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Teaching vocabulary and encouraging
learner autonomy
by Sam Smith
- 3

However, a slight opposition to this teacher-led view is made by Scott Thornbury when, he points out that what the learners themselves choose to notice is more likely to become intake. (Tasks that promote noticing,Scott Thornbury, ELT Journal Volume 51/4 October 1997,329)

Considering both points, I see the most important thing for me to do as to encourage my learners to use noticing techniques when reading themselves, do something with the language they notice and record it.

Something should be done with the lexis focused on as some form of hypothesising should take place to aid acquisition. Considering that according to Lewis (M.Lewis,1993,116) even decontextualised lexis carries meaning, and something as simple as just adding to collocates found can form some form of intellectual effort, aiding acquisition and at the same time add to the learner's lexicon.

They should consciously try to add other examples... it is not wasting time and the intellectual effort involved can aid acquisition.

Many activities are suggested for doing something with lexical items, such as sorting adjective or verb collocates to their respective nouns, deciding which collocates from a list will not match, using gapped or double gapped sentences to match collocations, reconstructing texts from the collocations recorded and many many more. (Chapters 6 + 7,M. Lewis 1997. Chapter 7, M. Lewis,1993. Chapter 5, Teaching Collocations,2000)

Finally, collocations should be recorded and revisited if acquisition is to take place. They must be recorded in a principled way. Quoting Skehan, Lewis says:

If you want to forget something, put it in a list.
(M. Lewis,1993,118)

Here referring to a random L2 - L1 translation list.
He advocates using topics and semantic fields as an organising principle in an alphabetical vocabulary notebook, revisited regularly and used as a classroom resource. This in many ways will become more valuable than the soon out of date textbook. A sample way of recording vocabulary could be:






Filling the slots with collocations found as they are found and also leaving spaces for future addition.

To sum up, I would like to say that there are 3 things I would like to encourage my students to do: Read and take advantage of the vast amount of authentic English available by internet; Actively try and notice useful vocabulary; Think about it, analyse it and try to add to it and record it.


Michael Lewis : Implementing The Lexical Approach, Language Teaching Publications, 1997
Gail Ellis and Barbara Sinclair : Learning to Learn English, Cambridge University Press, 1989
(Edited by) Michael Lewis : Teaching Collocations, Language Teaching Publications, 2000
Rob Batstone : Grammar, Oxford University Press, 1994
M.A.K. Halliday : Language as a Social Semiotic, London, Edward Arnold, 1978
Michael Lewis : The Lexical Approach, Language Teaching Publications, 1993
Michael McCarthy : Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers, Cambridge University Press, 1991
David Nunan : Teaching Grammar in Context, ELT Journal Volume 52/2 April 1998, Oxford University Press
Jane Willis and Dave Willis : Challenge and Change in Language Teaching, Heinemann, 1996
Scott Thornbury : Tasks That Promote Noticing, ELT Journal Volume 51/4 October 1997, Oxford University Press


Sam Smith, 31, originally from Bradford in the UK, has been teaching for 5 years, in Ukraine (2 years), Poland (1 year) and Spain (2 years) and also at summer schools in Folkestone and London. He currently lives lives & teaches in Madrid.

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