Concept Check Questions From “Modern English Teacher”

Paul Bress writes about concept check questions in the January 2005 issue of Modern English Teacher.

He identifies the positive points about concept check questions as A) they help the teacher think about the meaning of the target term more carefully, B) they get students to focus on this meaning, and, C) if they are used regularly, can lead more to clarity than confusion. I would add this: if prepared well, concept-check questions are a way for students to show they understand without having to define a word themselves.

Bress presents the main disadvantage as that students may be able to give the correct answer, especially if it’s a yes/no choice, without fully understanding the word. While a useful tool for checking understanding, concept check questions asked once or alone do not provide enough for the students to learn – though I don’t know if I see this as a criticism of concept check questions themselves rather than the idea of using them in isolation.. Finally, he points out that L1 acquisition depends mainly on great exposure to meaningful contexts…which implies that this should be a part of L2 acquisition as well.

I think as a new teacher one mistake I made was thinking that concept check questions were enough – but certainly I now realize that it’s fine to start from a context, so students have a good example of the target vocabulary in use, ask a few concept check questions, and then explain the meaning a bit more in detail myself in case someone didn’t get it. If there are a number of new terms, I’ve found it useful to keep it interactive by giving some definitions and asking “Which one means this?” This way I’m not just lecturing, students still have to think a bit analytically about which word I’m defining, and if they don’t know it, they still get a definition from me.

Bresson also suggests giving students some relatively similar word pairs and asking them to compare and contrast as one method of getting towards a better understanding of meaning.