Idea 152: Collaborative Elicitation Activity

I needed to do an elicitation activity in Science recently at the start of a new topic. Previously I’d tried just having the children writing down on a blank piece of paper everything they knew about a topic. I found that this didn’t work very well, as they felt under pressure (even though I constantly reassured them this wasn’t a test). Also, because they were under a time limit, they made some mistakes when writing their answers and I couldn’t easily tell if this was a misconception or just their hurried writing. They would also copy answers from other people as they didn’t want to have a blank piece of paper. I don’t think this type of elicitation really helped students who were struggling, and there was no immediate improvement or feedback that they could see.


I just started Materials with my Year 6 class, so I decided to try something else and it worked really well. The process went like this:

The class wrote on lined paper, not on a pre-prepared test sheet. I hoped this would make them feel more at ease, and it allowed them to write as much or as little as they felt was needed. It also meant I could be a bit more flexible and miss out some questions if I saw they were very secure on an area, as the questions weren’t already written (I just displayed them on the smartboard).

I asked a question. The students had some private ‘think time’, then wrote down their answer in pen. They then put their pen down and discussed the question on their table. Any extra ideas or vocabulary they heard could be written down underneath their answer in pencil. This showed to them and to me what they already knew and what they had learned from others.

Once this was done for one question, I’d randomly select a student with my lollipop-stick bag, and they would share with the class what their table had discussed. Again, anything that they say can be added onto the sheets of everyone else. We would then move on to the next question.

I circulated while the class was having their table discussion, and would write any good vocabulary I heard on the board. Sometimes I would focus a question on a particular student to let them contribute what I’d heard them mention.

This worked REALLY well. The students got a lot of writing done but weren’t bored by it, and they soon realised that I liked seeing answers in pencil just as much as pen. Anything written in pencil meant that they were listening to others and learning!

At the end of the lesson the children looked back through their work and then drew a ‘traffic light’ to show their level of confidence with the subject. They could also write additional questions that they wanted to know the answer to in future lessons. Due to the pen/pencil divide, they could have immediate recognition of how they’ve progressed in one lesson.

I intended to provide them with the questions they answered next lesson, but then had a bit of a brainwave. My warmer for next lesson is going to be them re-reading their elicitation activity, then THEY have to try and work out from their answers what question they answered! This can go in their books before their answers.

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