Eliciting student thinking

Upon noticing the substance of their students chemical thinking, a teacher may decide to elicit further ideas from their students.  In eliciting acts, a teacher seeks to find out more about what a student knows and thinks. Here we will consider the ways in which teachers may decide to do so according to our formative assessment model of enactment. This model was derived from rigorous analysis of classroom videos of experienced science teachers (many of whom are chemistry teachers, most are teacher leaders in their school district) doing formative assessment activities with their students.1 Excellent science teachers have a broad repertoire and use all of these different kinds of teaching moves in different moments, depending on the in-the-moment purposes that teachers have which are shaped by knowing the specific students and the challenges they are facing at that moment, as well as in the context of the overall lesson purposes. 

Excellent teachers may decide to elicit further thinking from their students based upon what they notice in their students written or verbal responses to a formative assessment. How teachers elicit students’ ideas is often studied in terms of the impact of teacher questioning on student learning. Franke et. al. (2009) has shown that teachers’ questions can position the student thinking in ways that support student understanding. Particular moves teachers made after an initial question seeking an explanation matter for students’ opportunities to make their explanations explicit. Asking a probing sequence of specific questions, asking a single specific question, and asking a general question often resulted in students’ elaborating on their initial explanation, but only the first teacher questioning practice—asking a probing sequence of specific questions—frequently helped students provide a correct and complete explanation after they initially provided an explanation that was not correct and complete.2  In the chemistry classroom, eliciting student ideas can help the students to develop and share their thinking about the six domains of chemical thinking. The teachers eliciting acts can be sub-categorized as narrowing or opening in nature, according to whether they tend towards an authoritative or a dialogic teacher stance. 

Narrowing eliciting

When teachers decide to take a narrow approach to eliciting further thinking from their students, they will question their students to find out their thinking over a restricted space of possible ideas. This method of eliciting can happen in a number of ways. For example, a teacher may engage in detailing when they want to find out how a student thinks about a particular detail such as a vocabulary word or a variable in an equation. A teacher may also narrow elicit by distilling, during which they reduce the complexity of a problem for a student by focusing the students attention on one paricular aspect. A third subset of narrow eliciting involves corroborating, during which the teacher checks with other students in the class to see if they had the same answer as the student initially questioned. Finally, the teacher may re‐focus while open eliciting, when they reasks a question because student(s) did not answer in the manner that the teacher had expected.

Opening eliciting

When teachers decide to take an open approach to eliciting they will question their students to find out their thinking over an open space of possible ideas; they will allow for a broader sharing that is conducive to more open exchanges. One strategy that teachers may use when open eliciting is clarifying, in which the teacher checks for meaning or gives space for the student to provide more details about their assumptions by asking a clarifying question. A second open eliciting approach is for teachers to reflect back, where they summarize student utterances so that a student continues to build upon his/her own ideas. Finally, teachers may use the considering strategy, in which the teacher rebroadcasts a student's question and asks other students to discuss it.


1. Dini, V., Sevian, H., Caushi, K., & Orduña Picón, R. (2020). Characterizing the formative assessment enactment of experienced science teachers  . Science Education, 104 (2), 290-325.

2. Franke, M. L., Webb, N. M., Chan, A. G., Ing, M., Freund, D., & Battey, D. (2009). Teacher questioning to elicit students’ mathematical thinking in elementary school classrooms. Journal of Teacher Education, 60(4), 380–392.