Concept check questions, also known as CCQs, are used extensively in English language teaching. They are used when teaching new lexical items, phrases, and grammatical structures.
On all the TEFL courses I have worked on, the trainers have made sure that the trainee teachers include CCQs in their lesson. Some trainers even go so far as penalise trainees for NOT writing them down in their lesson plans!
What are CCQs?
When a teacher introduces a new piece of language (lexis or grammar), they may present it first in context and then define or explain how and why it is used. Now, explaining or defining something to a person who shares the same mother tongue as you can often be tricky. Imagine doing it to a speaker of a different language.
So what CCQs do is they enable the teacher, and perhaps the student, to confirm that understanding has taken place.
I hear you say, what’s wrong with asking students if they have understood?
Well, think about what we do when somebody explains something complicated to us. We often nod thoughtfully, add comments such as ‘I see’ or ‘That’s interesting’ to make the speaker feel good about themselves. We don’t want to tell them that they are making no sense whatsoever. Also, we might not want to appear to be a bit slow on the uptake and often fake understanding to save face. Go on, admit it! You’ve done that haven’t you? You might even be faking understanding right now as you’re reading this blog post.
To ensure, as much as possible, that our students have understood our definition or explanation, we can ask them CCQs.
Let’s imagine that you’ve defined the word ‘banana’ to your student – naturally, you would only do this were you not able to magically produce a banana out of thin air or draw a recognisable banana on the whiteboard. You may have talked about fruits, shapes, peel, favourite food of chimpanzees etc.
But, how do you know the student has understood?
You could try asking them directly if they had understood but they may lie to save face or say they had understood but you’ve only got their word for that. They may have completely misunderstood the meaning of banana and confused it with an apple.
You could interpret their body language and facial expressions. Might work but I remember teaching three young guys from Sri Lanka who spent the whole lesson shaking their heads. I was devastated and assumed they would go straight to my boss and complain about their dreadful teacher. A fellow teacher sympathised with my plight and cheered me up no end when he informed me that Sri Lankans shake their heads to register agreement and understanding.
Anyway, I digress. Back to CCQs.
A CCQ is a question we ask the student to ensure they had understood our definition or explanation.
If I have just taught the word ‘banana’, I can ask the student the following questions:
Is a banana red? (If he says ‘yes’, he hasn’t understood)
Are bananas hard or soft? (If he says ‘soft’, I can assume he hasn’t confused a banana with a stick)
Are bananas eaten by monkeys or tigers? (Do tigers eat bananas? I hope not)
If the student answers the questions correctly, we can assume that they are not completely confused by my banana definition.