(This worksheet was adapted from previous worksheets from the Department of English)


Introduction Reference For Further Reading
Seeking Clarification Additional Tasks for Practice
Task 1 Suggested Answer Key to Tasks
Task2 Task 1b
Task 3 Task 2
Task4 Task 3
Task 5 Task 4
Requesting Extra Information Task 5
Task 6 Additional Tasks for Practice
Task 7  

Introduction

Asking questions and seeking clarification during tutorials, seminars and lectures is important at university as it can help you to understand the message and information more easily. Most tutors appreciate students’ questions and contribution to the lesson. This kind of feedback helps the tutor see how the class is handling the material. Below are some useful phrases and questions to help you in this important role. Hopefully you will find this information helpful and practical.

TIP! English typically uses a number of polite introductory phrases before a question is asked. This is because it can be considered impolite, or too direct, to state something without some kind of introduction to the question. However, it is quite common and normal for the introductory phrases to the question to be brief.

Below is some language arranged from polite, to least polite for you to study. Try and use these phrases in your lessons - your tutor will be impressed! Notice the use of the introductory phrases in the POLITE / FORMAL, NEUTRAL and LEAST POLITE / INFORMAL sections. (There is an answer key at the end of this worksheet).

 

1) Seeking Clarification

(A) Asking for something to be repeated, rephrased or summarised:

POLITE / FORMAL

NEUTRAL

LEAST POLITE / INFORMAL

Task 1

Below in sections (B) and (C) are more phrases you can use with your tutors when you would like examples or  illustrations and when you wish to check your understanding. Try to arrange them according to POLITE / FORMAL, NEUTRAL, LEAST POLITE / INFORMAL.

(B) Asking your tutor to give examples and illustrations:

 

POLITE / FORMAL

NEUTRAL

LEAST POLITE / INFORMAL

     
     
     
     
     

 

(C) Checking that you have understood:

POLITE / FORMAL

NEUTRAL

LEAST POLITE / INFORMAL

     
     
     
     
     

Task 2

Below are 5 situations which need your attention. Rewrite each of them, adding what is necessary to make them appropriate to the situation. Use some of the phrases from (A), (B), and (C) above to help you.

  1. The tutor is leading a seminar; there are 20 students present.

Sir. Tell us again what happens to the heating and ventilation system.

____________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________

  1. The tutor has finished the lesson and is explaining an assignment to the class.

I didn't understand what you said about the project. Explain to us again.

____________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________

  1. The tutor is giving a lecture to 60 students.

Why doesn't the machine operate in this case?

___________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________

  1. The tutor has turned to write something on the board and finishes his last statement while facing the board.

I couldn't hear your last point about hospital care.

____________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________

  1. The tutor is describing a process to a group of 15 students in a laboratory.

You didn't explain that clearly enough. Say it again.

____________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________

2) Interrupting Your Tutor or Other Speaker

Task 3

Either with a partner or by yourself list reasons why you would need to interrupt your tutor or another speaker.

___________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________

 

Task 4

Can you think of additional suitable phrases to those listed below you can use to help you interrupt your tutor or another speaker while she / he is talking. Add them to the list.

POLITE / FORMAL

NEUTRAL

LEAST POLITE / INFORMAL

Sorry to interrupt, but... I have a question. ... Hang on! ...
     
     
     
     

 

Task 5

Role-play. Form a small group of 3 / 4 people or just team up with one other person. You will hold a conversation on a topic related to a subject you have been studying at university. Student 1 will be the tutor discussing the subject, while students 2, 3 and 4 will be interrupting to ask for clarification and to check whether she / he has understood what was said. Use the phrases you have studied above to help you. Try to use the right phrase according to the degree of formality of your conversation.

TIP! Why not tape record the role-play and afterwards play it back to see how well you used the phrases. As you listen to the tape decide how polite you sounded. You'll need a tape player & blank cassette for this; they are available in ST405 and CILL (The Centre for Independent Language Learning) at the bottom of Core E.

3) Requesting Extra Information

In addition to seeking clarification, checking your understanding of a topic and needing to interrupt another speaker in English (all very important skills for you as a student at the Polytechnic University), you will probably need to request extra information from time to time. Very often requesting extra information may follow some kind of interruption.

Task 6

With a partner write down as many ways as you can think of for requesting extra information. Some examples have been given to help you get started.

POLITE / FORMAL

NEUTRAL

LEAST POLITE / INFORMAL

I'd like to ask a question about... I'd like to know... I have a question!
     
     
     
     

 

Task 7

Below are 5 more situations which need your attention. Rewrite each of them, adding what is necessary to make them appropriate to the situation. Use some of the phrases from Section 2 and 3 above to help you.

 

  1. The tutor has finished discussing a particular part of company law and starts to discuss contract law.

Oh, stop. What was that point about....in company law? It's not clear.

____________________________________________________________________

____________________________________________________________________

 

  1. The tutor makes a side-comment not directly related to the main topic of his lesson.

What did you say?

_____________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________

 

  1. The tutor writes something unclearly on the whiteboard.

I want you to tell me what that means.

_____________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________

 

  1. The tutor is explaining an important point to 20 students studying psychology.

Sorry, you're talking too fast. And you must tell us more about...please.

_____________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________

 

  1. The tutor is explaining where references can be found for a homework task.

What about other books? Where will they be?

______________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________

 

In this worksheet you have studied and practised some useful phrases to help you in your tutorials, lectures and classes. These phrases should help you with asking questions, seeking clarification, interrupting others and requesting extra information. Hopefully you have become more aware of the polite forms to use and the sort of language your tutors might expect you to use. Try and become more familiar with these phrases and try them out with your tutors!

 

References   for further reading:

Jones, L. (1981) Functions of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (PE 1128.J.56)

"Asking & Answering Questions Socially” worksheet by Charles Griffith, English Language Centre.

 

ADDITIONAL TASKS FOR PRACTICE

Below are some situations you could easily find yourself in at University. What do you say in each situation? Write down your ideas on the lines provided. Suggested answers are given in the key at the end of this worksheet.

1) When you are late.

________________________________________________________________________

 

2) When you forget to bring your homework assignment.

________________________________________________________________________

 

3) When you ask your tutor to postpone the assignment deadline by a week.

________________________________________________________________________

 

4) When you notice an error your tutor has written on the board.

________________________________________________________________________

 

5) When your tutor wrongly interprets what you have said.

________________________________________________________________________

 

6) When you are unable to answer a question.

________________________________________________________________________

 

7) When you want to go to the toilet.

________________________________________________________________________

 

8) When you need to leave early.

________________________________________________________________________

 

9) When you go to your tutor's office asking him / her to help you with some work.

________________________________________________________________________

 

10) When you wish to challenge a grade your tutor has given you for an assignment.

________________________________________________________________________

 


SUGGESTED ANSWER KEY TO TASKS

Task 1b

POLITE / FORMAL

NEUTRAL

LEAST POLITE / INFORMAL

Task 1c

POLITE / FORMAL

NEUTRAL

LEAST POLITE / INFORMAL

Task 2 Possible answers - of course others may be suitable. Basically the LEAST POLITE / INFORMAL part would be inappropriate.

  1. Sir. Do you think you could repeat the part about the heating and ventilation system once again please.
  2. Sorry, but I'm not sure I'm following you. Would you mind repeating the part about the project?
  3. Do you think you could give a reason why the machine doesn't operate in this case?
  4. Excuse me, but I didn't catch the last point about hospital care.
  5. Can we go over that again. Would you have an illustration of what you mean?

Task 3

Task 4

POLITE / FORMAL

NEUTRAL

LEAST POLITE / INFORMAL

Task 5

POLITE / FORMAL

NEUTRAL

LEAST POLITE / INFORMAL

Additional Tasks for Practice - The words in brackets make the phrases more polite.

These answers are simply suggested answers - others could be equally appropriate.

1) I'm (very) sorry for being late - (excuse me).

2) I'm (terribly) sorry but I seem to have forgotten my homework - (excuse me).

3) We were wondering whether you could (possibly) postpone the deadline by a week.

4) Excuse me sir / miss but there seems to be an error in what you've written.

5) I think you (may) have misunderstood my point. What I was trying to say was....

6) I'm afraid I'm not sure how to answer; perhaps somebody else would like to answer.

7) Excuse me but I wish to be excused for a while.

8) I'm afraid I will need to leave early today.

9) Excuse me for interrupting you but I was wondering whether you could (possibly) help me with...

10) Thank you for your grade sir / miss but I would like to ask you to reconsider it as I feel it is unfair/too low/too high. My reasons for asking you to reconsider are......

 


Last revised 15 September 1998

Copyrightę1998, English Language Centre, HKPU. All rights reserved.


(If you are working alone, contact us with any questions or comments!)