Collocation Pelmanism

It is often necessary to recycle new words several times in class before they become part of learners' active vocabulary, and the same is true of collocations.

Catherine Morley, Teacher, Teacher trainer, Mexico

Whether the collocations are introduced through a text, as described in the article, or explicitly taught, the memory game Pelmanism can provide a useful review activity in a later lesson.

This activity follows on from the article Lexical exploitation of texts:

Cut up a set of cards per group of 3-4 students. Three example sets are downloadable below. I have found that about twelve collocations (i.e. 24 cards to match in pairs) works well.

  • Verb-noun collocations for daily routines: For elementary level learners, L1 interference can often lead to incorrect verb-noun collocations such as 'take a cup of coffee'. This set of cards practises common verb-noun collocations for routines.
  • Phrasal verbs collocations: Advanced level learners may be aware of the meanings of many phrasal verbs, but are not always able to use them appropriately. This is partly because phrasal verbs often have very specific connotations and much narrower collocational fields than the 'synonyms' we use to help learners understand their meaning. For example, if we tell learners that 'turn up' means 'arrive', this can lead to inappropriate utterances like 'What time did you turn up?', implying criticism where this may not be the intention. For this reason it's a good idea to introduce phrasal verbs in context, e.g. through a text, with their common collocates. This set of cards gives an example of how to revise such collocations in a subsequent lesson.
  • Business English collocations: In the business world, there are a huge number of collocations which express specific ideas very succinctly, for example, 'customer service' and 'quality control'. If learners are not familiar with these collocations, they will be forced to explain the concept, which is likely to lead to errors and puts a strain on the listener. This set focuses on business-related noun-noun collocations, which can be particularly problematic for learners.
  • When producing your own sets of cards, make sure there are not too many possible collocations other than the ones you intend to practise. It can be very difficult to include only one possible way of combining words, so tell students to look for common collocations, or specifically those covered in the previous class.


  • Give students, in groups of 3-4, a set of cut-up cards, and instruct them to place all the cards face-down and spread them out on the table.
  • The first student turns over two cards. If the two cards form a strong collocation, he or she keeps the pair and has another go.
  • If the cards do not collocate, he or she turns them over again, leaving them in the same position on the table, and the next student has a turn.
  • The winner is the person who has most pairs at the end.

In order to collect pairs, learners need to remember the position of the cards as well as the collocations, so it's important that they do not move the cards around too much. It's also a good idea to demonstrate the game with a strong student the first time you use it in class. If you later use the same activity again, you'll probably find that learners remember what to do.

    Language Level


    Research and insight

    Browse fascinating case studies, research papers, publications and books by researchers and ELT experts from around the world.

    See our publications, research and insight