This is the first (hopefully) in a series of posts going Back to Basics, re-examining techniques and ideas introduced on teacher training courses.
What is concept checking?
The British Council Teaching English website defines concept checking simply as
finding out if a learner has understood a new item.
With concrete items, this could be as simple as asking a learner to point to an object in the room. With more abstract ideas, this could be targeted questions to explore the parameters of meaning.
Why is it useful?
Concept checking can help the teacher to see beyond doubt that the student has understood. Asking the class ‘do you understand?’ is not so useful as it doesn’t demonstrate the learners’ understanding.
What can it be used for?
The most obvious use for concept checking questions is vocabulary. They can also be useful for grammatical structures and ideas.
Concept Checking Vocabulary
Let’s look at a lexical item in context:
Last Easter, we took the overnight ferry from Palermo to Naples.
Possible concept checking questions
- Is a ferry small or large? large
- Is a ferry fast or slow? slow
- Is a ferry for people or industry? people and industry
- Can you take your car on a ferry? yes
- Where else can you go by ferry from Palermo? Genova, Citavecchia, Tunisia, Ustica
- Which boat is a ferry? (Showing flashcard) learners point
- Have you ever been on a ferry? Where did you go? students’ own answers.
Concept Checking Grammar
Let’s look at a grammatical structure in context:
By December, Sophie will have been living in Paris for 3 years. (It is now June 2014).
Possible concept checking questions
- Does Sophie live in Paris now? Yes
- Has she always lived in Paris? No
- When did she move to Paris? 2 1/2 years ago or December 2011.
- Will she be in Paris in December? Yes
- So is this sentence talking about the past, the present or the future? The past, the present and the future.
How can you write a good concept checking questions?
1. First, take a good monolingual dictionary to check the core meaning of the lexical item, or a good grammar reference book to check the meaning of the structure.
2. Write down the core meaning.
3. Turn these sentences into simple questions.
E.g. I visited a charming old village full of quaint houses.
2. Core meaning
It is interesting… It is attractive… It is unusual… It is old-fashioned.
3. Concept checking questions
Are the houses interesting or boring? interesting
Are they attractive or ugly? attractive
Are they normal or strange? strange
Are they old-fashioned or modern? old-fashioned
Different types of concept checking questions.
Display questions and referential questions
Display questions are those which the teacher already knows the answer to and is simply asking to check the core meaning. There is a clear right or wrong answer.
Referential questions are real questions, they are more open and the students can respond more freely and personally.
E.g. We went to a really bustling market full of life.
Display question Are there a lot of people or very few people in a bustling area?
Referential question Where is a bustling area in your city?
It is good to use a variety of question types, it is more logical perhaps to begin with display questions then move on to referential questions.
Display questions can be:
- Closed questions E.g. Is a test-tube big or small?
- Open questions E.g. What can you buy in a newsagent’s?
- Trick questions E.g. So, when you are made redundant, you did something wrong at work, right?
- Sentence finishers E.g. A screwdriver is used for…
- Checking the context rather than the concept. E.g. ‘He didn’t know the answer to the exam question so he made something up‘. CCQ – ‘Did he pass the exam?’ (This does not check the meaning of the phrasal verb ‘make up’).
- Using language more difficult than the item being checked. E.g. ‘When Bill arrived, we were having lunch’. CCQ – ‘Had we already started lunch when Bill arrived? (If teaching the past continuous, the students are unlikely to have much awareness of the past perfect).
- Using the target language in the CCQ. E.g. He hasn’t finished his homework yet. CCQ – ‘Has he already finished?’ (Checking the present perfect with the present perfect).
- Using CCQs unnecessarily. E.g. Teacher shows the class a picture of an eagle in flight and asks a CCQ – ‘Can an eagle fly?’ (Bemused look from students!)
Good concept checking questions should:
- Relate to a model sentence in some sort of context.
- Be thought out carefully at the planning stage to ensure the core meaning is being checked.
- Be easy to answer – yes/no, one-word answers.
- Be surrounded by language which is easy to understand.