Checking Learning and Understanding
When should we check understanding?
How can we check understanding?
Concept questions
Cooperative learning
Checking understanding of instructions
How not to check understanding
Category: educationeducation

Checking Learning and Understanding

1. Checking Learning and Understanding

2. When should we check understanding?

• when we are introducing or revising
new language
• when, during an activity, we realise
that our learners haven’t understood
• when we are giving instructions for an
• when we are correcting errors
• when feeding back for comprehension of
a listening or reading activity

3. How can we check understanding?

• Using synonyms and
Example: hot
“What’s the opposite of hot?”
• Eliciting or giving definitions
or examples
Example: software
“What are some examples of software?”
• Getting the students to mark
language on timelines


How can we check
• Asking for personal responses
Example: bear
“What would you do if you saw a bear?”
• Using pictures or realia
• Discriminating between different forms
Example: “I ate my dinner when you arrived” / “I was eating
my dinner when you arrived”
– What’s the difference?
• Using translation

5. Concept questions

1.Target sentence: Look! They're painting the wall
Checking questions
Is it happening now?
2.Target sentence: She’s a shop assistant.
She works in a shop
Can you see it?
Checking questions
Is the painting finished?
Has she got a job?
Are they painting now?
Is she working now?
Don’t know
3.Target sentence: If I won the lottery,
I'd buy a new car
Does she work there
every day?
Is this the past, present
or future?
Present, but also past
and probably future
Is this the past, present or future?
Checking questions
Have I won the lottery?
Am I going to win the lottery?
Probably not
Am I going to buy a new car?
Probably not
Has he got a lottery ticket?

6. Paraphrasing

According to Svinicki and McKeachie (McKeachie’s Teaching
Tips, 14th Edition)
For example, trying to paraphrase in our own words what we are 
reading in a textbook is a good way to help build meaning, but it 
also helps us to identify gaps or errors in our understanding. If we 
try to apply our knowledge and have difficulty using it, or if we try 
to explain it to someone else and cannot do it, we would also know
 that we have some comprehension problems. Monitoring our 
comprehension is an important part of strategic learning that 
fosters self-regulation. Only if we know we have a problem in our 
understanding or a gap in our knowledge can we do something 
about it.

7. Cooperative learning

Cooperative learning
McKeachie explains cooperative learning as a
method that builds on peer tutoring:
We have long known that in many traditional tutoring 
situations the tutor, not the student receiving the tutoring, 
benefits the most. While processing the content for presentation, the tutor is consolidating and integrating his or her 
content knowledge. At the same time, the tutor is also learning a 
great deal about how to learn. The tutor needs to diagnose the
tutee’s learning problem, or knowledge gap, in order to help the 
tutee overcome it.

8. Checking understanding of instructions

• Modelling the activity with one
• Asking one pair of students to model
the activity
• Asking students to repeat the
instructions back to you – if you have
broken the instructions down into clear
steps, this becomes easier

9. How not to check understanding



Do you understand?
• Learners may be afraid or shy to admit
that they don’t understand. Loss of face
with peers or the teacher can be an issue.
• Learners may think they understand but
don’t. False friends are one reason for
this. For example, a French student may
think “actually” translates as
“actuellement”. (“Actuellement” in fact
translates more like “at the moment”,
“currently” or “nowadays”).
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