Giving Instructions in an ESL Classroom

The ability to clearly give instructions is vital to successfully teaching an ESL class. Instructions need to be clear, short, and informative.  Instructions work well when they are followed by CCQs, or a concept check question.   CCQs are a way to ensure a student understands but doesn’t offer them the answer.  Instead CCQs promote a student to express themselves actively instead of passively agreeing.

“Now what you need to do is to please stand up and find a partner for this next exercise so the two of you can exchange ideas on the subject of dating and how young people actually meet in your countries.”

Could be better expressed by saying, “We are going to stand up.  Each person is going to have a partner.  The partners are going to discuss ideas about ‘dating.’  Several CCQs to follow up could be, “What is everyone going to do?” or “what topics could you discuss?”

“Well that´s an interesting answer but not really the one I was expecting…could you please try to answer it again and give us the tense of the verb this time rather than the answer you just gave?”  Could be better stated by saying, “Monica yesterday gave us an example about (topic) yesterday.  Could anyone provide us with a similar example.”  In order to ask CCQs I would ask, “Why would an example like Monica’s be helpful?”  If someone responded and gave an example paralleling Monica’s I would then ask a CCQ like, “How is (the student name)’s example like Monica’s?”

Instead of saying “If you could just hurry up a bit…we only have another ten minutes before we´ll have used up all of our time today!” one could say, “We only have ten more minutes left.  We’ve used a lot of time today learning but now we have to hurry a little.”  To follow up with CCQs I would ask, “What did we discuss today?” or “Why do we have to hurry?”

“Let´s practice with the conditional. Just imagine that you had as much money as you´d ever want. Tell us, what would you do with all of that money if you had say a million dollars?…or as much money as you could imagine?” I would say, “Now we are going to practice the conditional tense.  There are different ways of using the conditional.  One way of using the conditional is how we speak about something if it hasn’t happened yet.  For example if I had a million dollars I would buy a house.   Could anyone give an example of a conditional?”  To follow up with CCQs I would ask, “How is (student’s name) an example of the conditional?” or “Could someone define what a conditional sentence is?”  In order to make sure students understand conditional sentence structure I could also use negative checking, “Do make a conditional do is say “if I was?”

Concept checking questions are an efficient way to elicit information without asking, “do you understand?”  There are many ways to formulate CCQs for different situations.  A good start to formulating CCQs is by asking questions that begin with who, what, where, when, how.  It’s also a great idea to formulate CCQs beforehand that are relevant for class activities.