"I Wanna Know What They Really Know": 15 Easy Techniques to Elicit English from Your ESL Students

"I Wanna Know What They Really Know"
15 Easy Techniques to Elicit English from Your ESL Students

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 49,896 views

What is Eliciting?

Though the phrase eliciting techniques may be a little off putting, it’s really quite a simple thing. Eliciting means getting students to use specific language skills you are looking for. Teachers use elicitation to get information from students about what they know and what they don’t know. Successful elicitation saves time because you can zero in on what aspect of language you are trying to assess. You can use eliciting techniques to test just about any aspect of language including but not limited to vocabulary, grammar, and content. The information you the teacher get when you use eliciting techniques will help you plan more focused and applicable lessons.

When you use eliciting techniques, your students are the ones who are speaking. That means you are limiting teacher talk time, something we all strive to do. Students are often communicating with each other, and that makes eliciting communicative. The more students can actually use English in the classroom, the better off they will be when they walk out of it. You will need to start off the conversation with an appropriate prompt that will elicit the correct information. But once you do, you can step back and let the students carry the conversation.

Keep in mind that though eliciting has great potential for ESL teachers and students, it also has some pitfalls. Make sure you aren’t forcing your students to speak. And remember that cultural differences can come into play when you are directing a class this way. In fact, you may find at times that students resist participating in this kind of class, but don’t worry if that happens. Simply give your students more input and encouragement, and they will likely step up their participation to the level you are looking for.

5 Eliciting Vocabulary Techniques for ESL Teachers

  1. Vocabulary development is one of the most important aspects of language learning. A person can know all the grammar in the world but without the proper vocabulary to express themselves they will not be able to say anything. It is therefore essential that we teachers give our students as many opportunities to use the words they have learned as we can, and we can do this through eliciting techniques. Here are some you can try.

  2. 1


    Give students definitions of your target words and ask them to come up with the matching word. You can use English dictionary definitions or simplified definitions you write yourself.

  3. 2


    Give your students synonyms of the words you want to elicit and see if they can come up with the target vocabulary. You can do this in a straightforward manner, or you can give them synonyms in the context of a game such as Bingo or Go Fish. You can also do the same types of activities with antonyms rather than synonyms.

  4. 3


    Give students a sentence or written passage and ask them to paraphrase the original sentences. When students paraphrase, they should say the same thing with different words, and that’s where you’ll elicit the specific vocabulary you are looking for.

  5. 4


    For a very natural way to elicit certain vocabulary, pretend to forget the word you are looking for as you speak and wait for your students to supply the target word you are looking for.

  6. 5

    Asking Questions

    Ask questions whose answers will require your students to use the target vocabulary.

4 Eliciting Grammar Techniques for ESL Teachers

  1. Grammar exercises are great, but how often in the real world do English speakers have to fill in the blank with the correct verb tense. Eliciting grammar points is much more realistic use of English and therefore very helpful for preparing students for real world language use. Here are some grammar eliciting techniques you can try.

  2. 1


    Have students describe a picture that depicts the grammar structure you are looking for. For example, have students describe what is happening in a given picture when you want them to use the present progressive. Show students a picture of someone who cannot decide what to do when you want to elicit modal verbs.

  3. 2


    Give your students a conversation prompt that will require the use of a particular grammatical structure. You can often find these in grammar book exercises.

  4. 3


    Ask students to give examples of a structure from a reading text or other written material after you present that structure to them.

  5. 4


    Ask students to give examples for a grammar construction you have just taught them.

6 Eliciting Ideas Techniques for ESL Teachers

  1. Ideas are often so personal or abstract, you may struggle with how to elicit them from your students, but fear not. Eliciting ideas is actually very easy with any of the following techniques.

  2. 1


    You may want to elicit ideas from your students before you do a reading assignment to help their comprehension when they read the entirety of the text. Try eliciting some ideas from them by looking at headlines or section titles and making predictions about what will be in the reading selection.

  3. 2


    Put some words on the board and ask students to share any experiences or thoughts that come to mind after reading the words.

  4. 3


    Show students a picture and have them make precisions about what happened before or after the scene they are viewing.

  5. 4

    Personal Note

    Share a personal experience about a given topic. Then ask students to share any personal experiences they have about that same topic.

  6. 5


    Brainstorm as a class or create a cluster map or idea map. You can also do this in smaller groups.

  7. 6


    Give students a topic and ask them to freewrite about it for five minutes. When students freewrite, the goal is to keep the pencil moving across the page and not stop writing for the full amount of time given. Freewriting is like a stream of consciousness on paper, and often students will come up with great ideas during the process.

Eliciting may require a little bit more effort on your part than simply lecturing your students, but the benefits of eliciting language structures and content are great for your students.

Try these ideas to get you started. Likely you’ll find all kinds of effective ways to elicit information from your students.

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