Lexical Approach

The lexical approach was developed by Michael Lewis (The Lexical Approach, 1993) who believesthat the primary approach in foreign language teaching should be focused on the lexicon (vocabulary) of the language as opposed to using the more traditional grammatical or structural approach. He also believes that vocabulary needs to be taught directly as rather than through natural and communicative approaches that propose vocabulary will be learned inductively as students become exposed to the target language. His main thesis is that vocabulary should be taught in “chunks” instead of as individual words. These chunks are referred to as collocations. That is, words that frequently go together, such as “ancient history” not “old history” or “former history” should be learned together. Followers of the lexical approach frequently make use of concordances, computer programs that can scan large amounts of material for use of specific words and their collocations. Such information can also be found in concordance dictionaries.
Strategy of Lexical Approach

English Skill Level: Advanced Beginning to Advanced
Grade Level: Upper Elementary to Adult

  • Students are introduced to the concept of collocations. The teacher may do this as certain words and their collocations come up in lessons. Or teachers may give students a list of words and ask them to find them in a text as well as the words they go with. Teachers may also introduce collocations by making word charts that show with which other words the others can be used. Students may also be introduced to concordance programs on computers.
  • Once students are introduced to the concept of collocations, they can continue improving on this by keeping their own notebooks with lists of words and their collocations (see example that follows).
  • Students can also do various exercises or writing assignments in which they are asked to produce to recognize and then produce certain collocations.
Applications and Examples of Lexical Approach

Keeping a Collocation Notebook 

In some ways, collocation notebooks are similar to the vocabulary notebooks that many students learning other languages keep. In a collocation notebook, however, there are few individual words listed. Instead, students keep track of words that go together with other words such as collocations and fixed expressions. The teacher may make photocopied sheets that students can use, or students can develop their own organizational system. Some collocation categories that are useful are the following:
  • Verbs that go with certain nouns (do homework, finish homework, complete homework, correct homework, hand in homework)
  • Adjectives that go with certain nouns (hard work, interesting work)
  • Noun + noun (transport costs, overhead costs, labor costs)
  • Verb + adverb (drive fast, drive carefully)
  • Expressions (I should emphasize that, I should point out that, I should remind you that)
Students may learn collocations as they are reading or listening. Teachers may ask students to look for collocations in a reading. Other students may add their own collocations when they know them. Teachers can also give lists of collocations to students as they come up in class. Students may locate collocations in collocation dictionaries or in concordance programs as well.

Collocation Exercise

  • Students can be asked to identify which words go with other words.
  • Student can finish set expressions.
  • Students can be given cards with nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs and asked to create expressions or sentences with the words on those cards.