presentation.

  5. 5

    Get Up and Go

    Finally, with all your preparation done, it is time to go and hit the pavement. Your location will be the biggest deciding factor in the best place to find willing survey participants. If you are in an urban setting, you may be able to catch pedestrians as they move off to work or school. A college campus is an opportune location as there are usually plenty of people outside. Another possibility may be a beach or other tourist attraction. Be watchful for policies on solicitation. If none of these places will work for you, you might want to try a coffee shop, grocery store or mall.

    When approaching a potential survey taker, students should have a scripted explanation that they are doing a school project and could the person spare just a couple of minutes to complete the survey. Have survey ready on a clipboard and a working pen. Once the person completes the survey thank him or her for their time. The goal here is to make it as easy and quick for the survey taker to participate as possible.

The survey experience from conception to completion is ripe with opportunity for ESL students to improve their language skills. What you do with the data is up to you.

It often makes a great reference for a persuasive essay or speech. No matter what you do, it will be a beneficial and informative experience for everyone involved and one your students are sure to remember.

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