Text. Lexically.


This is a guest post by Alisa Chernikova, my student and an English teacher. The post is about working with text and is the third in a series Reflections on "Lexical Grammar" (a book by Leo Selivan). Follow the links to read the previous two: 1. Chunks and collocations; 2. Grammar acquisition.

The post contains lots of practical activities we did in class. Alisa dug out some activities I had created long ago and had totally forgotten about. But it turns out I've been following the lexical grammar approach for years without even realizing it. You can give these activities a shot too, btw. The key is at the end of the post.   



So we’ve been talking about the lexical approach and lexical grammar in particular. By now we know that chunks and collocations are important both in terms of boosting grammar and vocabulary acquisition. Today let’s have a look at how we can work with text.

According to the author, texts are most usually used for the purposes of reading comprehension and teaching reading skills (e.g. the notorious skimming and scanning). Less often we use it for teaching grammar, whereas vocabulary is usually pre-taught before reading (especially the difficult items). And here we come to one detail that concerns the author and myself: frequently learners fall into the habit of only focusing on new and difficult individual words, thus failing to notice useful chunks that texts are packed with.

Having read the chapter on exploring text and being Irina’s student, I couldn’t help but notice that some really useful (and interesting) tasks that we did in class echo the ones suggested by Leo Selivan. Without further ado let’s dive into them!

1. Predicting grammar

It’s common practice to predict vocabulary before reading a text. Why not do the same for grammar? And so we did. The text below is taken from Outcomes Advanced Unit 1 "Urban Renewal". Which grammar structures do you think may appear in a text of this genre? Well, the topic Urban Renewal gives us clues: the text is likely to raise the matter of change in cities, therefore some possible grammar that we can encounter in the text would be passives, present perfect and comparative adjectives.


2. Input enhancement and text reconstruction

The same text can be used not only for working with grammar, surely. The following activity is pretty straightforward: after reading the text and highlighting the chunks, we try to recall them. By the way, we can emphasize different features of input, not only chunks (e.g. tense markers, word order, chunks, etc.).

After we’ve studied the targeted chunks in class, we would normally move on to intensive language work, i.e. deliberately reusing previously encountered chunks from the text. "It is an important step before the chunks become fully integrated into the learner’s lexicon and can be freely used in new contexts."

Well, in case of Irina’s classes, we were also ninety-nine percent likely to try and insert the chunks in our answers to an IELTS part 2 prompt.😊

3. Guided discovery of chunks

In case you started worrying that the activities from "Lexical Grammar" can only be done with a textbook, rest assured, it’s far from it. For instance, the next activity contains excerpts from the New York Times Smarter Living newsletter ("Why You Can't Think of the Word That's on the Tip of Your Tongue"). The task is to find chunks in the text using clues:
  1. an expression that means to fail to get an answer or a result
  2. an expression that means to cause you to remember something
  3. an expression that means a situation when you know a word, name etc but cannot remember it
  4. a noun + adjective collocation that means revealing, indicating marks
  5. an expression that means in the future
There you are in the middle of a conversation, and suddenly you draw a blank on a particular word. It’s right there … if you could just remember …

You move on, and hours later, something jogs your memory and the word comes to you, long after its relevance has passed. So, what happened?

You experienced what researchers call a tip-of-the-tongue state, that agonizing moment when you know precisely what you want to say but you fail to produce the word or phrase.

Far from being telltale signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, these moments are simply part of the way we communicate, and they’re more or less universal. […]

So if you can never seem to remember the name of that guy in administration when you’re talking about him, try saying his name out loud when you can: It just might save you a little embarrassment down the road.


Although Leo Selivan states that it’s possible to do such activities without clues, he also cares to mention that an eye for spotting chunks takes some time to develop (for learners and teachers alike). So the more we work with chunks, the easier it gets to identify them in a text.

4. Were you paying attention? (gapping A)

The following activity is one of my personal favorites. Please read the text below before proceeding with the task:

On an average day most of us check our smartphones 47 times, and nearly double that if we’re between the ages of 18 and 24, which might explain why some of us have such a hard time processing the information we take in to form memories. Smartphones alter the way we walk, talk and think, and we’re barely keeping up.

“Everything is available through a Google search almost instantaneously, so what motive do you have to store useless info?” said Joseph LeDoux, who directs New York University’s Emotional Brain Institute.

Mr. LeDoux, whose work focuses on how the brain forms memories, said this instant-fact setup clouds our judgment on what information to filter and store. Since we’re no longer weighed down by having to retain trivial data, we are left with greater cognitive space. But how do we select what we remember?

“Many people seem unaware that they might accomplish more with sustained, uninterrupted attention to one task,” said Nelson Cowan, a specialist in working memory at the University of Missouri. “It can be exhilarating to flit from one conversation to another on Facebook, but people don’t realize what’s missing in the process. It’s like having a delicious soup poured on your head. Often the people who think they’re the best at sharing attention between tasks are actually missing the most.”


Now the task. You should fill in the gaps in the text you have just read, it’s as simple as that. Oh, yes, from memory. No wonder the activity is called ‘Were you paying attention?’😊


On an average day most of us check our smartphones 47 times, and nearly double that if we’re between the ages of 18 and 24, which might explain why some of us have such a hard time processing the information we take in to form memories. Smartphones _________ the way we walk, talk and think, and we’re _________ keeping up.

“Everything is available through a Google search almost _________, so what motive do you have to store useless info?” said Joseph LeDoux, who directs New York University’s Emotional Brain Institute.

Mr. LeDoux, whose work focuses on how the brain forms memories, said this instant-fact setup _________ our judgment on what information to filter and store. Since we’re no longer _________ down by having to retain _________ data, we are left with greater cognitive space. But how do we select what we remember?

“Many people seem _________ that they might accomplish more with _________, uninterrupted attention to one task,” said Nelson Cowan, a specialist in working memory at the University of Missouri. “It can be _________ to flit from one conversation to another on Facebook, but people don’t realize what’s missing in the process. It’s like having a delicious soup poured on your head. Often the people who think they’re the best at sharing attention between tasks are actually missing the most.”


Did you manage to recall everything? If not, don’t get upset. The thing is, when we read, our cognitive resources are used up processing the meaning of the text. Activities like this one facilitate our moving from ‘what’ to ‘how’ and encourage us to pay attention not only to the message but also how the message is constructed.

5. What do they stand for? (gapping B)

Last but not least, the blanked out activity. In order to do this task, follow the link and read the introduction to the article How to introduce yourself so you’ll be unforgettable (in a good way!). After that, try to fill in the missing chunks from memory. The activity may seem a little more challenging that the previous ones, but that’s perfectly normal. What it really does is it encourages us to go beyond focusing on the message and pay attention to the form.

If you can m_____ b______ the boring basics when you’re asked “What do you do?”, you’ll s__ y_____ u__ f__ new relationships, opportunities and revelations, says introduction expert Joanna Bloor.

“Answering with your title and company is the cultural norm. But when you do, you’re m_____ o_____ o__ an opportunity for the other person to know who you actually are. You are not just your job,” says Joanna Bloor, CEO of Amplify Labs. She specializes in helping people discover and articulate what makes them distinctive so that they can f____ deeper c______ with others.

Be warned: crafting your intro takes a bit of time and effort. But as the world of work continues to change in ways we can’t anticipate, knowing what s___ y___ a____ from the pack is crucial. Here, Bloor tell us how you can come up with your new response to “What do you do?”


Answers and comments:
Activity #1: We were practicing Perfect forms, the examples of which you can see in red boxes.
Activity #2: The targeted chunks are put in blue boxes.
Activity #3: 1 draw a blank on, 2 jogs your memory, 3 a tip-of-the-tongue state, 4 telltale signs, 5 down the road.
Activity #4: alter, barely, instantaneously, cloud, trivial, unaware, sustained, exhilarating.
Activity #5: move beyond, set yourself up for, missing out on, form (deeper) connections, sets you apart.


Here is another guest post by Alisa Chernikova "Do you really need grit?" In this post, she talks about determination to succeed and recommends three great books that will help you get started on your success journey.


Image credits:
1. Cover: Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash
2. Bilbao text: Outcomes Advanced, Second Edition, Student's Book, p.197

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