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Friday, 12 February 2010

What On Earth Are... CCQs?

Have you ever spent a good five minutes explaining something to students and had them nodding and smiling happily making you feel they've totally 'got it'... only to prove thirty seconds later by some simple mistake that they totally 'haven't'? It happens to all of us, and that's where CCQs can help.

CCQs, or Concept Check Questions, are a very effective way of checking students' real understanding of vocabulary or even grammar you have just taught them. Let's take an example:

Imagine you are teaching your students 'snow', and you explain it by saying 'It's cold and white', and they nod and smile. You even ask them 'Do you like snow?' and they still nod and smile and maybe even say 'Yes!'. All is going well, you may think. Except that half of them think you are talking about vanilla ice cream!

How about explaining what a strawberry is? It's small, you say. And round. And sweet. Oh, and of course it's a fruit. You can eat it. It tastes good! Do you understand? Good. And you move on. With one third of the students thinking it is indeed a strawberry, one third thinking it's a raspberry, one third thinking it's a cherry, and probably someone who just hasn't got a clue, but what do you know? You haven't checked to see if they've understood the concept asking questions!

Asking 'Do you understand?' is one of the least useful questions you can ever ask in an English language classroom! Why? Because if students do understand the question 'Do you understand?' they will probably just say 'Yes' to keep you happy. And to not lose face if they don't. They may not even understand the question 'Do you understand?' but will say 'Yes' anyway, just to keep you happy. And even if they do understand something, are they understanding what you want them to understand?!

Another example: Imagine, like me, you are a less than useless artist. But that not having a map to hand during your explanation of the continents you draw a hasty map of South America on the board, and label it 'South America'. You then ask 'Do you know South America? And they all nod and smile. But half of them are thinking that 'South America' is actually the English for 'Africa'!

So how can we be more or less sure that our students really have understood? Let's take the snow example earlier. We need some really simple questions which, if answered correctly by the students, will prove to us that they've 'got it'. We could ask:

Is snow is white? The student answers 'Yes' but so is vanilla ice cream and cotton wool and fluffy clouds and sheep.
Is snow cold? The student answers 'Yes' but so is vanilla ice cream and ice and winter and fridges and snowmen...
Does snow come from the sea? (mime waves) The student answers 'No' - a good sign.
Does snow come from the sky? (point to sky) Student answers 'Yes' - another good sign.
Does snow fall in summer? Student answers 'No' - still looking good.
Does snow fall in winter? Student answers 'Yes' - very good - it looks like he's got it.
Do we eat snow? Student answers 'No' or laughs and says 'If you want!'. Really looks like he's got it.
What can we make with snow? Student answers 'A snowman!' Yes, he's probably got it.

Of course, there are many other things you could do along the way if you have the tools, such as simply drawing some snow falling from the sky or a snowman on the board. But often concepts are harder to picture than that, or the required tools are not available and CCQs can come in really handy.

They work with grammar forms too. How would you be sure that students had grasped the concept of 'I used to live in London'? Maybe they think you still do. Or that you are used to living in London. Or that you want to live in London. Who knows?!

So we need some more CCQs. What about...

Do I live in London now? The students should answer 'No'.
Did I live in London? The students should answer 'Yes'.
And why not some optional questions to test deeper understanding, such as:
Do I like London? The students should answer 'We don't know!'

A final example before an exercise! Take the sentence 'I managed to get to the top of the mountain.' What are the essential facts or meanings of this sentence? Choose the best three from:

I succeeded.
I didn't succeed.
I will succeed.
It was easy.
It wasn't easy.
It was nauseating.
I didn't try.
I will try.
I tried.
I like mountains.
I had to do it.
I won't do it again.

The sentences which carry the main meaning of I managed to get to the top of the mountain are 'I tried', 'It wasn't easy' and 'I succeeded'. The other sentences may have some relevance to the event but they are not essential to understanding the meaning. Now, in order to get some good CCQs we simply need to change these essential meaning sentences into questions to elicit the appropriate responses, and be reasonably sure that students have understood:

'Did I try?' (yes)
'Was it easy?' (no)
'Did I succeed?' (yes)

It's often useful to have a question in your set like 'Was it easy?' which require the answer 'No', to check that students aren't just 'keeping you happy' with the answer 'Yes (teacher)' as we mentioned before.

Now here's the task:
Choose one of the nouns and one of the sentences below, write a small set of CCQs for it, and post them in the comments below. Read the comments first and try to write CCQs for a word no-one else has covered, but feel free to also include improved CCQs for words already covered. I'll post the best CCQs below.

Here are the words and sentences:

column / horse / bungalow / pebble / cup / laptop / deckchair
cucumber / barge / sandal / bat (animal or sports equipment!) / handbag / coast / path

Sentences (CCQs for the word(s) in italics)
She was limping badly when I saw her.
I've been living here since 1993.
They'd rather have stayed at home.
My dad went through the roof when he saw the house after the party!
Johnny was caught shoplifting the other day!
I was sleeping when you phoned.
We're seeing Avatar by James Cameron this evening.
I wish I were 18 again.
I'd only been in France for two weeks when I met my future wife.
(The phone rings) Don't worry - I'll get it.

Feel free to also send in your general ideas and thoughts by commenting below, and... read you shortly!
Sab Will is Course Director at TEFL Paris, a TEFL Certificate Teacher Training Centre validated by IATQUO


kim appeltans said...


Is it an electronic device?
Can you carry it in a bag?
Can you use it to work on?
Is it expensive?
Is it a personal computer?
Can you take it on holiday?

---Johnny was caught shoplifting the other day---

Was Johnny at home the other day?
What was Johnny doing yesterday?
What was Johnny caught with the other day?
How come Johnny had problems with the police the other day?
Where was Johnny the other day?


Anonymous said...

'I wish I were 18 again'

You could ask...

am I 18 now?
how old am I now?
how old do i want to be?

or for 'horse' (could be confused with donkey, camel or cow)

can you ride it?
can you race them?
do you gamble on the races?
is it the biggest animal you can ride on in Europe?

Its a tricky one!

Kate (TEFL Paris)

The Frenchman said...

.... Sandal
Does it cover your whole foot?
Can you play basketball in them?
Did Jesus wear them?
Do you use it at the beach?
Do Germans and computer scientists look like like idiots when they wear them with white socks?

...We're seeing Avatar by James Cameron this evening?
Have we been to the cinema today?
What are we doing tonight?
Will we be wearing special glasses tonight?
Will I be talking to people about the Dances with Smurfs movie tomorrow?
Have I seen a 3D movie yet?

Sebastien Martineau

Sab Will said...

Excellent work, team. I'm glad to see some of you are still working at nearly midnight like me! Get some shut eye now and we'll talk about your suggestions here on the blog tomorrow! - Le Prof

kim appeltans said...

Sab Will said...

KIM: Great questions for 'laptop'. But are we 100% certain it's not a smart phone, or even a 'notebook' or 'netbook'?! Very good anyway!

For 'shoplifting' try to think of more yes/no questions; I think some of your Qs are more complicated than the sentence! :-D
Anyone else want to simplify-simplify-simplify?

KATE: For 'I wish I were 18 again' your questions are good, nice and simple. We don't know how old I am now. Maybe we could ask 'Am I older than 18?' 'Am I younger than 18?' 'Am I 10?'(no) 'Am I 30?'(maybe)

For 'camel', you're right, it is tricky! I think you can race camels (and ride them and bet on them!). Your clarification on 'in Europe' may be one step too far in terms of complexity.

Think about unique characteristics. What about the humps (flat back?). What about where they live - desert/field. Think simple as always. Good yes/no Qs tho'.

SEBASTIEN: Love your Qs for 'sandals'! Some may be a bit complex! Watch out for religious/cultural/sexual stereotypes, of course... Like the humour but... would you ask that with a group of Germans or computer scientists..?!

Good, inventive Qs for the 'Avatar' sentence. Careful that they are not more complicated than the sentence though! You've used present perfect and future continuous in your CCQs - too advanced?

And the rest of you? Let's hear from you!

Andrew who kept saying 'yous' said...

I assume you guys will have worked this out by now, seeing as you will, no doubt have started your teaching practice already, but, having gone through the experience of coming up with simple CCQs, the main piece of advice i would give is 'make sure that the words that come out of your mouth are exactly what you're actually writing there'.

My problem was not coming up with simple CCQs, it was that I was worried about sounding rude and so would frame my questions with horrendously complicated over polite introductions (e.g. 'what if, for example, i were to ask you...') [and several more, far wordier examples] and unfortunately your students are completely lost before you even get to the question you want to ask them.

Anyway, go team TEFL, I kinda miss Tournan.

Sab Will said...

Hi Andrew, yeah, we kinda miss youz too!

Interesting what you say about wording your questions 'horrendously complicatedly' when you won't actually offend anyone by simply saying 'everybody up!'. Takes a while to feel comfortable doing so though, I agree!

Egbert said...

Hey Sab,

Here's how I would (hopefully) ensure my students got the meaning of 'cucumber' right:

1. Is it a vegetable?
2. Is it green?
3. Is it long and thin?
4. Would you cook it?
5. Would you add it to tomatoes, feta cheese, onions and olives to make a typical Greek salad?

Thanks and good luck with the blog...


Katy B said...

Hi Sab. Very informative blog you got going here.

Here's my word: DECKCHAIR

1. Would you sit on it indoors? (no)
2. Would you sit on it on the beach? (yes)
3. Can you fold it up? (yes)
4. Does the seat sink close to the floor? (yes)

There you go!
From Katy
PS are you going running on monday?

Sab Will said...

Hi Egbert, very good CCQs I reckon! I'd throw in more 'no' answer Qs to make sure students aren't just saying 'yes' to keep you happy! Also, the last question (about Greek salad) is both good - to humanise the exercise - but maybe a bit complicated. Could you simplify?

Hi Katy, again, very imaginative CCQs! Yes, I think the place you use it is one of the characteristics which separate it from other types of chair. Maybe 'in the house' would be better than 'indoors'. If they don't know the expression 'indoors' it might freak them out a bit!

The beach question is clearly useful. You might have to mime 'fold' as you as the third question though. And the idea behind question four is great (a probobly unique characteristic!) but the wording needs to be simplified - the might not know 'seat', 'sink', 'close' or 'floor'!

Great you two - thanks. And the rest of you?! :-)

Thomas Lanier said...

Hi Sab,
Katy, Helen and I are chilling listening to music and posting our CCQs. Katy still wants to know about the running.
Here are my CCQ's

« coast »

Can we do it on a bicycle ? Yes (for the verb)
Can you do it on a horse?(No)(Verb)

Can we surf there ? Yes or maybe
Can we wear it in the winter ? No (coast SS hears Coat)
Can we also call it a beach ? Yes or maybe
Is Paris on the coast ? No
Is Deauville on the coast ? Yes

I've been living here since 1993

Do you leave here now ? yes
Did you live here 50 years ago ? No
Did you live here in 1996 ? Yes

A demain Thomas

helen herman said...


can i sit in it?
can i stand on it?
is it usually stripey?
is this one? (refer to chair in room as long as it's not a deck chair)
are they at the beach?
Can i fold it up?
Can i sunbathe in it?
Do you think i've got one in my living room?
Would I use it in the rain?
Would an eskimo have one?

They'd rather (have stayed at home)
n.b (I'm assuming these people live in a house)
Did they want to leave their house?
Did they want to stay at home?
Did the like leaving the house?
Were they happy to go out?
Could there have been a big grizzley bear in the local town?

helen :0)

Anonymous said...

Hi There,

Can anyone help me to find good CCQS for the sentence:
'You'd better go now.'


Sab said...

Hi Kris,

CCQs for 'You'd better go now.'

This is challenging! What about...

Do you want to go? (probably / maybe not)

Is it necessary to go? (yes, it seems to be)

What is best: to stay or to go? (to go)

A lot depends on the context, such as...

'You'd better go now or you'll miss your train.'
'You'd better go now or they'll catch you.'

Do you absolutely have to go now? (no)

Only you can decide. That's the best I can do today!

Sab said...

Tom and Helen:
Great concept checking questions!

Tom, I was only thinking of the 'seaside: noun' form of 'coast', not the verb - I should have made it clearer.

I thought your CCQs for 'I've been living here since 1993' were spot on!

Helen, I thought your CCQs for deckchair were great! Watch out that words like 'stripey', 'fold' and 'sunbathe' are not more difficult than the word you're CCQing. But you can probably mime or draw them. Good to refer to a piece of realia (a chair in the class) too.

Good clear CCQs for 'They'd rather have stayed at home' too. Loved the one about the grizzly..!

That last sentence is quite similar to the 'You'd better go now' Kris was asking about too.


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