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

Five Ws and an H and developing higher order questions

Reading, Writing and Oral language Strategies: Five Ws and an H and Developing higher order questions

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 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 5: Provide multiple opportunities for authentic language use with a focus on students using academic language. Is the language focus on key language? Do I make sure the students have many opportunities to notice and use new language?

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?


Five Ws and an H

The five Ws (what, when, where, why, who) plus an H (how) strategy can be used in a variety of ways. It is often used to help students summarise an article they read. It also helps them to organise their thinking and it can lead students to use a range of question types independently. It is also relevant to writing a newspaper article or a report.

Developing higher order questions is a variation on the 5Ws and an H strategy in which students in small groups roll either one or two dice and form a question for their group to answer. On one cube write a question starter on each side. For example: How? Where? What? Why? When? Who? On the other cube write modal verbs such as: might, would, should, could, can, may, will. Using the teacher provided topic or text, students within each group take turns to roll the first dice and use the starters to form factual questions. Alternatively it can be made more difficult by requiring the students to roll both dice and to ask a question using both the question starter and the modal verb e.g. How could, who should.

See also: Hot Seat (English language Intensive Programme, page 6) for another questioning variation to support oral language.

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

Teaching and learning sequence planning examples:

Primary level:

Secondary level:

Some possible Teacher Inquiry questions:

  • How does my purpose for using this strategy determine where it is best placed within the lesson cycle?
  • How will I provide feedback to strengthen and support the language focus?
  • Are my English language learners able to use the question stems independently in other academic contexts?
  • Are my students clear about the purpose for using this strategy? In what ways could it help them to learn?


Useful website:

Published on: 09 Aug 2012