Eliciting Techniques: How to Use in the ESL Classroom

Eliciting is a learner-centered approach to learning. Rather than getting the teacher to explain something, we want to get the learners to say what they know about the subject already.

The learner activates their knowledge, and teachers will know what they know and don’t know.

The knowledge has already been taught previously, but rather than teaching them the words, like in reviewing, we are trying to get the learner’s own ideas.

So, in a nutshell:

What is Eliciting?

Eliciting is a technique that ESL teachers use to get information about what students know and what they don’t know. We get the students to think and talk about the subject by asking questions and giving clues.

The student receives some kind of stimulus that would help them produce the desired language.

We can use pictures, prompts (visual, linguistic, a graphic organizer), a board drawing, gap-fill sentence, actions, gestures, a verbal explanation, or a combination of these.

The prompts help jog the students’ memory.

These motivate the students to say something about the topic.


Example of Eliciting in the Classroom

For example, let’s say a student wants to know the past tense of the verb “bought.”

Instead of immediately saying the answer, we could say that it was a good question, and ask others what they think.

Or, if we want the students to think of a new vocabulary word, like “fast food restaurant,” and we tell them that “we eat fries and hamburgers here.” We could even show them a picture of the restaurant.

With some luck, the students will recognize and say the vocabulary word without the teacher
saying it. This is called eliciting.

How can we elicit answers from students?

There are multiple ways we can elicit answers from students. Here are just some of the many ways to elicit an appropriate response:

Antonyms/ Synonyms

We can ask the students for the opposite of a word.

We can also give a similar word, in meaning, spelling, or pronunciation, to elicit vocabulary.

Give the Definition

We can define a word by describing it ourselves or by using a dictionary.

Students may be able to recall the word from the definition.

Remind them when they previously learned the word

Remind the students when they previously learned the word and give some context.

You could say, “remember the story we read yesterday. What was the keyword we learned to describe the wolf…?”



We can use pictures to encourage them to say the keyword. You can ask them what they can see, draw a diagram, or print out flashcards in advance to help them.

Multiple Choice

Multiple choice questions break down the possible answers and give students the clues they need to find the answer.

Common Errors

We can tell students typical mistakes and ask them for the correct vocabulary.

For example, we could say that “people often say “cook a cake,” but instead we say…”
Or, “instead of saying fireman, we can say this to make it inclusive to both men and women…”

Mind Maps

We can use mind maps to encourage students to think about a topic in detail and use the branches to express what we want them to talk about.

Eliciting in Teaching Grammar

We can help prepare students for the real world by trying some grammar eliciting techniques.

Conversation Prompts

To elicit grammar techniques, we can have a conversation prompt that will require them to use the new grammatical structure.

We can also ask the students many questions to figure out the grammatical structure, such as if it is in the past, present, or future, how many verbs they can see, or to find some examples of it in the text.


We can use pictures to elicit the appropriate grammatical responses.

For example, by asking them what the people are doing in the picture, we can practice the present progressive.


We can also get the students to give their own relevant examples using the grammar construction the teacher had just taught them.

Tips for Eliciting

  • We can use eliciting techniques throughout the lesson to help students recall information
  • Ask open-ended questions for higher-level, ask guided questions for lower levels
  • Learners can also work in groups and elicit from each other, particularly in brainstorming activities
  • Provide enough context or information
  • Manage silences with further input but give them enough time to answer
  • When you receive the elicited response, concept check with the other students to make sure they understand it too
  • We can encourage quiet students by asking different parts of the room to speak, rather than calling on them directly

Follow Up with Concept Checking Questions

If someone elicits an appropriate response, that’s great! But we still have to make sure the other students know what they are talking about through concept-checking questions.

Concept-checking questions clarify the function or meaning of the language. Simple “what, why, where, when, how” questions or “yes, no” questions should work well here.

Don’t Overuse Eliciting.

Eliciting techniques are a fun way to get students thinking, but don’t make the entire class a guessing game.

Prepare to elicit certain things in class but not everything, which may actually create a counterproductive student experience.

Eliciting Video

To see eliciting in action in the classroom, watch this short video:

Benefits of Eliciting Techniques

  • It reduces teacher talk time, and the class becomes more center-focused.
  • It can help promote teamwork if students have to work in groups to answer.
  • It motivates students and gets them thinking.
  • It helps students build upon their foundation of knowledge.
  • It builds the students’ problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
  • It helps foster the students’ confidence and English knowledge without spoon-feeding them.
  • It allows for more interaction and productive thinking.

What if they can’t guess the answer?

You can give them some more obvious clues, but if they still can’t guess the answer, then you can give it to them.

What if they get the answer wrong?

Never say that students are wrong because that is humiliating. Ask several students the same question or move on, don’t focus on the wrong answer. Or offer alternative answers to get the student thinking further.

In Conclusion

Eliciting techniques are an important part of the ESL classroom.

Teachers can use these techniques to invoke thinking and encourage students to get involved in the lesson.

There are a variety of ways that teachers can elicit answers from the students, such as visual prompts, brainstorming, or paraphrasing.

Teachers can follow up with some concept-checking questions to ensure the rest of the students understand before moving on.

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I am a 24-year old online ESL teacher and hopeless dreamer from rural Ireland. I started teaching in 2016 and have since taught in the UK and Europe. This blog aims to help educate you on the existing possibilities of becoming an online teacher. Please show some love and support by sharing this article with others. Thank you!

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