Since Meara (1980) argued that vocabulary was a neglected aspect in language teaching literature, the situation has changed considerably. Not least thanks to books and articles by scholars such as Meara, Nation, and Schmidt, and others. Probably one of the best-known books on the topic of vocabulary has to be Lewis’s The Lexical Approach (1993). In fact, the authors of Teaching Lexically, Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley, both refer to their being inspired by Lewis’s book. However, they have gone far beyond The Lexical Approach by designing more practical and more accessible pedagogy. The writers claimed that their intention was not the provision of recipes but “more about training for preparing lexical lessons with whatever materials” (p. 17) teachers are using and/or exploiting that are already in the classroom.
Teaching Lexically is based on three core topics: grammar and vocabulary are combined; context is central; classrooms are “input-rich” and input is useful. The writers divided the book into three parts: Part A outlines the principles, the writers’ lexical views of teaching, and provides an overview of vocabulary and grammar from a lexical perspective; Part B is about practicing and applying the principle of teaching lexically based on a bank of activities (Part B is further subdivided into seven chapters: Vocabulary, Grammar, Speaking, Reading, Listening, Writing, Recycling, and Revising); Part C first provides some insights into teaching lexically in exam classes and EAP, but then focuses on teacher development and how teachers can write their own materials that are lexically-oriented.
I would like to share some of my favourite activities that you can find in Teaching Lexically. Choosing words to teach (p. 36): The writers provided eight pairs of words (e.g. store/supermarket) asking readers to decide which word is more frequently used. Readers are also encouraged to look at the word list in a textbook, choose 10 words and reflect on frequency. Vocabulary exercise 1: Practising the principle (p. 50). The writers offered eight statements and asked readers to consider which ones they would not choose to do, such as “Explain all the words in the exercise before students do it” (p. 50). My favourite is statement number 5 “Tell the students not to use a dictionary” (p. 50). I am looking forward to trying these statements with my student teachers and to their discussion of what they would do and, more importantly, why. There are many more activities that can be used in teacher training but also by educators who like critical reflection on teaching lexically.
Perhaps the writers could have added some multilingual vocabulary activities. There are a few activities where Dellar and Walkley included a reference to students’ L1 but there could be many more activities that include all languages learners have in their repertoire, e.g. cognates could be added to teaching vocabulary lexically.
Despite an abundance of ELT literature on vocabulary teaching and learning nowadays, I highly recommend Teaching Lexically for teachers and teacher trainers interested in improving their lexically-rooted techniques and/or their professional development as lexical materials writers.
Meara, P. (1980). Vocabulary acquisition: A neglected aspect of language learning. Retrieved from http://www.lognostics.co.uk/vlibrary/meara1980.pdf
Lewis, M. (1993). The lexical approach. The state of ELT and a way forward. Hove, UK: Language Teaching Publications.
PHBern/Bern University of Teacher Education