Ways of exploiting lexical self-study material in the classroom part two: some things we can get students to do

In the first part of this post, I explored some of the things that you can do as teacher – both in terms of preparation / planning and in terms of actual classroom practice – to help to take lexical self-study material off the page and to bring it to life and make it more real for the students. In this post, I’m going to assume that that message has already been absorbed and am going to move on to talk about what you might do next. Once you’ve given students time to go through an exercise, you’ve out them in pairs to check their answers, you’ve elicited answers from the whole class and, as you did so, you’ve explored the language in the sentences and expanded upon both the items there and connected bits and pieces. You have a board full of great, connected, whole-sentence fully grammaticalised input . . . and then what?

In case you’ve forgotten – or never read the first post to begin with – here again is the exercise I’m describing, and thinking about how to exploit:

Collocations exercise

Well, the most obvious thing is to get students talking about their own ideas, experiences and opinions using the language they’ve just looked at. The way I’d usually do it is to prepare some questions based on what’s there. Take, for instance, the first item – address an issue. You could just ask What are the main issues in your country? Do you think the government is doing enough to address them? Those aren’t bad questions, but to support students more, and give them more ideas of what to talk abut, I’d probably twist this slightly to something like this:

Decide which three of the issues below are the biggest problems in your country.

Mark them from 1 (=most serious problem) to 3.


Domestic violence

Drug abuse


Illegal immigration

Non-payment of taxes

A growing wealth gap

Digital connectivity


Public and private debt

Now tell a partner which three issues you chose.

Explain why you think they are such big issues, what is being done to address them – and anything else you think could be done to improve the situation.

Just this on its own would be quite sufficient for a good fifteen-minute speaking slot in class. I’d give students a few minutes to read through and to ask about any vocabulary they weren’t sure of – there’s bound to be some in the list above. I might then model the task by explaining which of the above I think is the biggest issue in the UK (they’re all contenders, if truth be told, but personally I’d opt for the growing wealth gap!), why and what’s being done about it. Once I’d stopped foaming at the mouth about the fact my prime minister is currently at an EU meeting to lobby for the right to ignore Europe-wide restrictions on bankers’ pay whilst more and more of the people he’s supposed to be looking after are increasingly reliant on food banks, I’d then put students in small groups of two and three and get them to discuss their own ideas.


As students talk, I’d go round, listen in, correct any pronunciation errors I might hear, ask questions and chip in with the discussion and – most crucially – try to find things students were trying to say, but couldn’t quite . . . or things they were saying that I would say in a slightly different (and better!) way. I’d zap backwards and forwards to the board and write up whole sentences, with the odd word here and there gapped. Once things were slowing down and some pairs / groups had almost finished, I’d stop the whole class and say OK, that was great. let’s just quickly look at how to say what you were trying to say better. I might have something like the following on the board:

A lot of men are frustrated with their l………… in life and then drink and end up t……………… it out on their wives.
A lot of women f…………….. their homes and end up in r……………… for battered wives.
Unemployment has r………………… over the last couple of years. Loads of people are moving abroad in s………… of work.
We’re being f…………….. / s…………… with immigrants. It’s causing serious f………………. in lots of areas.

To elicit the missing words, I’d basically paraphrase / retell the things I’d heard by saying things like this: A lot of people are unhappy with where they are in life they’re unhappy with their position, with what they’ve achieved, so they’re unhappy with their MMM in life. Anyone? No? They’re unhappy with their lot in life. And they drink and get angry and come home frustrated and they’re angry at the world, but they hurt their wives instead. They feel angry and frustrated, but don\’t know what to do with that anger, so they MMM it out on the ones they love. Yeah, right. They TAKE it out on them. And as a result, some women escape from the family home, like people MMM a disaster or MMM a war. Anyone? Yes, good. They FLEE and they end up in special buildings where women who have been beaten up – battered women – can hide and be safe from danger. These places are called? No, not refugees. Refugees are people who have to flee their own countries. The places are called REFUGES. Where’s the stress? yeah, REFuge, but ReFUgee. Good.


Other questions connected to the vocabulary in the exercise that I might ask students to discuss could include the following:

  • Can you think of a time when law and order completely broke down in your country? What sparked it? How long did it last?
  • Why do you think some people might not agree with aid agencies providing emergency relief? What do YOU think about it?
  • Can you remember any news stories from the last few months about an area needing emergency relief? Why? What happened?
  • Can you think of anyone who’s been arrested for inciting violence or racial hatred? What happened?
  • Would you like to be a social worker? Why? / Why not?

With any of these, again I’d give them a minute or two to read through and ask questions about. I’d model and I’d then listen in and find things to rework, before ending up by reformulating student output on the board. If you’re not sure of your ability to hear things in the moment and to think of better ways of saying things, you can always cheat by doing exactly what I did above and plan in advance things you think students MIGHT or COULD say, decide the best words to gap, and then simply write these up whilst monitoring. You can begin by saying OK, here are some things I heard some of you saying. Fools them every time!

In the third and final post in this little series, I’ll outline some other things you could get students to do with an exercise like this.

Cheers for now.



11 responses

  1. This is brilliant! Thanks, Hugh! I look forward to experimenting with your ideas (the combination of monitoring/chipping in/finding things that students were trying to say but couldn’t quite followed by the post-activity reformulation phase)… I particularly like the idea of planning some potential reformulations in advance, to fool them with 🙂 (The added security of having something up my sleeve would help give me the confidence to have a go at experimenting) I’m doing an observed lesson on Monday, which has a hefty speaking component, based on various input – I think I may try it then. It’s a developmental observation so it would be a good opportunity and my DoS has already actively encouraged us to use the observations to experiment. When is part 3 coming out? Soon, I hope? Cheers, Lizzie. P.S. Hurrah I’ve finally made it back here!!

    1. Hi Lizzie –
      And welcome back!
      I’d be really interested to hear how Wednesday goes: what kind of speaking you’re getting the students to do, based on what input, and how you then round it up.
      Write and tell me more once it’s either planned or else simply done.

      The old ‘Here’s one I prepared earlier’ trick is a great trick to have in your repertoire, that’s for sure!
      I look at it as being part of the pragmatics of laziness!

      I’ll get part Three done over the next few days.
      It’s been way too long since I had a good splurge of activity on the blog, so nice to be on a roll again.

      1. Hiya!
        So, I tried it yesterday… I didn’t do it as effectively as I could have (unsurprisingly – it was my first go, after all!) but I’m glad I tried. Even within those limitations, they learnt more than they would have otherwise. Working on it (i.e. continuing to experiment) is going to be (yet another) one of my mini-projects. I think being able to do it competently will be a good extra thing to have in my ‘classroom toolkit’.
        We did a jigsaw listening, so the first speaking was an information gap. They then had to discuss and decide which listening text they thought was true. The final speaking-y bit was a role play based on the characters in the listening (two neighbours) meeting and finally talking (in the extracts they had not talked before). They were pre-ints.
        I look forward to trying your ideas out with different levels and with different input.
        Bring on part three! 🙂 (I shall now have to check you haven’t snuck it out while I wasn’t looking… :-p)

      2. Part Three will have to wait a few more days, I’m afraid, as I’m snowed under at the moment with too many projects and too few hours! Next week, hopefully.

        Anyway, glad to hear you tipped your toes in these waters and found you didn’t completely drown!
        Sounds like you were doing more reformulation of what students were trying to say (or could’ve been trying to say!) and using that as the basis for post-speaking feedback, right? The role-play part sounds the bit most ripe for that kind of ‘here’s some things you were trying to say given back to you in better English’ approach.

        Good to hear what you tried though.
        Feel free to come back at me again with more thoughts / problems / questions / comments.
        And thanks again for the interest.

      3. Hello!!! Very excited this evening – have been continuing with the experimenting and it’s definitely getting better! Managed to feed in and develop some lovely language with my upper ints and advanced classes, reformulating what they were trying to say but not quite getting there. They really appreciated it and were interested in it. It’s an interesting mental process for me too, identifying the gaps, a better alternative and then leading the learners to it. Oh and I had my observation feedback today, and my DoS was very encouraging of my experimentation, and quoted I think a previous DoS of his as saying it’s about “hearing what the learners aren’t saying” as opposed to just listening for mistakes. So that you can help them really upgrade and expand their language. I’m really glad I read your blog post in advance of my observation – it fed in something extra and interesting, which, now that I’m building on it, I’m in no doubt is a very useful addition to my toolkit. And I’m really glad to be working somewhere where experimentation is encouraged too. 🙂

        I’m really looking forward to your part 3, whenever you get round to it. 🙂 But I know you what you mean about too many projects and too many hours – I’m the same!

  2. Thanks Hugh! I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years but I’ve been working in-company for so long, I’d almost forgotten all these ways of working with published materials – I can’t use published materials, everything I use has to be self made. I’ll try these ideas again to give me some relief from always focussing on report structures and email templates..


    1. Glad you enjoyed it Chris – and that it took you back a bit!
      I think some of this kind of stuff can also be done with self-written material, by the way.
      It’s not exclusive to published material, but can hopefully be done with any material that contains language that may be new for students.
      Admittedly, not all language spins off as neatly as this particular bunch does, but the idea remains the same.

  3. […] In the first part of this post, I explored some of the things that you can do as teacher – both in terms of preparation / planning and in terms of actual classroom practice – to help to take lexica…  […]

  4. […] class in terms of what I’d do, say, ask and write whilst checking the answers, and then in the second post I looked at ways we might get students to connect more personally to the language that emerges from […]

  5. […] Ways of exploiting lexical self-study material in the classroom part two: some things we can get stu… This is the second post in a series written by Hugh Dellar, on his well-known blog. I first became aware of this series of three posts when a member of my PLN tweeted part 2 of the series (as linked). Of course I then also read part 1 (and part 3 when it later came out!) Bursting with helpful ideas, these posts really got me thinking and indeed experimenting in the classroom. I drew on part 2 when I did my first observation in my current job and opened up a key area to develop within my practice, which was (and is) very exciting. I really recommend reading these posts if they’ve slipped beneath your radar thus far… […]

  6. […] back to Hugh’s recent blog posts about exploiting lexical self-study material (part one, two, three). It is important to remind ourselves that ultimately we are language teachers, and language […]

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