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ESOL Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Ask and answer

Speaking Strategy: Ask and answer

ESOL Principles:

Most strategies can be used to support all seven of the ESOL principles dependent upon how the teacher decides to use the strategy within their teaching and learning planning cycle. This strategy is usually used to support:

Principle 1: Know the learner- finding out about learners’ language and schooling backgrounds and their prior knowledge, using approaches that build on prior knowledge. What do you know about your students' language skills? What do you know about their prior knowledge? How will you find out this information? How will it affect your planning?

Principle 3: Maintain and make explicit the same learning outcomes for all the learners. How can I make the lesson comprehensible to all students? How can I plan the learning tasks so that all the students are actively involved? Do my students understand the learning outcomes?

Principle 4: Begin with context embedded tasks which make the abstract concrete. How can I put these concepts into a concrete context?

Principle 6: Ensure a balance between receptive and productive language. Are the students using both productive (speaking, writing) and receptive (listening, reading) language in this lesson?


Ask and answer is a pair or group activity. One student is the "expert" – either because she/he has prior knowledge/experience of the topic or because background information has been accessed before the task. A list of statements is given to the other student(s). These statements need to be formed into questions to ask the expert. Answers are written down on the sheet. Ask and answer enables teachers to capitalise on students' own funds of knowledge when introducing a new topic. It also gives valuable practice in forming good questions. After the task, students can use the information in a follow-up writing activity.

The Te Reo Maori website on TKI provides a variation on this task to use while reading a text.

video icon Secondary level: Making Language and Learning Work DVD 2 - Year 11 Geography. 

Teaching and learning sequence planning examples:

Secondary level:

Some possible Teacher Inquiry questions:

  • Do some of my students need sentence starters or a speaking frame to complete this task?
  • How can I use this task to assess my students’ spoken English?
  • As I observe are there any language gaps that will need further teaching?
  • Does being the expert on a topic change the way other students view the second language learners?
  • Does being an expert change the ELL’s own perception of themselves as a learner?
  • What other learning contexts can I use that will enhance the well-being of my diverse students?


  • Gibbons, P. (1991). Learning to learn in a second language. Newtown: Primary English Teaching Association. Chapters 2 and 3.
  • Gibbons, P. (2002). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning. Portsmouth: Heinemann. Chapter 2.
  • Ministry of Education. (2008) The English language learning progressions. Wellington: Learning Media Ltd. Pages 21-26 of the Introduction booklet.
  • Ministry of Education. (2009). Learning through talk: Oral language in years 1-3. Wellington: Learning Media Ltd. Chapters 3 and 5.
  • Ministry of Education. (2009). Learning through talk: Oral language in years 4-8. Wellington: Learning Media Ltd. Pages 31-32, 35, 37, 52-53, 68
  • Ministry of Education, (2009). Supporting language learning in primary schools: A guide for teachers of: Year 1 and 2; 3 and 4; 5 and 6; 7 and 8. Wellington: Learning Media Ltd. (Oral language section)
  • Nation, I. S. P. (1995). Teaching Listening and Speaking. English Language Institute Occasional Publication No. 14 (p. 181).
  • Simcock, M. (1993). Developing Productive Vocabulary Using the “Ask And Answer” Technique. Guidelines, 15 (2), 1–7.

Useful websites:

Published on: 14 Aug 2012