• A More Sophisticated Technique Than Just Saying, “What did you say?” and “I don’t understand.”

Clarif CS blah Cover SHOT

(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)

Spoiler alert: You will hear quite a bit of laughing when students are doing the activity in pairs. 😁

Here is how I introduce this technique to intermediate-level ESL students:

If I say to you, “My cousin gave me a jigsaw puzzle,” and you say, “Pardon?” I’ll know you didn’t understand. But I won’t know which word you didn’t understand. It will help me if you let me know specifically which word you didn’t understand, so you might ask, “Your cousin gave you a what?” Then I know you didn’t understand “jigsaw puzzle.” Or you might ask, “Who gave you a puzzle?” Then I know you didn’t understand that I had said “my cousin.” This unit will give you practice in asking questions about specific information which you did not understand.

The practice for this technique involves a brief introductory exercise and a 3-step pair work activity.  (You can find the complete set of exercise to download and use with your students in the link below.)

These are the expressions that the students will be working on.

Clarif question chart shot

Introductory Exercise, below, serves two purposes. (1) It introduces students to the technique. (2) It demonstrates how they will carry out the pair-work activity. Students fill in the blanks individually, and then with a partner, they do a check by reading the dialogs together. It’s not necessary to do these whole class.  If you are concerned about students making mistakes while doing pair work, see • Conversation Class: What If They Make Mistakes In Pairs? Myths About Pair Work.

Clarf Intro AK shot

In the complete introduction exercise, you’ll find three more sets of dialogs like these for students to work with.

Now, students are ready to engage in the pair-work exercises. Steps 1 and 2 are controlled and Step 3 is more open. Please note, the partners cannot see each other’s page.

Student A B Step 1 shot

After Student A reads Item 1, Student B has two clarification questions to choose from. This is when the laughing begins as Student A must think of an original answer to Student B’s question. It’s very important that Student A answers Student B’s clarification question, so I highly recommend that before students get into pairs, you choose two students to demonstrate whole class how to do Item 1.

In Step 2, they change roles with Student B making the statement and Student A choosing the clarification question.

Student A B Step 2 shot

The culminating exercise is Step 3, which is more free-form. After one partner reads a statement, the other one must think of a proper clarification question.

Student A B Step 3 shot

Here is the link to the complete activity, which you can download and use with your students: Clarification Interm complete unit   

For more conversation techniques like this, see Conversation Strategies , which is now available in digital and print version for students to rent or buy.

For a discussion about what the teacher can be doing while students are working in pairs, see • The Teacher’s Role During Student-Centered Conversation Activities (on YouTube)

For practice asking for clarification with high-beginners or low-intermediate-level students, see • ESL Students Won’t Progress In Conversation Skills Without This Technique.  

Facebook  If you’d like to participate in a discussion about this posting or other teaching ESL topics, you are welcome to join our NEW  Common Sense Teaching ESL Facebook Group

David Kehe

About the free download materials. During my 40 years of teaching ESL, I have had many colleagues who were very generous with their time, advice and materials. These downloads are my way of paying it forward.

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