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There are a number of terms you need to become familiar with in TEFL and “eliciting” is one loved by TEFL trainers the world over. Eliciting is when you attempt to draw out information from your students instead of giving it to them directly. Usually eliciting is used as a form of brainstorming or as a way of getting students to produce certain aspects of the English language. There are many circumstances when eliciting can be a useful tool, but often there are times when eliciting should be abandoned.
We can assume that eliciting came about as a way of bringing students’ outside knowledge into the classroom. In other words, we try to use students’ previous knowledge to inform the content of the lesson so that we do not teach what is already known. This is especially useful in recapping or brainstorming situations, where eliciting is a team effort and there are many correct answers. It is not particularly useful if the students have no ideas or knowledge on the topic.
What is especially important is to keep in mind the balance of eliciting. You cannot elicit everything, but you shouldn’t elicit nothing. You cannot focus your eliciting on the one student you know knows the answer, but you cannot wait for an eternity for others who may not know the answer at all. You can elicit work that has already been dealt with or knowledge you know your students know, but you cannot elicit new work your students aren’t familiar with.
The problem often comes when teachers elicit for a very specific answer. It’s quite possible that no one knows the answer and yet teachers often prolong the eliciting exercise by giving hints or clues. Remember that if students have no idea, no matter how much you help them they will probably still have no idea. Also, they may not understand what it is you are wanting from them. Even if they give you an appropriate response, it may not be what you are looking for and so it will be dismissed and the whole process will continue.
The next thing that some teachers do is to try and elicit information that there is no way the students would know. Eliciting is a means of finding out what students know but if you try and elicit the names of your children, don’t be upset when they don’t know or won’t answer you. It is also unfair to elicit new language which you haven’t discussed in class. Though they may try this to find out if they are familiar with it or not, you will get your answer very soon so there should be no need to keep eliciting.
So, while eliciting can be a very useful tool, it shouldn’t be exploited. It needs to be done with care and with thought or it could lead to a very frustrated classroom!
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