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The role of questions posed to young learners
in classroom interaction
by Ali Karakas
- 3

Closed and display questions constitute almost one-third of the questions. Similar to yes-no questions, they do not initiate long answers when posed to learners. Generally, the teacher applies these questions to get the learner to be active and to provide weak learners with opportunity to be involved in interaction, which are illuminated in Extract 2:

Extract 2
8. T: so what are these {teacher shows a few comics to learners}
9. L1: com
10. T: comics {teacher leans towards L1 to hear what she says}
11. L1: comics {humming}

The selection of comics as a classroom material serves a purpose. First, comics are interesting for young learners and they might know some words and characters. The purpose of the teacher is to make learners contribute to classroom interaction. For young learners, answering even a simple question with a few English words is of great significance since it makes them feel like a participant in the interaction.
Open and referential questions are the most frequently asked questions according to table, more than one-third of the total questions. These questions are expected to generate more language by the learners. Although a number of responses to open and referential questions consist of single-words, they enabled learners to produce slightly more than one-word answers. Here is an example from the transcript:

Extract 3
12. T: =climb ok good … he can climb {writes the word on the board} ok what else
13. L2: jump
14. T: jump {writes the word on the board} ok "wals"
15. L4: (low) climb the web

The teacher's question 'what else' is open and referential, that's why a range of possible answers in different length can be produced by learners as seen in lines 13 and 15. Though students were exposed exactly to the same questions, their amount of output differs – jump in line 13 vs climb the web line 15. It may result from the differences in their proficiency levels. However, what counts here is that open and referential questions create more space for language production.

Discussion and conclusion

The current study explored the questions posed to young learners in ESL classroom. Three types of questions were identified with different range of frequencies: yes-no, display and closed and open and referential. Contrary to the findings of previous studies (e.g. Al-Farsi, 2006; David, 2007), open and referential questions outnumbered the other types of questions. However, in terms of producing more language by participants, open and referential questions were seen to be more effective compared to yes-no and display and closed questions.

The teacher's questions generally aimed to engage learners in interaction, to direct their attention to the topic of the lesson, to learn about their opinions, ideas and facts and to check their understanding and knowledge. Considering their proficiency of English, it can be claimed that their participation in classroom was good enough to keep interaction smoothly continuing. Even if their answers were short, the fact that they could answer the questions is a mark that they could comprehend the teacher talk and interpret the questions and provide responses. As mentioned earlier, what matters for us is not the types of questions asked but how we can pose questions to students to be more interactive in the classroom and how we can reverse the roles between teachers and learners by making learners more active as questioners and teachers more receptive as answerers.


Transcription Conventions
= latching
… short pause (unmeasured)
(0.3) measured pause
[ ] overlapping speech
*** unintelligible speech
{ } non-verbal behavior
" " spelling may be wrong
: sound stretching
SS students' collective answer


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(Ed.) (2006) Classroom Research in English Language Teaching in Oman. Muscat: Ministry of Education, Oman
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Darn, S. & Çetin, F. (2008). Asking Questions, BBC/British Council Teaching English. retrieved on 10.11.2011.
David, O. F. (2007). Teacher's Questioning Behaviour and ESL Classroom Interaction Pattern. Humanity & Social Sciences Journal, 2 (22): 127-131
Long, M. H. & Sato, C. J. (1983). Classroom Foreigner Talk Discourse: Forms and Functions of Teacher's Questions. TESOL Quarterly, 15: 26-30.
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Shomoossi, N. (2004). The Effect of Teacher's Questioning behaviour on ESL Classroom Interaction: A Classroom Research Study. The Reading Matrix, 4, (2): 96-1004.
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Ali Karakas is a Research Assistant  at Mehmet Akif Ersoy University, Burdur, Turkey. He holds BA in ELT at Uludag  University,Turkey and is currently an Integrated PHD student in Southampton University, UK . He can be contacted at the following email address: Ali

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