No more “Does that make sense?”
This pro tip – or pro reminder – is for anyone teaching and facilitating out there.
Do you ever find yourself in front of a group of people, explaining an activity, and then asking something like, “Got it?” “Does that make sense?” “Was that clear?”
Don’t beat yourself up if you do – I still let them slip out of my mouth sometimes – but do stop. The problem with these questions is that they rarely lead to the outcome you want, which is everyone knowing how to jump into an activity.
When you ask these questions, quick people will say, “Yes, got it,” and confused people will remain quiet, so only part of the group can proceed. Another possibility is that confused people will speak up, saying, “Umm, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do,” and then you will have to repeat everything again, not knowing which part of the instructions exactly people missed.
So, what should you do to check that people understand the instructions for an activity?
Ask the right questions
Make it part of your teaching or facilitating practice to ask questions that actually check that people understand your instructions.
For example, I want people to read a list of eight strategies and circle the ones that appeal the most to them. Then I want them to find a partner and discuss the ones they identified, explaining why they chose them. After 10 minutes, I’ll bring everyone back and ask pairs which strategies appealed to them both.
After giving instructions, here are the questions I might ask, with the answers I would wait for:
- What are you doing first? [Reading the list and circling the strategies that appeal to us]
- How many can you circle? [As many as we like]
- Are you doing that alone or with a partner? [Alone]
- What are you doing next? [Finding a partner and discussing]
- Are you discussing all eight strategies? [No, just the ones we circled]
- What are you explaining to each other? [Why we chose them]
- How long do you have for everything? [10 minutes]
- What will I ask you after? [Which strategies appealed to us both]
This may seem a little tedious, but it’s actually faster than asking, “Did you understand?”, getting wishy-washy answers, and then repeating everything from the start. It is also effective in engaging the group and finding out how clearly you explained things in the first place.
I learned to do instruction checking in my CELTA teacher training. The instructors really drilled the practice into us, and I’m grateful. Even though it was years ago, the routine has stayed with me, and served me well in all sorts of teaching and facilitating moments. It works not only in the language classroom, with folks who are learning a new language and deeply appreciate clarity, but also in all sorts of group settings, with native speakers, equally.