This is a report of a session conducted at the IATEFL conference in Harrogate in April 2006
Teaching Vocabulary: We’re wasting our time Morgan Lewis
It’s time we started …
- The time we have with our students is short …
- We must make the most of the time that we have with them .
- We must allocate more time to explaining the partially known and reduce the amount of
time spent on the brand new ..
- Introducing and practicing new words takes up valuable time which is better spent
extending vocabulary, especially with intermediate and more advanced learners…
- … and we can’t waste any more time doing more grammar
There’s so much to learn – is there enough time?
Time is short – a few hours a week, perhaps – maybe even 20 hours a week. But there are hundreds of thousands of lexical items to be learnt.
Traditionally we learn a finite set of grammar rules and slot in the vocabulary that fits. But the complete lexicon of English is enormous. Let’s look at what knowing a word entails:
make a complaint
make an official complaint
Complaint deal with a complaint
deal with a legitimate complaint
receive a string of complaints
But not – do a complaint / a group of complaints
We know what we allow and don’t allow
The learning load is far bigger than we previously thought. So we have to make the most of the time we have. Therefore: more input and less output.
We should spend more time emphasizing quality input than getting students to talk.
Is there any chance they can acquire the lexis they need?
Less emphasis on traditional
grammar (sentence grammar)
Learners need different input? Less emphasis on new words
More emphasis on exploring the
collocational fields of words learners
Make the most of opportunities as they present themselves
Use materials that teach collocations
Making the most of opportunities:
Less explaining and more exploring e.g. grant
– define it
- look at the co-text (applied for a grant at the last minute)
- elicit/add more get/obtain a grant / qualify for a grant / was awarded a grant / a generous grant / a substantial grant / a miserable grant
No pressure to remember all this – students need to be exposed to it.
Use a dictionary of common collocations to help you
- Don’t just correct – collect! e.g. Learner says I have to make an exam. Ask questions to elicit and input
Pass an exam
Task for participants: Imagine a learner in your class says I’m too fat so I’m going to make a strong diet. What could you say/do?
Suggestion: We don’t say make a diet. What words go with diet? Elicit/input
Go on a diet/abandon a diet/ a stick to a diet/ a strict diet.
This is a better, richer teaching incident
There are very good possibilities for improving my job – There are excellent promotion prospects
It was a very important moment in my life and everything changed then – It was a major turning point
We are helping learners to be more precise and succinct. Plus:
As collocational competence increases, grammar mistakes decrease
We need to revise our priorities.
Students may know revise and priorities, but not necessarily how to say we need to revise our priorities
We don’t put words together, word after word. We store chunks, almost formulaically when we can e.g you can say that again; Ladies and Gentlemen
Sometimes there is some generative flexibility: sorry to bother/disturb/interrupt you
At other times it is less formulaic: This is a dangerous corner – but it’s still a chunk for an educated, fluent native speaker. Morgan admitted that sometimes he’s stuck for a collocation in class and suggests taking in and using a good collocation dictionary
Telephone numbers are stored in a particular way e.g. 288 264. when people repeat your number in a different way, you’re sometimes confused. The intonation/stress pattern is also stored.
The aim of the study was to examine the relationship between what pupils ate for lunch and concentration levels in the afternoon lesson
If we focus on new words, all the concentration goes on these, and distracts from noticing the collocation.
BAN: “ARE THERE ANY WORDS YOU DON’T KNOW”!!
Key words for Fluency
Dictionary of Selected Collocations
Is it time for your priorities to change??