Teaching Grammar: How to Elicit Function and Form

Elicitation - Teaching GrammarThe idea of eliciting questions in TESOL is not necessarily to get students to produce the target language. It is to elicit the function and the form. So, for example, if the target language is wh-questions, the goal in the elicitation is not to get students to produce a wh-question, but to get them to realize what the function is (asking) and what the structure is (grammatical form). So, their answers will not be the target form (like What is your name); it will be things like Ask a question or Question-word and do and base form.
Below you can find an example of eliciting function and form using past perfect. The assumption here is that students have not learned the form or function before (You have a bit more to lean on when students have some prior exposure).


Excerpt from OnTESOL’s tutor explaining how to elicit questions to our 250-hour TESOL Diploma trainee! 

Eliciting Function

Suppose students have had a presentation of the target language, which includes a sentence like John had served eight customers before 7:00. Using that example sentence as a reference point, some questions for eliciting function might be things like Is this past, present or future? (Past) When in the past? Do we know? (7:00) Was it exactly 7:00? Was it before? After? (Before) How do you know? (It says “before”) Is 7:00 in the past? (Yes) Right. So, do we have two things in the past? (Yes) Good. He served customers in the past, and 7:00 is in the past. Which one is first? (He served eight customers) Good. We can talk about two things in the past, and show which one is first.

Eliciting Form

To elicit form for a situation like this, it’s necessary to break down the individual items in the structure. (With other grammar situations, like teaching a new use for a certain modal, for example, sometimes students already know some of the elements). Here is an example of how you might elicit form for the past perfect. How many verbs do you see here? (Two) Which one is first? (Had) Right. We always need this verb to talk about this situation of two past times. It always looks like this – not “have,” not “has.” Is this the main verb? (No) Correct. This is an auxiliary verb. What is the next verb? (Served) Good. What form is that verb? (Past participle) Is this the main verb? (Yes) Exactly. This grammar is called past perfect. To make this, we use “had” and then the main verb in past participle form.
Note that the proposed answers I’ve listed here are not necessarily going to be forthcoming from students. They may need more guidance to get there. Those parenthetical answers represent the responses that you’re aiming for in the elicitation.

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