Eliciting questions, error correction, Socratic questioning

Eliciting questions, error correction, Socratic questioning

Let’s get to the bottom of this.

I was taught to ask eliciting questions to bring student errors to correction.  When working with an Orton-Gillingham practitioner we want the student to develop skills that they can bring to the real world—in this case we want them to think metacognitively, so that they learn to intellectualize the process of spelling. It is said if they can spell the word, they can read the word. A good OG tutor will teach rules and use those rules to bring sounds and concepts to automaticity.  They need to understand the patterns so that they are able to bring errors to correction. Eliciting questions replace negative responses such as “no,” which makes lessons emotionally sound.

I was curious if this was a universal thought and process with all OG people. The Birsh manual states in many places to use Socratic questioning, but gives few examples of how it is done. The Gillingham Manual has error correction sprinkled amongst S.O.S. instruction. I wanted more, so I Googled “eliciting questions Orton Gillingham.” I expected a deluge of information and found very little. I found a few sites stating that it is part of OG philosophy, but no examples. So I then Googled “Socratic questioning, Orton Gillingham,” also unsuccessful. However, amongst my many instances of Googling for error corrections inside an Orton-Gillingham lesson, I did find this, and I found it a bit distressing, it certainly wasn't what I learned as eliciting. This example was using a sort for VCe words with /ī/ time and -y fly.


“When a student makes an error, the teacher should guide the student to finding the correct answer, rather than simply supplying the answer. Ways to guide the student to the answer might include saying something such as, “that’s not quite right. Can you think of another way that might work better?”. Teachers might write the word using the student’s spelling choice (or have the student write the word) to see if it “looks right”. Teachers might write or have the student write all possible spelling choices and then reason through which words will not word [sic] (for example, spelling the word “fry” could not be done with I-Magic-E because there is no consonant for the Magic-E to jump over). In the event that the student absolutely cannot select the correct spelling or is experiencing a high level of frustration, the teacher may wish to eliminate some of the answer choices for the student.”

 My error correction would have included rules and patterns, such as how do we write /ī/ at the end of a word? I would never have a student or myself intentionally write a word incorrectly then “reason” to see which “looks right”. As a dyslexic person myself, I know the frustration involved with writing unknown words; if I knew what was right, I never would have written it wrong! So please don't add more misspelled words to the equation! The beauty of Orton-Gillingham is that we gently guide our students through the errors with little or no guessing for the student. This is what separates us from the Whole Language approach. This reminds me of a day a few short years ago and I was working on the Endings Rules Made Easy book. I was jotting down ideas for the introduction, and I wanted to write curriculum. No matter how hard I tried I could not make it happen. Finally, I asked Karen, and her response to me was automatic, she said “What’s the first syllable?” I wrote cir. She asked me “How would the c  be pronounced followed by that i?” It was so obvious and right there staring me in the face, but at that moment I had to be walked through the steps. I always think of this moment when I introduce ur because it is one of the for-sure situations with all the /er/ choices. It will always be ur with a hard c: curl, cursive, curb, and now curriculum.

I was searching for examples, articles to learn from, and dug up nothing. I turned to a friend who is a Fellow of the Academy, and asked her if it is only the Midwest who drills in the art of eliciting. She asked others and they all confirmed that they do use this process. So I find it so crazy that in the era of the internet there aren’t more teaching articles and examples! When lecturing, we always wrapped up our seminars with error correction. Sadly, we also realized teachers shied away from demonstrating their skills. To me, this is such a crucial piece of teaching. Why is there such little written about it?

What does it mean to elicit answers during dictation? It means that the student is required to think about what they are thinking about. In order to do this, the instructor needs to be confident and knowledgeable about the structure of the English language. They need to be prepared for any kind of error. Let’s review three types of errors: auditory, visual, and rule, which all solicit different responses. These modalities are pathways to learning that we can tap into for correction.

Auditory errors happen when a student has not properly isolated the sounds, and therefore does not correctly spell the word, such as sill for still. Error correction would include saying the word to the student, having them repeat it, then isolating the sounds (we fingerspell), and then rewriting the word. The teacher would follow up with stem and stop to reinforce the st blend. In addition to correcting the error the teacher in this case may want to spend some time working on phonemic awareness drills.

Visual errors include reversed letters and incorrectly spelled nonphonetic words. I usually don’t make a big deal of the reversals, I just point them out and have them write again. With b and d I have them check their thumbs. Nonphonetic words are rewritten three times while saying the letters.

Rule errors include the misspelling of rule-based words, such as after a short vowel. If a student wrote hich for hitchthe instructor would ask the student what the word is, have them isolate the sounds(fingerspell), ask what the vowel sound is, ask whether the vowel sound is short or long, and finally ask “How do we write /ch/ after a short vowel?.” Hitch would be followed by pitch and switch.

What does this look like?

Teacher dictates truck, the student repeats the word and writes the word

Student writes truc

Teacher says : “What’s the word?”

Student says “truck”

Teacher asks the student to isolate the sounds (we fingerspell)

Teacher points to the finger with the vowel and says “What's that sound?”

Student says “/ŭ/”

Teacher asks “Is that the long vowel sound or the short vowel sound?”

Student says “short”

Teacher says “How do you write /k/ after a short vowel?”

Student replies “-ck”

Student rewrites the word

The teacher follows it up with stuck and cluck to reinforce the -ck rule

How about with multisyllabic words?

Teacher dictates instructing

Student writes instrucking

Teacher says “Say the word and divide the word”

Student divides: in/struck/ing

Teacher says what is the second syllable

Student says “struck”

Teacher could say “How do you write the root struct, meaning to build?

Student makes the correction

Teacher follows it with constructing and instructs

a more advanced process would be:

Teacher dictates inspiration, the student repeats the word and writes the word

Student writes insperation

Teachers asks “What’s the base word?”

Student says “inspire”

Teacher says “Write the word and divide it”

Student writes in/spire

Teacher asks “What is the vowel sound in the second syllable?”

At this point the student may recognize the schwa sound in the second syllable of inspiration,  if not, the teacher could ask the student “Where do you hear the schwa, what letter in inspiration is now schwaed?”

Teacher would follow it with expire, expiration

I feel that this is an integral part of teaching spelling. Your student needs to be able to guide themselves through this process when they aren't with you. They need to be able to answer their own questions. By using eliciting questions, we teach them to not memorize individual words but to note rules, patterns, and other variables that occur in English. We are not teaching individual words, we are teaching patterns and rules. A strong OG tutor shows the student how to be an independent speller. The best way for us to determine success is to see them applying their knowledge outside of our lessons.

In doing research for this post and others I am coming to realize how different OG can be, depending on where you live and who trained you. I would love to get feedback from others on how and why they teach what they do. I am looking forward to hearing what you all have to say about this seemingly unaddressed topic! Until then, my questions remain unanswered.

happy questioning

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Pamela Mehlin - October 28, 2019

Hi Dawn, Thank you for leaving a comment! Yes, I do agree some students are resistant to tracing. But as resistant as they are I am more insistent! I believe strongly in tracing, it is magical how successfully it works. In chapter 6 of the Orton Manual, Anna states “tracing helps to reinforce the kinesthetic picture of the letter shape ….and forms a fundamental link in the multisensory approach…” Who am I to argue with Anna, so yes, I always have them trace!

Dawn Peterson - October 28, 2019

Great post, Pam. I do try to use the same error correction procedure that you do. I do find that finger spelling instead of tracing for reading is faster and just as effective for some students. I know that the actual tracing is going to be more effective in helping to cement the incorrect phoneme into memory, but some students really fight the tracing, and quickly correct the word when they finger spell. What are your thoughts on this?


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