free resources and more…

Forming Questions Part 1: “Wh” questions with “to be”


Forming questions is one of the biggest challenges for English students.  In this lesson for beginners, students practice forming basic questions with the verb “to be.”   They are also introduced to QwASVO (Question word, Auxiliary, Subject, Verb, Other), which is a learning tool that helps students form questions.

Introducing the Topic

Put the question below on the board.

Is English Difficult?  Why?

Get some answers from your students.  Hopefully, one of them will say that asking questions is difficult in English. Tell them that you will teach them to ask basic questions correctly.

Introducing Question Formation: QwASVO

Show students the charts below which illustrate statement form and question form with the verb “to be.”

Statement order

Wh questions with to be

Make sure you point out the following:
1) The order is reversed in question form.  The auxiliary comes BEFORE the subject.
2) Sometimes the “Qw” part of QwASVO can be more than one word.  The two most common examples are “how old” and “what time.”

Question words

Structured Practice

In partners, ask students to put the questions below in order.  Tell them to use QwASVO to determine the order of the words.  [Variation:  give students small whiteboards and markers and have them compete against each other to see who can put the words in order first.]

1) is where restaurant the?
2) conference the is when on Monday?
3) is favorite your activity what?
4) weather today is how the?
5) are new the employees how?
6) are you why at work?
7) class English is when on Friday?
8) are your coworkers who?
9) am why I tired today?
10) is who favorite his singer?
11) old how Carl is?
12) is time flight my what tomorrow?


Less Structured Practice

Put students in partners.  Tell them they will ask their partner questions with “to be.”  Tell them to find out the following about their partner:

his/her job
his/her name
his/her favorite activity
his/her favorite book
the location of his/her company

Before having them ask their partner the questions, tell them to write the questions they will ask their partner.   Walk around the room and make sure their questions are correct.

Once everyone has their questions written, have them interview their partner.  Ask them to write their partner’s responses.

When they’ve finished with their interviews, have them present the information about their partner to the rest of the class.  Give them a few minutes to prepare what they are going to say in front of the class.

Producing the Language

Put students in different pairs.  Tell one student to think of a famous person.  The other student asks “wh” questions with “to be” to find out who the person is.

Example:  Student A chooses Bill Gates
Student B:
What is his job?
Where is he from?
Where is his company?
How old is he?

Repeat the process a few times and have students change partners a few times to ensure they get enough practice.