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Asking questions

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Last updated 26 October 2012 15:28 by NZTecAdmin
Asking questions (PDF, 26 KB)

The purpose of the activity

We often need to ask questions to seek information, to clarify, to respond or to challenge. Questioning requires both listening and speaking skills. This activity aims to identify some specific situations in which learners may wish to improve their questioning skills.

The teaching points

The learners identify the kinds of situations in which they need to ask questions (these may be in a course or workplace as well as in family and social situations).

Learners consider the ways in which we frame questions for different purposes, audiences and contexts.

Learners practise using strategies to formulate effective questions for a specific purpose, audience and context. Strategies include matching questions to the audience, purpose and context; reframing a statement into a question; using what, when, where, why, how (WWWWH) questions purposefully.


Optional: recordings made of interviews and conversations (see follow-up activity).

The guided teaching and learning sequence

1. Explain the purpose of the activity and discuss situations in which learners have felt uncomfortable about asking questions. Discuss some of their examples, helping them to identify the aspects that may have been difficult. For each example, elicit the purpose of the question, the audience and the context (What did you want to ask? Why? Who was the question to? What was the situation? Were other people there? If so, what effect did this have on you?).

2. From this discussion select two or three kinds of situations to explore. Select situations that are quite different from each other and that will allow for a variety of strategies to be taught and practised.

3. Working with each situation in turn, help the learners ‘unpack’ the demands and how they would need to meet those demands. For example, if a person needed to phone Work and Income about a missed benefit payment, the demands might include locating the right person, making the question clear enough so the Work and Income officer could understand exactly what was being asked, using polite forms and language (words, tone) appropriate to the situation etc.

4. For each situation, clarify exactly what the issue is or what information is needed and show learners how to turn this into a question. Using the WWWWH strategy, identify the kind of question most likely to get the response wanted. (For example, if the problem is “The money hasn’t gone into my account” a suitable question could start with “Why?”: the question becomes “Why hasn’t the money gone into my account?”).

5. Next, work on rewording the question to meet the audience and context. This includes using polite forms and the appropriate level of politeness and formality. (“Could you please check to see why the payment due yesterday has not gone into my bank account?”). Learners can reword questions to have them sound more natural and to meet the purpose and audience.

6. Work through other examples in this way, helping learners to notice how a problem or need for information can be turned into a question, and how the question can be shaped to match the circumstances.

7. Give learners time to practise creating, crafting and using questions with each other to suit a variety of situations, supporting them with constructive feedback. See also the question dice activity in Teaching Adults to Read with Understanding: Using the Learning Progressions.

Follow-up activity

Learners could listen to short parts of audio resources, to critique the questions that are asked by interviewers, friends, a boss and a worker. Note however that these do not provide very clear models: it may be better to use other recordings or to have learners prepare and role play further examples from their own experience or needs. See Appendix G (PDF, 25kB) for a list of sources.


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