Reviewing chunks through prompted recall

Leo Selivan

Leo Selivan’s Lexical Grammar is the newest title in our Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers series.

This week, the author looks at of one of the book’s many practical activities for teaching chunks and exploring language patterns.

As noted in my introduction to the book: “Traditionally, language is viewed as consisting of words, on the one hand, and of grammatical structures, on the other.

“But what if we got rid of this dichotomy and focused on both at the same time? The activities in this book attempt to do just that: to focus on units of language, such as chunks and patterns, that straddle the border between vocabulary and grammar.”

What is a chunk?

A chunk is a group of words customarily found together. One example of a chunk is fixed expressions, for example as a matter of fact or last but not least. However, combinations of words that allow variation, such as see you later/soon/tomorrow, can also be considered as chunks and that is the view taken in the book.

Classroom activity: Prompted recall

This activity aims to activate chunks that learners have previously studied or been exposed to. Students try to remember and write whole chunks, in response to the teacher’s oral prompts.

Step 1: Write or display your selected chunks on the board, like this:

Step 2: Show the chunks for one minute (or longer for lower-level learners) then remove them from view.

Step 3: Begin to read out your oral prompts – see the examples below. Give six to eight prompts only. Learners should think of the corresponding chunk for each prompt and write it down, numbering their responses.

Step 4: After learners have written their responses, ask them to stand up, mingle and compare answers orally (but not show their answers to one another).

Step 5: When students have compared their lists, conduct whole-class feedback, focussing on any areas of difficulty.

About your learners’ responses

It doesn’t matter if learners’ responses differ from what you intended, or if they disagree with each other when comparing answers. In fact, differing answers will lead to discussion and, as a result, students will end up using and reusing the target chunks, which will aid retention.

Next week: We’ll take a look at another activity from Lexical Grammar.


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