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Twist on a classic: Warmer questions

This week’s twist on a classic is all about reversing the roles of teacher and learner…

A classic

Warmer questions are surely the most common warmer/lead-in to any lesson (along with brainstorming from last week). You just write some questions on the board and learners answer them in pairs. Why’s it so good?

  • No materials required.
  • Hardly any preparation required.
  • Doesn’t eat up too much lesson time.
  • Learners speak in English from the get-go.
  • Sets context and activates schemata.
  • Acts as a diagnostic, especially in form-focused lessons (eg. vocab, phonology, grammar, etc.).

They do get a bit repetitive if you’re doing them most lessons, though. There’s all sorts of ways you can jazz them up, but for me, the beauty of warmer questions is their simplicity!

The twist

So here is a twist on warmer questions that preserves their simplicity:

  1. Learners choose the questions.
  2. You answer their questions, speaking to the whole class.
  3. They answer their questions (in pairs or groups).

It’s as simple as that! It takes the learner-centredness up a notch, as not only are learners speaking together, they are choosing their own questions. If they choose the topic, that takes you up yet another notch (as explained here).

There’s tonnes of scope for experimentation with this. Here are some variations, each with rationale:

  • Use cards. Give each group 3 cards to write questions on. You answer 1 question from each group. Learners swap questions with another group and answer these.
    Writing questions gives learners quiet thinking time. Swapping questions creates anticipation and surprise.
  • Add scaffolding. After you’ve answered their questions, they role-play being you and retell your answers to a partner.
    By using your model first, learners gain confidence, steal some of your phrases and know how to structure what they’re saying before giving their own answers.
  • Snowball fight?! If learners write questions on cards, they can scrunch them up into a ball and throw them around the class, then pick one up to answer. Repeat as many times as you like.
    This is a bit more outlandish, but it is likely to be a winner with young learners. It has an in-built ‘stir-settle’ pattern to it, which can help with short attention spans.
  • Skip the teacher talk. If you don’t think learners need a model from you, just get them to answer their own questions immediately!
  • Ask the expert. If you know that a learner has an interest/experience/knowledge of the topic, you can sit them in the ‘hot seat’ in front of the class and they answer the other learners’ questions.
    This can be very motivating for confident learners. You’re essentially using a learner as a classroom resource!

I made this variation up while teaching a super-busy summer school timetable in the UK several years ago. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention!

Featured image adapted from: Image from page 112 of “North Carolina Christian advocate [serial]” (1894), For more information on images on TESOLtoolbox, see Imagery.

1 Comment so far

  1. Pingback: Twist on a classic: Ranking | TESOL TOOLBOX

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