Eliciting vocabulary is an important part of teaching ESL.
When introducing new vocabulary, students might be able to provide the word as well as a simple definition. The vocabulary may be new to the class, but individual students often have varying degrees of exposure to English. They can make it easier for their peers to grasp new concepts or ideas especially if they can give an accurate translation. When eliciting old vocabulary, it is simply better for students to try to recall the appropriate word than for you to provide it. Requiring student participation throughout your lessons also keeps students more engaged, gives them more practice opportunities, and reduces your overall talking time.
How To Proceed
Miming Miming is a common method of eliciting vocabulary. You can say “The elephant was very…” with outstretched arms and your students should say “Big!” If your students guess other words first, such as long or tall, simply shake your head or gesture for them to continue guessing words while exaggerating your hint. It is a lot like Charades and it requires much more effort on your students’ part than you completing the sentence. It also serves the purpose of checking to see what they know or can remember from previous lessons.
Drawing Drawings can also jog a student’s memory. In the example above, you may want to have a picture (flashcard) in order to describe the difference between other words students suggested. For example, long describes the distance from the tip of the elephant’s trunk to the end of his tail, while tall describes the distance between the ground and the top of the elephant when what you are looking for is an overall description. Indicating what descriptive word you are looking for on the image can help students understand what word you are trying to elicit from them. Drawings can also be a way of engaging students who have strong artistic abilities. It is not always appropriate to spend time having students draw on the board, however if you can prepare for your lesson or get groups organized while a few students come to the board and draw images that you plan to use in your lesson, it can be a good way of getting certain students involved. You can then use their drawings to elicit vocabulary.
Lists Often when introducing a new topic, such as directions, there will be a lot of new vocabulary too. For a directions lesson you will want to review places so simply ask your students to name places and make a list on the board. You can start them off by listing one or two and students should be able to list quite a number of related vocabulary words such as post office, school, park, and any other place related words you have taught them. This should only take a few minutes but if there are specific words that you need on the board for the purposes of your lesson you can say “What about zoo?” and write ‘zoo’ on the board. You could also give hints to lead your students to say certain words. In about five minutes you and your students will have compiled a fairly comprehensive list of words they know which you plan to use in the lesson and they can refer to for the rest of class.
Synonyms Using synonyms is a good way to maintain students’ vocabulary. It is common for students to use the word fast much more often than the word quick so it may be appropriate to say “The cheetah is fast. What is another word for fast?” Eliciting synonyms will help students recall words that they use less frequently.
Antonyms Another way of eliciting certain types of vocabulary is to give the opposite word of the word you are searching for. You can say “He’s not sad, he’s…” and your students should say “Happy!” Combining this with miming will give your students a really solid hint.
Hints If students have difficulty producing the word you are looking for, assuming it is an old vocabulary word and not a new one, giving them the first letter or syllable may assist them further.
Overall it is better for students to produce material than for you to give it to them.
It will keep them more engaged in your lessons because they will never know when you may ask them something and it will help them maintain a broader set of vocabulary.
What’s your favorite way to elicit new vocabulary? Do you mime, or draw, or do something else? Please share in the comments below!
Tara has worked with English Language Learners of all ages for many years and has taught in Japan, Cambodia, and China as well as online. When she is not teaching, she enjoys cooking, traveling around the world, and scuba diving. She is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California.
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For my upper beginner students, they like me to give the initial letter or the final letter of the words, and if they get difficulty, they ask me to show some flashcards. Sometimes, i provide some jumble-letters to re-arrange them and they could guess .