Learn English Speaking: An Inquiry-based Frame

English Conversation Lesson

This ESL pair work activity helps students learn English by developing speaking, listening and critical thinking skills. Students interact with a specific question and answer format that requires one student to process new information continuously. The objective is for one student to retell the story with accuracy and detail by asking the right kinds of questions.

  • Level: high beginner and up
  • Time: 10-20 minutes
  • Resources: one short story, level appropriate for the students.

Activity Flow

  1. Break students into pairs.
  2. Student A reads the story silently.
  3. Student B will ask questions.
  4. Instructions for Student A: Read the story. Answer questions truthfully but provide the minimum amount of information. Don’t provide extra details.
  5. Instructions for Student B: Learn as much information as possible about the story through specific questions. At the end of the question period, you will retell the story based on what you learn through your questions.
  6. Allow Student A 2-3 minutes to read the story.
  7. During that reading time, remind students of different questioning strategies: wh questions, yes/no questions.
  8. Allow about 10 minutes for questions and answers.
  9. After questioning, Student B retells the story. Students A listens and checks for accuracy.


  1. Ask one strong student to retell the story in front of the class.
  2. Praise effort and add missing critical information as required.

Sample Story

This short story – a Korean fable – has worked well for many years (156 words; scores 86% on the Flesch Reading Ease test; 4.4 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score). Generally, stories with two or three characters and a simple plot that involves several actions works well.

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Save time. Teach well.

Cut your lesson prep time with this 240-page collection of ESL resources that stimulate language learning and critical thinking: awesome pair work speaking activities, logic puzzles, trivia, word games and much more. Simplify your lesson planning because teaching should be a joy, not a chore.toolbox-front-cover-3d-book-8-8


The image in this post comes from Sachin Sandhu and its use complies with the owner’s creative commons licensing terms.


1 thought on “Learn English Speaking: An Inquiry-based Frame”

  1. Students do this exercise if an outline of a story is given, with the characters and a topic sentence Your pair work will make the ss to speak and make use of the WH questions and the yes /no questions. Thank you
    Munira begum

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