Do You CCQ? Using Concept Checking Questions in the ESL Classroom

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William, English teacher in China, with students

“Do you understand?” “Does that make sense?” “Do you have it?”  It doesn’t matter how a teacher might ask, these types of questions are not the most effective attempts at checking comprehension with ESL/TEFL students, who might simply say “yes,” whether they understand or not. Using concept check questions (CCQs), on the other hand, is a more effective method to really test your students’ comprehension of a subject before moving forward.

What does CCQ stand for in teaching?

CCQ in teaching stands for concept checking questions. When checking student comprehension, these questions are asked by the teacher to gain a more accurate evaluation of the student’s understanding.

What are CCQs?

You may be asking yourself, “What is a CCQ exactly? I still need more information!” Well, let’s dive right in. CCQs are targeted questions presented after a lesson to measure understanding. For example, after a lesson in simple past tense, instead of asking the class, “Do you understand how to form past tense?” the teacher might wrap up the lesson by asking students to come to the board ad write one thing they did before coming to class today (i.e. “I ate breakfast”/”I studied”/”I did my homework”).

Teacher in ESL class, APAX English

Questions like these allow teachers and students to confirm that the lesson is understood. CCQs for ESL can be used any time a teacher wants to ask, “Do you understand?” These questions might check comprehension of lexical items, phrases, and grammatical structure, for example.

CCQs should be fairly simple questions suitable for the student’s age and English-speaking level. These questions are designed to highlight the essence of the meaning of the day’s target language and verbally check for understanding of grammar, vocabulary, communicative functions, and instructions.

What is the main purpose of a concept checking question?

In a word, understanding. In the classroom, the main purpose of a CCQ is to determine if the student understands what you’ve taught without explicitly asking, “Hey, student, do you understand now!?” Imagine the awkwardness. Although this is clearly a question, it does not check any specific concept that was taught. This question also wouldn’t provide any insight into the student’s comprehension level and is likely to be answered with only a yes or no.

Having the ability to ask effective questions that apply to the lesson will be key to implementing a smooth CCQ experience with your students. Additionally, CCQs may even open the door to more natural conversation as the student expands on their answers and ideas.

What can a TEFL CCQ check for?

First, by using CCQs, the teacher evaluates what his or her students know and, in turn, the students get to participate in the learning process of discovering and understanding the new language.

Secondly, learners articulate their English knowledge and teachers clarify and add to that knowledge. This is beneficial for both teacher and student, as the teacher can also determine what changes may need to be made with future CCQs.

High School TEFL Teacher in China

How do we make concept check questions? The Golden Rules for using CCQs when teaching English

Next, you may be wondering how to create your own concept check questions. To make the process simple, we’ve compiled a list of five “Golden Rules.”  Referencing these rules often, until comfortable, will help you, as the teacher, create a learning atmosphere that is effective, efficient, and conducive to your students retaining information while learning English.

1. Plan CCQs in advance.

Preparation is a major contributor to success in all areas of life, especially when teaching. As an ESL teacher, it is very beneficial to take a look over the lesson before starting class and jot down a few CCQs that would help. This will encourage an organized and fun class while ensuring that the student gets the most out of their lesson and time.

2. Ask questions that are simple.

By “simple” we don’t mean asking third-grade students kindergarten-level questions, even though they would love that! Instead, ask questions that are considered simple for their specific learning level. The CCQs should be drafted with the lesson level in mind and also the students’ level. Otherwise, much time may be wasted on explaining small details and meanings that are not applicable or appropriate to the level being taught. Tailor the CCQs as precisely as possible to the lesson and students’ needs.

3. Use several styles of CCQs.

Another great rule for making CCQs is to use several styles of these questions. You may ask; yes/no questions, either/or questions, and simple ‘Wh’ questions to check the various aspects of the target language. Each type of question elicits a different kind of response. Some responses will have short or yes/no answers, while other questions will create dialogue and extended responses from the student. Whichever style of CCQs you choose, make sure to direct CCQs to specific students, not always to the whole class, the same students, or the best students; cover as many students as possible.

4. Consider vocabulary usage.

This could be a biggie and cause confusion over the simplest topics. Do not add unfamiliar vocabulary or new language to CCQs; it just muddies the attempt to gauge understanding of the concepts at hand. Reflect on how you may have felt learning at a younger age. Even if English was your first language, it might’ve been difficult to grasp many new concepts if the teacher used unfamiliar or difficult vocabulary words. Many times, our students may be feeling the same. Using language they’ve already learned or been introduced to will help them follow along easier and feel confident that they’re making progress in each lesson.

5. Use media and mix it up.

Patti teaching geography in China

Here’s the fun part! Students love visual examples and gestures that keep them interested in the lesson. You can include pictures, realia, miming, synonyms, antonyms, the whiteboard, and time and tense in CCQs. Using these different forms of media and English tenses will make content checking more fun and interactive. These materials may also distract the student from realizing they are being “pop quizzed,” and THAT, my friend, is a great teaching day for both teacher and student.

Get the Top 10 strategies, games, and activities for teaching adult students in this free downloadable eBook. 

What are some examples of concept check questions?


Future and simple future

Let’s imagine you taught your students a lesson on the difference between two common ways to express the future: present progressive tense (“I’m seeing a movie tonight.”) vs. simple future (“I will be there.”). A good CCQ for students at the end of class could be to ask, “What are your plans for the rest of the day?” Their answers (“I will study”/”I’m going to play soccer”) will indicate if they understood the lesson! These questions are simple, yet precise and provide assurance that the teacher can move forward.

Nouns and pronouns

Now let’s imagine you taught your students a lesson on the difference between nouns (like “truck”) and pronouns (such as “it” or “that”). A good CCQ for the end of class might be to ask, “What pronouns can you use to replace the nouns children, store, and car? An answer such as (“I can use they, there, and it”) will also indicate that this student understood the lesson and how to apply it to real life. These questions can be a confusion-saver for sure. Try a few out!

A clear understanding of content checking questions, or CCQs, (targeted questions presented after a lesson to measure understanding) will set the teacher up for success while simultaneously impacting the students’ success. Therefore, when properly using the “golden rules” to create effective CCQs, teachers and students can proceed through their lessons with confidence in what was taught and learned.

Learn how to use another effective strategy for the English language classroom: Guided Discovery for ESL!


March 10, 2020