Eliciting in the TEFL Classroom

How To Teach English


Don’t tell your students; get them to tell you!

Eliciting is when a teacher gets the students to provide information rather than telling them directly.

For example, in an EFL beginners‏‎’ class a teacher could hold up a ball and say, “Ball. This is a ball. Ball.” Alternatively, the teacher could hold up the ball and ask different students, “What is this?” and using gestures and expressions go around the class until one student finally says, “Ball.”

This second scenario of getting students to delve into their own minds for the information is called eliciting and it’s a tried and proven method of helping students learn a language.

Doing this regularly in your TEFL classroom has a number of advantages. In no particular order:

  1. Students get used to exploring language rather than have the teacher spoon feed them information.
  2. Students stay alert because they are likely to be asked a question at any time during the class, even about work they are not doing at that moment.
  3. Eliciting increases student talking time rather than teacher talking time‏‎.
  4. Students learn how to guess and experiment with language; this leads to more confidence speaking.

Methods of Elicitation

Obviously the students will not be able to give information they do not have (even subconsciously) but you may well be surprised at what students know so always give it a chance.

It is best to use eliciting regularly in each lesson. In fact, if you can ask students to provide information all the time it helps a great deal. Thus you would ask students to “help” you with spelling words when you write them on the board; if you always begin the lesson by writing up the date have the students tell you; rather than tell students what page you reached in the last lesson you ask them which page… the list is endless.

In fact, if you can get into the habit of never giving out information without checking to see if someone knows first this is ideal!

Finally, when it comes to asking students, nominate a student to speak rather than throw the question open to the whole class. This ensures everyone gets a turn. See Hands Down‏‎ for more on this.

Background & Theory

Students have a great deal of passive language, that is language they have in their brains which they may not actually use when they speak or write. In the example above the students in the class may well have heard and know and understand the word, ball, but they have never used it before.

The teacher, then, simply taps this background or hidden information and helps the students bring it to the fore. This bringing up of information and making it obvious is very helpful in learning and has been proved to be useful in the language learning classroom.

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