Question words are difficult for English language learners. Trying to keep track of which question word will result in which type of answer can be confusing. Therefore, I spend a lot of time teaching, reviewing, and practicing question words. Over the years I’ve developed a series of lessons, materials, and activities that help students learn question words from the first introduction to understanding and using them in conversation. Today I’d like to explain to you some of the resources I use to introduce and do early practice with question words. Then I’m going to tell you about two of my student’s favorite games to play when practicing (both are free!). Finally, on Thursday, I’ll share some of the more advanced practice activities we do (again, two are free!).
One of the poster sets that goes on my wall before school even begins, and doesn’t come down again until school is over, is my 5 W’s question words. The posters themselves are simple, five large W’s (each prints on its own letter size piece of cardstock) with a question word, the type of answer it produces, and a picture, but they become frequently referenced anchor charts for my students. I laminated them with my cold laminator, and I’ve been using the same set for a decade now with no problems.
When it comes time to explicitly teach question words, I always start with foldable notes. The front has the eight main question words (who, what, when, where, why, which, how, how many) in outline font so students can color them. The students cut under each word, creating flaps that can be lifted to see the notes. On the back of the flap students write the type of answer each question word produces (i.e.: who = person), and on the area under the flap they write an example question and answer. Since I am all digital this semester, I created a digital notes version. In the digital version, students click the question word to go to the appropriate slide. On the slide they list a translation, type of answer, and example question and answer. Each slide then has a button that will link back to the top list of question words.
After creating our notes sets, my students like to start practicing with question words by using the match up boards that my father designed and built for me. These boards were inspired by the learning wrap-ups that I, and many others, used as a kid to practice basic math facts. Since I couldn’t make new boards for every set of vocabulary I wanted to practice, my father designed boards that I could slide cardstock cards in and out of, and my students could use rubber bands to match the vocabulary to the definition, picture, answer, or anything else I chose to put on the other side. My question words match up card set has three different cards. The first card asks the students to match the wh– word with the type of answer it elicits and a picture. The second card asks students to match the wh– word with the correct question (there is a blank line instead of the wh– word). The third card asks students to match the wh– word with a short answer. Again, since we are virtual this semester (and it’s looking more and more like next semester will be as well), I created a digital version of the match up cards. The digital version does not require the boards, but all of the matching items are the same. Rather than using rubber bands to indicate their matches, students stretch provided lines from one side to the other.
Once students have gotten relatively familiar with the question words and the answers they each produce, it’s time for our first game. Beach Ball Questions is one of my students’ favorite games to play, I think because they get to throw a ball around the classroom. All that is required to prep this game is a beach ball and a Sharpie marker. Blow up the ball and use the marker to write a question word in huge letters, one for each section of the ball. Allow the writing to dry, deflate, take to school, reinflate, and you are ready to play. Students gather in a circle and I start the game by tossing the ball in the air and catching it with two hands. Using whatever question word my right thumb is on, I ask a question before tossing the ball to another player. The person who catches the ball must first use a complete sentence to answer my question, then he/she asks a new question that begins with whatever word his/her right thumb is on. Play continues in this manner for as long or short as you like. I encourage students to not repeat questions, and sometimes I will help them think of one if they can’t come up with something new. During our question word unit I keep the beach ball at school, and whenever we have an extra couple minutes at the end of class I’ll grab it and we’ll play for awhile. It’s a great way to get out of our seats and practice our speaking and listening skills, as well as our question word vocabulary.
The second practice game we like to play (which you can download for free using the links above or in this paragraph) is Escape! The Question Grid. The goal of this game is to move from one side of the grid to the other by asking and answering questions. Students choose one side of the grid (one student per side), and any question word on that side, from which to start. On a student’s turn, he/she answers the question asked by the previous student, indicates which square he/she would like to claim (it must have at least one side touching a square which already belongs to the student), and asks a question using the word in the square. If the question is grammatically correct, the student uses his/her dry erase marker to color in the square on the laminated grid. The next player then takes his/her turn. Play continues until one student reaches the opposite side and escapes the grid. A digital version of Escape! The Question Grid is also available. In the digital version students must type their questions onto the provided rectangles, and then drag and drop the rectangle onto the square they are claiming. There is also a variant of the game that includes bridges. The bridges, limited to five per player, can be used to cross over a square previously claimed by an opponent. In order to deploy a bridge, a student must type a complete sentence answer to the question posed on the cover of the square he/she wishes to cross over. The use of the bridge constitutes the player’s turn, but does open up more spaces for him/her to claim in the future. Though this game takes a bit more prep work than Beach Ball Questions, and can’t be as easily used as a time filler at the end of a lesson, it is still a very fun practice game. I especially like it because we can play it over and over again since the questions and answers change every time.
As I said in the beginning, these are only the resources, activities, and games I use in the initial stages of my question words unit. On Thursday I’ll share some of the more advanced activities and games we use, including a couple more free ones. Happy teaching, everyone!