Concept Checking Questions (CCQs)

Harassed Henry Day 3
© The Ultimate Guide to CELTA

When presenting new language we have to be able to check that the students have understood the meaning, one way of doing this is to ask CCQs.

Unfortunately our trainees often struggle with CCQs so I am going to attempt to simplify them here for you.

Language item: I went to New Zealand last year.

Our focus is past simple to talk about something that happened in the past and is now finished so we need to ask questions that confirm the students understand this usage of the past simple.  First, let’s consider the facts about this sentence:

  1. I am not in New Zealand now.
  2. I was not in New Zealand last month.
  3. I was in New Zealand last year.
  4. We are not sure when last year.

Now that we have established the facts, we can turn the 4 facts into CCQs:

  1. Am I in New Zealand now? No
  2. Was I in New Zealand last month? No
  3. Was I in New Zealand last year? Yes
  4. Do we know when I was in New Zealand last year? No. Is it important? No

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Language item: That must be her brother, he has the same eyes as her.

Our target language is “must be” for assumption.  So now let’s consider the facts:

  1. I am not 100% sure if it is her brother.
  2. I am (possibly) expecting her brother to be here.
  3. I have not met her brother before.
  4. I think it is her brother because of his eyes.

Now that we have established the facts, we can turn these into CCQs:

  1. Am I 100% sure it is her brother? No
  2. Am I expecting her brother to be here? (possibly)
  3. Have I met her brother before? (No)
  4. Do I think it is her brother because of his eyes? Yes

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Now let’s look at some bad CCQs, can you say why they are bad?

Language item: The kitchen has a cupboard.

CCQs:

  1. Do you have a cupboard in your kitchen?
  2. Does a cupboard have pots and pans in it?
  3. Is a cupboard a wardrobe?
  4. Is a cupboard made of cups and boards?

What’s wrong with the above CCQs?

  • If the student didn’t know what a cupboard is the CCQs will not help.
  • For most concrete nouns there is no need to ask CCQs, a couple of pictures will suffice.

 

kitchen cupboard
CC0 Creative Commons

 

Language item: If it rains tomorrow, I’ll go to the museum.

CCQs

  1. Will you go to the museum if the sun is shining?
  2. Is this a conditional sentence?
  3. Which type of conditional sentence is it?
  4. Might it be possible that I will go to the museum tomorrow?

So what is wrong with the above CCQs?

  • the first uses the target language
  • the second and third check the understanding of students’ knowledge of grammar terminology not the meaning
  • the fourth question is even more complicated than the target language

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Eliciting Questions v Concept Checking Questions

Teacher: What type of fruit do monkeys eat?

Student: Banana

In the example above, the teacher elicits the word banana from the student.  Questions like this are not CCQs, an eliciting question is used to find out what students already know, whereas a CCQ is used to check that the students have understood the newly presented language – don’t mix them up!!

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Comprehension Questions v Concept Checking Questions

“The girl walking down the road was wearing shiny, silver shoes…”

Teacher: What kind of shoes was the girl wearing?

Student: Her shoes were shiny and silver.

This shows the student has understood the text they have read but does not show they know what the word shiny means.

“Comprehension questions are often used in conjunction with reading or listening texts……… the purpose of comprehension questions is to check the learners’ understanding of text, either spoken or written….. more helpful approach, is to set questions in advance of listening or reading and which learners answer while reading or listening…..”

“A concept question is a question designed to check or to guide learners’ understanding of the meaning of a new word or grammar item…….”

Source: An A-Z of ELT, Thornbury, S. 2006 Macmillan

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The Golden Rules of CCQ writing

So now that we know how to write CCQs and how not to write CCQs what are the golden rules of CCQ writing?

  1. Use simple language,
  2. Avoid using the target language.
  3. Aim for the answers to be yes/no or short answers.
  4. CCQs for concrete nouns are generally not necessary, use pictures instead.
  5. One CCQ will not be enough, aim to have 3 or 4.
  6. Asking a CCQ and getting the expected answer from one student does not mean that all students have understood the concept.  Ask more than one CCQ and aim the questions at weaker as well as stronger students.
  7. Questions which aim to make the students say the target language are not CCQs (they are eliciticing questions)

 

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Still struggling with concept checking?  Have a look at this video by Jo Gakonga.  This video will also help.

Can you add to the tips above?

 

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Author: Emma Jones

A CELTA Tutor based in Munich and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to CELTA

8 thoughts on “Concept Checking Questions (CCQs)”

  1. What a helpful article! Is it effective to ask CCQs in L1? I just don’t think my students will understand what I want from them. Also, what is the best way to learn how to ask the right CCQs?

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    1. I‘m not sure that CCQs in the L1 can be really effective, instead you may as well just translate the target language which really we are aiming to avoid to get the learners thinking in English. If you plan your CCQs before the lesson as per my suggestions, eventually they will become 2nd nature …..

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