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15 ideas for checking answers

Checking answers (to homework, as well as exercises done during the lesson) is a part of class often described by teachers and students as boring, slow and not all that engaging for anyone. Naturally, we check these answers for a variety of reasons, such as for marking, for noting student progress, and in order to check if the students have understood the language point in question. However, in my experience both as a teacher and as an observer, the time spent checking answers in class is often the part of the lesson where a lot of time is spent that is of no benefit to any of the learners. In short, the teacher is checking answers just because it is expected that the teacher will check the answers.

I don’t want to get too deep into methodology here, but rather to dispel the notion that it is our duty as teachers to check every answer to every exercise the students have done, and also to offer a few suggestions as to how we can make this whole process more engaging and beneficial for the learners.

1. Let the learners compare their answers first.

Speaking from experience as a language learner, I always appreciated the opportunity to have a look at my partner’s answers to make sure I wasn’t completely off the mark (and so didn’t have to worry so much about making a fool of myself when called upon).  By letting the students compare their answers, it means they’ll have more confidence in them (and so they will be more likely to volunteer them) and also gives them an opportunity for the learners to use English to explain why they chose answer A instead of B, etc.

This is, for me, the golden rule of checking answers in class:  we want to get the learners to use English in their discussions / comparisons of their answers. In general, students are often resistant to this at first, but if we can get them use to it then comparing answers later becomes an opportunity for the students to speak and use many of the language structures they’ve learned in class (e.g. modals: “the answer must be A”).

2. Alternate between asking for volunteers and nominating students to give the answer.

We’ve all taught classes with students who dominate question / answer time.  This is a way to simply get more (if not all) of the students involved in the process of checking answers.

3. Random Order

Instead of just going through the questions linearly (i.e. 1,2,3,4,5), elicit the answers to the questions randomly.  This will hopefully keep the students alert, and helps prevent them from simply anticipating what question they are likely to get.

4. Let the students decide which questions to answer

A variation of the above- nominate a student and let them decide which question to answer.  This is good for weaker students, as it allows them to answer questions that they are more confident they have correct.

5. ‘Randomly’ call on students with correct answers

For activities done in class, you can walk around the class, monitoring and offering help, then ‘randomly’ call on the students who have the correct answers.  This, again, is nice for giving students confidence in speaking and offering up their answers in class.

6. Let students nominate each other

Easy and fun to do- nominate the first student, then allow this student to choose who will answer the next question.  Variations of this include using a ball in class (the student throws the ball to the student they want to answer next).

7. Read out the questions randomly at normal speed.

After the learners have completed the exercises and compared their answers,  you can give the learners a bit of authentic listening practice by reading out the questions randomly, but at your normal speed.  This makes the process at bit more different (naturally) for the learners, but if done regularly could help them become more aware of features of natural speech, such as weak forms, connected speech, etc.

8. Hold off on confirming if an answer is correct or incorrect

I think it’s a teacher’s instinct to tell a student if their answer is correct or incorrect straightaway, but discussion in class among the students can be generated by simply waiting a bit (thus giving the other students a chance to agree or disagree) or by nominating another student in the class and asking “do you agree?.”

9. Just give the students the answers

When I first started teaching, I considered this to be the ‘lazy-way’ to check answers, but it’s what I do most of the time now.  Simply give the students the answers on a handout or put it on the blackboard or OHP, and give the students time to check their answers and ask questions.  If there are no questions, then move on.

When I taught in a private language school (where marks were not given) I would often give the students the answers to the homework and set aside a few minutes at the start of class for questions or problems with the homework.

10. Put the answers on the board or OHP in the wrong order

When dealing with a relatively low number of multiple-choice questions (I certainly wouldn’t do this with 50 answers)to check , you can simply put the answers (not the numbers of course) on the board in a random order and let the students work out in groups.  If you wanted to turn this into a full-speaking activity then you could also put a few functional phrases (such as modals “Number 5 could be A” or even basic conditional structures “If 5 is A, then 6 must be C” etc. )on the board for the students to use in their groups as they work out which answer goes with which question.

11. Easy-First Game

A Variation of number 4 above.  Put the groups into teams.  The teams first compare their answers, then, in turn, each team gets to choose one of the questions to answer.  If they answer correctly, they get a point, if they answer incorrectly then the next team has an opportunity to answer.

12. Snake game

Put numbers of questions on board in rows and/or columns as shown below.  You could even put the numbers randomly if you want.

 1    2    3    4    5

 6    7    8    9   10

11   12   13   14   15

16   17   18   19   20

Again, the students work in teams.  This time, the goal of the game is for each team to have the longest ‘snake.’  So, for example, in the first round a team answers number 1 correctly.  In the next round, if they answered number 2 or 6 or 7 correctly (the snake can only move 1 space vertically or diagonally) then these two numbers would be connected.

This game is nice with competitive groups as a bit of strategy is involved in blocking the other teams movement, etc.

The problem, for me, is often keeping track of which snake belongs to which team.  Either different color markers or assigning a different shape (circle, square, triangle) to each team helps keep everything clear.

Again, encourage the students to use English when they’re talking in their groups.

13. Using a copy of a listening tapescript

If checking the answers to a listening task (or reading task), allow the students to read (or read while they listen again) and find / mark the passages in the listening where the answers are.  Following this, the students can compare their answers and, in theory, should be able to explain why the answer they’ve chosen is correct.

A variation of this is to give the students the correct answers and have the students use the text / tapescript to explain why the answers are correct.

14. Exploit the vocabulary in the questions / answers

Ask the students if they know a synonym or antonym of one of the words in the question / answer, or with higher level groups, ask if anyone can rephrase the question or answer in a different way but with the same meaning.

15. Working with mistakes

While part of the job does entail testing the students from time to time, most of the tasks we do in the classroom are not meant to be tests. As such, mistakes shouldn’t be viewed in a negative light, e.g. that the learners have failed to master a particular language point, but instead are a natural part of the learning process.

So anytime we can get the learners to reflect on their mistakes and examine why they got a particular exercise wrong (e.g. due to a difference between their L1 and English, or are they possibly confusing two different structures that are similar in appearance, such as “Used to” and “be used to”, etc), we’re not only helping them notice and internalize the language point in question and approach similar tasks more effectively in the future, but also giving them the tools to become more reflective, autonomous, successful language learners.


John Rogers is an American who’s been teaching in the Czech Republic for some years.


Written by Guest Writer for TEFL.net June 2010

5 Comments

  • Gabriel Choc says:

    I love to play the “fruit cocktail” with my students.
    1. You assign a fruit to each student -2. Students need to stand up and find a chair 3. The last one to sit gives the answer. They love it.

  • Anastasia says:

    Thank you! I had already used some of the technics before I read your ideas, but the other part I found really exciting! Especially the one with answers in random order on the board, or Snake Game.

  • ernesto says:

    many of these sound like really interesting ways to go over answers!!!

  • Saira says:

    Made a boring work turned into interesting activities.

  • Nab Raj pant says:

    I liked them all. Some of them I have been applying in the classroom the rest are new. I will apply them so far as practicabele.

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TEFL.net : TEFL Articles : Teacher Technique : 15 ideas for checking answers