Asking questions is an essential ingredient of language teaching. Questions can be embedded into almost any language learning activity. They encourage students to think about what they’re learning, clarify what we already know, and they help them engage with the material in a way that’s natural and fun.

Basic Question Types

Open questions invite responses that are longer than a simple “yes” or “no.” Example: “How did you feel when you gave your first presentation”?

Closed questions require only one-word answers such as yes/no or true/false responses. Example: “Did you get nervous?”

Different Functions of Questions

Definition questions: These are the most common and straightforward type of question. They ask you to define a word, phrase or concept. For Example: What does the word “demographic” mean?

Fact questions: The next most common type of question is one that asks you to recall facts from your own knowledge base. For example: What is the population of France?

Relation-between-facts questions: These types of questions require you to understand how two pieces of information relate together in order to answer them correctly (e.g., “What does this fact tell us about that fact?”). For example: How do environmental problems influence demographic change?

Opinion-based-on-reasoning questions: These types of questions require an opinion based on reasoning rather than just recall. For example: Why do you think about demographic change?”

Designing Questions for Language Learning

When we design questions for language learning, we need to consider the following points:

  1. language level of the student
  2. context of the lesson
  3. purpose of the question

For example, a warm-up activity for a B1 lesson is entitled “The Future of Work:” The context is to teach HR related vocabulary. The purpose of the question is to test what the student already knows about the topic and refresh their existing vocabulary. The most effective type of question is an open, “opinion-based-on-reasoning” question. The risk of using too many fact questions is that this can become a test of a student’s knowledge of the topic, rather than testing their communication skills. The following question is general enough to elicit a response without needing a great deal of detailed knowledge of HR.  

  • What do you think are some of the pros and cons of remote working?

Fact questions may be more appropriate as a way of testing comprehension in the acquisition stage of the lesson. For example, after a text:

Read the extract from an article on remote work and answer the questions.

[…] Remote work offers flexibility, as employees can create their own schedules and avoid commuting, which can improve work-life balance and reduce stress. However, remote work may present challenges, like staying focused and maintaining a sense of teamwork. According to Forbes, remote workers have reported negative mental health impacts, including loneliness and isolation, which are the largest concerns amongst remote workers.

  • What are pros of remote work?
  • What are the cons of remote work?

Another type of question, the “Relationship-between-facts” questions are a good strategy for tje independent application stage where students are required to use vocabulary with very little scaffolding. This will require combining newly acquired vocabulary with higher level thinking skills. For example:

Discuss the following Questions:

  • In what ways does remote work offer flexibility for employees, and how can it improve their job satisfaction?
  • How does remote work impact mental health, and what strategies can workers use to cope with feelings of isolation or loneliness?

When you’re designing questions for your course, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, it’s important to use open-ended questions rather than closed ones. Closed-ended questions require only a yes or no answer; they don’t leave room for the learner’s own thoughts and opinions. Open-ended questions allow learners to express their ideas in their own words and at their own pace–and this can help them learn better!

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is an important skill to develop. It helps us make better decisions, solve problems, and communicate effectively. Critical thinking is also an important part of language learning because it helps you understand what you read or hear in your target language.

In order to encourage critical thinking, we need to ask questions that require students to think about what they’ve heard or read before answering them. For example:

Listen to the dialogue between a CEO and HR manager. Answer the questions below.

  • What ideas about remote work are being discussed in the dialogue?
  • How would you describe the CEO?
  • What is the difference between the opinions of the two speakers?
  • Which approach to remote work will be successful? Why?
  • How would you respond to the CEO’s approach to remote if you were the HR manager?

To encourage critical thinking, you can use questions that require learners:

  • to evaluate
  • to compare and contrast
  • to make predictions

Higher-Order Thinking

Higher-order thinking is a way of describing the type of questions that are more challenging, like those that require students to think critically or creatively. This can involve making logical conclusions based on the information and supporting it with evidence. For example:

Which character in this dialogue do you think is most like you? Why? What evidence can you find in the dialogue that supports your answer?

Distributed Thinking

Distributed thinking is spread among a number of individuals. It occurs during classroom discussion. For example: The teacher asks a question and students respond with their own ideas. The teacher then asks for clarification and additional information from the students before responding.

Constructive Thinking

Constructive thinking is the construction of knowledge from personal experience. It involves social interaction and collaboration to share multiple personal perspectives and interpretations. For example: Students work in groups to solve problems. Each group member offers their own solution and reasons for why it would work. The group then collaborates on the best solution to present to the teacher.

Using Questions to Assess Student Learning

Eliciting questions are designed to draw out information, ideas, and opinions from learners. These questions encourage them to think, reflect, and share their thoughts. This fosters an interactive and collaborative classroom atmosphere. For example:

  • What does remote work refer to?

Comprehension questions assess the student’s ability to understand what they read and hear. These questions may ask for details, main ideas, or inferences. They are often fact questions. For example:

  • What are the three disadvantages of the home office mentioned by the CEO?

Analysis questions require students to break down complex ideas into smaller parts and put them back together again in order to make sense of them. This could include definition questions. For example:

  • What does the CEO mean by isolation?

Application questions ask students to use what they have learned in a new situation or context. They are often opinion-based-on-reasoning questions which are ideal for higher-order thinking tasks. For example:

  • How would you respond if your CEO said that he wanted to abolish remote work?

Synthesis questions require students to combine elements from different sources, such as texts or dialogues, to create a new perspective, understanding, or conclusion. These complex questions encourage higher-order thinking skills and promote critical thinking. For example:

After reading two contrasting articles on the impact of remote work, ask the students:

  • How do the authors of both articles present their arguments, and what similarities and differences can you identify? Based on the evidence provided in the articles, what is your opinion on the impact of remote work?

This question encourages students to analyze and compare the arguments presented in the articles, and then use that analysis to develop their own viewpoint on the topic.

Concept Checking Questions (CCQs) are targeted questions that assess whether students have understood a specific concept or idea. These questions are particularly useful for verifying comprehension of language structures, vocabulary, and abstract ideas. For example:

Read the sentences in bold and answer the questions below.

CEO: I’m concerned that remote work is causing our employees to feel depressed and isolated. Recently, a lot of teams have not been working well together.

HR Manager: I know what you mean, but many employees report feeling less stressed and are experiencing a better quality because of the flexibility remote work allows for.

CEO: But what about collaboration and teamwork. I get the feeling that employees in our teams haven’t been learning from each other like they did before.

  • Is the CEO talking about a finished or an unfinished time period? How do we know this?


In conclusion, designing effective questions for language training is a crucial aspect of teaching and fostering students’ engagement, empathy, motivation, critical thinking, and higher-order thinking skills. By understanding the functions of questions and incorporating them into materials, trainers can tailor their lessons to meet the needs of their students. Trainers use questions to create a dynamic and interactive environment that encourages both communication and collaborative learning. Learners will feel like active participants in the learning process. Ultimately, well-designed questions contribute to a more comprehensive and rewarding language learning experience.

Useful websites:

Bild von Arek Socha auf Pixabay 


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