Question and Answer Sets - Introduction

Thor May

Short question and answer sequences can be used in many ways, and with many levels of students.

The Q&A sets in this section have been devised to meet the needs of two-year liberal arts college students in South Korea. These students have been exposed to six years of secondary school English, and have accumulated a certain amount of passive vocabulary. In general, they are unable to use this vocabulary to generate spontaneous sentences. Nor have the grammar-translation teaching methods of that experience left them with much inner sense of what constitutes an English clause or sentence, or a question. In general they have no idea of English intonation structure.

Given the legacy just explained, I have found that the best strategy with these students is to give them short, interesting texts or dialogues to memorize. Memorization is one task at which they will work hard. It offers a certain security, and a clear measure of personal achievement. Once a script has been internalized, then (and only then) is it useful to use it as a medium for exchange, analysis and discussion with students. I have also found that the whole memorization activity works much better with students standing around of the walls of the classroom, where the teacher can approach them one by one. Perhaps this is a matter of escaping the conditioned habits of sitting at a desk, or perhaps the neural engagement with a motor activity helps, or both.

The Q&A sets are a good framework for pair work. Once a pair can perform the set from memory, then their roles may be reversed. I notice that some students who find it impossible to focus when working alone, can learn quite effectively in this kind of paired situation. On the other hand, some others greatly prefer to operate singly, even when they are supposed to be in "pairs". Because questions rely a good deal on intonation, these Q&A sets are also excellent vehicles for developing English expressive styles.

The final response in the Q&A sets usually involves a number of possible answers. Some students will enjoy inventing their own alternatives, while others will happily lean on the list of offered alternatives. Once a set is mastered, the final response can be used in a game or test to evoke the exchange which led to it.

Thor May
Busan, South Korea
November 2002

"Question & Answer Sets Introduction" copyrighted to Thor May; all rights reserved 2002

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