What is eliciting?

Back in the good old day, teachers would stand in front of a blackboard with a piece of chalk in their hand and start imparting information to their learners. The learners would make notes, copy down what was written on the balckboard, and feel blessed to be in the presence of a master educator.

Well, this ‘chalk and talk’ approach is generally frowned upon in the ELT classroom in which learners are expected to take more of an active role. Most ELT teachers I know agree with the maxim that ‘the learners need to practise English, not the teacher.’

One way to maximise STT (student-talking-time) is to elicit information and language from the learners, to get them to give you information rather than you providing it. Eliciting refers to a set of procedures or techniques to get learners to actively produce speech or writing. It is based on the premise that learners possess knowledge of the language and the world which needs to be activated in the classroom.

In order to elicit information from our learners, we need to provide some input or stimuli. We might show them a picture and ask them questions about it. These questions could be factual (What do we call this animal?) or responsive (Do you like these animals? Why? Why not?).

We also use eliciting after modelling new language. We may tell them an anecdote or present a short dialogue and ask students to identify and notice the new target language. We can then elicit the form (Is it a verb or a noun?) and the function (Are we talking about the past?) by asking questions which require the learners to work out meaning from the examples provided. They may have been exposed to this language previously so eliciting can be used to prompt access of stored knowledge.

In essence, by eliciting from our learners we can involve them in the learning process. We can use elicitation to activate their knowledge of the language and the world, encourage them to respond to stimuli, and to work out meaning from context.

Warning: Eliciting can be overused by teachers. We shouldn’t try to elicit language students don’t know and won’t be able to work out (flogging a dead horse). Also, eliciting should be used to challenge our learners but not to trick them. If we try to elicit language which is too simple for them, they may feel patronised and bored. Equally, eliciting simple language can confuse learners who may provide an incorrect answer because the answer their teacher is looking for is far too obvious. Finally, learners from certain countries are not used to eliciting techniques and may wonder why their teachers is asking them questions when they already know the answer.