Reading and listening texts are often used in the ELT classroom to practise receptive skills and / or as the introduction to a topic or language point.

However, authentic and near-authentic texts are an excellent source of collocations and other lexical chunks, and it is worth spending a little extra time on a text to draw learners' attention to these.

  • Why draw attention to lexical chunks?
  • Exploiting reading and listening texts for lexical chunks
    • Listening
    • Reading
  • Recycling collocations
  • Conclusion


Why draw attention to lexical chunks?
An adult native-speaker has hundreds of thousands of pre-constructed chunks at his disposal. Students need to be trained to record and learn chunks, rather than just individual words, to enhance their fluency and produce more natural-sounding language.

If learners understand a chunk in context, they may not 'notice' it. For example, most intermediate students would understand the collocation 'move house' from its constituent parts, but very few at this level would produce it. By drawing learners' attention to chunks, we can help them use the words they already know more accurately and to express a wider range of ideas. This can be just as useful as learning 'new words', if not more so!

Exploiting reading and listening texts for lexical chunks
The following activities can be used after exploiting a text for meaning, for example, after learners answer comprehension questions or do a matching exercise based on the text.


  • Give learners the tapescript with some key collocations blanked out. They listen again and complete the spaces.
  • Listening texts can also be used to provide a model for pronunciation, for example, the stress pattern of chunks. Ask learners to identify the stress and drill the whole chunk.
  • Songs are a useful lexical resource. Before listening, give learners the words of a song with some collocations blanked out. Ask them to work in pairs to predict how many words have been blanked out from each space. They then listen for the exact words. If there are any patterns in the song (for example, a number of second conditional sentences), learners can be asked to identify these sentences, and write more sentences using the same structure which fit the theme of the song.


(N.B. These activities could also be used with tapescripts of coursebook listenings)

  • Prepare a table which includes half or part of some of the multi-word items in a text. Learners then scan the text to complete the table with the other half of the collocations.
  • Short texts can be used to prepare for and practise reading aloud. Pauses normally come at the end of a chunk, while content words are stressed. If learners mark pauses and stressed words, this will improve their reading aloud, as well as helping them to 'notice' chunks.
  • Reading activities can also be used for consciousness-raising. After answering comprehension questions, learners are asked to put the original text away, and are given a new version with some of the key collocations blanked out. Working in pairs, they have to reconstruct the collocations, before checking with the original.


Recycling collocations
Learners are unlikely to remember chunks after seeing them just once, so it will be necessary to recycle them in subsequent classes. Most traditional vocabulary-recycling activities can be adapted for use with multi-word items, but here are a few ideas:

  • Give learners discussion questions including the chunks. Personalisation can make the language more memorable.
  • Pelmanism, i.e. the memory game where learners have to find matching halves of collocations from cards placed face-down on the table. They turn over two cards, and keep them if they go together.
  • Prepare a list of collocations recently seen in class. Divide the class into teams of 3-4 students, and give each team a piece of paper. Write a collocation from the list on the board. The first team to write a correct sentence including that collocation gets a point. Continue until you've exhausted the list, or until one team reaches a specified number of points.
  • A few minutes before the end of a class, ask learners working individually to write down all the new collocations / chunks they've seen in that class. They can then compare together, or if there's enough time, give definitions for their partner to guess the chunks. This could also be done at the beginning of a class to recycle language from the previous class.


It is important to be aware that this kind of development takes time and you and your students won't see instant results. However, in the longer term, working in this way can not only increase your students' vocabulary, and the degree of accuracy with which they use it, but it can also develop their abilities to 'notice' patterns in language and so become more autonomous learners.

Further reading
Coe, Norman 'Vocabulary must be learnt, not taught' MET Vol 6 No3 July 1997
Ellis, Nick C 'Vocabulary acquisition: word structure, collocation, word-class, and meaning' in Schmitt and McCarthy
Gough, Cherry 'Words and words: helping learners to help themselves with collocations' MET Vol5 No1 Jan 1996
Hill, Jimmie 'Collocational competence' ETP April 1999 Issue 11
Hunt, Roger 'The Iron, the Which and the Wardrobe' IH Journal Issue No2 Nov 1996
Lewis, Michael and Hill, Jimmie Practical Techniques for Language Teaching (LTP 1985)
Lewis, Michael The Lexical Approach (LTP 1993)
Lewis, Michael Implementing the Lexical Approach (LTP 1997)
Lewis, Michael Teaching Collocation (LTP 2000)
Lewis, Morgan 'Setting a good example' ETP Issue 22 Jan 2002
Moon, Rosamund 'Vocabulary connections: multi-word items in English' in Schmitt and McCarthy
Newton, Jonathan 'Options for vocabulary learning through communication tasks' ELT Journal Vol55/1 Jan 2001
Read, John Assessing Vocabulary (CUP 2000)
Schmitt, Norbert and McCarthy, Michael (eds) Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy (CUP 1997)
Sökmen, Anita J 'Current trends in teaching second language vocabulary' in Schmitt and McCarthy
Thornbury, Scott 'Reformulation and reconstruction: tasks that promote noticing' ELT Journal Vol51 October 1997
Thornbury, Scott 'The Lexical Approach: a journey without maps?' MET Vol7 No4 Oct 1998
Thornbury, Scott How to Teach Vocabulary (Longman 2002)

Catherine Morley, Teacher, Teacher trainer, Mexico

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