On starting out, many teachers struggle with eliciting.  The first issue is that they often Screen Shot 2018-10-04 at 12.45.16believe it is quicker and more efficient just to tell learners the meaning, often regardless of the learner’s level! We push new teachers to ‘ask before tell’, and to be very wary of planning comments that start with the words: Explain, Inform or Tell. These words tend to lead to a teacher monologue with low learner engagement.

New teachers have learnt that they are supposed to elicit, to ask the learners questions, but lack the ‘how’ of it or its precise purpose.  They tend to ask learners to guess what the teacher is thinking, particularly in the area of checking meaning. Consequently, quite a lot of early elicitation is slightly random, it can be repeating what the teacher says, only tenuously connected to the topic or often it becomes ‘guess what the teacher is thinking’.

Good elicitation is checking learner knowledge of language based on a developed, meaning rich context.  The context could be developed with pictures, gestures, realia, situation, etc. However it is done, in an ideal world, it will effectively demonstrate the meaning of the target language.  The context will be so clear that even if the learners can’t answer the elicitation questions they are able to use the context to develop their understanding of the language.  An experienced teacher will also be able to utilize the context to deepen, convey and check the learner’s grasp of the language. So, with a clear context, the meaning is evident and it’s just the language the learners don’t have.

However, ‘guess what I am thinking’ sometimes amounts to a psychic test for the learners! The teacher gives so few contextual clues that learners can start randomly guessing. Then, when the teacher does give the language they have little chance at grasping the meaning or how to use it.  A simple example below:

Scenario 1 – Guess what I am thinking

Teacher:       What is a small red fruit called?

Learner:        Strawberry

Teacher:       No, it’s smaller than a strawberry

Learner:        Plum?

Teacher:       No, it’s more like a strawberry

Learner         Orange? (Now guessing wildly and probably has no idea what a raspberry is)

Teacher:       No, the word I want is ‘raspberry’.


Scenario 2 – Elicitation for meaning

Teacher:       (Holds up a picture of a raspberry).  What’s this called?

Learner:        Don’t know

Teacher:       Raspberry


In scenario 2 the class has been engaged, the teacher knows if the learners have understood the meaning, and can also assess some of the learner’s ability to pronounce the word.

Tips for lesson observers

If your teacher is eliciting by ‘guess what I am thinking’ get them to write down the key meaning elements of the target language then ensure that all these elements are incorporated into the conveyance.

Note that experienced teachers have good wait time when eliciting and are able to give learners time to formulate responses, they don’t jump in with an answer too fast.

Very skilled teachers are also able to move past the first wave material they elicit from learners and bore down, pushing for more accuracy and a better understanding of what the learner does and doesn’t understand.

The best teachers are also able to incorporate what they elicit into the next stages of the lesson, using the elicited material as a reference point rather than just to acknowledge it and move on with their own prepared commentary.

Below are suggested commentary notes that can be adapted and used in written and oral feedback on the topic of elicitation.

Suggested Commentary Notes 

Positive comments Areas for development
It’s great to see you tie what you elicit to the next stage, which gives meaning and purpose to the elicitation. Your learners see that what they say has value and they have been heard which is very motivating You elicited the different language well but then needed to do something with the words in order to create a purpose for the elicitation.
Its good to see you eliciting target language meaning, which is much more efficient than asking: What does X mean? Work from meaning to the word rather than asking questions like ‘What is a plaster?’  Remember that to answer this type of question is difficult and doesn’t give the teacher very accurate information about the learner’s actual knowledge of the language.
Well done for establishing such a clear context from which you could elicit so much from and keep learners engaged. Create meaning rich contexts so that it is easier to elicit the target language. If learners don’t know the language you can use the context to convey the meaning.  It moves the activity from ‘guess what the teacher is thinking’ to being an effective assessment tool.
You were right to ignore the first wave of material you elicited and bore down for the sketchier knowledge, the place where the learners are less fluent and need input. Try to filter what you elicit more.  Learners tend to give the easy, well-known stuff first. Acknowledge the contributions but then bore down and challenge them so you can expand what they already know.
You have great wait time, which allows students the time they need to formulate language and respond to your questions. Try to increase your wait time to give learners much needed time to formulate their responses. Remember that at this level it is very hard to produce immediate responses to anything.



Take one stressed teacher, a fairly random group of learners, add a new person in the 500_F_34333839_nK1vFrLmpwZTTnhwhVp1txh2VpOm5AVjroom, perhaps a dash of technology and lesson mishaps shouldn’t really be a surprise.

I once observed a teacher spend 6 minutes doing a complex reseating task, where everyone moved but ended up sitting next to the same people!  The best bit was that everyone got the giggles as they realized what had happened.

No teacher ever gets every aspect of the lesson right every time.  As a lesson assessor, one way to deal is to look at how well the teacher reacts and recovers when things go wrong. Firstly note if they are aware there is a problem and then if they can respond rather than just keep pushing on.   Check if they can they reboot, adapt, modify a task on the spot or drop it if needed. This ability usually shows experience. It takes confidence and knowledge to quickly and even seamlessly adapt a task to a group, especially during a stressful observed lesson.  If you are watching a very good teacher you may need to refer to the plan to pick up adaptations.

Sometimes things have gone so far awry that adaptation is not going to work. In these cases can the teacher laugh an error off, or even keep going when all they really want to do is leave the room and have a good cry?  Recovery is a part of being flexible, responsive and professional, and therefore a skill to be highly valued. As an observer give weight to the ability to recover, at least equal to whatever caused the problem in the first place

For feedback below is suggested commentary – adapt at will!

Positive feedback comments Areas for development
Well done, for making such a smooth recovery. It’s normal in any class for things not to go quite to plan but you showed yourself to be flexible and able to deal with the unexpected It’s not the end of the world if things don’t go to plan and sometimes is ok to say ‘whoops’. Our learners don’t expect teachers to be perfect. Don’t focus on the problem, just move on and try something else.
I like that you didn’t get flustered when it all went off plan. Your sense of humor and patience really helped to keep things moving. If things go pear shaped try to slow down, sit down and reboot or just acknowledge it didn’t work and try the next task. Students are very forgiving and you can always come back to something in the next lesson.
You answered all the questions on the target language in an informed way. With that complex student question, I feel you were right to say that you would come back to her in the next lesson once you had checked it yourself. Much better to defer an answer than to give an inaccurate one The unexpected is always going to happen!  If you are not sure what to do or say just breathe and take some time to think how you will respond.  It’s ok to defer your response. It’s fine to say: I’ll deal with that later when I have checked the answer.



 The ranking task can be used as a summative record of the lesson and or a springboard for discussion with group or one-to-one (including peer) observations. The task headings can be changed according to your context.  You may want to rank the actual headings in order of importance, as the different headings invariably don’t carry equal weight. Note, that some teachers will focus on the ‘end score’ by adding up the totals, which can distort the trainer’s message. I would suggest using the ‘overall comment’ box at the end to make the main message clear.

The ranking task can be managed in different ways:

  • For a group observation it can be interesting if everyone completes their own and then compares at the end
  • Complete the table in pairs and compare and discuss any differences or similarities with the trainers sheet
  • For individuals the table can be completed by the teacher as a post lesson reflection task which is then compared with the trainers


  • Agree strongly with the statement
  • Agree with the statements
  • Neutral
  • Disagree with the statement
  • Disagree strongly with the statement
The teacher had good rapport with the learners. 1     2    3     4     5
Instructions were clear, learners knew what to do. 1     2    3     4     5
Materials and tasks were appropriate. 1     2    3     4     5
Learner groupings were appropriate. 1     2    3     4     5
Lesson pace was good. 1     2    3     4     5
Teacher used the board well. 1     2    3     4     5
There was a range of student interactions. 1     2    3     4     5
Teacher elicited well. 1     2    3     4     5
Teacher monitored effectively. 1     2    3     4     5
Learners enjoyed the class. 1     2    3     4     5
Students learnt in the class. 1     2    3     4     5


Overall Comment






Many new teachers struggle to create effective instructions.  On our courses, we say that verbsall classroom task instructions should start with a verb.  For instance, ‘sit down, stand up, do exercise 6’ etc.

It’s a simple but really effective rule. It takes out all embedded language, complex polite forms, and reduces rephrasing. Some trainees find the directness feels rude but as a trainer, you can demonstrate that tone and attitude can convey politeness and that for learners the priority is to understand the task.

This feedback task works best with a group observation. Divide the observers into teams question markor pairs, including the teachers who taught.  Give the group 10 – 20 minutes to predict what you, the assessor, considered to be the top three positives and developmental points of each lesson.

The board is divided up equally so that each team has space to write their answers on it.  Decide if you want to start or finish with the positives. A representative from each team writes up the top 3 points, ideally, they should write at the same time as each other so they can’t modify their answers when they see the other responses!  The tutor checks through the comments for any clarification. At this point, the board is covered in lesson feedback.

The tutor reads out their own three developmental points and the teams decide which team got closest to the assessor’s points and is, therefore, the ‘winner’. Repeat the process for the other points.

Generally, a really useful discussion ensues which is a good time for you to explain how you reach your decisions and what are priorities in a lesson. This task is also a great tool for assessing where the group is and what they consider to be a priority.

We sometimes add an element of ‘spice’ by the ‘losers’ agreeing to provide the ‘winners’ with a small service, for example, to make coffee in the morning, do some photocopying, or give extra support.

Peer observation involves teachers sitting in on each other’s lessons. This works particularly well if teachers share a class, as it allows them to see how learners respond to each other’s styles. The level of observation formality can vary depending on need. The process can be managed by the DOS, who decides who goes where and when. To reduce teacher speculation it pays to be transparent about how choices are made. Alternatively, the DOS can encourage teachers to organize it and to decide for themselves who they would like to work with. On the positive side, peer observations can be less stressful than DOS observations and they can often be arranged quite quickly. However, it’s worth noting that if the organization of observations is left to the teachers, there is a risk they drag along or won’t happen. This is because people tend not to want to ‘put upon’ another teacher, or have to give possible negative feedback to a peer. Moreover, if there are interpersonal tensions in the staffroom, it may be wiser for the DOS to manage the process.

Whoever organizes the observations, it is important for the DOS to advertise the ‘rules’ of observation: the observer should be quiet, keep a low profile and not disturb or engage the learners or the teacher. If teachers will be giving each other feedback, the DOS should highlight the ‘sandwich’ principle: ‘first, mention something good, then propose something to work on, and finally close with another positive point’. Finally, the observing teacher must understand the importance of being discreet about what they have seen.


Before setting up peer observations, consider the following questions:

  • Does the other teacher’s class need cover?
  • Is there a cost/budget for the class cover?
  • Is the observer expected to report their observation, or elements of it, to the DOS or the other teacher (or both), and if so, in what form: oral or written?
  • It is necessary to allow time for the observer to give feedback to the teacher after the lesson?
  • Is the observer watching the teacher who best suits their particular needs?
  • Is one teacher being observed more or less than the others?
  • Will the teacher being observed be expected to produce a plan for the session?
  • Does the DOS have a mechanism for closing down the peer observations? For example, asking the observing teacher to summarize what they have learnt from the experience, or putting up a big note board where teachers can write compliments for each other.