When elicitation goes wrong

Don’t know if it’s midnight feeds, old age or early onset Alzheimer’s, but I seem to be pausing for thought a lot more than usual in class recently. Unfortunately, I’ve got my students so well trained to be elicited from that they’ve been completing my sentences for me even when that wasn’t the intention!

I had been reacting against elicitation as sometimes patronising and often automatically used for no real purpose, but doing a classroom language course for teachers where I took it on myself to be a model of the kinds of classroom questions that I was talking about seems to have put me back at post-CELTA level. Better than monologues and/ or student silence but can be, and is probably being, overdone.

Was more amused than troubled by this development, but for a more serious look at elicitation you could look at Advantages and disadvantages of eliciting in the EFL classroom. Alternatively, you could see this as a continuation of my Most Overrated Things in TEFL series.

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10 Responses to When elicitation goes wrong

  1. That’s a very good article Alex.

    I remember when during CELTA I was supposed to elicit a bunch of adjectives describing character and it took me a lot more time than usual. I didn’t expect that and didn’t put it in the anticipated students’ problems table in my lesson plan.

    As a result my TTT dominated the class and I got told off. But I was doing only what I had been told to! That really pissed me off.

    I hope other CELTA trainers will read what you wrote even if it’s only going to make them pause and think 🙂

  2. Peter Fenton says:

    ‘Never ask a question you already know the answer to’.

    I remember reading this quote from a teacher once but can’t for the life of me remember where I saw it. Anyway, it seems quite apt.

  3. Sputnik says:

    A very thought-provoking article (the advantages and disadvantages one). In the penultimate section you mention using unfinished sentences and statements as questions. I’ve found the latter to get mixed results and I more than not have to reformulate them as QASI questions in order for my students to understand that they are questions. The failure of this has been useful both for me and them in raising awareness of what we don’t know.

  4. Jeremy says:

    It’s a great article, Alex. How did you squeeze all those great ideas out of such a simple technique that most of us take for granted?

    Reminds me of the old joke (How many TEFL teachers does it take to change a lightbulb?).

    One comment really struck a chord with me – teacher trainers using the same technique on their trainees. I once sat through two days of training (How to teach kiddies), and it was all elicited. Rubbish – I was there precisely because I didn’t know the answers and wanted the trainer to explain.

    (By the way, you really don’t want to know the answer to the lightbulb joke.)


  5. Neil Barker says:

    I’ve had those awkward pauses a few times — but more it was to catch myself from asking a question that could embarrass someone. I’ve found that teaching Korean managers can be quite challenging, and avoiding some topics altogether is the best method.

    The topics change with each class, and I usually get a feel for which topics are safe after a few days. Until then, I usually stick with food and travel experiences.

    Although, I’ve had some students turn food and recipes into patriotic rants!

  6. Alex Case says:

    “Only one, but they just ask questions, mime and draw on the board until the lightbulb changes itself” by any chance.

    More on the nightmare of being continuously TEFLed at a TEFL conference:


  7. Alex Case says:

    Or maybe “As long as they are a native speaker, they’ll be given a ladder and told to get on with it on their own”

  8. Jeremy says:

    Hmmm … good ideas, Alex. Anyone else?

  9. SandyM says:

    I actually think that eliciting can be quite fun, especially if you let the students’ imagination soar and allow them to use all manner of words and gestures to describe what they want to say. The more uninhibited a class, the more they will get into it and not fear making any mistakes.

    And of course, you can play little games with them too – “What’s the word that begins with a letter ‘w’ and means idiot?” – “Right, Pablo – it’s ‘wanker’!”

  10. Peter Fenton says:

    How many TEFL teachers do YOU think it takes to change a lightbulb?

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