The Indirect Question

Once a student understands indirect speech sentences, e.g. "He asked me where I work." "You told him what time to come." this underused way of getting student questions comes into its own.

It is the simplest and the most effective ways of getting advanced students to ask high quality questions - and they sometimes think it's easy too - until they try!

If, for example, you are working on a text and you say something like "Now ask me some questions." The questions which come back tend to be fairly simple.

In the unlikely event of your student(s) having read chapter two of"Alice in Wonderland", for example and your saying "Ask me/each other some questions." It won't be long before you get tired of "What did Alice eat?", "How did she get small?", "What was on the table?" ...

To make things more interesting, get specific:
"Ask me (or another student) why Alice had to lie down on one side to see through the door."
"Ask me what happened when Alice picked up the White rabbit's fan."
"Ask me if Alice would have shrunk if she hadn't picked up the fan."...

All these will get higher quality, more difficult, questions from your student. And if you are teaching a group you can carry the reported speech game a bit further by getting another student to answer the question and a third to put it back into reported speech:

Teacher: John: Ask Peter who the White Rabbit was afraid of keeping waiting.
John: Who was the white rabbit afraid of keeping waiting?
Peter: It was afraid of keeping the Duchess waiting.
Teacher: Mary, What did John ask Peter?
Mary: He asked him who the Rabbit was afraid of keeping waiting.
Teacher: And, Helen, What did Peter tell us?
Helen: He told us the Rabbit was afraid of keeping the Duchess waiting.

This kind of sequence will not only practice question forms, it actively contrasts them with non-question forms. A lot of valuable correction will be necessary on the way.

Phrases like "Who" and "How many people" which can be object or subject in a sentence are particularly tricky for a student to get right and can profitably be presented in pairs if opportunity offers.

Ask me who killed Cock Robin.
Ask me who the Sparrow killed. (Yes, I know it's "whom" but who says that nowadays?)
"Who did kill ..." is often elicited.

Ask me how many people sailed on the Mayflower.
"How many people did ..."

Ask me which secretary came late yesterday.
"Which secretary did ......."

And of course after a few examples like this, when your student is getting them right, use the other kind:

Ask me how many people the company employs.
will now get:
"How many people the company ..."

It can take quite a while for a student to appreciate the difference.


Mark Yates 2000 modified 2015