Posted 15/4/12

This activity uses translation to encourage students to notice structural differences between certain noun clauses and question forms (see above image). The activity uses 12 book titles to supply the language for study.
  • Language level: Pre-intermediate (A2) +
  • Learner type: Teens; Adults
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Activity: Translation
  • Topic: Book titles
  • Language: Questions; Noun clauses; Indirect questions
Question words pdf [downloaded 3351 times] Question words - Slideshow pdf [downloaded 2483 times]

Language point

Words like who, where and what are commonly referred to as question words. But they are not always involved in questions:


Lesson plan outline

  1. Before students enter the classroom, write the following on the board:
    • Who I am
    • Who am I
    • Where the heart is
    • Where is baby’s belly button
    • What did the cat say
    • What the dog saw
    • What a lady wants
    • What does she want
    • Where babies come from
    • Where do babies come from
    • Where did Pluto go
    • Where Willy went
  2. Ask students if they can guess what the pieces of language are (answer = book titles) and ask them to consider what is missing (answer = some of the titles are missing question marks).
  3. Ask students to copy the 12 book titles into their notebooks and add question marks whenever they are required.
  4. Let students compare their answers.
  5. Let students correct their answers by showing them the 12 book covers in the slide show (see link to PDF slide hsow above).
  6. L2 – L1 translation: Ask students to translate the 12 titles into their own language. They should do this on a new page in their notebooks or on a separate piece of paper. If you want this to be a collaborative task, let students with the same mother tongue work together.
  7. fg

  8. Let students with the same mother tongue come together to compare their translations. If you have a knowledge of your students’ mother tongue(s) you can also get involved during this feedback/correction process.
  9. L1 – L2 translation: Ask students to translate the 12 titles back into English.
  10. fg

  11. Let students compare their answers with the original English titles that they copied into their books.


This is activity is known as an L2-L1-L2 translation. It can be effective for at least three reasons:

  1. It allows learners to compare the target language (in this case English) with their mother tongue.
  2. It forces students to work with whole language chunks rather than with individual words. Compare the activity with a standard gap fill which generally focuses on individual words.
  3. It encourages students to notice aspects of structure and grammar in the target language (the need for the ‘do’ auxiliary in present and past simple question forms; subject-auxiliary inversion).

Follow up 1

Go through the slide show again and ask students to convert all of the question forms into noun clauses and vice versa. This will give them the opportunity to consolidate understanding of the grammar.

  • Where Willy went → Where did Willy go?
  • Where the heart is → Where is the heart?
  • Where do babies come from? → Where babies come from
  • Who I am → Who am I?
  • Etc.

Follow up 2

Use this grammar point to introduce more complex structures (indirect questions for example). See link to PDF lesson plan for more information.

  • Who am I?
  • Do you know who am I?
  • Who I am
  • Do you know who I am? (see clip below)
Posted 15/4/12

4 Responses to Question words?

  1. naomishema says:

    I really enjoy the lessons you post but not all are suitable for my deaf students. This is certainly another one I can use!
    An added benifit is that Google translator can’t tell the difference between the sentences so THAT won’t enable them to do the exercise in two seconds!

  2. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Naomi
    Happy to hear it. Let’ssee if I can post some more …
    J :)

  3. This highlighted quite wonderfully the importance of students leaving behind direct translation at pre-intermediate level. All of my students promised to stop using Google Translate to assist them with their writing assignments in the future.

    Thanks again,

    Mike in Phuket

  4. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks Michael
    Yes – we tell students not to translate word for word. But how about chunk for chunk? Very happy you(r students) likes the activity.
    Jamie (currently in Chiang Mai :)