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Anyone use the Lexical Method?

Posted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 2:21 pm
by Rp
Hello: I've been thinking about using the Lexical Method, but I can't seem to find anyone who actually uses it [ I am an ESL instructor teaching in Canada ] just wondering if anyone has or is using it? If so, any limitations, pitfalls, and how accepting are the students.

From a delivery perspective, its focus on chunking as opposed to grammar makes sense, as you can usually get the meaning with a grammar error but not with a lexical one......

Posted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 7:34 pm
by alexcase
As with many things, the easiest way into it is to try a textbook based on that philosophy. I've used Business Matters and Innovations, but they might both be a bit too UKcentric for your students. That also raises the question of whether it is possible to have a Lexical Approach that takes more account of English as a Lingua Franca/ English as an International Language

Posted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:01 am
by fluffyhamster
Actually, if we're going to give it a definite name, that is, preface it with the definite article, then it should really be the Lexical APPROACH.

I don't say that to be nitpicking (and "lexical methodS" would be fine in my book - indeed, I may have used such a term myself on these very forums!), but simply to hint that there still isn't much (i.e. enough) in the way of materials and methodology to back up and flesh out especially Lewis's vision (hence Richards and Rodgers' opining in their survey of language teaching that the Lexical Approach is still [just, not yet much more than] "an approach in search of a method", or words to that effect).

So it's always going to be hard to get a grasp on the LA ("the" ~). But to me, that's the beauty of it: there isn't a cookie-cut pat plan sitting there for the purely average teacher to whip and further half-bake and produce tasteless but always slightly skew-whiffy robolessons from. Lewis is a finger pointing to the moon, and even without him and his syntesizing of lexical and phraseological research and insights, there was always COBUILD, the corpus revolution (re-volution?) going on from the mid to late eighties etc. Plus teachers often seem to forget the resource that is the wider language, and how little of it finds (or, to sound inspirational rather than critical, how much more of it could find!) its way into classrooms in order to go beyond the limits of whatever "standard" textbook, activity and and lesson plan.

The main value then IMHO of the LA lies in its altering thinking, and pointing teachers in the direction of resources (research findings, corpora, dictionaries, innovative textbooks etc) and individual R&D (in order to produce materials) by the teachers themselves. There are some mass-produced lexis-based textbooks available, as Alex points out, but apart from being too whatever-centric they can also go a bit too overboard with their choice (though it's not always much of an actual range) of exponents (=phrasings that fulfil a certain function or notion).* Teachers can often come up with better, more locally-appropriate stuff themselves, given the right tools and inspiration (and dare I say it, freedom). There is too little individuality, no accounting for individual taste (at least, not the individual teacher's linguistic taste) in language teaching, but such individuality is I would argue a prerequisite if identifying and selecting genuine "killer" examples (killer=those exemplars that will really come alive for a particular teacher and class) is of any concern (which it obviously should be to any genuine, even halfway communicative language teacher!).

Still, let's not forget that some learners at least (many?) were getting by just fine with slot-and-filler stuff before the advent of all this phraseological, idiomatic wizardy, and some learners may actually resent the extra workload or apparent fussiness or whatever that more lexical approaches (at least, those not implemented carefully enough) might well entail - the last thing everybody needs is the literal dumping of too much (yet more, ever more! :? ) data into classrooms. Selectivity is still key, in fact, moreso, given that the apparent choices have become wider given the new technologies available to us nowdays. (The most frequent items will keep on coming out on top across corpora plural though, provided those corpora are balanced enough! So there is a consistency in the findings, behind the seeming mass of data).

Anyway, a quick list of stuff that I think will prove useful to any lexically-oriented teacher:

-A good monolingual and/or bilingualized learner dictionary, such as the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Fifth edition

-The Oxford Collocations Dictionary (very helpful in confirming meaning senses, on the basis obviously of collocations ultimately (rather than too much definitionese, logic, knicker-twisting etc))

-Sinclair & Renouf's 1988 paper on lexical syllabuses, Willis's book The Lexical Syllabus, and the COBUILD Grammar Patterns 1: Verbs (see links over halfway through the following post: ... 1198#41198 )

-Perhaps a book or two on Discourse, Discourse or Conversation Analysis etc. (Thornbury & Slade's Conversation wouldn't be a bad choice. Searches for 'Thornbur*' here on Dave's will however uncover mainly "Dogme"-related stuff - not that that isn't at all connected to issues of [a rationale and pedagogy for] more natural spoken discourse in language teaching!)

-Lewis & Hill's Practical Techniques for Language Teaching (succinct tips that give inklings of the LA to come)

-and last but not least, obviously Lewis's The Lexical Approach at the minimum (or at most? - His other LA-related books aren't really necessary to read once you've read this foundational work, though there are obviously a few reasonable activities to be found in 'em - see for example here: ... 2176#42176 . A search for 'Lewi*' here on Dave's will uncover stuff mostly relating to his views on the English verb and how to teach that rather than lexis per se, though the former is of course still worth reading; then, there is 'wordsurfing').

*For example, there was a thread once about "gambits", IIRC for agreeing, disagreeing, persuading and the like, but the stuff in the Keller offering seemed a bit of a hodge-podge compared to those from Goodale (both authors were published by LTP though, the publishing company that Lewis co-founded with Jimmie Hill).

Posted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:16 am
by alexcase
I agree that Lewis's more practical books don't have the interest of his first book. Much better is the recent Teaching Chunks of Language from Helbling Languages. I think my review of it in Modern English Teacher should be coming out this month.

Posted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:19 am
by fluffyhamster
Thanks for the heads up about Lewis's recent work, Alex. Hope to read your review of it (it it's available to me in my neck of the woods)! :)

Posted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:54 am
by alexcase
Whoops, did sound like I was saying that. Not actually Lewis, but very much based on his ideas.

Posted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:42 am
by fluffyhamster
Well, you did say 'the recent' rather than 'his recent', and I should've perhaps checked before posting (I was going to check later though...gotta stop multitasking!!!). Still, no worries, eh! :)

Posted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:57 am
by alexcase
Was also guilty of multi-tasking. Perhaps I should say "semi-tasking". Now back to that review of BULATS books...

Posted: Mon Oct 11, 2010 2:44 pm
by Rp
Thanks Fluffy [ and all others ] for your replies. I very much appreciate the complete and thoroughly researched responses, they are very helpful.

Hopefully, sometime, I can return the favour.

Posted: Wed Oct 13, 2010 5:15 am
by LarryLatham
fluffyhamster wrote:...The main value then IMHO of the LA lies in its altering thinking, and pointing teachers in the direction of resources (research findings, corpora, dictionaries, innovative textbooks etc) and individual R&D (in order to produce materials) by the teachers themselves....
Bravo! You have so precisely captured the essence of "the LA" here Fluffy that I felt my heart swell as I read through your post. I just happened to pop in for a momentary look-see (since I had a few minutes before bedtime) and what a treat it is to see your wonderful grasp of our friend Michael Lewis' work.

Not to give Rp (or anyone) a hard time (because anyone who comes here in search of improvement is a winner in my book), but I've always had the feeling that too many teachers--especially, I suppose, teachers with limited classroom experience-- seem to be searching for a "method." Frankly, I blame the teacher training programs for that, and the education establishment in general. The implication is that there exists some sort of step-by-step programmed list of instructions which, if followed exactly by teachers and students, will inevitably result in learning success. Anyone can do it. Simply do step one first, then proceed to step two and so on. All you need is the right textbook (which, of course, is the one I'm selling) and the list of steps.

It is, of course, wishful thinking, although I will admit it is tempting because it promises so much for so little effort. But I think the longer one spends at the front of a classroom, the more one realizes that there aren't any real shortcuts. Every class is different; every student is different. A good teacher is one that genuinely knows his (her) stuff, and is willing to endure a little chaos in the classroom process while students and teachers feel their way through the fog of learning. From the teacher's point-of-view, the real problem is getting to genuinely know your stuff, and that's where "the LA" comes in. It's for teachers, and Lewis makes a point of pointing that out at least twice in his book The Lexical Approach. There's not much in there for students, but a heck of a lot of provocation for teachers wanting to get their feet on solid theoretical ground. For me, it was a breathtaking revolution. It is far more than knowing the rules of grammar. It constitutes an understanding of why there are rules, what they can do for you, and why some of them that are commonly accepted are flat wrong, not to mention proposals for improvements. A student would be confused from reading Lewis. Indeed, he implores teachers not to use the book directly in the classroom. A teacher, however, can gain so much from it that whatever "method" he or she may eventually decide works best as a personal choice, he or she will be a greatly improved teacher for the effort that not only reading Lewis may directly provide, but also from the increased additional individual research it seems to inspire. Being a good teacher actually takes some work! Outside the classroom.

Thanks for this, Fluffy. I really hope every teacher who happens on this website takes the time to read your wonderful post. Time has given you great wisdom, it appears. :wink:

Posted: Wed Oct 13, 2010 1:21 pm
by fluffyhamster
Heh, thanks Larry. (Though as we both know, anyone who reads Lewis will come to broadly similar conclusions, so I doubt if I was doing much more really than stating the "obvious"! Enjoyable though that might be for me to write and people like yourself to read. Still, not everyone has the time or money to read around in ELT, so these little glimpses [however muddied and garbled by moi] into Lewis's [and others'!] work could well serve a purpose, I suppose!).

The desire for increased amounts of accessible lexical materials and methodology is understandable though, because it will help give teachers a yardstick to measure things by (and to react to - y'know, like one might sometimes react to those choices of examples that Lewis gives: 'OK, now all of those may be perfectly grammatical and even approriate in the abstract, Mr Lewis, but I don't think I myself would personally say half of 'em, at least not consciously, 'cos they're a bit stuffy or formalish to my ear!'). The problem though (as we both seem to be saying) is if and when the teacher-training establishment really gets hold of anything too tight and just won't let go of their interpretation of "it". ('What, the language itself?! Hardly, on the average TT course!').*

Actually, it would be interesting to know quite how well-known and influential Lewis is in North America. Obviously, people like you, Lori and now Rp have heard of him, Larry, but is he recommended in reading lists much, like he is on say the (Distance) DELTA (which is probably still pretty much a "British" qualification).

*I certainly can't imagine them making time for people to wander (wonder?), like I did recently, from e.g. 'taken aback' to 'surprised' to 'Surprise!' and thus on to considering all the phrases that might be used in the "real-time" (i.e. course-time, though realistically-simulated) planning, execution and appraisal stages of (the notional area of) 'Parties, celebrations, and gift-giving'. (Doubtless there are whole sections in books here and there devoted to just this, but it's fun if not useful to "Do It Yourself" sometimes!). I know this isn't full-on hardcore lexis, collocations etc, but then, it doesn't always need to be in order to come up with phrases and activities for lessons! Often just a quick simple browse of e.g. a dictionary's CD-ROM for 'surprise', 'party' etc is sufficient.

Posted: Wed Oct 13, 2010 6:26 pm
by LarryLatham
Don't know, Fluffy, how well known Lewis is in North America. (Lori, if you're listening, maybe you are better equipped to comment on this than I am.) I personally did not have the pleasure of meeting him, so to speak, until after I had gone abroad to teach. I was browsing one afternoon in the ELT section of the National Taiwan Library, when I ran across a slim volume entitled The English Verb. "Sounds interesting," thought I, and pulled it out and sat down at a table there in the library. It was, I realized after reading a mere 10 pages, a book like none other that I had read, and I knew I had something magic in my hand. Didn't leave until I had consumed the whole book (it's less than 200 pages). I have since read it seven or eight times, and still marvel at the brilliance of it's author. I suppose many other readers are not so impressed as I am, not everybody's cup of tea, I guess, but I count finding that book in Taipei as one of the most important moments of my entire career as a language teacher. Of course, I made it a point to read everything else he published, and much of it is good, and useful, but TEV remains his best single work in my mind. Nevertheless, the theoretical leap involved in his The Lexical Approach is enormous, but as you (and others) have pointed out several times, that work is not fleshed out very well for practical application directly to the classroom. You, as an involved, caring teacher, have to take the ideas and massage them into your own lessons. Personally, though I am as lazy as the next chap, and would often rather have someone else do things for me, I believe there is beauty in having to do it yourself. It's bracing, to be sure. But in the end, doing it myself gave me an assurance, a sense of competence in my classroom, that I don't think I could have managed to acquire any other way. Lewis became my hero, as everyone here surely knows, because I credit his original thinking with laying the groundwork for development of my abilities as a teacher. I don't think I could have succeeded as well as I did had I not been in that library one fall afternoon in Taipei, with a little time on my hands.

Yet, as you suspect, I am not sure he is very well known here in the USA. Pity.

Who doesn't use it?

Posted: Fri Oct 15, 2010 10:24 am
by Heath
I would argue that most of us use it already.

Going back to Fluffy's point about it being an 'approach' rather than a 'method', the Lexis Approach was more about changing the mindset of teachers (and publishers, etc) in general.

The following is oversimplification, for certain, but such a simplification does help give a rough idea. The Lexical Approach is about:
* Reducing emphasis on explicit teaching about grammatical structures.
* Increasing exposure through reading and listening.
* Increasing emphasis on explicit teaching of vocabulary.
* Not limiting vocabulary to single 'words', but including things like: phrasal verbs, compound nouns, functional expressions, etc.
* Reinforcing nearly everything in the 'Communicative Approach'.

So if you frequently focus on chunks of lexis and provide a good balance of listening and reading practice rather than explaining grammar all day... you're probably using the Lexical Approach already.

(Note: It was a huge influence and has been around since the early 90s... it's had 20 years to influence teacher education and EFL/ESL coursebooks. Not being labelled on the books doesn't mean it isn't a key factor they took into consideration).

Posted: Fri Oct 15, 2010 2:06 pm
by Rp
Again, wonderful posts. I agree with notion that teacher training may be the root of the "method" mindset.... North America seems to be predisposed to the concept of "methods". Fluffy I have read Richards and Rogers on the distinguishing attributes of methods and approaches, I think LA is, now, closer to a method than most, widely flexible true, and I'm sure my last point will provoke some debate.

My question as the original poster relates to ESL and EFL and anyone's experience using LA. In an EFL environment I can see the benefit in helping students grasp speech that is "commonly" used, but in an ESL environment the students would learn and apply speech that is commonly heard. I was just wondering how many favoured this approach in EFL to ESL. Based on my class room observations, and in my district, many ESL instructors have not incorporated LA into their delivery method.

Posted: Fri Oct 15, 2010 5:58 pm
by fluffyhamster
Oh, there's no doubt it's been influential, but whether it's been generally 'hugely influential' or is just contributing a "strand" (teacher-training and/or textbook's syllabus ~) or two depends ultimately on the type of textbooks one uses (or rather, is or isn't allowed to use), I would imagine.

As for whether it deserves to be called a method rather than an approach, I'd need to re-read Richard & Rodgers, but I was previously just working with a very rough definition in my mind of method(ology): 'That which translates relatively simple, unsophisticated and ultimately unambitious (i.e. "recommended") aims, of the type one finds in CELTA lesson plans, into classroom "action", "observable/observed results" etc'. :o :D :wink:

My question as the original poster relates to ESL and EFL and anyone's experience using LA. In an EFL environment I can see the benefit in helping students grasp speech that is "commonly" used, but in an ESL environment the students would learn and apply speech that is commonly heard. I was just wondering how many favoured this approach in EFL to ESL. Based on my class room observations, and in my district, many ESL instructors have not incorporated LA into their delivery method.
It would be unfortunate if ES(O)L instructors felt that the opportunities available for their students to immerse themselves in English outside (in the "target language community") as well as in the classroom somehow excused those instructors from researching and preparing as well as they could. What sort of methods do these ESL instructors use, Rp? Random slot-and-fill still? (A la Azar: [Present Progressive practice] The student is holding a book. The teacher is winging it. Etc. (Actually that last example there isn't at all bad! Is Azar improving her examples then? :lol: :) 8) )).