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Using questionnaires in class

By Alex Case
Imaginative ways to create and make use of questionnaires in class.

1. Shortened questions
One problem with using questionnaires in class is that the student asking the question is often just reading out the question on the sheet and so probably not improving their English at all- as well as using very unnatural pronunciation. There is also the chance that the person reading out the question doesn’t even understand it. One solution is to give shortened question prompts on the questionnaire, e.g. “favourite foods” rather than “What are your favourite foods?”

2. Just boxes
The idea above can still lead to the students thinking there is one question that they must produce from each prompt. This can lead to very controlled practice and a lack of real communication, as they are not necessarily asking questions they really want an answer to. One solution is to replace the list of questions with a series of boxes with very general categories, e.g. “Skills” and “Hobbies”. Students can then ask several questions of their own making for each box, perhaps after the teacher has brainstormed some possible questions for each one.

3. Questions given, options not
Another way of allowing students some freedom when they ask the questions while keeping them on track and not expecting too much creativity from them is to give them the question and allow them to make up the options their partner can choose from, e.g. by the student adding “angry/ slightly annoyed/ unconcerned/ amused” to the question “How would you feel if your sister said she had appeared in a porno film?” These possible responses can be written by each person before they ask the questions in pairs. Alternatively, they can be written in groups and then asked in pairs, or just made up as they ask the questions.

4. Questions given, options some
If you lack class time or have students who need some persuading to come up with their own ideas, you can give them the question as above but also give them some of the possible answers. They are then only left to make up one or two responses each time, e.g. “What is the best way to improve your listening, do you think? Watching movies with English subtitles, listening to English language radio, _______________, or ____________________” (with the gaps being places that the person asking the questions should write in or improvise possible answers).

5. Categories given, questions not
This is another way to give the person asking some freedom whilst keeping them on track, by giving them instructions like “All questions must be in the Simple Past” or “All questions must use ‘should'”

6. Questions given, choose the best
This gives the students a bit of freedom and a reason to read the questions carefully, while making sure they use the kinds of questions that you want them to and giving them a model for future grammar presentations, freer speaking etc. For example, students choose five of the ten questions that they think best analyse how extrovert or introvert people are, and then ask them to their partner.

7. Really listen
Another common problem is that the students who are being asked the question just find it on their copy of the questionnaire and read it rather than really listening. This is easily solved by only giving the questionnaire to half the students, and telling them not to show it to their partner. When they are ready to switch, the first person then turns over their copy of the questionnaire or passes it to the teacher, and the second person receives a copy that they can question their partner with.

8. Different student A and student B questionnaires
The techniques described in Really Listen above still leave the problem that students who asked the questions first and then answered them the second time around have already read the questions and so don’t need to listen carefully when answering them. This can be solved by allowing people to come up with different options when answering as suggested in Questions Given Options Not above, or you can simply give the students in each pair different questions to ask.

9. Guess your partner’s answers and then ask and check
The third potential problem with questionnaires is that the person asking might not be particularly interested in the answer- maybe jotting it down without any reaction, follow up questions, or even comprehension. The best general technique for dealing with this is to get the person asking the question to do something with the answers they get, and then to feed that back to the person who answered the questions and/ or the whole class. In this case, that could be telling them “That’s what I thought (your answer would be)” or finding which person in the class made the most correct predictions.

10. Predict the class’s answers, then ask around the class to check
Students can also guess which of the possible answers most of the students in the class will choose, and then ask their partners. They then put all the answers together as a class or mingle and ask everybody.

11. Write a similar questionnaire
Students use the model they are given to try and write a similar questionnaire, e.g. writing another questionnaire that also analyses people’s preferred learning style or using similar questions (e.g. the same tense) to test a different point such as how moral people are.

12. Improvise similar questions
Instead of writing a similar questionnaire as suggested above, students can try to make the questions up while they are speaking.

13. Improve the questionnaire
Rather than writing a new questionnaire, students can improve the one they have been given, e.g. by rewriting the possible answers.

14. Guess the questionnaire
Another good way of increasing the interest of students and therefore how much attention they pay is to give the students answering the questions a task. One possibility is to ask them to guess what the topic of the questionnaire is as they listen to and answer the questions.

15. Judge/ feedback on the questions
For example, discuss which they thought was the best or worst question they had to answer.

Written by Alex Case for Tefl.NET May 2009
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
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