English as a Second Language

IGCSE English as a Second Language - Cambridge Syllabus



A good way to help other people think about a subject is to ask them a question about it. Being asked a good question can really help us put information together, evaluate our existing ideas and create new ideas.

Asking questions that are specifically intended to help others learn is known as Socratic questioning, named after Socrates in Ancient Greece.

Socratic questions require you to listen very carefully to the other person to help you judge and phrase your question in a helpful, constructive, and hopefully non-confrontational way.

Here are some examples of such questions:


Questions of clarification

  • What do you mean when you say ______?
  • What is your main point?
  • How does _____ relate to _____?
  • Could you put that another way?
  • Let me see if I understand you; do you mean _____ or _____?
  • How does this relate to our problem/discussion/issue?
  • Jane, can you summarize in your own words what Richard said? ... Richard, is this what you meant?
  • Could you give me an example?
  • Would _____ be a good example of that?

Questions that probe assumptions

  • What are you assuming here?
  • What is Jenny assuming?
  • What could we assume instead?
  • You seem to be assuming _____. Do I understand you correctly?
  • All of your reasoning depends on the idea that _____. Why have you based your reasoning on _____ instead of _____?
  • You seem to be assuming _____. How do you justify taking that for granted?
  • Is that always the case? Why do you think the assumption holds here?
  • Why would someone make that assumption?

Questions that probe reasons and evidence

  • Could you explain your reasons to us?
  • How does that apply to this case?
  • Is there a reason to doubt that evidence?
  • Who is in a position to know that is true?
  • What would you say to someone who said that ____?
  • Can someone else give evidence to support that view?
  • By what reasoning did you come to that conclusion?
  • How could we find out if that is true?


Questions about viewpoints or perspectives

  • What are you implying by that?
  • When you say _____, are you implying _____?
  • But, if that happened, what else would happen as a result? Why?
  • What effect would that have?
  • Would that necessarily happen or only possibly/probably happen?
  • What is an alternative?
  • If _____ and _____ are the case, then what might also be true?
  • If we say that ____ is ethical, how about _____?

Questions that probe implications and consequences

  • How can we find out?
  • What does this question assume?
  • Would _____ ask this question differently?
  • How could someone settle this question?
  • Can we break this question down at all?
  • Is this question clear? Do we understand it?
  • Is this question easy or hard to answer? Why?
  • Do we all agree that this is the question?
  • To answer this question, what other questions must we answer first?
  • How would _____ state the issue?
  • Why is this issue important?
  • Is this the most important question, or is there an underlying question?
  • Can you see how this might relate to ________?

Questions adapted from Paul, R. (1993). Critical Thinking: How To Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World: Foundation for Critical Thinking, Santa Rosa, CA.

Professional Development                     


"I would like to ask if it is possible that we are concentrating a bit too much on method. If each of us would think back to his/her own primary, secondary and higher education, I am sure that each of us would be able easily to recall one or more superior teachers who had a very positive impact on our learning and possibly on our lives. For many of us, we need to go back 20, 30 and even 50 or more years to remember such a teacher. Almost by definition, such cream of the crop professionals did not have the knowledge of cognitive development that we have today, nor were they trained in the methods that are promoted today. Many of them utilized what we now call "traditional" methods. Still, they were great teachers, and we were able to learn from them. I ask you to consider why that was. For my part, I suspect it was because of something internal to them: their enthusiasm for their craft, their concern for the student, and their ability to keep us interested (and, yes, there were lecturers who could keep our undivided attention). Also, each one showed their enthusiasm, their concern, and their abilities IN DIFFERENT WAYS.

I am reminded of a story my wife told me. She was a beginning AVON sales rep and wanted to know the secret to success in her field. She asked the most veteran rep who always had the highest sales in her district for advice. The response was simple: "You've got to love AVON." While my wife and I were both a little frustrated with this because we were looking for a more "nuts and bolts"-style of advice, we have both come to realize that that response is a necessary and possibly the most important element to success in that field.

While love for a craft may be a necessary element to success, it is not usually sufficient. And certainly we should be discussing effective teaching methods, especially in light of the broad range of classroom situations we find ourselves in, as well as the diversity of students we are trying to help. Training,life-long learning and peer discussions can be extremely helpful. But let us acknowledge that no one method should be considered THE key to success; that what is old is not necessarily bad nor that what is today's craze is necessarily the best; that teaching is still an art; that flexibility and open-mindedness are useful to all; and that what we bring into the classroom from within ourselves will be felt by most students and responded to, no matter where we position ourselves inside the classroom. "

(c)Allan French, ESL Instructor, South Seattle Community College, http://www.nifl.gov/pipermail/professionaldevelopment/2006/000461.html