As part of our series of posts on English for Academic Purposes, Jennifer Bixby, a teacher and author in the U.S., examines a question-based approach to teaching English and developing critical thinking skills.
Let’s start by changing the topic to “why are thought-provoking questions a good way to stimulate language learners?”
English Language Learners are bombarded with questions in the classroom, but most of the questions are predictable. They are questions that either the teacher or the student already knows the answer to. “Where are you from? What’s happening in this photo? What’s the main idea of this paragraph?”
These types of questions are the building blocks for language learning, especially at the lower levels, but let’s admit it – they can be a bit tiresome for all involved. Why? Because they don’t push us to think very deeply.
Thought-provoking questions are an entirely different matter, and these are the questions that intrigue me. What can I ask that will make my students pause and think before answering? Is it a question that would also make me stop and think? Is it a question that doesn’t have an easy, yes or no answer?
Take, for example, the question “Is it ever OK to lie?” Now that is a question that we might initially answer with “No,” but think about it again. It’s not so simple, right? It begs for deeper thinking, and it can lead students to think more carefully. So this question passes my stop-and-think test.