Teaching Grammar: Elicitation Through Concept Questions

Concept questions teaching grammarConcept Questions are used to elicit function, the intention of the speaker, and form -the grammatical structure that the speaker uses to express meaning (i.e. what he/she is trying to communicate to the audience)-. Concept Questions are used in the Communicative Approach when teaching grammar topics or vocabulary, mainly in the Presentation Stage of the PPP format, or in the Study Phase of the ESA format.  Concept Questions are a good way of eliciting information from the students and checking their comprehension rather than explaining the topic with long and difficult definitions that may only confuse the students. They are also a way of getting meaning across in a more effective and student-centered way.

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Elicitation – Teaching Grammar

The strategy used is called Elicitation. The simplest way to think about how to formulate elicitation is to think about function with a couple of questions and then focus on form after ensuring that students are clear about the function. The presentation of the target language (a listening or text) should contain clear examples of the form, avoiding exceptional uses, and including the structure you want students to recognize. After being clear about the function, ask students what they think it is that shows this function in the presented language.

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For example, suppose that the target language is giving advice using “should.” The example dialogue will contain clear examples. After students are exposed to the language (and perhaps given some other warm-up task to do with the listening or text, for the first exposure), the function can be elicited:
“Is John giving an order?”
“Is John giving advice?”

Then, elicit form:
“Yes, he is giving advice. How do you know?”
“What words tell us that this is advice?”
“Yes, ‘should.’ Very good. What about the main verb after ‘should?’ How does it look?”
“Yes, the main verb is in base form.”

Elicitation of form will often overlap with systematization (summary of the function and structure on the board). In a case like the “should” example above, where base form is one element of the form, you will want to make sure that there is a clear example of third person singular so that it becomes clear that what students are seeing is base form and not present simple (He should eat healthier food vs. He eats healthy food).

For other structures, your concept questioning will vary, but it will draw attention to the essential elements of the form:

“Where did you go last night?”

The teacher may want to ask questions like these ones: “Is it past or present?” “What is the form of the verb?” “Is there one verb or more?” “Is there an auxiliary verb?” “Is there a question-word?” “Where does the auxiliary verb go?”.

Keep the questions simple and answerable, and targeted toward the essential elements. Reflect on previous tasks where the essential elements of an exponent are identified. These are the things your students will need to be clear about. If you can think of two or three questions that will guide them toward recognizing these elements themselves, the elicitation will be successful.

Let’s see some other examples.

Grammar topic: causative use of ‘have’
Structure: verb ‘have’ in the past tense+ object+ past participle
Function: Arranging for or getting someone to do something for us.

Situation:
– Sam! You look great.  What did you do? There is something different in your hair.
– Thanks. I went to the beauty salon yesterday. I had my hair cut. They did a good job, didn’t they?

Possible concept questions:

T: Did Sam cut her hair herself?
S: No.
T: Did she go to the beauty salon?
S: Yes.
T: Did someone cut her hair?
S: Yes.
T: So, she didn’t cut it herself but someone else did it for her, is that right?
S: Yes.

It is not necessary to ask a lot of questions to get to the point. Two or three questions are often enough. Sometimes, the teacher could do with four or five if there is a lot to ask about, but the teacher should aim for three. There are even times when one question is sufficient as in the case of “You must wear a uniform to school” when eliciting the function of modal verb ‘must’ as ‘obligation’. All you have to ask is “Can you wear (jeans & a t-shirt/ a swimsuit/ a tuxedo/ pajamas/…..?”, or “Are you allowed to wear jeans..?”. It is one question, but asked with different pieces of clothing so the students get the point that there is only one choice of attire.

Find more articles on teaching grammar:

What is grammar?

Functions and Structure

Information gaps

Integrating Speaking Skills in a Grammar Lesson

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