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The role of questions posed to young learners
in classroom interaction
by Ali Karakas
- 1


The events taking place in classrooms have been an attention-grabbing topic for the researchers for a few decades. These set of learning environments for social interaction labelled as classrooms are neither static nor stable but fluid and dynamic. They can be likened to a concert hall where the conductor and orchestra players come to stage and actively display their performance. However, the capability to display a good performance requires a great amount of interaction among the conductor and players. Likewise, our setting, the classroom, does not differ from the concert stage on the ground that an effective lesson creates the necessity of high interaction-flow which is generally bidirectional: teacher-student and student-student interaction. David (2007) points out that the interaction between teacher and student constitutes a central focus of classroom research. Especially, the attention paid to teacher behaviour in classroom research is increasing. Regarding this, Brown and Rogers (2002: 81) lists several topics of concern as follows:

1. Teacher questions
2. Teacher error corrections
3. Quantity of teacher speech
4. Teacher explanations
5. Teacher 'wait-time' for students

Out of these, teacher questions play key role in keeping interaction flow. Maybe, it is the reason that Brown and Rogers put it as the first one in top five-list. More explicitly, errors can be ignored, quantity of speech may be of small amount, and explanations might not be available, and wait-time for responses might be too short, even not exist; however, these factors do not cause interaction to stop flowing but lessens the speed of flow. However, classroom interaction without teacher questions cannot be imagined since in many cases it is what makes interaction possible between teachers and learners.

Brock (1986) states that a large amount of questioning is a distinguishing characteristic of second language learning (SLL) to expose learners to the target language. This issue principally becomes much more significant in teaching English to young learners whose mother and second language is not English. The unique source of input for those learners is teacher talk, a considerable portion of which is composed of teachers' questions. They may increase the degree of participation and initiation by the learners even if their language production is limited to one or two words. To make the point clear, in what follows, teachers' questions and their types will be highlighted.

Teacher questions

Richards (2003) claims that the act of questioning and answering between teacher and learner is more manifested than any event in SLL classrooms. Hence, it is likely that classroom interaction compromises a significant number of teacher questions directed at learners. The Cambridge Dictionary defines question as "a sentence or phrase used to find out information and to test a person's knowledge of ability. This definition might work well in out-of-class settings among people since they usually exchange questions to get factual information. However, classroom teachers have a great number of reasons to pose questions to the learners, and testing their knowledge is just one of them. A variety of possible reasons for teacher questions are named by Ur (2009: 229) as follows:

-To check or test understanding knowledge or skill.
- To get learners to be active in their learning.
- To direct attention to the topic being learned.
- To provide a model for language or thinking.
- To find out something from the learners (facts, ideas, opinions)
- To provide weaker learners with an opportunity to participate

These various kinds of questions entail teachers to formulate different types of questions. Considering that teachers pose a significant number of questions per day, according to Darn and Çetin (2008) approximately between 300 and 400 questions, it is most probable that not all questions will be of same type.

Types of teacher questions

The majority of previous studies conducted in different contexts have centred their attention on what types of questions teachers ask, how different types of questions differ from each other in terms of language production, and which types of questions are more frequently posed than the others (Long & Sato, 1983; Brock, 1986; Shomoossi, 2004; David, 2007; Al-Farsi, 2006).

Two question types, display and referential, have been the main focus of above-mentioned studies. Display questions can be defined as questions, the responses to which are already known by the asker. To illustrate, what is the possessive adjective for 'she'? Unlike display questions, referential questions are those whose answers are not known by the questioner since the responses given change from person to person. For instance, what is your favourite food?. Nunan and Lamb (1996) mention two other types of questions: open and closed. Open questions are those that require more extensive responses from learners. For instance, what did you do last night? On the other hand, closed questions demand limited amount of response from the respondents, and normally only one answer is required. To illustrate, where are you from? Much research has been undertaken on display and referential questions; however, yes-no questions frequently posed in classrooms have not taken much attention. This of type of questioning based on using auxiliaries has its own unique functions; that's why it is worth mentioning in this study.

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