English Language; Drama & Speech; Social Etiquette. Est. 1986, Hong Kong


15 April 2016

Checking Understanding

English as a second language (ESL) teachers learn how to “concept check” – that is, checking the understanding of difficult aspects of the grammar or sentence in terms of function and meaning. This is important since learners must fully understand the structure before practicing what they have just learnt.

Ways of checking understanding is by “concept checking” which is designing a set of questions to ensure comprehension of the target language, raise awareness of its problems, and to indicate to the teacher that the learners have fully understood.

“Do you understand?” is not a concept-check question as learners do not want to admit truthfully that they might not fully understand what you have just said. They might just say “yes”.

Concept-check questions themselves are often difficult to construct since they involve clarifying function and meaning using simple language but not the language/concept being taught.

Although concept-check questions are part of an ESL teacher’s toolkit, parents, who often help with their children’s homework would benefit in knowing how to ask such questions.

Some basic tips for good concept questions are:

  • Make sure the questions are simple and that no difficult language is required to answer the question. Yes/no questions, either/or questions and simple “wh” questions are particularly effective
  • Don’t use the new (target) grammar/concept in your question
  • Don’t use unfamiliar vocabulary

Some examples
The following example shows how a concept question could be used to help differentiate between the main functions of the present simple and present continuous.

Target sentence: Look! They’re cooking a cake.

Checking questions
Is it happening now? Yes
Can you see it? Yes
Is the painting finished? No
Are they painting now? Yes
Is this the past, present or future? Present