Teaching Lexical Units

Why Teach Lexical Units?

The reason lies in how our brain processes language. Translating phrases and sentences word for word does not always produce understanding. Idioms are perhaps the clearest example. When translated word for word, they often make no sense whatsoever to speakers of other languages.My Spanish students have a habit of translating Spanish idioms into English only to be reponded by blank stares from our native English teachers. Companies, such as superbritánico have actually cashed in on the comical effect that literally translating idioms produces.

However, when translated phrase by phrase, they make sense. The reason is simple. Whether they are one or several words, lexical units make up language. Language is the collection of these lexical units . So teaching in these units of meaning is actually more efficient than teaching word by word.

That may be true, but how can we teach lexicon, or lexical units in the classroom?

1. Teach in Phrases

Rather than teaching word by vocabulary word, teach lexical phrases to your students. Use collocations and phrases. Challenge them to write a definition of a group of words rather than a single word, or have them translate a lexical phrase from English into one word of their native language. When you put emphasis on groups of words rather than translating or defining each word of a lexical phrase, your students will learn the phrases and use them.

. Use Authentic Material

Challenge your students to go on a lexical phrase scavenger hunt in an authentic written passage. Divide students into groups of two or three and see how many phrases your students can find in a given passage from a magazine or text book. Once all the groups are finished, come back together and make a comprehensive class list of the lexical phrases they found. Then challenge your students to use those phrases in class in the following days.A good idea is to pin them to your class board or wall.Another good idea is to keep a points system, awarding points to the groups that use them.

 Make room in your class time for small talk.

Many lexical units are common in small talk. Make a game of practicing these lexical units with your students. Give each student a card which has a lexical phrase written on it. Then, let students mingle and talk to one another. Their goal during this game will be to use their phrase in their small talk conversation.

. RolePlay

Using the same phrases from your small talk exercise, have two people come in front of the class to role play a small talk conversation. Throw out a challenge to see who can use the most lexical phrases in the conversation without repetition. Why not create teams and award points?

. Use Songs

Give your students some practice listening to lexical phrases while bringing some fresh tunes into the classroom. Since lexical phrases are often found in songs, create a fill in the blank listening exercise for your students with one of your favorite songs. Leaving blanks for lexical phrases rather than individual words, challenge your students to listen for the phrase that correctly completes the lyrics. After listening two or three times, talk about the phrases they heard and how to use them.

Listen out

Give your students an example of lexical phrases in your own speech. Challenge your students to listen for lexical phrases as you talk to them and then use those same lexical phrases in their own speech. To do this, take a few minutes to tell your students about a topic of your choice. You might talk about family, for example. As you tell them about your topic, have them write down any phrases they think they could use to talk about their own families . You may want to give groups of students a chance to compare what they wrote down. Then have students share with the class their own families using some of the same lexical phrases you used when talking to them.

Ultimately,like most tings, the most effective way to teach lexical phrases to your students is to continually reinforce them from the front of the classroom. Human nature is to forget much of what we learn in a very short time. When you stress lexical phrases to your students and reinforce their use in class, your students will remember more and use them properly in their speech.


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Lorraine Barrowcliffe

Lorraine es la fundadora y directora de Nessie desde 1998.

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