Student Questions Matrix, Part 4

This is Part 4 of a series on Student Questions. See Part 1 (intro), Part 2 (the axes), and Part 3 (action steps).

In this post, I’m going to explore ways to use this matrix in direct instruction and ways to use Green Zone questions.

The Graphic (click to enlarge)


It’s Also a Learning Tool (Metacognition)

When I jotted down this little matrix, I was thinking of it as a mental model for teachers. But I think it could also be an interesting tool to use in the classroom.

It would take about 30 seconds to draw one of these on the board, perhaps even instead of a stand-alone Parking Lot. You could tell your classes, particularly Intermediate and above, that this is how you are thinking about their questions and deciding which to answer immediately.

I think this could be particularly helpful if you have a student or two who tend to take the class off on their own tangents. I’m all about student-centered learning, but in my opinion having the whole class follow the loudest students’ whims is only student-centered for one student!  

A step past just up-front description of your mental model would be to ask students to use it to categorize their own and/or each other’s questions. Since the categories are subjective, there may be disagreement, which causes discussion, which requires English for an authentic purpose (what’s more important than convincing everyone you’re right?). Count that as a win!

A further step yet would be to ask students how class goes when one student asks a lot of questions that are only relevant to him/her. How is it when students ask many important and relevant questions? Have they thought about this in their other classes? Has thinking about this changed how they ask questions in their other classes?

Questions, Answers, and Activities

In all this talk about student questions, I wanted to be sure that we also did some cool things with them.

Firstly, there’s no rule that the teacher has to be the one to provide the answers.

One nice practice that would easily fit into however you usually do things is to pause before answering a question and ask if any of the students would like to answer first. Be sure that everyone can hear their answer, and that you confirm if it is indeed correct.

Another tactic could be to ask students to find the answer in their textbook.This way everyone is engaged, both students who know the answer and those who don’t. It also gives them practice scanning for information and getting to know a great English resource.

You can also turn answers into activities that students participate in. Rather than simply explaining at length (again) about a certain grammar point, you could briefly review and then do a quick chain drill, perhaps followed by more communicative practice. (Yes, it’s off the cuff, but if you guys are accustomed to chain drills anyway and you keep some spare blank grids in your bag, you can do a lot!) You could also collect up to several answers at a time anonymously from all students with a low-tech snowball activity.

You can also consider having students “be the teacher” in the sense of taking on categorizing each other’s questions, finding answers for each other, and even teaching lessons and/or leading activities. Depending on the course you’re teaching and where you’re teaching it, this could be the primary way that class is conducted, or a particularly rich 45-minute review activity to use a couple times per semester. This allows the teacher to step back, and more importantly, allows the students to step up. 

End of Series!

Thanks for reading! It’s a really big topic and I certainly haven’t thought of everything. I hope you’ll chime in in the comments!


You’re reading Student Questions, Part 4, originally posted at

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