#ELTchat Summary: how can we teach lexical grammar, going beyond “single word” lists?

#ELTchat SUMMARY : June 15th
Coming to you from Verona, Italy…..
What is ELTchat?
If you have never been to an #ELTchat discussion, you don’t know what you’re missing. For a comprehensive introduction to these breathtaking chat sessions, read Marisa Constantinides’ great post.  Today’s chat was a discussion of this question:

How can we teach lexical grammar, going beyond “single
word” lists?

I was particularly excited about this chat because it was the first time a topic I’d proposed had been chosen, so it was with bated breath that I launched Tweetdeck and went to the column I keep for the #ELTchat. If you want to read the transcript follow this link.
Why Lexical Grammar?
I had chosen this topic because it is particularly close to my heart. So many of my university students, who have possibly concentrated mainly on grammar and skills work in their language learning careers, later discover something that is not news by any means, in the words of Wilkins (1972):

“Without grammar very little
can be conveyed,

without vocabulary nothing can
be conveyed”.

As emerged in this chat, many of us are in favour of the idea of language as being lexical but are not so sure of how to apply this systematically to out teaching. There were a lot of
“pearls” as always and also a lot of questions. At the beginning there was some
confusion as to what we were discussing but as our great moderator (@rliberni) said at the end:
“Wow this was avery dynamic chat after a rocky start! Thx to co-moderator @Shaunwilden whose lexical-grammar is flawless! :-)”
What is lexical grammar?

What is Lexical Grammar?

This was the first question which sparked off various different responses, a few of which are here:
*I think it is the collocations, chunks etc (@Shaunwilden)
*Is  it to do with ‘colligations’, or the grammar that goes with a word e.g. like + -ing or to+inf  but not bare inf. ? (@sandymillin)
*A  simple example of lexical grammar – adjective synonyms/antonyms that use the same preposition, e.g. good/brilliant/bad at(doing st (@pjgallantry)
*Grammar is seen to be more “right or wrong”, or   black or white. Lexis oozes with various shades of grey. (@chriscatteneo)
*We know that we need grammar but without words we cannot communicate (@hartle)
*Lexis is central in meaning. Grammar plays a subservient role. (@gknightbkk)
*Language is grammaticalised lexis, not lexicalised grammar (Lewis 1993) (@gknightbkk)
*Maybe @thornburyscott’s “L is for Michael Lewis” might shed a bit more
light? (@esolcourses)
*Lexical patterns in discourse are a part of any study of textual cohesion – so perhaps this is where it is (@Marisa_C) @Marisa_C Yes. Cohesion and coherence in discourse are vital to understanding meaning beyond the sentence level.  (@gknightbkk)
*Grammar without lexis is irrelevant.  Grammar needs  meaning to give it relevance (@FarnhamCastle)
So we could conclude that Lexical Grammar is “words and the company they keep”, where vocabulary is king and grammar is his court.

Lexis should be taught in context

The chat now turned in the direction of how we should approach lexis in teaching:
 *I think a lot of words are taught in context, but not necessarily explored in similar contexts/grammar not highlighted  (@rliberni)
*We need to teach lexical chunks that have grammatical info attached to them (@gknightbkk)
*Who thinks there’s a split in pedagogy: those who teach grammar “mathematically” and those who teach it lexically? (@bethcagnol)
*If it just comes down to teaching vocab in context., problem solved! (ann_f) RT @ann_f:  No that’s a first step but then users can notice patterning and go on to experiment. (@hartle)
*Context is so important. Otherwise it’s a blind and meaningless journey into a variety of unknown words/phrases. (@MissLadyCaz)
*My students saying “Speed down” have a lexical problem not a grammatical one!
(@gknightbkk): A good case in point: that vocabulary has grammar (@BobK99)
 We generally  agreed that we need to teach the items and the
grammatical information together and in context, so then we moved on to think
about ways of doing this:

Matters  of teaching lexical grammar and Using Corpora

*I agree that concordancing is useful to see who words are “friends”
(@AlexandraKouk) uses collocations for advanced levels and for self-study work.There were various comments on concordances, some had had negative
experiences, others thought the teacher should use them rather than the students or vice versa and others were interested in how to use them.
*I find that many discussions and reiterations help my ESL learners to become more confident in using new words in correct contexts. (@MissLadyCaz) RT @MissLadyCaz: Yes, exposure and experimenting are essential but noticing is too (@hartle)
*I have my students  look for images they associate with the word and then share it in class. The different associations are amazing! (@OUPELTGlobal)
*The visual and the sharing of the images adds different contexts to different students (OUPELTGlobal)
Inspiration and poetry
Inspiration leads to growth and creative expression.
Incorporating the systematic teaching of lexis into other approaches such as Dogme or TBL
The topic of teaching approaches came up and how we could include lexical teaching into these:
*In approaches such as TBL, Unplugged etc. Focusing on the language that comes from students?
*I think that’s a common misconception (that working on student language is only concentrating on output)  about working with student output. Output is reformulated, extended and worked on and becomes input. (@chiasun)
*It is true, lexical grammar does lend itself well to TBL, but it’s all student
output/correction: where’s the input?(@pjgallantry) (In reply @chiasun) There’s
always a way of feeding in and dealing with emergent language and extending it
with Lexical Approach ideas. (In reply @pjgallantry) that’s true, but the issue
there may be one of sufficient input of new lexis – does it make for a large
teacher workload?
*I think whether it’s TBL or Dogme, it depends on the teachers’ approach and seizing opportunities to work on emergent lang. (@chiasun)
* I think an unplugged approach allows for both lexicalisd grammar and grammaticalised lexis depending on the teacher & learners. (@BethCagnol in reply to @chiasun and @pjgallantry)
*Error correction needs to become not just correction but input with reformulation and experimenting. (@hartle
*So biteable chuncks, ss output>input and whatever methodology that suits? (@ann_f)
* Input is not equal to intake (@cherrymp)
Learner training
One important area was learner training and how we can train our learners to notice lexical grammar autonomously.
*(Learner training)sounds like a good strategy, but what do you use as a starting point? single vocab item, grammar point, text…? (@rliberni)
*OK, so do you e.g. take a word they use incorrectly, then examine what the correct grammar around it would be? (@sandymillin) (reply from @hartle) yes, it  could be a collocation problem, wrong syntax etc.
*Students keeping vocabulary records should help (@AlexandraKouk)  Yes and exploring ways for them to keep records other than a list. (@Shaunwilden) (Reply @Shaunwilden) encourage learners to write a sentence/short conversation for each new word they learn  (@sandymillin)
*We should adjust our approach to different learners. Some learn more organically, & some more systematically. (@chiasuan)
*Readymade chunks help students  in attending to the meaning rather than worrying about language especially FL learners. (@cherrymp)
*OK, when dealing with lexis and lexical grammar, we also have to deal with the ‘rules’ of register/style – how to make students aware? (@pjgallantry)
Won't they get confused?
Is Lexical Grammar for Advanced Learners?
Some of us thought that lexical grammar is only
suitable for advanced learners:
*Lexical priming also seems more for advanced students (ann_f)
*Corpora in class is, I think, rather a specialised use and not for beginners. (@pjgallantry)
*I think meeting students’ expectations is important, if they want grammar, it’s our starting point (@sandymillin)(reply from @hartle) but they have trouble with lexis, coz they didn’t know it’s important.
*They need to build their base. they need to know what the structures are. but it’s not a must (@juanalejandro)
*Let them find the patterns  – rule is just a term of convenience language has patterns and generalizations 🙂  (@Shaunwilden) (In reply @sandymillin) I like
the idea of letting students find patterns, but grouping language for  low-level students to do this maybe difficult without special coursebooks?
*There are no rules! The first rule about rule club:  you don’t talk about rules. :-)(@BobK99)
*Teaching chunks not words is a habit, I think not level related. I can teach “shower” or “have a shower” and ask students to notice. (@hartle)
*If u want SS to find patterns, often low-level texts have too many language points: how to highlight to students,  which 2 focus on (@sandymillin in reply @Shaunwilden)
We also have quite a lot of problems, including the
grammar versus lexis debate:
*Currently working on a coursebook and teaching grammar lexically is heavily discouraged. It’s discouraging! (@BethCagnol)
*I think there’s a time and a place for mathematical and lexical grammar teaching. Both should be used. (@BethCagnol) (in reply ) l  think many of us were trained to teach grammar mathematically… not so sure how to teach it lexically myself. (@marcusmurilo)
*Perhaps it takes more time to see how our efforts to teach grammar lexically work. (@BethCagnol)
*Does teaching different contexts for the same word help or confuse students? (@OUPELTGlobal) depends on their level and on how you do it (@AlexandraKouk)
*I think it depends on level more advanced need broader contexts & can compare usages, lower level might get confused (@rliberni)
*I think it’s the ‘noticing’ part that needs a systematic framework which at present does not exist. (@Marisa_C)
*Aren’t we in danger here of teaching ABOUT the language and not the language itself? (@OUPELTGlobal)
*I think some teachers like teaching grammar mathematically because it’s easier to test it. (@BethCagnol)
*I find most of my advanced students actually want to talk about grammar it gives them a prop (may be age tho) (@rliberni) (reply from @mcneilmahon) @rliberni but do they? Or is it the teachers & coursebook authors?  My SS much prefer
new lexis 2 old grammar they still can’t get.
*Grammar is a “teddy bear” reassuring but most of my advanced  students have more trouble with lexis.(@hartle)(reply from @rliberni) Grammar is more finite in a way (we can ‘do’ it) lexis is more infinite in terms of breadth of usage which makes it harder . (reply from @mcneilmahon) so do we continue to take the easy (finite)
way out?
Links shared
Articles and websites of interest
1) Lexical syllabus, Dave Willis  (@cherrymp)
2)     Lexical Approach 1 from TE  (@cherrymp)
3)     A couple of articles by @thornburyscott on lexical grammar: (part 1)
& (part 2) http://www.thornburyscott.com/assets/oup%20grammar%20part%202.html (@esolcourses)
4)     Taking a lexical approach to teaching: principles and problems http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~nharwood/lexapproach.htm (@cherrymp)
5)     Lexical Approach Classroom Activities http://yeuanhvan.com/teach-english/lesson-plans/2696-lexical-approach-classroom-activities.html (@cherrymp)
6)     Lexical Priming by Michael Hoey http://www.macmillandictionaries.com/med-magazine/January2009/52-LA-LexicalPriming.htm (@Shaunwilden)
Teaching Video/Slideshow links
  1. http://www.slideshare.net/SandyMillin1/if-i-were-a-boy-beyonce (@sandymillin)
  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEwaVW858_I (@hartle)
  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSMX7HCLw84 (@hartle)

Useful sites

  1. http://llohe-ocd.appspot.com/ Oxford Collocations Dictionary Online (@sandymillin)
  2. http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/ (@hartle)
  3. https://www.ed2go.com/Classroom/Lessons.aspx?lesson=1&classroom=oanDAP0rPlxv5KWIroT08T5jRHVVSP%2BuRpfxidWBLds%3D A free online course on using corpora (@NikkiFortova)

4 thoughts on “#ELTchat Summary: how can we teach lexical grammar, going beyond “single word” lists?

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write a summary of our discussion, @hartle!

    This was my first time in #ELTChat and I really liked the discussion around the topic of teaching grammar from a more “lexicalized” perspective. This was a great choice of topic for me as I’ve been trying to implement some more lexically-focused teaching in my own classes, but still feel there’s such a loooong road ahead..

    1. Thanks for the comment, Marcus,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the chat. I did too. I’ve only starting going to #eltchat myself fairly recently (April) but I love the sessions and they always provide a lot of inspiration and food for thought. People blog a lot about these things too, so it means there’s a real exchange of ideas, which is great, isn’t it. However, as far as lexicalised grammar goes, I think you’re right. We all have a long way to go, and what Marisa said was very true, that what is lacking as the systematic element, so we often feel overwhelmed by it all. But I really think that this is the way forward and I’ve seen such improvement in Upper Intermediate students in particular when they start to look at language from a lexical point of view. I remember thinking that I wished I’d known about collocation etc. When I was studying German and French.

  2. Thank you for your effort.It was very useful topic.
    I am with you at the point that training is one of the most important steps in learning English and grammar needs a lot of training and practicing.

    1. I really like this topic .thank you for your useful ideas
      and i am agree with Aya that grammar needs a lot of training.

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