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This is an interesting point to think about and the answers will vary depending on what culture you are dealing with.
As mentioned in previous posts on this blog, if you are dealing with Asian students there is a high likelihood that they will not want to ask questions because culturally it is considered
– disrespectful to question the teacher
– a sign that you may not know something so you will be ‘losing face’
– considered a ‘geek’ or a ‘nerd’ and uncool
If you are teaching Middle East and African students, for sure they will ask something if they don’t know, even if it is to practice their English. But if there are some students who don’t ask it could be due to these things:
– too shy because (if they are a female) they don’t want the boys to think she is a know-all
– not culturally correct (if they are a female) to speak in front of men
– don’t want to show that they don’t understand and are hoping they will pick it up later
– really don’t understand and are confused and are checking out of the lesson
Whatever the reason, it’s the teacher’s role to get to the bottom of it and ensure that all students are taking part in the lesson and are also asking if necessary. If you the teacher feel that you will need to speak to the student one on one, that may make the student feel a lot more comfortable and ‘special’ and so in the long run may be more willing later on to speak up if necessary.
If you are a teacher and have other ideas on how to encourage students to ask questions, let me know.