Michael Lewis is considered to be the founder of the lexical approach. What the approach says is that fluency of language does not depend on remembering and utilizing grammar rules and separate “good words”. It depends on being able to access lexical chunks as language is mainly its lexicon. The main principle of this approach is that language is based on fundamental grammaticalized lexis. Michael Lewis identifies or especially distinguishes the following three lexical items in the lexical approach: collocations, institutionalized expressions and sentence frames and heads.
If we want to teach our students real, natural language, we should concentrate on teaching them to successfully communicate rather than making sure they have grammatical mastery.
And your question: What does this have to do with teaching TOEFL and IELTS?
I answer: It has a lot to do with it.
Chunking for boosting vocabulary for TOEFL and IELTS
TOEFL and IELTS exams have four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.
We will leave out reading and listening as the lexical approach is more effectively used to improve the vocabulary in writing and speaking. The students have to produce oral or written text in a limited time; this means they do not have much time to think over and draft.
Chunking is a way to memorize the vocabulary; it groups the words that co-occur commonly. These groups of words help the brain to process a greater amount of information. Below you can find some activities that can be used to boost vocabulary.
Lexical approach: Categorizing the phrases
The teacher gives the group of good-to-go phrases in meaningful categories; for example, phrases that can be used in the introduction of an essay, in conclusion, in topic sentences or in speaking patterns.
The teacher can give the paragraphs with missing phrases and ask the students to fill in the gaps with the phrases.
The same activity can be done orally as a speaking activity so that the student can produce paragraphs and coherent speech. The teacher will need to add some speed in this activity; she/ he may instruct the student to produce the paragraph within 1 minute or two.
This kind of activity (done quickly) moves the phrases into active memory; the students start using the phrases by default.
Matching parts of the phrases or sentences
The teacher can target one topic advanced sentences or phrases from any good/exemplary essay so that the students can work on matching the sentence halves in a specific context:
Lexical approach: Categorizing
Give your student a sample essay to read. Then give them grammar/vocabulary charts to analyze the essay:
Read the paragraph and find the phrases that comply with “adjective +noun” combination.
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In the end, teach the students to notice the phrases or expressions to use later in their pieces of writing or their speaking practice. We should not forget that TOEFL and IELTS exams are very fast exams, the chunks should come to the students’ minds automatically.