Have you asked yourself lately if you are challenging your students enough?  Are you giving them opportunities to think for themselves, learn by doing and even make mistakes?  After all, this is also part of the learning process.

In this blog post, I am going to reflect on some strategies we can use as teachers to keep our students´ brains ticking over.  As Agatha Christie once wisely said when the human mind thinks for itself, this original thinking may have valuable results.


Let´s start with concept questions, which are used to check learners´ understanding of a language item.  Imagine you are teaching professions and you want to check if your students know the word “nurse”.  You could challenge your students by asking the following questions:  Where does a nurse work? (hospital/clinic…); Does a nurse work during the day or night?  (both); What does a nurse do?  (give medicine/check temperature…).  If your students respond suitably, then you know they have got it.  When you ask a concept question that requires a yes/no answer, for example Does a nurse work in a hospital?, first you can´t be totally sure they have really understood the concept as they will probably respond saying “yes” or “no” and, second, you are not giving them the opportunity to practice the language using their repertoire of vocabulary.  There are a few things to remember when asking concept questions:  try not to use unfamiliar language which is above the students´ language level; think about the kind of questions you are going to ask beforehand so that they are sensible ones and a sprinkling of sense of humour is always a recipe for success. 


We hear plenty about 21st century skills nowadays and how students need to be adept at working in groups, critical thinking and digital literacy to survive in the job market.  High Order Thinking (HOT) skills involve critical, logical, reflective, metacognitive and creative thinking. They also require different learning and teaching methods rather than just learning facts and rote memorisation techniques.  Giving your students the chance to engage in decision making, prioritizing, strategizing and collaborative problem solving will help them develop these important skills and get them practising the language.  Debates, task based learning, communicative activities and anything that encourages your students to speak and listen to each other is essential. 

The way you respond to your students´ questions also helps them to grow and reflect.  According to an article, the author suggests there are 7 levels to promote high order thinking skills when answering a question.  In this case, a child asks his/her teacher/parent the following question:  Why do I have to eat vegetables?  Take a look at the table below to see the different ways this question could be answered:

LEVEL 1: Reject the question “Don’t ask me any more questions.” “Because I said so.”  
LEVEL 2: Restate or almost restate the question as a response   “Because you have to eat your vegetables.”  
LEVEL 3: Admit ignorance or present information   “I don’t know, but that’s a good question.”  
LEVEL 4: Voice encouragement to seek response through authority   “Let’s look that up on the internet.”
“Who do we know that might know the answer to that?”
LEVEL 5: Encourage brainstorming, or consideration of alternative explanations   “Let’s brainstorm some possible answers.”
“Maybe it’s because…”
LEVEL 6: Encourage consideration of alternative explanations and a means of evaluating them   “Now how are we going to evaluate the possible answer? Where would we find that information? Information on diet?
LEVEL 7: Encourage consideration of alternative explanations plus a means of evaluating them, and follow-through on evaluations   “Okay, let’s go find the information for a few days — we’ll search through books and the Internet, make telephone calls, conduct interviews, and other things. Then we will get back together next week and evaluate our findings.”

As teachers, we can make a difference in our students´ lives.  By challenging them with the choice of words we use can have amazing results.  If we get them to use their brains rather than spoonfeeding information, this can only be healthy for personal growth.  It takes a bit more effort for us to think about how to pose these challenges to them and may take up a bit of extra time, but perhaps it is worth it in the long run.

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