Proceedings of the 2nd Annual JALT Pan-SIG Conference.   May 10-11, 2003. Kyoto, Japan: Kyoto Institute of Technology.
Developing fluency through questioning strategies
by Jonathan Aliponga    Nishiyamato Gakuen and Hakuho Women's College


This article maintains the key to creating an interactive classroom leading to greater fluency is to develop a broad repertoire of questioning strategies which students can utilize in class. It offers some questioning techniques specifically developed for EFL students that provide stimuli to foster communication at all stages of a lesson.

Keywords: questioning strategies, fluency, speaking skills


Results of many classroom-based studies show that in order to develop foreign language speaking skills, focus should be placed on fluency without neglecting the elements of phonology, grammar, and discourse in the spoken output. Fluency is often understood as the ability to carry on a conversation and produce long utterances (Brown, 2001). However, fluency does not necessarily apply only to long utterances. The flow of language in reasonably short segments is important to establish from the very beginning. To achieve this, there is a need to provide students with stimuli for producing short utterances which can be in the form of questioning strategies.
This paper offers some questioning techniques which are adopted from Berlitz (2000). These questioning strategies are recommended in the initial stage of a classroom lesson as well as throughout the lesson for beginning level students. Brown (ibid) points out that students at this level have little or no prior knowledge of the target language. He further adds that students' capacity for taking in and retaining new words, structures, and concepts is limited, thus materials should be presented in simple segments that do not overwhelm them. This is precisely the purpose of utilizing these questioning strategies. The use of question-and-answer exchanges between teachers and students is at the heart of the Berlitz Method. This article proposes that this method can be applied to large classes (see Practical Applications).
The use of the questioning strategies outlined in this paper is anchored in the Interaction Hypothesis (Long, 1996, 1985), which stresses the role of input in the development of language. This implies that through questioning techniques learners can interact with each other and enhance their communicative abilities. These questioning techniques are grouped into two categories: those that are utilized to introduce linguistic items (at the top of Table 1), and those that are used to practice grammatical structures which have been previously introduced (at the bottom of Table 1).

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". . . the use of full-length replies may be a way to help reinforce students' internalization of a foreign language grammar."

The table also shows that student responses to the questioning techniques involve two forms: (1) full form responses (within the parenthesis) and reduced form which appears in most natural conversations. One unusual feature of the Berlitz teaching method is the use of both forms in conversation. Why is the full form taught in addition to the reduced form? Berlitz teachers maintain that this provides additional opportunities to practise the language. Even though full-length replies may sound somewhat unnatural to native speakers, they could be regarded as a heuristic expedient which may have value in teaching beginning level students. Since all foreign language instruction in the Berlitz method is in the target language only, the use of full-length replies may be a way to help reinforce students' internalization of a foreign language grammar. Though full form responses could be criticized as being "unnatural", as Taylor (1994) points out the whole concept of authenticity depends on context and classroom language can be regarded as authentic within given teaching contexts. Without neglecting the importance of using reduced speech forms, teachers trained in the Berlitz method believe that students should be taught and encouraged to practice both forms.
The introductory questioning techniques at the top of Table 1 involve a process whereby a student becomes aware of the meaning of a new word, phrase or structure. By contrast, the questioning techniques at the bottom of the same table are designed to help students practice a linguistic item after it has been introduced until it has been assimilated. Hence the first group of five questioning strategies is often used with introductions and the final three strategies are used for sustained practice. The table that follows shows the questioning techniques, the salient feature of each, the linguistic items that call for the use of those questioning techniques, and some examples.

Table 1. Questioning techniques to develop fluency for beginning level ESOL students. (Adapted from Berlitz, 2000)
Technique Salient Feature Linguistic Focus Example
1. Demonstration Ask a question while acting out or pointing at an object or picture. Adjectives (comparison), adverbs, verb tenses, WH questions, straightforward vocabulary items, pronouns, passive voice T: Am I writing on the board?
S: Yes, you are (writing on the board).
2. Elimination Ask two or more questions until the student gives the correct response. Adjectives (comparison), adverbs, verb tenses, WH questions, straightforward vocabulary items, pronouns, passive voice T: Am I drinking coffee?
S: No, you are not (drinking coffee).
T: What am I doing?
S: You are reading (a book).
3. Substitution Ask two question with the second question having the same meaning or answer as the first. Affirm the response. Adjectives (comparison), adverbs, verb tenses, WH questions, straightforward vocabulary items, pronouns, passive voice T: Is the man glad? Is the man happy?
S: Yes, he is (happy).
T: Right. He is glad or happy.
4. Contrast Ask a question whose answer is not depicted in the illustration or mime. Adjectives (comparison), adverbs, verb tenses, WH questions, straightforward vocabulary items, pronouns, passive voice T: Is the man cooking?
S: No, he is eating pizza.
5. Definition Provide lead-in questions giving additional clue to the meaning or answer. Adjectives (comparison), adverbs, verb tenses, WH questions, straightforward vocabulary items, pronouns, passive voice T: Did Richard call Susan this morning?
S: Yes, he called (Susan this morning).
T: Did he tell her that he would visit her tonight?
S: Yes. (He told her that he would visit her tonight).
T: Right. He told her that he would visit or drop by her house tonight.
6. Control Ask questions to call on students to reproduce the sentence they have just been asked to repeat. Grammatical structure covered by technique used to introduce the new lesson. T: Richard called up Susan this morning?
S: Yes. (He called up Susan this morning).
T: He would visit her tonight?
S: Yes. (He called up Susan this morning and said that he would visit her tonight).
7. Question-Answer Ask questions to practice the lesson which has been introduced. Yes/No Questions, Or Questions, Key Questions T: Is Ms. Taylor looking for a suit?
S: Yes, she is (looking for a suit).
8. Question from Student Ask questions to practice the lesson which has been introduced. Question- Answer-Question pattern, Answer-Question pattern, Indirect Question pattern T: What are you doing?
S: I'm listening to you.
T: What was the question?
S: What are you doing?

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It might be also noted that while each questioning technique has its own distinct feature, it is evident that they have a common linguistic focus. All five of the questioning techniques in the first group can be utilized to introduce adjectives, adverbs, verb tenses, WH questions, straightforward vocabulary items, pronouns, and passive voice. Moreover, all three techniques in the second group can be used to practice linguistic items which have been introduced.

Practical Application

There are several suggestions to make the questioning techniques mentioned in Table 1 work in the classroom.
  1. Conduct training sessions. Given the reading text, learners should be taught how to come up with various questions types. The training sessions should include: (a) Modeling the questioning techniques one at a time. This can be done by asking the best student to model it with you in class. Then pair off the students and let them practice the questioning technique that is the focus of the lesson. These steps should be repeated until all questioning strategies are done. (b) Introducing students to the different visual materials that could aid their understanding while in the process of employing the questioning strategy. To maximize students participation as far as visual aids are concerned, they could bring their own materials in class which they could use during the practice. Also it should be made clear to the student that other questioning strategies can be utilized if the one being used does not work.
  2. Employ cooperative learning. The process of cooperation is applied in editing each other's work and sharing one's output through asking questions. This not only maximizes participation, especially in a classroom with more than thirty learners, but also offers an embracing affective climate that increases motivation.
  3. Explain clearly the purpose of the task. Learners should be clearly aware why they are the ones formulating and asking the questions instead of the teacher. They should also informed why they are required to give full response as well as reduced form. Knowing clearly what they are doing, learners appreciate the task and the processes involved. Thus, meaningful learning is achieved. Various studies have shown that meaningful learning results in long-term retention.
  4. Process the task. After group work, classroom sharing of what transpired in the group activity should be held to give learners feedback on their performance. It is here, in addition to group work, where learning happens because correct and wrong answers are discussed with the guidance of the teacher.
  5. Monitor performance. As much as possible, the teacher should check each learner during group work. This will enable the teacher to gather information that can be used in the feedback session.


Where foreign language learners do not have a great number of tools for initiating and maintaining language, encouraging them to formulate and ask questions in pairs or in groups can provide stepping stones for continued interaction. It also fosters cooperation, promotes critical thinking, allows them to become creative and innovative, and enhances their sense of competence and self worth (Brown, ibid). This results in intrinsic motivation that is strongly related to achievement in learning as revealed through the studies conducted by Gardner and Lambert (1972) and Gardner (1980). Thus, teachers should develop a broad repertoire of questioning techniques among students.
On the other hand, it should be pointed out that employing these questioning techniques in the classroom without taking into consideration other factors will not by any means guarantee that interaction will be stimulated. Ur (2002) mentions factors such as clarity, learning value, and interest while Brown (ibid) enumerates variables, namely, rate of delivery, stress, rhythm, and intonation, interaction, and colloquial language, among others. To address all these a number of suggestions are made such as conducting training sessions, employing cooperative learning, explaining clearly the purpose of the task, processing the task, and monitoring progress.

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In the light of this conceptual paper claiming that formulating and asking questions do not only promote fluency, but also accuracy, cooperative learning, critical thinking, motivation, and learner autonomy, it is suggested that an empirical study be conducted following the aforementioned guidelines. Data can be gathered through a questionnaire containing statements that would call for responses pertaining to fluency, accuracy, cooperative learning, critical thinking, motivation, and learner autonomy.


Berlitz. (2000). Getting around. Princeton, NJ: Berlitz Language, Inc.

Brock, C. A. (1986). The effects if referential questions on ESL classroom discourse. TESOL Quarterly, 20 (1) 47-59.

Brown, H. D. (2001). Teaching by principles: an interactive approach to language pedagogy. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Gardner, R. C. (1980). On the validity of affective variables in second language acquisition: Conceptual, contextual and statistical considerations. Language Learning, 30, 255-270.

Gardner, R. C. & Lambert, W. (1972). Attitudes and motivation in second language learning. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House.

Long, M. H. (1985). Input and second language acquisition theory. In Gass, Susan and Madden, Carolyn (Eds.). Input in second language acquisition. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Long, M. H. (1996). The role of linguistic environment in second language acquisition. In W. C. Ritchie & T. K. Bhatia, 1996, Handbook of second language acquisition. San Diego: Academic Press.

Taylor, D. (1994 Aug.). Inauthentic Authenticity or Authentic Inauthenticity? TESL-EJ, 1 (2) A-1. Retrieved from the World Wide Web at on November 23, 2003.

Ur, P. (2002). A course in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wright, T. (1987). Roles of teachers and learners. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2003 Pan SIG-Proceedings: Topic Index Author Index Page Index Title Index Main Index
Complete Pan SIG-Proceedings: Topic Index Author Index Page Index Title Index Main Index

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