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Helping ESL and EFL Students Ask Information Questions



Importance of Information Questions

Most EFL and ESL students struggle to ask questions in class. They have an especially hard time asking open-ended information questions. If teachers want students to make progress in improving their English language skills, it is necessary to give them the needed tools for asking questions, This article examines the nature of information question words, and how teachers can better guide their students in asking more meaningful questions while searching for knowledge.

What Are Information Question Words and What is Their Importance?

We all use information question words in our daily lives to find out extensive information about people, places, and things. If we did not ask these questions, we would only be confirming or denying what we think we know in close-ended yes or no questions like "Do you live in China?" and "Did you go to school yesterday?" In finding out more about persons, places, and things, we have to ask information questions that begin with the words, who, what, when, where, how, why, which, and whose.

How to Teach EFL and ESL Students to Ask Information Questions

1. Explain The Meaning And Function of Question Words

The first step in teaching EFL and ESL students how to ask information question words is to explain the meaning and function of question words. I would suggest using word associations to explain the meanings of question words. For example, in introducing the meaning of "what," I would associate this word with things like cars and houses, and also with names like Mary and Tom. I would also associate "what" with actions like writing and sleeping.

The function of question words will also help students understand their meanings. Let's consider the question word, "whose." After associating "whose" with words like his, her, your, and yours, I would point out that "whose" and its associations all function as pronouns in sentences.

2, Use Cloze Exercises to Assess Student's Understanding of Question Words

I would do this by providing an underlined answer and then having the student select the correct question word for a question. For instance, the student would be given a sentence like:

_________ did you go yesterday? I went to the mall.

Based on an understanding that "to the mall" is a place, the student would choose the word "where" to put in the blank. As another example, this sentence would be presented:

_________ does he go to school? He goes by bus.

Knowing that "by a bus" is a mode of how one travels, the understanding student would choose the question word "how" to put into the blank.

3. Review The Affirmative of Basic Verb Tenses

Before students can ask informed questions, they must know how to produce affirmative sentences using basic verb tenses. For example, using the present simple, past simple, present continuous, and future tenses, students should be able to generate sentences like:

She goes to school every day, She went to school yesterday,

She is going to school now, She will go to school next month.

4. Review the Structure of Asking Yes or No Questions in All Tenses

After students can comfortably make affirmative sentences in all basic verb tenses, the teacher should move next to show the students how to change these sentences into yes or no questions. The use and placement of auxiliary verbs in questions must be explained and shown. For example, from the affirmative sentences in item 3, the teacher would generate sentences such as:

Does she go to school every day? Did she go to school yesterday?

Is she going to school now? Will she go to school next week?

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Here, the teacher points out the different auxiliaries for the present and past tenses, and he also notes that the infinitive of the verb except for the present continuous is used in question formation.

5. Make Information Questions by Adding Question Words in Front of Yes and No Questions

The final step in most situations is adding the question word at the beginning of the yes or no question. For the yes or no question, "Does he eat dinner?", we can make the following information questions according to what a person wants to know:

When does he eat dinner? Where does he eat dinner?

Why does he eat dinner? How does he eat dinner?

What does he eat (for) dinner? Which does he eat (for) dinner - fish or meat?

Who eats dinner? Whose (food) does he eat for dinner?

How to Ask Questions

Assessing Students Proficiency in Making Information Questions from Sentences

In assessing students' proficiency in making information questions, I suggest creating an exercise in which students have to make questions from statements. Part of an exercise might look like this:

1. _________________________? She went to school at 7:00 A.M.

2. _________________________? They go to the market by taxi.

If nothing is underlined in the statements, correct answers for number one could be: Where did she go at 7:00 A.M.?; When or what time did she go to school?; or Who went to school? Possible answers for number two are: How do they go to school?; Where do they go by taxi?; or Who goes to school by taxi?

Asking questions will always be one of the hardest things for students to do. If the teacher follows the steps in this hub in asking questions, he or she will go a long way in helping EFL and ESL students develop their English skills. With all things, only practice will make perfect.

Teaching ESL Students How to Ask Information Questions

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on August 03, 2013:


Thank you so much for reading and commenting on this ESL hub. So many of my students have difficulty asking information questions. One of the problems is that the students don't practice enough asking these questions. Thanks for the votes, sharing, pinning. and tweeting. I really appreciate it.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on August 02, 2013:

Paul, a very interesting way to make the understanding of information question words, easier to comprehend. These exercises make it simple to do so.

Voted up, useful, interesting. Shared, pinned, tweeted and shared on facebook.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on March 27, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by and the favorable review. I, too, use this concept when I am teaching composition.

justmesuzanne from Texas on March 26, 2012:

Very nice and useful exercises! I am a big fan of the 5Ws + H! I use this concept as the basis for a number of different lessons - especially composition! Voted up and useful! :)

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