The Good ESL Teacher: Eliciting Information
Dec 1, 2011 English as a Second Language (ESL) 6013 Views
"Do you understand?" is one of the worst questions that can be asked in an ESL classroom. Many times students will answer in the affirmative in hopes of understanding later. Instead of asking if they understand, a good ESL teacher will strive to see if the student really does understand or not. This can be accomplished by eliciting information from a student.
During an high-intermediate level class:
Teacher: "In the story, what does the phrase 'dead end' mean?"
Student: "I don't know."
T: "Do you know how to drive?"
T: "What do you call a place where you stop and you cannot turn right, or turn left, or go straight?"
S: "The end of the road?"
T: "Good, this is what we call a dead end. What is the only thing you can do?"
S: "Turn around and go back."
T: "Good. What do you think a dead-end relationship means?"
S: "There is nowhere to go in the relationship?"
T: "Good. Have you ever had a dead-end relationship?"
S: "Yes, when my girlfriend broke up with me."
T: "Close, in a dead-end relationship the relationship still exists. It is just not going to get better. When would a person have a dead-end relationship?"
S: "When... the father doesn't want the daughter to marry the boyfriend."
T: "Good. It will be very hard for the relationship to progress. What is a dead-end job?"
S: "When the job cannot get better?"
T: "Yes. Can you give me an example?"
S: "The President of the United States?"
T: "No, we don't say that about that kind of job. Dead end jobs are low-level jobs that with no potential for a promotion. Try again."
S: "Oh, maybe a street sweeper. In my country there is no way to get promoted.
T: "Very good."
Using the right question will help the ESL teacher ensure that the student understands the meaning. In the previous conversation, the ESL student would have misunderstood both "dead-end relationship" and "dead-end job" if the teacher would not have followed through to check the student's understanding.
T: "A dead-end relationship is a relationship that cannot progress, and a dead-end job is a job with no possibility of promotion. Do you understand?"
S: "Yes." - when in reality the student does not understand.
Questions that check the understanding of the student are called Concept Checking Questions (CCQ). When used properly CCQ will increase the Student Talk Time, and help the teacher get a good understanding of what the student understands. The following is another example.
During a high-beginner level class:
Teacher: "Where is the frog?"
Student: "The frog is the log."
T: "Close, repeat after me. - on the log."
S: "On the log."
T: "Good! Repeat. The frog is on the log."
S: "The frog is on the log."
T: "Good! What is the pen on?" - pointing to the table.
S: "I don't know."
T: "The pen is on the table. Repeat. The pen is on the table."
S: "The pen is on the table."
T: "Very good. What are you on?" - pointing to the chair.
S: "A Chair."
T: "Yes. Repeat. I am on a chair."
S: "I am on a chair."
T: "Great! Where is the frog?" - pointing to the log.
In this example, the teacher will never ask, "What does 'on' mean?" Nor should the ESL teacher try to explain what the word 'on' means especially since the dictionary has over 50 different definitions of the word 'on.' Instead, the concept can easily be obtained through demonstration and the proper concept checking questions (CCQs).