• Tom Garside

Presenting new language part 1: Eliciting from meaning to form


In order for students to fully understand and use the content that we teach, we have to consider a range of different aspects of language: meaning, grammar, pronunciation and usage. If a student can understand, construct, pronounce and use a word, phrase or grammar structure, then we can say that they have truly learnt it. So how can we ensure that we cover all of these essential aspects of language when we come to teach?


Meaning, Pronunciation, Form


There is a ‘golden rule’ to follow when we present new language to learners for the first time, and that is ‘meaning before form’. This is sometimes delivered as a teaching routine called ‘MPF’, or Meaning, Pronunciation, Form, a process which ensures that these three important areas of language are covered in presentation of new vocabulary or grammar. But why are these aspects of language presented in this order?


When we are presenting a new word, phrase or grammatical structure to learners, by definition we are assuming that they do not know or understand it. However, we can assume that they do understand the meaning of that word or phrase (remembering that the meaning is not linguistic - we understand the concept of a car, for example, without being able to say it in another language). Presenting the meaning, or concept, of an item without using the word or phrase we are teaching, gives learners a familiar starting point to work from - the idea of the thing we are teaching. This familiarity will form a stronger ‘landing pad’ for the word or phrase itself when we come to work with that. This is the basis of elicitation of new language.


What is eliciting?


Eliciting is the skill of working towards the target concept which you are teaching using simple questions and non-linguistic cues (such as pictures, videos or gestures), without telling the students the form you are teaching. The idea is that if any students know the word or phrase for the item you are teaching, they will speak out, and if they don’t, then you will know that this form is new to the whole class, and you can teach it from scratch.


Eliciting is a bit like the teacher leading a game of ‘taboo’, where you have to describe an object or person without saying certain words (the word you are teaching), and it is up to the students to ‘guess’ (or provide the language) for it.


Eliciting new language effectively can be a challenge, but with careful planning of your images, prompts and teacher questions, you will enable your students to begin their learning from a familiar starting point (the known meaning of the word you are teaching), rather than the unfamiliar starting point of the word itself.


Tom Garside is Director of Teacher Training for Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with a specific focus on online language education.


If you are interested to know more about these qualifications, or you want take your teaching to a new level with our teacher education courses, contact us or visit our course pages for details.

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