Activity Corner: One-Question Surveys

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time.)

In a One-Question Survey, each student has one slip of paper with a single question on it.  These questions are generally related, often by content.  They’re generally yes/no questions.  Each student is to ask each other student their question and tally up the results.

This is similar to my beloved Grid Activity, but with a One-Question Survey there is little writing, no record of how an individual answered, and it’s a much faster process.

The purposes can be to have students practice asking the same question repeatedly to work on their pronunciation and/or fluency, to reinforce key points of a lesson (i.e. vocabulary, grammar, content, etc.), or to gather data to aid in a math, Excel, writing, or conversation lesson.


  • Decide on your purpose.
  • Based on that, write as many different questions as there are students.
  • Model the process of asking the same question to everyone and tallying the results.
  • Give each student a different question.
  • Tell them to ask everyone, answer only Yes or No, and keep a tally of the results.
  • Debrief as a class.  How depends on your purpose.  Leave plenty of time for this – it’s the real meat of the activity.

Example (from Level 3):

Yesterday, we used a One-Question Survey in my Level 3 class in the context of our unit on cars and driving.

First, I modeled.  I took a slip of paper out of the pile in my hand and told them, “This is my question.  I’m going to ask everybody, including myself.”  I wrote it on the board, asked each student, and kept my tally on the board.

Then, I told them it was their turn.  I handed out questions we had talked about during the unit, such as “Have you ever gotten a ticket?”, “Do you speed?”, and “Do you cut people off?”  You can see we used all sorts of grammar.  This was for two reasons: a) it’s Level 3, so they already know a lot of grammar, and b) our focus was not on a grammar point, but on the content and vocabulary.

I asked them to ask all students, including themselves, and also to ask me.  I said that the only answers should be “yes” or “no.”  And I asked them to keep a tally.

When they were finished, we went through the questions and put them into an Excel spreadsheet that automatically calculated percentages for us.  This was to reinforce some of our computer lessons from last month.  At this point, it was time to go home.

Next time, I’d be more careful to make sure that each student understood his/her question.  In a few cases, students thought they understood, but they were mistaken.  We easily cleared this up during the debriefing time, but it would’ve been more powerful if students could have accurately explained to each other during the survey time itself.

Next time, I’d also like the debriefing to be more than just an Excel demo.  It could be a full-out Excel lesson, or even better, fodder for a conversation and/or writing assignment.  So, I recommend leaving plenty of time to work with the survey results.

Other content possibilities:

  • Warm-up: have students ask innocuous personal questions.
  • Graphs: use the data to practice graph-making, either analog or with Excel.
  • Academic writing: using the survey results, students can summarize, compare and contrast, predict based on, and explain the data.
  • Grammar: all questions should use the same structure.
  • Content: cut up a practice test with multiple-choice questions and have each student tally up answers A, B, C, and D.  Look at the results as a class.  Go over right answers and identify weak spots together that the students should study.
  • Google Docs: send students to the same Google Spreadsheet and have them enter their data simultaneously.

Journal: A Good Week

This was a good week!

We began a new unit on Monday: Time and Events.  I’ve been really happy with our work.

Monday we began with some reading from the old unit, then congratulated ourselves on finishing the family unit and moved on to the time unit.  We reviewed clock-reading basics and made sure we were all talking about the same thing: hour hand, minute hand, etc.  Everyone already knew (at least roughly) how to read clocks, so that really helped the vocabulary stick!  We also moved into our more complicated English time phrases: some people say 5:15… and others say quarter after 5.  We began filling out times on worksheets for a jigsaw activity (in which Group A has answers 1-5 and Group B has answers 6-10, so the groups can communicate the answers to each other), but ran out of time.

Tuesday we got about as far as basic time review before Standardized Test Day kicked in.

Wednesday we resumed and completed the jigsaw.  It was really fun to watch students try the complicated time phrases, see their partner’s interpretation of what they said, and the negotiation of meaning until it was correct.  Those kinds of interactions are what help the language stick – when a phrase has real and distinct meaning.

We also happened upon a surprisingly rich conversation topic: “What time to you get up in the morning? Why?”  People’s schedules and breakfasts had a lot of very interesting variety!

Today I filled in a learning gap that I didn’t realize was there until I watched yesterday’s jigsaw activity: students didn’t really get what a “quarter” meant – many people said “quarter after 5” was 5:25, I think because the coin is worth $.25.  We did a little math lesson on “half” and “quarter.”  The concepts weren’t new to anyone, but for some it was good review and I think for all it was an important vocabulary clarifier.

For half, I told a story about two students (including our resident Subway enthusiast) splitting a five-dollar foot-long.  I projected a picture of one onto the white board so we all knew what we were talking about.  The students told me how much each would pay ($2.50), and we established that it was half.  Then I went to cut the sandwich by drawing a dry-erase line through it.  I drew it way off to one side and asked if that was half.  They knew it was not, that the sides had to be the same.  I wrote this information on the board: half = 2 parts the same size.

For quarter, I told a story about four students (the four closest to the front) splitting a pizza for $12.00.  I drew a circle on the board and made an arrow pointing to it that said “pizza.”  So much for art.  🙂  After a slightly hilarious interlude from a student who works at Sbarro telling us with pride that their pizzas are only $9.99, the class split the pizza bill into quarters, or $3 each.  At that point, I busted out four quarter-dollar-coins and a dollar bill to clear up the idea that a quarter only meant $.25.  No, it means four equal parts.  We then divided the pizza into quarters in the standard way, one vertical half and one horizontal half.

Then… I said, “Oh wow, that pizza looks like a clock!”  I changed the label from “pizza” to “clock.”  I filled in the clock numbers.  I pointed to the upper right quadrant and asked, How many minutes are in this quarter?  They got the answer right: 15.

I was pretty sure they understood but I wanted them to show me.  I separated them into four groups (we had 13 students, so I couldn’t do quarters!) and gave each group a different number of different objects. Group 1 had tea bags, Group 2 had chocolates, Group 3 had square buttons, and Group 4 had stars.  I had each group answer 3 questions: how many things, what number is half of your things, and what number is a quarter of your things.  I wish I’d done a better job of having them share their information with each other, but we were pressed for time.  Still, they showed me the right answers, so I could see some evidence of understanding.

It was a good week!  Looking forward to next week’s review of it and to our Thanksgiving lesson!


Journal: Possessives and Puzzles

Today we dove into a unit on families.  We started out with students shouting out every family word they could think of and putting on a giant list on the board.  We were definitely not starting from square one  at the beginning of this lesson!  They know a lot of this vocabulary already.

Family of Barack Obama on Wikimedia Commons
Family of Barack Obama on Wikimedia Commons

We started out the unit by studying President Obama’s family, using them as models of the vocabulary (husband, father, son, grandson, step-son, etc.) and pretexts for grammar practice (“Who’s she?”  “She’s President Obama’s daughter.”). 

It’s really helping them sort out the meaning of possessive sentences.  With a sentence like, He is her husband , it’s pretty easy to get confused about whether the subject is the man or the woman.  Talking about well-known, interesting people helped make it less abstract.

After class one of the students stayed just a minute late.  He asked me, “You like mathematics?”  I said so-so, and asked why.  He handed me a scrap of paper and said, “What after?”  The paper said 2, 6, 42, 1806.  As I read it, he refined his question, “What is next in sequence?”  He had stayed after to give me a math puzzle! 

I have no idea what his motivation was for doing this, but it made me happy. I think it because I felt that I was (whether this was his intention or not) being recognized as a whole person with varied interests, not just a teacher-robot of basic English.  I wonder if that’s how students feel when we break free of the grammar and textbooks and delve into what’s interesting to them.

Have you completed the math sequence yet?