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Contingent Questions to Elicit Learner Responses

by Esra Yatağanbaba | 27 Apr 2021
Resource Description:

This teaching tip aims to guide EFL teachers to elicit and shape learner responses via asking contingent questions. By building on learner responses, L2 learners could develop their listenership and produce articulate, coherent, and socially engaged responses by answering contingent questions.  

Audience: Adult, Secondary, Teacher Training, University
Audience Language Proficiency: Advanced, Intermediate
Teaching Tip:

There are numerous factors contributing to student learning, and teachers' questioning skills is one of them. Contingent questions, therefore, work in a way to sustain not only value student contribution, but also provide scaffolding to elicit more. Research shows that teachers often produce two thirds of utterances; they control interaction by initiating the interaction and evaluating or giving feedback to the responses uttered by students, which is typically known as IRE or IRF interaction patterns (Boyd & Rubin, 2006; Nassaji & Wells, 2000). These interaction patterns are characterized as obstructive teacher talk in terms of creating learning opportunities (Walsh, 2006; 2011; Al-Zahrani, 2014). Therefore, the contingency of teacher questions plays a pivotal role in receiving more learner contributions. Whether it be a display or a referential question, what elicits the elaborated learner response is the teacher’s scaffolding learners' contribution by means of clarification requests or reformulations, extensions, and modeling.

The following examples showcase how an EFL teacher could elicit learner contributions by shaping and scaffolding them through contingent questions.

-Examples for clarification requests:

T: Do you think crabs depend on the ocean?

L1: Yes.

L2: No.

T: What do you mean by no?

L2: erm..without ocean.

T: Do you mean it is not necessary to be in the ocean?

L2: Yes, it could be in sea.

T: Aha okay. They could live in the sea, too.

-Examples for scaffolding

• Reformulation/Recast (rephrasing a learner’s contribution)

T:      How is it today?

L1:    Good day.

T:      It's a good day. 

L1:    Yeah.

T:      Are you sure?

L1: erm.. yes.

• Extension (extending a learner’s contribution)

T: When did you wake up?

L1: At ten.

T: At ten? Isn’t it late for you?

L1: No, it’s normal.

T: How do you mean normal?

L1: I mean I usually wake up at ten on weekdays, so it is normal for me.

T: I see.

• Modelling (providing an example for learner(s))

T: Are you a healthy eater? Do you eat healthy foods?

L1: I don’t understand.

T: I mean for example I eat vegetables and fruits every day. So, I am a healthy eater.

L1: aha okay.

T: Are you a healthy eater?

L1: Yes yes.

The examples above demonstrate how teachers could potentially elicit learner responses by making use of contingent questions through clarification requests and scaffolding such as reformulation, extension and modeling. Therefore, it is highly suggested that L2 teachers should listen to their students attentively and build on their responses not only to receive elaborate answers from them but also to create an ethos of involvement and respect as well as encourage discussion and develop interpersonal relationships in L2 classrooms as recommended by Boyd and Rubin (2006).


Al-Zahrani, M. Y. (2014). Instructors’ use of interactional features in EFL classes. International Journal of Science Commerce and Humanities2(4), 43-54.

Boyd, M. P., & Rubin, D. L. (2002). Elaborated student talk in an elementary ESoL classroom. Research in the Teaching of English, 495-530.

Boyd, M., & Rubin, D. (2006). How contingent questioning promotes extended student talk: A function of display questions. Journal of Literacy Research38(2), 141-169.

Nassaji, H., & Wells, G. (2000). What's the use of' triadic dialogue'?: An investigation of teacher-student interaction. Applied linguistics21(3), 376-406.

Walsh, S. (2006). Investigating Classroom Discourse. Routledge.

Walsh, S. (2011). Exploring Classroom Discourse: Language in Action. Taylor & Francis.

TESOL Interest Section: English as a Foreign Language, International Teaching Assistants, Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL, Teacher Education