Comprehension Checks

What

Comprehension Check Questions – or CCQs – are questions you ask during your lesson to confirm that your students understand the material that’s just been presented to them.  They help you to gauge your students’ comfort level with the topic, the difficulty of the topic, and pace at which you should continue the lesson.

CCQs should be brief and require simple answers (yes/no questions and multiple-choice questions are often a good way to go).  Unlike full examples, they don’t need to require a lot of problem-solving.  Often, they are a key sentence that they heard, read, or discovered just minutes ago, rephrased as a question (eg. “Can you use 1st Conditional for something in the past?  Can you use it for the future?”).  If the students answer correctly, you can move on.

 

When

CCQs should be asked after the students have been exposed to a key grammar point.  If your topic has multiple grammar points (or a grammar point broken into multiple parts), you should ask your CCQs at the end of each.  For example, if you’re teaching a tense, you might want to ack a CCQ after your present the form, after the usage, and after the application.

You should certainly ask CCQs as you wrap up the instruction (or discovery) portion of the lesson, before moving on to practice.

 

How

It’s often best to think of these questions when you’re preparing for the lesson.

Simply take a key point of the topic and turn it into a question.  Suppose you’re teaching Indirect Questions using Insight’s methods.  You might then ask: “How many segments are there in an Indirect Question?”  “Can you use ‘if’ as a crux?”  “Do you need to backshift in a Reported Question?”

You can also use mini-examples to check about application, such as “Should you use an Indirect Question to ask a stranger to open a window for you?”

 

Who

As with many questions you ask as the teacher, you shouldn’t simply call on the first person who raises their hand.  That only tells you that they people who are confident in the topic know the answer; for all you know, that could be the minority.

Call out one or two of the quieter students, or students you suspect are more likely to struggle with the topic.  Again, these should be straightforward questions with straightforward answers.

If the CCQ is posed as a Polar Question (like a yes/no question or an either-or question), you can poll the class, asking them to raise their hand for ‘yes’ but keep it lowered for ‘no’, for instance.

 

How Many

Just two or three CCQs at a time should be enough.  It probably shouldn’t take more than twenty seconds unless there’s a problem.  It’s just a quick check that lets you know you can move on (or let you know you need to address something again); there will be time for more in-depth questions later during the practice portion of the lesson.

 

Why

If your students answer the CCQs correctly and confidently, then you can carry on!  But if not, you now know that the students need clarification.  You may need to take a step back and teach part of the topic again (probably in a different way).

Without CCQs, there’s a chance that you could continue through the lesson while some of your students feel lost.  If they don’t understand a topic and you keep moving forward, students are liable to become frustrated, even more confused, or bored.  Some might stop paying attention, since they don’t understand.  If that’s the case, they’re not learning, which means there’s no point in continuing with the lesson just yet.

Teaching a lesson is like taking your students for a hayride.  You have a destination in mind, but you need to periodically make stops to make sure your passengers are still with you.  If some of the riders have fallen off or wandered off, you need to reverse your path and pick them up again.  You don’t want to reach your destination and discover that less than half the class is still with you.

While individual CCQs can guide you in making adjustments within a lesson, seeing a pattern to the CCQ responses over time can be a good indication of how effective the lessons are.  If students often struggle with correctly answering these straightforward questions, perhaps your lessons need an overhaul to better match your students’ level and learning styles.

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