The 22nd international conference for English language teaching professionals by IATEFL Hungary

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Margit Szesztay on the power of questions

As well as her plenary on teacher development, Margit Szesztay presented this very practical, classroom-focussed workshop on harnessing the power of questions. First of all, she asked participants to simply formulate one question we would like to ask, and then ask it to as many other participants as possible. We had questions like, ‘How can you inspire a mixed ability class?’, ‘How can we remember all the things we learn at the conference?’, ‘Do we want to teach English or educate more broadly?’ and  ‘How can I improve my IT skills?’. She suggested doing this activity with students, pointing out the benefits in terms of finding more out about them and their pre-occupations.

In the main part of the workshop, Margit gave us a handout with a list of actual questions a teacher might ask at different stages in a lesson. Our task was to match these with a set of functions these questions might serve. These functions included, for example, establishing raport, focusing on the group, keeping discussion on track, offering choice, inviting creative thinking, encouraging reflection, probing and so on. We were shown that there is much more to classroom questioning than the formulaic IRF pattern, in which the teacher asks a question, a student responds and the teacher says, for example, ‘Good!’. We need to be much more supple than this in our use of questioning, and indeed, we mustn’t hog all the questioning to ourselves but also encourage students to formulate their own questions to you and to each other.

Written by Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald

Visit Mark and Annie’s blog offering free articles, reviews and a lot more in ELT.


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Eger follow-up thoughts (by Margit Szesztay)

Sunday evening – just got back from Eger, IATEFL- Hungary-land for the past three days. I’ll try to capture a few thoughts floating around in my mind raised by this very stimulating and energising event. Thoughts related to technology are uppermost.

Technology has given us amazing resources. They can speed up the democratisation of education, take English to remote villages making it accessible to underprivileged children – as Michael Carrier showed us in his plenary.  With the help of technology we can communicate, interact, network and have information at our fingerclicks.

But technology is also seductive. Mesmerising.  Addictive.  Overwhelming.  … So it’s important to do a bit of stepping back every now and then, to make sure the tail is not wagging the dog. After all, as Ken Wilson reminded us with one of his ten quotes: technology is just a tool.

I like to remind myself that there are inner resources and material resources.  Remembering words and phrases, formulating questions, expressing an opinion, creating a story, following a conversation etc. tend to draw on inner resources; memory, imagination, ability to listen attentively, ability to improvise etc. The function of material resources is to activate inner resources.  Sometimes a simple question can challenge students to think, imagine, speculate etc. better than moving images on the screen.

The reason I love Adrian Underhill’s metaphor of the ‘inner workbench’ is because it focuses my attention on the inner processes of learning. For me it’s important to ask on a regular basis: how are my students engaged? ‘Having fun’ is not enough. ‘Interacting’ is not enough.  How can I deepen their engagement? How can I get them to listen and become better observers … of language, of their peers, of themselves? How can I help them to discover their creative self? How can I widen their horizon? … To me it’s important not to lose sight of these questions. And yes, sometimes technology can help. But we mustn’t let it dictate. Just as a coursebook or any other material resource, technology is a good servant but a poor master.

21st century skills. To see more clearly what these are I like to think of people living in the 21st century who are socially responsible, doing something for the common good, who are good to be around, and who lead a balanced life. Otherwise … well, for me the Lily Tomlin quote comes to mind: “The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a … ”

Margit Szesztay (ELTE DELP, ex-president of IATEFL-Hungary)

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Any questions about questions?

The power of questions
Workshop by Margit Szesztay

I always enjoy workshops and presentations by Margit Szesztay. She is always good value and has a seemingly instinctive way of getting you to reflect on what you do and think about things from a different angle.  Her session on the power of questions was no different.

Margit suggested that the job of the teacher is to open doors and the key to the door is… a good question, so we tried out a number of activities, which not only encouraged us, as teachers, to think about the questions we ask, but also to pass control to our students and encourage them to think and ask questions themselves.

Activities like predicting what was behind a covered part of a photograph, talking about holiday photographs as if they were ours, and explaining where we took photographs which weren’t ours encouraged us to be creative and was a natural stimulus for questions.

We then focused on the kinds of questions we ask in class…not thinking about the Wh or Yes- No types of classification, but the range of questions we ask and what the questions we ask actually do, for example encouraging exploration, checking comprehension and encouraging reflection.

So questions to encourage reflection and tasks to encourage reflection. This sums up an extremely interesting session. Now as one participant reflected, how do I put into practice what I have learned?

Hamish Buchan

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Margit Szesztay’s plenary material

Margit Szesztay did it again – she managed to mesmerise the audience with her charisma and thought-provoking ideas. Enjoy reading her stuff.

Presenter: Margit Szesztay
Time: October 6th, 15.00-16.00
Venue: Plenary Hall

Listen to Margit reflect on her plenary in an interview by Norbert Gálik.