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The role of questions posed to young learners
in classroom interaction
by Ali Karakas
- 2

The common findings of previous research demonstrate that all types of questions are posed to learners for a variety of reasons. Display questions outnumber the referential questions; however, referential questions help learners produce more language than do display questions (Long & Sato, 1983; Shomoossi, 2004), and therefore, referential questions should be more frequently posed (Al-Farsi, 2006). However, Shomoossi (2004) also emphasizes that display questions stimulate students especially those beginners to join in interaction and generate language. Finally, Lier (1998) argues that what types of questions are asked does not matter but what matters is how questions can set new tasks and roles for learners to take in classroom interaction (cited in Lynch, 1991), such as being more initiating and active rather than being receptive and passive.

The study

In this current study, a qualitative study, the primary aim is to identify the types of questions posed by one ESL teacher to five young ESL learners in a small amount of teaching hour – 05 min. 37.sec-. The secondary purpose is to look at the impact of questions on learner language production. The participants comprise two boys and three girls and a classroom teacher, the estimated age range of participants is between nine and eleven. The proficiency level of students in English is low but enough to comprehend teacher talk and questions. The main concern of the teacher is to teach the modal 'can' and third person singular's' both in affirmative and interrogative forms. The lesson takes place in a formal ESL classroom setting where English is the sole medium of instruction. The data analyzed were downloaded from YouTube, a well-known video sharing website, through real media player software. Its total duration is 5 minute 37 seconds. The total amount of video was first converted into mp3 file and then transcribed with relevant transcription conventions via software 'sound scriber'. The whole report of the transcript and transcription conventions is provided in appendix X.

Results and findings

The analysis of lesson transcript demonstrated that the ESL classroom teacher posed a significant number of questions in 5-minute-37-second sketch of the recorded classroom interaction. In accordance with the findings of previous research, the teacher asked open and closed, display and referential, and yes-no questions at a wide band of frequencies. To see the overall pattern much clearly, the teacher questions together with their types are presented below:
Table 1: Types of teacher questions posed to students

Types of questions asked
Yes /No
Closed and Display
Open and Referential
Total number /percentage

As is clearly seen in Table 1, less than a third of the teacher-initiated questions comprise yes/no questions, which do not demand learners to generate a large quantity of output. This might be misinterpreted as limited and unproductive interaction on the part of learners. For intermediate and upper level students, it may remain true, but for weak and beginner students, such questions are effective means of getting involved in classroom interaction. Plus, these types of questions keep interaction flow smoothly. To illustrate this issue, Extract 1 is offered below:

Extract 1
1. T: =can fly ok or you can say superman (0.3) fly … superman fly is that good
2. L3: {low}yes
3. T: ok I fly {acts like superman}
4. L2: no=
5. T: =no … you fly
6. L2: no=
7. T: =no but he superman

The teacher is trying to teach third singular –s in an affirmative sentence. He starts the sentence with an expectation that one of the students may complete the sentence. He keeps building the sentence 'superman fly' and asks a yes-no question to direct their attention to the topic. L3 fails to recognize the teacher's intention in asking the question and gives a positive answer. This time the teacher tries to proceed with subjective pronouns 'I' and then 'you' to direct their focus on superman (he) to produce 'flies'. However, students focus on the semantic level of the question and fail to recognize the linguistic point. Though the teacher's attempt was off target, he got students to play a large part in the interaction process.
Another point to be highlighted here is in line 5 that the teacher's questions are not always recognized by interrogatives with a question mark at the end. You fly in line 5 is perceived as a yes-no question due to the teacher's falling intonation. Hence, such affirmatives aimed to elicit responses from learners were treated as yes-no questions in the counting of question types.

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