Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Questions Questions Questions

by AJ

As I continue to use TPR Storytelling, I realize just how vital questions are. They are, in fact, the driving force behind the technique... the thing that dramatically boosts the language acquisition power of the stories.

Ive also thought a lot about the Focal Skills movie technique. Unfortunately, I have not yet had the opportunity to use this technique regularly. My few sporadic attempts did not go well.... mostly because I was unsure and I rushed. But there was another problem... I didnt ask enough questions.

I now think Id use, basically, the same approach with movies as I am trying to use with TPR Storytelling. In other words... tons of questions that repeat the vocab (and grammar) in a variety of contexts.

Blaine Ray warns teachers not to underestimate the power of frequent and repetitive questions. Our tendency as native speakers is to get bored quickly and think "this is too easy". Im guilty of this. Ill rush through a story... getting maybe 10 repetitions of each key word. 50-100 is ideal.

Thus, when you tell a line in a story... you follow it up not with one or two questions... but with 5 or more.

Example (lets assume "boy"/"girl" and "neighborhood" are targets) :

There is a boy.
Is there a girl? (no)
Is there a boy? (yes)
There is a boy, how old is he? (students decide)
Is he a nice boy or a mean boy?
What is the boy's name?

OK then. There is a nice boy. He is 12 years old and his name is Bill. He is walking in a bad neighborhood.
Is he walking in a bad neighborhood? (yes)
What kind of neighborhood is he walking in? (bad)
Is it a safe neighborhood? (no, its a bad neighborhood)
Where is the bad neighborhood? (students decide)
What is the name of the neighborhood? (students decide)
What is he doing in the neighborhood? (students make something up)

Another way to get repetitions is to re-state the students answers each time., ie. "Ahh, the bad neighborhood is in New York".

Obviously, for a native speaker, this seems banal and unnecessary. But not so for a foreign language student. Most will (and do) appreciate the repetition.... it helps them understand the word in context and it cements the word in their memory. It does the same thing for the grammar structures. And in both cases (grammar and vocab), there is no need for the student to willfully memorize or "study" to remember and use them correctly.

I think the same approach could be used with the movie technique. In addition to narrating each scene and tossing in a few questions... why not pick out a few words/phrases and repeat them with a variety of questions. Really work over each scene to maximize comprehension (and thus acquisition). This will stretch the movie out for many classes, but thats OK. After all, unless you're working with advanced students.... most will appreciate the boost in comprehension and tolerate the constant pauses in the movie. (Advanced students require few, if any, pauses. Best to focus their questions on plot twists, character motivation, issues brought up by the movie, etc... ie. a sheltered content approach).