Materials Development Task 8: Questions

This is a new series of blog posts for teachers looking to become materials writers. It aims to help future writers explore topics and issues in writing, encourage deeper insight into the content of published materials, and promote a principled approach to materials development.

Read this extract then answer the questions.

  1. What is the International Birdman?
  2. What does the competition involve?
  3. Why do birdmen attempt to fly off the pier?
  4. Where is West Sussex?
  5. When did the event first move to Bognor Regis?


  • What do you think of the above questions?
  • What’s wrong with Question 4?
  • How effective is each question for checking understanding?

Now read the extract below and answer the questions:

The blob-blob-boogly-wumb is a tinglewhoopdeeflap. The tinglewhoopdeeflap involves dibble-ibble-bobfonk.

  • What is the blob-blob-boogly-wumb?
  • What does the tinglewhoopdeeflap involve?

Types of questioning

I learnt some valuable lessons about question writing during the DipTESOL, many of which have come in very handy as a writer. Here are some examples.

Some types of comprehension question are ‘plain sense’ and grammatical relationship’ questions. Plain sense ones focus on basic facts.

  • What is the International Birdman?

Grammatical relationship questions, unless written carefully, may end up testing knowledge of the syntactic system of English rather than understanding:

  • When did the event first move to Bognor Regis?

(knowledge that ‘When’ questions relate to time, or ‘in’ for introducing time phrase)

Is there value in these questions? Yes, there can be – perhaps when considering level, or development of certain reading strategies.

However, they don’t necessarily focus on meaning. Replacing the answers with nonsense words, as in the second extract, shows that sometimes these questions may be answerable without needing to understand the text at all. They can be tweaked to focus more on meaning and understanding for sure, and additional question types can be included to encourage deeper understanding of the text and its vocab.


Here is the first extract again. Look at the questions accompanying it (these are not intended to be a sequence, just a list of examples).

  1. Why do you think the competition is called the International Birdman?
  2. Draw a timeline to explain the history of the International Birdman event.
  3. True or False: it was not possible to hold the competition on Bognor Regis Pier between 2008 and 2009.
  4. How do you think it feels to compete in the International Birdman competition?
  5. What do you think ‘attempting’ means? a) failing b) pretending c) trying
  6. List five facts about Bognor Regis based on information in the text.
  7. List three similarities between Worthing and Bognor Regis based on information in the text.
  8. Do people compete in the event for financial reward?
  9. Read the second sentence. Why do you think the author wrote the word ‘birdmen’ in that way?

Now think about the following:

  • Can you identify the purpose of each question (or task)?
  • Which questions above do you like? Which do you dislike?
  • Think about the questions you like. For which learner level do you think each question would be appropriate?
  • Would you say any of the questions are ambiguous? How would you feel about including such questions in your own tasks? Based on your knowledge of published resources, how do you think publishers view such questions?
  • How many different types of question formulation are there in the examples? Can you think of any more?


Choose an authentic text. Write two sets of questions based on the same text for different learner levels. Choose the question types that you think are most appropriate.

When you finish, write a brief rationale explaining the purpose of each question and why it is suitable.

Some question type examples:

Plain sense, grammatical relationships, emotional response, relationships of thought, response to a whole passage, inference…

Question formulation types: Wh- questions, polar questions, multiple-choice, context free…

This development task was inspired by Eileen MacIntyre’s great input during the Dip. I often recommend TLI as a training centre – click here for more info.

Categories: General, materials writing, teacher development

Tags: , , , , , ,

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