Teaching collocations (Michael Lewis)

Teaching collocations (Michael Lewis)

“Without grammar little can be conveyed; without vocabulary, nothing can be conveyed.” David Wilkins

Second language vocabulary acquisition has been widely researched by many ELT experts. The acquisition of a sufficiently large vocabulary is of utmost importance for English learners. In this regard, we can’t but agree with David  Wilkin’s statement. If you really want your students to improve their skills in English, you should pay lots of attention to the vocabulary. The main part of the language vocabulary consists of ready-made chunks, the so-called collocations. The importance of collocations and the ways of teaching them are minutely introduced in “Teaching Collocations: Further developments in the Lexical Approach ” by Michael Lewis. 

What are collocations and why teach them?

Collocations are usually defined as the words that are placed or found together in a predictable pattern, e.g. ‘a large number of’, ‘as far as I’m concerned’, ‘feel a compulsion to do something’.  One of the most significant benefits of teaching collocations is that learners will enrich their vocabulary and sound more native. 

Teaching Collocation – Further Development in the Lexical Approach

The book consists of eleven chapters divided into two sections: in the classroom and background theory. In the first chapters devoted to the classroom, we find interesting ideas on how to encourage learner independence, how to integrate collocation into a reading and writing course. There are also plenty of classroom strategies, activities, and exercises to practise collocations. The second section includes chapters on language in the lexical approach, learning in the lexical approach, materials, and resources for teaching collocations. 

Classroom activities and exercises on collocations

In the 5th chapter Jimmie Hill, Morgan Lewis, and Michael Lewis present general and specific classroom strategies, activities and exercises to help students practice collocations, enrich their vocabulary and make learners more aware of collocation as a powerful way of improving their ability to write and speak precisely. 

Activities – exploiting the text

  1. Finding collocations in a text: Ask your students to read the text and underline all the nouns and the verbs used with them. Then draw the learners’ attention to the form and then to the meaning. 
  2. Reconstructing the content: Students work in small groups, read a short text, and then write 15 words from the text. The words should be chosen in such a way so that the next group can reconstruct the main content of the original text using these 15 words.

The collocation game

The example of the task: “Choose a noun which collocates with the given verbs and adjectives”. Be careful in choosing the order of the words, and move from more general words to stronger collocates. Tell your students that all the words collocate with the same noun/adjective/verb, which they should guess. Students write down the words the teacher reads out. When they find the answer, they stand up. 

  • Plain, dark, white, bitter, milk, bar of
    • Collect, provide, gather, withhold
    • Huge, growing, profitable, export, domestic, black

    You can do the same thing with adverbs and adjectives or verbs:

    • Fairly, relatively, comparatively
    • Carefully, thoroughly, properly

    Verb + Adverb

    Some verbs collocate with particular adverbs. Ask your students to choose the appropriate adverbs to complete the sentences.   

    Strongly, flatly, hardly, completely 

    1. I am sorry, I … forgot to inform you about it.
    2. He … refused to help.
    3. Oh, it’s you. I … recognised you with your new haircut.
    4. I … recommend you to wait till morning.    

     Alternatives to very                                            

    English learners often tend to use ‘very’ with adjectives thus simplifying their speech. However, there are lots of other words with a similar meaning, such as ‘slightly’, ‘somewhat’, etc. Ask your students to use a collocation dictionary and add a word which means ‘very’ to each of these:

    1. … prepared
    2. … recommended
    3. … unexpected
    4. … exhausted

    Hopefully, the activities and exercises mentioned in the article have turned out to be useful for you and your classes. You will find even more interesting and fascinating ideas on teaching collocations in the book  “Teaching Collocation – Further Development in the Lexical Approach”.

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