Good and taboo questions (TEFLtastic Classics Part 49)

Updated 20 June 2021

The best thing you can teach students about almost any language point is how to ask and answer the kinds of questions related to that language which people really ask each other. However, doing just this more than a couple of times can get a bit dull and mean that the questions don’t really stick in students’ minds. One way around that is to give students a mix of those typical real-life small talk questions and ones that have the same language but we rarely or never actually ask each other (perhaps include the ridiculous questions that were put in the textbook without the intention of being taboo like “How often do you have a bath?”)

Nice activities with these kinds of good and taboo questions include students:

  • only asking and answering the good questions (rejecting all others with “I’d rather not say”, etc)
  • trying to choose the easiest and most normal questions, with the person who chose the one that they agree is least taboo being able to ask their choice each time and the other person having to answer
  • getting a point for each question that they answer or reject in a polite way with a phrase which is at least slightly different from previous rejections (e.g. “I’d rather keep that to myself” if someone has already said “I’d rather not say”)
  • asking a question and then flipping a coin to see if they can ask it to someone else (heads) or have to answer it themselves (tails) (the previous TEFLtastic Classic Ask and Tell)
  • flipping a coin to decide if the next question should be an easy common everyday one (heads) or a very personal one (tails), with the latter having to be answered if they can’t think of a new phrase to politely reject the question
  • flipping a coin after they hear the question to see if they should answer or not, and then discussing what their real reaction would be
  • getting more points if their partner asks them a taboo question, and even more points if they actually answer it
  • classifying the questions by how taboo they are, then choosing which rank of question they want next, with more points for trickier topics
  • classifying the questions by how taboo they are, then choosing which rank of question they will get next with a coin (heads = easy common question, tails = taboo question)
  • classifying the questions by how taboo they are, then choosing which rank of question they will get next with a dice (1 = very easy question even with strangers, 2 = less common with strangers but okay with acquaintances, etc)

Most of these activities should also help make students more aware of what kinds of questions are good and bad to ask, and can lead nicely onto taboo topics more generally.

And here are some I made earlier, organised by language point:

Good and taboo questions to practise grammar

Good and taboo questions to practise tenses

Good and taboo questions to practise present tenses

Present Simple taboo questions game

Good and taboo questions with be and do – NEW

Present Simple and Continuous taboo topics game

Business English Present Simple and Continuous taboo topics game lower level version

Adverbs of frequency- good and taboo questions coin game – NEW

Good and taboo Present Continuous questions – COMING SOON

Good and taboo questions to practise past tenses

Good and taboo Past Simple questions – COMING SOON

Good and taboo Past Continuous questions – COMING SOON

Good and taboo Present Perfect Simple and Continuous questions – COMING SOON

Good and taboo questions to practise question formation

Good and bad subject questions (including taboo topics discussion)

Good and bad how questions

Direct, indirect and taboo small talk questions

Direct, indirect and taboo Christmas questions

Good and taboo questions for other grammar points

Good and taboo passive voice questions

Good and taboo questions with have something done – COMING SOON

Good and taboo questions on can for ability – COMING SOON

Good and taboo countable and uncountable questions – COMING SOON

Good and taboo irregular plurals questions – COMING SOON

Good and taboo have and have got questions – COMING SOON

It should also be possible with vocabulary-based topics, especially with subjects that are sometimes good for small talk but can sometimes be sensitive like:

  • good and taboo questions about family
  • good and taboo questions about work
  • good and taboo questions about health
  • good and taboo questions about free time

(not coming soon)

48 more endlessly adaptable activities that almost always work here.

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