ESL 'Wh-' Questions: Games & Exercises

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  • 0:04 Teaching ESL Students
  • 1:09 Skip it
  • 2:15 List Quest
  • 3:23 Who Are You?
  • 4:27 Double Jeopardy
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) students to ask and answer questions is a great way to increase vocabulary and comprehension. This lesson describes classroom games and activities for teaching ESL students to ask and answer 'Wh-' questions.

Teaching ESL Students

If you work with English as a Second Language (ESL) students, you know the importance of activities that allow them to speak and listen. After all, your main objective is to teach them to communicate fluently in English so they can successfully interact with English speakers. Direct instruction of vocabulary is a staple in ESL instruction, along with fostering communication skills through asking and answering 'Wh-' questions, such as who, what, where, and when.

How can teachers embed these questions into their curriculum in a way that is engaging and effective? Playing games and doing learning exercises naturally appeal to students. Fun activities give students a safe place to try out new skills and interact socially with peers. You know they're learning, but to them it's just plain fun.

Games and Exercises for 'Wh-' Questions

Whether you use them every day or keep them for special occasions, these games and exercises are sure to help your students improve their language skills. Along with an explanation of the activity, we'll go over the different levels, timeframes, and necessary supplies:

Skip It

Level: Elementary - High School

Timeframe: 15 - 30 minutes

Supplies: 'Wh-' questions written on index cards

Start by dividing students into groups of two and giving each pair a set of 'Wh-' question cards. Model how the game is played first to make sure all students understand.

Students decide who will ask the questions and who will answer; roles will be reversed later on. The question-asker reads a 'Wh-' question from an index card, but the answer person does not answer. After about five seconds, the question-asker reads a second question. At this point, the answer person gives the answer for the first question. The question-asker asks the third question, at which point the answer for the second question is given, and so on.

This game is fun (and funny!) because of the silly answers it appears to give. For example, the first question may be 'What animal has a long neck?' and the second question 'What is your favorite food?' Students answering 'giraffe' to 'What is your favorite food?' is just plain silliness that students love, all the while working on important skills.

List Quest

Level: Middle and High School

Timeframe: 30 - 45 minutes

Supplies: Answer word list, pencils

This fun game requires students to elicit answers from their partner by asking 'Wh-' questions. Start by dividing students into partners. The asking partners are given a list of words (use vocabulary appropriate and aligned to your students' needs). The object is for them to ask questions to prompt their partners to guess the most words on the list.

Give partner 1, the question writer, 5 - 10 minutes to brainstorm 'Wh-' questions to ask. For example, if the word is 'elevator' the question could be 'What takes you up and down in a tall building?' Once all questions are written, have each pair take a turn at asking and answering questions. Set the timer for an amount of time that is challenging for the number of vocabulary words. Allow students to ask and answer as many questions as possible, checking off correct answers. Allow students to skip up to 3 questions to keep the game moving, and make sure they stick to the questions they wrote without giving additional clues. The pair with the most correct words wins.

Who Are You?

Level: Elementary - High School

Timeframe: 15 - 30 Minutes

Supplies: Paper and pencils

This is a great getting-to-know-you activity. Divide students into groups of five or six and have them form their desks into circles, or give them clipboards to use and allow them to sit in circles on the floor. Give each student a piece of paper and pencil and instruct the students to write their name at the top.

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