We often encourage our students to infer words from the context as they read and, as a result, they fail to notice useful lexis in the texts we use.

Author: 
Leo Selivan

This is especially true in case of chunks consisting of the words students already know. For example, students may be familiar with run and risk but not know the collocation run a risk. However, since the meaning is transparent they will probably “glance over” it when meeting it in the text. This series of activities is aimed to draw students’ attention to the useful lexis in the texts.

The text I use is taken from the LearnEnglish website and can be found by following this link (page 2). The activities can be adapted for any text or dialogue (reading or listening).

Activity 1: Extract useful lexis

After students have become familiar with the content of the text, ask them to silently underline the following:

  1. An expression which means “to watch without giving all your attention” (para.1)
  2. A chunk which means “almost did not touch books” (para. 1).
  3. Adjective + noun collocation which describes a person who is very interested in something and does it regularly (para. 2)
  4. Noun + noun collocation which means “opinions” (para. 3)
  5. A two-part verb which means “searched” (para. 3)
  6. Adverb + adjective collocation in which the adverb which usually means “not alive” means “very” (para. 3)
  7. A chunk which means “it cannot be easily explained and you don’t know why it happened”. (para. 4)
  8. A chunk which means “you need a lot of time to deal with something” (para. 4)

Answers:

  1. have half an eye on…
  2. hardly turned a page
  3. avid reader
  4. points of view
  5. hunted out
  6. dead serious
  7. for some reason
  8. take a long time to get through

Make sure you give students a paragraph number not to make the activity unnecessarily daunting.

After they have underlined the lexis you think should be pointed out, tell students to compare with their partners in pairs or groups, then check with the whole class.

This activity not only highlights useful lexis but also sensitizes the learner to the kind of language they should notice while reading.

Activity 2: Reconstruct the text

A week later you can give students the same chunks and multi-part verbs as above (you can also add more) and ask them to recall why they were mentioned in the text and retell the story using the them. Another variation of this activity is to get students to put the chunks in the correct order as they appeared in the text.

Activity 3: What do they stand for?

Give your students the text or part of it with the chunks you focused in earlier lessons replaced by initials, for example, p.o.v. for “point of view”. Ask students in pairs to recall the chunks.

If they find it difficult, you can provide definitions (like in activity 1) Here is a part of the same text taken from paragraph 5 with initials instead of some collocations and multi-part verbs.

Working life was hard to get used to after so much theory. It was the end of books for me. There didn't seem to be much in books that would actually g. t. d.. To do things you had to answer the telephone and work a computer. You had to t. a. and speak to people who weren't at all interested in philosophy. I didn't stop reading, you can't avoid that. I read all day. But no books c. m. w., only manuals and pamphlets and contracts and documents. Maybe most people s. their n. for stories and ideas with TV and, to t. t. t., it was all I needed for ten years. In those days I only had a book "o. t. g." for the duration of aeroplane flights. At first I would come home and watch TV o. d. Then, I moved the TV so I could watch it from bed. I even rigged up a switch so I could t. it o. without getting out of bed. Then, one fateful day, my TV broke and my landlady t. it a.

Activity 4: Correct the teacher

The teacher is usually the one correcting language in class. However in this fun activity students and teachers reverse the roles: students correct the “mistakes” the teacher makes.

Read the text aloud and deliberately change the chunks that you have focused on earlier. For example, “As I write this, I have my eyes glued to an old James Bond film…” (instead of “I have half an eye on”). Make a short pause after the wrong chunk to allow your students time to think and produce the correct chunk.

Teacher: “I suppose I was a lazy reader… of literature between the ages of…
Students: Avid reader!

Shouting out is encouraged here, however you can also get your students to write the chunks individually and then compare with partners. Here is the same excerpt as in the previous activity with “wrong” chunks.

Working life was hard to get used to after so much theory. It was the end of books for me. There didn't seem to be much in books that would actually help me in life. To do things you had to answer the telephone and work a computer. You had to go all over the world and speak to people who weren't at all interested in philosophy. I didn't stop reading, you can't avoid that. I read all day. But no books entered my life, only manuals and pamphlets and contracts and documents. Maybe most people satisfy their need for stories and ideas with TV and, to tell you a lie, it was all I needed for ten years. In those days I only had a book available for the duration of aeroplane flights. At first I would come home and watch TV while eating. Then, I moved the TV so I could watch it from bed. I even rigged up a switch so I could close the TV without getting out of bed. Then, one fateful day, my TV broke and my landlady removed it.

As you can see from the order of the activities above, they move from receptive, where learners merely guess or recognise chunks of language, to more productive, where they are encouraged to actually produce the language.

Conclusion

Reusing texts for language work does not require much preparation on the part of a teacher but it provides students with a valuable opportunity to recycle new lexis. Activities such as described above encourage students to focus not only on the meaning but collocations and lexical chunks, and promote increased attention to the language in general. They also extend the “lifespan” of coursebook material and remind students of the importance and benefit of going back and reviewing the previously studied material.

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