What is Eliciting?  Synonyms: searching, drawing out, discovering, realizing, understanding.  Eliciting is a technique used by the teacher during the lesson that involves the language learner in the process of discovering and understanding language.
Anything in the lesson can be elicited: vocabulary, grammar, experiences, and ideas. The objective of eliciting is to allow the learners the chance to participate in the learning process by letting them express their acquired or intuitive knowledge, and through critical thinking which will enhance their language abilities by adding to what they already know.

To understand what effective eliciting is, it will help to know what it is not.  Eliciting is not asking, “What does ________mean?”  It is not a “you should know this” question similar to that used by a teacher in an academic setting. It is not a vague, trivia-based question in which the learner must provide some definition similar to a word game or puzzle. Eliciting draws out what the learners know through their relationship to the words they understand. But further than that, it allows the teacher to see what the learner knows, and so permits the teacher to add to their knowledge.

The key to successful eliciting lies in an artful interaction between the teacher and the learner. There is no special time for eliciting to occur during the lesson. It can be used as needed—during any of the engage, study and activate sections of the lesson.

Eliciting Lexis (Vocabulary)  Let’s say that there is a text about the common cold. Let’s say you want to present this reading to your learners. How can you prepare them to wholly understand the text? By engaging them through eliciting, you can start talking about health in general and then more personally and specifically: For example, the teacher elicits:

What kinds of health problems are common in most people?

What kinds of common health problems do you suffer from?

Within text, you will need to determine the key lexis or vocabulary for this reading. You will decide on the key lexis based on your knowledge of your learners and what you feel is essential for them to understand, before they read, in order to get the gist of the text. Some of the words they may already know, some may be new to them. Whatever the case, you will try to get your learners to use these words in order to show they understand them. Otherwise, you can use them yourself interactively through discussion of the theme, by asking questions and using the key words in context.

For the example of a text on the common cold, you could start by having your learners will start out by providing you with some of the basic, general language about common illnesses---words and phrases they know already. You can write these words and phrases on the board as they bring them up, organizing them into parts of speech: nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc. Later, you’ll be able to erase all but the key words located in your text.

For example, let’s assume that most of your learners know the words “a cold” and “a virus”, but you aren’t sure they know the verb, “to spread”. The teacher elicits:

A virus can spread colds. What other illnesses can be spread?

Assuming the learners already know the meaning of colds and/or virus, they can deduce the meaning of SPREAD from context. If the teacher adds a gesture to show SPREAD (I.e., using your hands to sweep across the room is a spreading gesture), then the learners will most certainly access meaning.

The teacher shouldn’t assume, however, that the learners have understood the word(s) by the assent of the learners (by their saying only the word, or merely nodding their heads). The teacher will then want to CONCEPT CHECK meaning by asking something like, “What other illness can be spread?” The teacher should expect to hear something like, “the flu can be spread, or malaria, or AIDS.” By doing this, the teacher ensures that everyone has understood its precise meaning (see Concept Checking).

Eliciting is often used to pre-teach key vocabulary (words that will appear in the study and activate stages of the lesson). In doing this stage interactively, with the teacher and the learners collaborating and negotiating language (teacher draws out, learners discover, and together you arrive at understanding), the learners will more likely hold onto the meaning of these words not only in the lesson, but beyond it.

Effective eliciting of lexis can enhance the learners’ overall understanding of a lesson, especially in reading and listening lessons.  Effective ways to elicit:

  • Ask, “What is another way to say ______?”  For example: What is another way to say that you are very, very hungry? (I'm starving)
  • Provide a simple definition.  For example: It is something that we drink hot coffee and tea out of. (a mug)
  • Act it out.  For example: Wipe your brow and pretend to fall. Then ask, “What did I do?” (I fainted)
  • Ask, “What is the opposite of ______?”  For example: What is the opposite of tall? (short)
  • Use a visual.  For example: Shoe a picture of two people who look the same and ask, “What do we call two people who look the same?” (identical twins)