Learning how to ask concept-check questions was one of the most useful parts of my TEFL training – and I still use them today.
You can use these questions to check that your students understand some term or structure without being relegated to “Do you understand?” or “What does this mean?”
Different teachers use them in different ways, but a set of concept-check questions for “used to” might be:
I used to smoke.
Is this sentence about something that happened in the past or in the present?
Did I smoke once in the past or many times/as a habit?
Do I smoke now?
Compared to “Used to + infinitive describes a past habit which is no longer a habit today”, the concept check questions seem clearer and easier to understand.
Ideally, there is some context to teach the term to begin with (like this one) so you won’t just write it on the board and start with concept check questions; use these questions in the next class, for revision, or with other examples.
Concept check questions can also be useful when you come across “single use” vocabulary – words that students need to know to understand a reading or listening, but which you don’t really expect them to fully learn and produce on their own.
In some cases, giving a definition is laborious for you and the student and not necessarily effective; a student can nod along with your definition and still not understand, or a student who does understand a word may be unable to give a good definition in English. I assume my readers understand the words “assume”, “structure” and “concept”…but if pressed to define these words it might take some time; you know the words without having a definition at the drop of a hat. Conversely, there may be words that lend themselves more to being explained with synonyms than concept check questions – for example, “exhausted” is most clearly “very tired.”
Concept check questions are not an activity in themselves, but one strategy to help check understanding. Read the TEFL Logue summary of the opinion of one contributor to Modern English Teacher magazine here.