Concept Checking Questions (CCQs)

Harassed Henry Day 3
© The Ultimate Guide to CELTA

When presenting new language we have to be able to check that the students have understood the meaning, one way of doing this is to ask CCQs.

Unfortunately our trainees often struggle with CCQs so I am going to attempt to simplify them here for you.

Language item: I went to New Zealand last year.

Our focus is past simple to talk about something that happened in the past and is now finished so we need to ask questions that confirm the students understand this usage of the past simple.  First, let’s consider the facts about this sentence:

  1. I am not in New Zealand now.
  2. I was not in New Zealand last month.
  3. I was in New Zealand last year.
  4. We are not sure when last year.

Now that we have established the facts, we can turn the 4 facts into CCQs:

  1. Am I in New Zealand now? No
  2. Was I in New Zealand last month? No
  3. Was I in New Zealand last year? Yes
  4. Do we know when I was in New Zealand last year? No. Is it important? No


Language item: That must be her brother, he has the same eyes as her.

Our target language is “must be” for assumption.  So now let’s consider the facts:

  1. I am not 100% sure if it is her brother.
  2. I am (possibly) expecting her brother to be here.
  3. I have not met her brother before.
  4. I think it is her brother because of his eyes.

Now that we have established the facts, we can turn these into CCQs:

  1. Am I 100% sure it is her brother? No
  2. Am I expecting her brother to be here? (possibly)
  3. Have I met her brother before? (No)
  4. Do I think it is her brother because of his eyes? Yes


Now let’s look at some bad CCQs, can you say why they are bad?

Language item: The kitchen has a cupboard.


  1. Do you have a cupboard in your kitchen?
  2. Does a cupboard have pots and pans in it?
  3. Is a cupboard a wardrobe?
  4. Is a cupboard made of cups and boards?

What’s wrong with the above CCQs?

  • If the student didn’t know what a cupboard is the CCQs will not help.
  • For most concrete nouns there is no need to ask CCQs, a couple of pictures will suffice.
kitchen cupboard
CC0 Creative Commons

Language item: If it rains tomorrow, I’ll go to the museum.


  1. Will you go to the museum if the sun is shining?
  2. Is this a conditional sentence?
  3. Which type of conditional sentence is it?
  4. Might it be possible that I will go to the museum tomorrow?

So what is wrong with the above CCQs?

  • the first uses the target language
  • the second and third check the understanding of students’ knowledge of grammar terminology not the meaning
  • the fourth question is even more complicated than the target language


Eliciting Questions v Concept Checking Questions

Teacher: What type of fruit do monkeys eat?

Student: Banana

In the example above, the teacher elicits the word banana from the student.  Questions like this are not CCQs, an eliciting question is used to find out what students already know, whereas a CCQ is used to check that the students have understood the newly presented language – don’t mix them up!!


Comprehension Questions v Concept Checking Questions

“The girl walking down the road was wearing shiny, silver shoes…”

Teacher: What kind of shoes was the girl wearing?

Student: Her shoes were shiny and silver.

This shows the student has understood the text they have read but does not show they know what the word shiny means.

“Comprehension questions are often used in conjunction with reading or listening texts……… the purpose of comprehension questions is to check the learners’ understanding of text, either spoken or written….. more helpful approach, is to set questions in advance of listening or reading and which learners answer while reading or listening…..”

“A concept question is a question designed to check or to guide learners’ understanding of the meaning of a new word or grammar item…….”

Source: An A-Z of ELT, Thornbury, S. 2006 Macmillan


The Golden Rules of CCQ writing

So now that we know how to write CCQs and how not to write CCQs what are the golden rules of CCQ writing?

  1. Use simple language.
  2. Avoid using the target language.
  3. Aim for the answers to be yes/no or short answers.
  4. CCQs for concrete nouns are generally not necessary, use pictures instead.
  5. One CCQ will not be enough, aim to have 3 or 4.
  6. Asking a CCQ and getting the expected answer from one student does not mean that all students have understood the concept.  Ask more than one CCQ and aim the questions at weaker as well as stronger students.
  7. Questions which aim to make the students say the target language are not CCQs (they are eliciticing questions)



Can you add to the tips above?


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Author: Emma Jones

A CELTA Tutor based in Munich and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to CELTA

23 thoughts on “Concept Checking Questions (CCQs)”

  1. What a helpful article! Is it effective to ask CCQs in L1? I just don’t think my students will understand what I want from them. Also, what is the best way to learn how to ask the right CCQs?


    1. I‘m not sure that CCQs in the L1 can be really effective, instead you may as well just translate the target language which really we are aiming to avoid to get the learners thinking in English. If you plan your CCQs before the lesson as per my suggestions, eventually they will become 2nd nature …..


  2. Please how can we convey the difference between “angry” and “furious” and which CCQs can be asked to check understanding.


    1. Hi Hopeseeker

      I think first you need to clarify that furious is stronger than angry (extremely angry) then ask some CCQs in context.

      Context: His father was furious when he came home at 1am.

      1. was his father happy? No
      2. was his father angry? Yes
      3. was his father extremely angry? Yes


      1. Thank you so much Emma. That’s a good suggestion.
        Any suggestions for clarifying yhe difference between used to and am used to in the following sentence? I would appreciate your feedback.
        I used to find local food hot, but now I am used to it.
        Thank you again


        1. Think about the facts of the statement – if you write three facts then turn them into questions you should have three good CCQs.

          I’ll give you one to get you started but see if you can do the others – practice makes perfect 😉

          Fact: In the past the local food was too hot for me.
          CCQ: Was the local food too hot for me in the past? (Yes)


          1. Many thanks Emma. That was kind of you. Here is my attempt could you please have a look and give me some feedback
            I used to find the local food too hot, but now I’m used to it.

            Was coffee too hot in the past? Yes
            Did this happen one time? No
            Is it still too hot now? No

            m used to it
            Does this happen now? Yes
            Am i familiar with it? Yes
            Is it past? No


          2. The first ones work well but the ones for ….. but I’m now used to it don’t quite check the understanding of the meaning.

            Fact: the food is still hot but it is OK for me now.

            CCQ: Is the food still hot? Yes
            Does it stop me for eating it? No

            Fact: The food being too hot is now normal for me.

            Is it now normal for me that the food is hot? Yes
            Am I happy to eat it? Yes

            Try doing the same for:

            I used to find local customs a little odd but now I’m used to them.


          3. Hi. Please what prnunciation problems may learners find in the word “furiou”?


          4. I have chosen these six adjectives(gorgeous-muscular-exhausted-chubby-presentable and bald) to teach intermediate students. Are they a good choice? What other possible challenging adjectives would you suggest? and could be the freer practice for this.
            I would appreciate your advice and feedback. Thank you in advance


          5. Just remember to teach the language in context and exploit the context throughout the lesson. Freer practice could be some sort of discussion based on the context.


  3. Thanks Emma,

    I think CCQ’s are a core tool for the CELTA and the communicative approach. As a CELTA graduate, I found this the hardest tool to wrap my head around. I asked my trainers to look at developing something more specific to training just on this tool. Though this tool was covered and examples and videos given, I think actual focused training is needed on just CCQ’s and that there should seriously be a more thorough assessment on the use of this tool alone. I liken it to a personal trainer. While you are in the midst of actually doing the activity that is when the personal trainer can come in and tell you to do this or that or tweak this or that, and have you practice until you get the correct rhythm and feel of what it is. That is not the case in from what I experienced in the CELTA program. I believe if CELTA added specialized training and assessment on just this tool alone then you would see a great paradigm shift in how we teach. A personal point in case, I just had a demo lesson at a school for prospective employment and though I was considered competent and dedicated the one thing that stood out was that I was somewhat teach-centered and my CCQs were lacking. I believe if my CCQs muscles were sufficiently practiced and in shape and assessed specifically in my CELTA then I might not have lapsed into my non-CCQ activity by opting for the more traditional ICQ approach.
    What do you think of this idea for Cambridge University to add in their CELTA training?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Fred
      Thanks for your comments. I agree that CCQs are an important part of the EFL classroom and that they are difficult to master. Unfortunately there are so many elements that are needed to become a successful EFL teacher, it can’t all be done as thoroughly as we might like. This is why we are writing this Blog in the hope that it will help more people around the world to become the best teacher they can be. If there are any other topics you would like us to look at, let us know!


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