ICQs: making sure your students know what to do


“ICQ” (or “Instruction Check Question”) is a piece of jargon which none of our non-TEFL friends would understand. But everyone understands the concept of making sure your students know what to do before they start!

ICQs are tools in the TEFL teacher’s toolbox which help us make sure students know what to do.

Good ICQs

  • are designed to help the teacher as much as the students
  • are tailored to the specific task
  • check understanding of all the relevant aspects of the task
  • contain two options so students can respond with x or y
  • are delivered while all students are looking at the teacher
  • are delivered snappily with appropriate intonation (i.e. they prompt a quick answer; students shouldn’t have to think first)
  • are scripted in advance where appropriate
  • don’t patronise students
  • can sometimes be used instead of giving instructions, (if the task is very obvious and/or a task you know your students recognise e.g. a gap-fill)

Possible ICQs for standard classroom activities

Listening activities

  • Do you write the exact words you hear or can they be other words?
  • How many people are you going to hear?
  • What are their names?
  • Do you have to write the answers or just think about them?

Speaking activities and role plays

  • Is there only one correct answer or can other answers be correct?
  • If your partner stops talking are you going to ask another question or sit in silence?
  • Are you (real name) or (role play name)?
  • Should you write the whole script or only notes?

Reading activities

  • What should you do if you don’t know a word? Continue reading or start to panic?
  • If you don’t know a word are you going to guess what it means or look it up in the dictionary?
  • Have you got time to read every word or are you just looking for the answers/matching the paragraphs to the pictures/etc?
  • Are you reading the whole text or only paragraph one?
  • What should you read first, the text or the questions?
  • How many minutes do you need?

Gap-fill tasks

  • Do you fill the gaps with words from the box or words from your head?
  • How many sentences are there?
  • How many words are there?
  • How many times can you use each word – once or twice?
  • How many words go in each gap?
  • Do you write the answer in your coursebook or your notebook?

Ordering tasks

  • What’s number one – the most (important/useful/interesting/etc) or the least (important/useful/interesting/etc)?
  • Are you putting them in the order you heard them or the order they actually happened?
  • Is there a correct answer or is it your opinion?

Matching tasks

  • How many (words…) are there? How many (pictures…) are there?
  • What should you write – the number or the letter?

Find someone who… tasks

  • How many people do you have to speak to?
  • How many questions do you ask each person?
  • What do you write on the paper?
  • What do you do after you’ve written their name?
  • Can you speak to the same person for three minutes?
  • Can you sit down or do you have to move?
  • Are you going to show other people your paper?

2 thoughts on “ICQs: making sure your students know what to do

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.