Let’s suppose you’re at the mall where everyone is talking and shopping. There’s a lot of noise and your new friend, Miranda, is trying to tell you about her family. You enjoy talking to her and you want to be sure that you understand what she is saying because you hope to meet her family in the weeks ahead. This article will suggest ways of helping ESL students to understand and use tag questions to confirm their understanding of what is being said.
What are tag questions?
They are a question at the end of a sentence. We use them to make sure that we understand what has just been said. Let’s imagine that you are talking to Miranda. She is so friendly and nice that you want to get to know her better.
Miranda says, “My sister’s name is Charlotte and my mother’s name is Dorothy.
You want to check that you understand her correctly.
You say, “Your sister’s name is Charlotte, isn’t it?”
Miranda answers, “Yes, it is.”
You might say, “You don’t have a brother, do you?”
Miranda might say, “Yes, I do.” or “No, I don’t”.
You say, “They aren’t here, are they?”
Miranda answers, “Yes, they are.” or “No, they aren’t”.
Show the students that the verb used in the tag question and in the answer is the same as the one in the original question but in a different conjugation.
“Your sister’s name is Charlotte, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is.”
Point out that if the verb in the statement is negative – then the tag question is positive.
“You don’t have a brother, do you?”
The answer, positive or negative, makes the meaning clear.
“Yes, I do.” or “No, I don’t”.
This simple outline explains the basic setup for tag questions. It may help students to understand how to use them as they progress into their use with other verbs. It has been my experience that students find them very confusing at first. Providing opportunities for a lot of practice seemed to solve their difficulties.