Apr 13, 2014

To confer or to concur?

Image by @sandymillin
via eltpics on Flickr
For the first time since it was last held in Harrogate (2010), I didn’t go to the annual IATEFL conference this year and - like thousands of other English teachers who couldn’t afford to go to the largest EFL conference in the world - settled in comfortably in front of my computer to watch it online. All plenary talks and selected presentations are streamed live on the IATEFL online website thanks to the partnership between IATEFL and the British Council. I was particularly looking forward to the talks by Prof Michael Hoey on 4 April ("Old approaches, new perspectives" - click HERE to watch the recording) and Prof Sugata Mitra on 5 April ("The future of learning"- click HERE for the recording) and highly recommended them to all my students (teacher candidates).

Oct 26, 2013

We are lexically indebted to him

Image source:
I opened my Facebook yesterday morning and was saddened to see Chia Suan Chong’s post about the passing of Dave Willis. I went over to Twitter and the feed was already filled with RIPs and condolences. For most in the ELT world Dave Willis’s name is associated with Task-Based Learning. But his contribution to lexical approaches to language teaching is just as outstanding. In fact, his pioneering work on the first Lexical Syllabus predates Michael Lewis’s seminal book by three years, the main difference between the two being words as a starting point for Willis and collocations for Lewis.

Sep 14, 2013

The highway to fluency and a roundabout way to grammar

Photo by @GoldsteinBen via eltpics on Flickr
A second lesson with two new pre-intermediate (A2) students (I usually put my private students in pairs). In the first lesson we read three stories about immigrants (from Innovations Pre-Intermediate) and underlined useful bits of language (I hadn't introduced the word "chunk" yet). For our second lesson they were asked to prepare a short talk about their lives using as much "useful language" as they could – no writing! They did a pretty good job and successfully integrated some chunks into their stories:

Back home…
When I came over here…
I didn't have enough money
To support my family

Mar 31, 2013

The Lexical Approach: 20 years on...

This year sees the 20th anniversary of the publication of Michael Lewis's "The Lexical Approach", the book that has changed the way many – but unfortunately not enough - teachers teach and see language. I just wanted to share with you my plans  for this anniversary year.

Mar 25, 2013

What corpora HAVE done for us

Sinclair's seminal work -
the bible of corpus linguistics
In this post I would like to defend linguistic corpora and their relevance to the ELT field which Hugh Dellar raises doubts about.

Years ago before I became familiar with corpus tools (corpus as in linguistic corpus = "collection of samples of real-world texts stored on computer"; plural = corpora) we had a fierce debate with my colleagues whether to use the preposition to or for after the noun hint. We wanted to produce posters for English learning centres we had set up for a number of high schools and each poster was meant to provide "Hints for/to speaking / listening etc".

Feb 20, 2013

Grammar rules... again?! Chunks strike back

This is a somewhat belated reaction to Catherine Walter's article which appeared in the Learning English section of Guardian last autumn. Click here to read it.

File:Telramen op de bank in de klas Counting-frames in classroom.jpg
Language or maths?
Spaarnestad Photo via  Nationaal Archief
Dr Catherine Walter’s article Time to stop avoiding grammar rules defends explicit grammar teaching in EFL. Proudly subtitled The evidence is now in: the explicit teaching of grammar rules leads to better learning, the article makes numerous references to a "wide range of studies" that have shown evidence of effectiveness of explicit grammar teaching.

Jan 26, 2013

Start teaching lexically in 2013

Many readers of this blog have read my rants about badly designed coursebook or digital activities and heard me moan about preoccupation with single words in ELT. This has probably left you wondering what kind of approach to teaching I actually believe in. This post describes the main principles of lexical teaching.

Oct 28, 2012

Explaining the difference between (near-) synonyms

I have recently received an email from a colleague, an EFL teacher in Israel, about how her students find it difficult differentiating between near-synonyms. I repost here my reply alongside the original email with the author's kind permission.

Hi Leo, I wonder whether you can help me. Do you know any place on the web where I can compare the meanings of near synonyms? I've used the concordance type sites which give me lots of collocations, but that isn't what I want. It doesn't help my pupils to give them 10 collocations for each word (e.g. regular, usual, routine) some of which are identical. I need to be able to put my finger on a general rule(s) like, one is for people and the other is for abstract ideas (I know this example is irrelevant to those particular words) Thanks for any help you can provide. Renee Wahl

Oct 21, 2012

Every Breath You Take

A classic collocation gap-fill activity

I don't why I haven't posted this earlier because this is my favourite song when it comes to introducing for the first time the idea of collocations to students and teachers alike. It is full of verb-noun collocations ranging from very common (take a step, play a game) to less frequent (stake a claim). Note that common collocations often involve delexicalised verbs (take, make etc) with wide collocational fields while less common ones usually involve more semantically charged words (stake) which collocate with a limited number of words (claim).

Jul 19, 2012

Highlighting lexical chunks with Diigo

Image by photosteve101 on Flickr

Diigo is a social bookmarking tool which allows you to save and access all your bookmarks online. But it's not only a great app for keeping your links in one place; its highlighting function can be used in class for drawing students attention to and keeping track of lexical chunks in online articles, texts and web pages.

You will need to be in a connected classroom (computer, projector, access to the Internet). After your students have read the article for meaning - and possibly discussed it - ask them to underline lexical chunks, collocations and other useful bits of language. Then display the text on the board and highlight the chunks with the whole class on the board using the Highlight function on Diigo:

May 8, 2012

In response to Hugh Dellar’s Dissing Dogme : In defence of… TBL

In the second installment of his thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable “Dissing Dogme” series (see here), Hugh Dellar addresses the touchy topic of language input in Dogme but this time Task-Based Learning (TBL) is also thrown in the mix. Why has TBL come under attack?

Feb 5, 2012

What is your favourite chunk?

Blog visitors poll

Leoxicon is about to clock up ten thousand visitors and I thought I should do something to celebrate this achievement. At first I thought I'd revamp the look of my blog but you need time for that and there is not much you can do on Blogger until they improve their Dynamic Views templates. Then I thought since this blog is all about collocations and lexical chunks I should add a nice little widget somewhere on the right displaying a new chunk every day. But my internet search for "a phrase of the day" or "an expression of the day" widget drew a blank. It's funny that despite all the evidence and research, whether cognitive or psycholinguistic, pointing to the phrasal nature of the lexicon, i.e. words are remembered, stored and retrieved in chunks, all the EFL teaching materials are still preoccupied with words, words, single words. The integration of web technologies doesn't seem to have helped either. Having said that, I've stumbled upon two interesting websites:


Phrase Mix posts a new colloquial phrase every day and Tweet Speak English  - every week or so. Both come with audio and accompanying activities but unfortunately not all the content is available for non-members.

Since my search for a lexical gadget has proved futile, I decided to open it up to you, my readers, and ask you to post your favourite chunks. But first of all, what's the difference between a collocation and a chunk?

Dec 3, 2011

When the cat's away...

There is a widespread belief among teachers that collocations are only reserved for higher levels. Likewise, there is a popular misconception that authentic video can only be used with higher levels. This short and fun activity proves otherwise. It is based on a film clip, it focuses on collocations and it’s aimed at Elementary level students.



You will need a DVD of the animated film “Flushed Away”. The scene starts at 1:17 (“when the cat’s away the mice will play”) and ends at 3:14 (“Goodnight”). Or use the Youtube clip below:

Click here to download COLLOCATION CARDS

or do this ONLINE QUIZ 

Make a few copies of the page and cut it up so that you have at least one set for a group of 3-4 students.