Jun 1

Instruction Checking Questions (ICQs)

Classroom Management
Instruction Checking Questions (ICQs)
OK - you've given clear instructions (you think) but how do you know that your learners have understood you? ICQs are something that you will definitely hear about if you are on a CELTA course and this video will talk you through what ICQs are, why they're useful and some potential problems with them.
Video transcript

Giving clear instructions is a fundamental part of teaching – the learners have to know what you want them to do! If you are teaching online, this is arguably even more important. So how do you know if THEY know what to do?

I’m Jo Gakonga from ELT-Trainng.com and in this short video I’m going to talk about what are often called ICQs – instruction checking questions – what they are, when they might be helpful, and some of the potential holes you might fall into with them.

So, instructions are important – they need to be clear, concise and graded in language that the learners can understand. This is a skill in itself, but let’s imagine that you’ve given these good instructions… how do you know that they’ve understood?

How about this? (Do you understand what to do?). or this (is that clear?) You have to be careful, because this is probably what you’ll automatically say but think about it - What’s going to happen if you ask this? Well, they’ll probably say ‘yes’ – either because they really do understand (yay!) or they’re too embarrassed to admit they don’t (you might notice this) or because they THINK they understand, but they don’t.

This is always a problem but at least in a face to face class you can look around and quickly see who’s struggling or off task. Online, it’s harder – you can only get to one BOR (breakout room) at a time, so it’s doubly important to make sure they know what to do.

So what else can you do? I think that there are three possibilities:

The first one is to ask the learners to tell you what they have to do. This can be useful at higher levels but at lower levels this may well take more linguistic resources than they have, even if they do understand. So how can you make it easier? Ask questions that have short, easy answers and will show you that they know what to do. These are called ICQs.

I watch a lot of people learning to teach and sometimes this technique is taken to an extreme.

OK – you’re going to read this text and answer these five questions. Are you going to read or listen? (read, I suppose.. it’s a reading text) Are you going to read on your own (how else do you read?) are you going to answer the questions? (er yeah….) How many questions are you going to answer? (now I’m getting confused – it seemed obvious that I’m going to answer all 5 but maybe I’m not supposed to?)

This isn’t helpful – it can come across as patronising and it’s potentially more likely to confuse the learners than clarify things for them.

So what’s better? Consider what’s DIFFICULT about the task and just check that.

Lets imagine you are teaching functional exponents of advice and you want them to practice by asking each other.

(language box with exponents in – you should/ you could/ have you thought about…+ing.)

I have a headache/ I need a new job/ I want to lose weight.

You want them to practice the language but the chances are that they’ll only use the first one on the list and finish the task very quickly. So – do I want you to use all of these phrases? (yes). Do you only give one idea for each problem? (no) How many ideas? (many!)

If a task is a bit complicated, though, I usually think that a demonstration is more useful and makes things very clear, very easily. Go through an example with them. Choose one of your stronger learners and YOU take the part that is the more difficult one.

Pedro, I have a terrible headache – what can I do?

P: You should take an aspirin.

But I hate taking tablets. They make me feel worse. Have you got any other ideas?

P: You could have a hot bath.

OK. Now try with another stronger learner and show them how to expand on the other part:

Maria, tell me that you want a new job

M: I want a new job

You could get a couple of other learners to do an example (open pairwork). You could include your weaker learners, too, supported by you or a stronger learner. When you can see they’ve all got it, put them into BORs and off they go.
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