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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

For more related articles on the subject in HLT see:

‘My good-bye to the Lexical Approach’. Seth Lindstromberg. Issue 5/2, 2003.

‘Why I won’t say good-bye to the Lexical Approach’. Hanna Kryszewska. Issue 5/2, 2003.

‘Chunking for language classes: some lesson outlines’. Hanna Kryszewska. Issue 5/5. 2003.

‘Lexical chunks offer insights into culture’. Hanna Kryszewska. Issue 8/3, 2006.

‘Means of mass memorization of multi-word expressions, part I: The power of sound patterns’. Seth Lindstromberg & Frank Boers. Issue 7/1, 2005.

‘Means of mass memorisation of multi-word expressions, part II: The power of images’. Frank Boers & Seth Lindstromberg. Issue 8/1, 2006.

Teaching Chunks of Language: The Issue of Memory

Seth Lindstromberg and Frank Boers, UK and Belgium

Seth Lindstromberg teaches at Hilderstone College (Broadstairs, Kent, England) where he works mainly on language and methodology courses for non-native-speaking EFL and CLIL teachers and on EFL courses at all levels. E-mail:

Frank Boers teaches at the Erasmus University College Brussels and at the Free University of Brussels, Belgium. Most of his recent research endeavours evaluate the benefits of introducing Cognitive Linguistic insights to second language vocabulary teaching.


Three exercises
Difficulties with implementing the Lexical Approach so far
Where are we then?
Making Chunk Teaching more effective
Noticing and initial memory formation
Formation of strong memory traces
Working with figurative chunks
Working with chunks that show sound repetition
Review/Revision for maintenance/deeper entrenchment of memory traces
Appendix 1: Another noticing activity
Appendix 2: Another activity focusing on figurative chunks

Three exercises

What are those initials for?

1. On a handout, or by power point, show students a short text in which a few chunks are replaced by initials, e.g.,

Example text

In 2008, Swedish police c. a c. that had baffled them for months. You see, valuable items such as cameras had been disappearing from the luggage of passengers on intercity coaches. Nobody could understand how goods could be stolen from suitcases when their owners saw them safely loaded into the luggage hold of their coach and when they then reclaimed their suitcases immediately o. arr. a. their d. What the police found out was this: A member of a gang, who must have been very strong, chose a coach to travel on. He checked in a great big suitcase. In it, was a midget also a member of the gang! When the suitcase was safely in the luggage hold, the midget would come out of the suitcase, crawl around inside the hold, break open other suitcases, and steal any valuables found inside them. After a while, the midget would creep back into his (or her?) great big suitcase – along with the st. g. He would then c. the lid t. , and wait until the other gang member (who would make the same trip in a more comfortable part of the coach) would collect the suitcase.

2. Explain key items of vocabulary – in this case, midget.

3. Tell your students you will read the text out to them in full. Add that while you are speaking, they should not write; however, as soon as you finish, they should pick pens or pencils and try to write down the full form of each initialized expression (cracked a case, on arrival at their destination, stolen goods, close the lid tight).

4.When you’ve finished reading, give students time to write and confer.

5. Bring your class together and ask what the full phrases are.

6. Later, at the end of the lesson, write on the board the initials of the phrases targeted in this exercise and ask students to form pairs or threes and try to tell each other what all the phrases are.


  1. The initials serve to draw students’ attention to the chunks.
  2. If students hear the chunks correctly, they then need to hold them in working memory until you have finished speaking. Holding information in working memory like this is known to foster memory formation.
  3. The chunks are in context, which should help students understand them and see more or less clearly how they fit into a sentences.

‘Slate’ idioms

All you need for this is one or two bits of roofing slate to show to your class.

  1. Pass the bit(s) of slate around.
  2. Ask your class what the typical functions of slate are or were – i.e., for writing on with chalk and for covering roofs with. Also, when urban mobs rioted, e.g., in London, rioters would sometimes rip slates off roofs and throw them at whoever they were fighting.
  3. Note these functions on the board, perhaps in mindmap fashion (see ‘Mindmap’ at Wikipedia).
  4. Dictate the following three sentences (but not the glosses in square brackets):
    1. a. A convicted criminal, on release from prison, should be allowed to start again with a clean slate. [i.e., start again with no more penalties to pay]
    2. The critics slated the play; as a result, it closed after only three performances. [i.e., fiercely attacked]
    3. The start of the race, originally slated for 2pm, was postponed until 3pm on account of rain. [i.e., scheduled for]
  5. Invite speculation (a) about the meaning of each sentence and (b) about how each meaning relates to the functions of slate that noted on the board. (Meanings ‘a’ and ‘c’ relate to the use of slate to write messages on – e.g., tallies and event notices – while ‘b’ relates to the occasional but memorable use of roofing slates as weapons.)
  6. Now and again in later lessons, show your bit of slate, ask what it’s called, and elicit the three idioms.


This sort of exploration of the origin of idioms is now known to help students not just to understand idioms such as these (i.e., ‘figurative idioms’) but also to remember them.

Sort these phrases

Make a list of 10-20 common phrases, or ‘chunks’, that your students have encountered in recent weeks. Include some which show some kind of sound repetition; for example, in this article you have already come across power point, convicted criminal, pay a penalty mindmap & crack the case (which show alliteration) and start with a clean slate (which show consonance). Also include a few chunks which show no obvious sound repetition – for instance (also from above), immediately on arrival, close it tight, All you need for this….

  1. Display or dictate the phrases./
  2. Working individually or in pairs, students try to sort the phrases into groups according to whether they show no repetition of sound, alliteration, consonance or some other sort of sound repetition – e.g., word repetition (on and on), rhyme (a deep sleep), assonance (the right time), or some combination of these patterns (back in action – assonance + consonance).
  3. Call the class together in order to reach a consensus.

Rationale This exercise kills two birds with one stone. Most obviously, it is a review exercise of a kind which has been too much neglected in phrase teaching. After all, because phrases are harder to remember than individual words, more review is needed, not less. Less obvious is the experimentally verified potential of sound repetition to help students remember the form of phrases. By recollection of ‘form’, we mean the following: Suppose you want to express a particular meaning in conversation and remember that there is a phrase which expresses it perfectly yet you cannot remember it quickly enough to use it before you lose your turn in the conversation. What happened? You forgot the form. While this can occur when you’re speaking your mother tongue, it happens much more often when you’re speaking a foreign language (FL) because you are less likely to have formed highly durable memory traces of FL chunks. Summary These three exercises exemplify aspects of what we will argue is a more effective version of the Lexical Approach than the one that has come down to us from writers such as Nattinger and deCarrico (1992) and Michael Lewis (1993, 1997, 2000). Their pioneering work remains extremely important, but it is our belief that their Lexical Approach has at least one gigantic gap. Before we develop this argument, let’s consider the background more fully.


Over the past four decades or so, three facts have become increasingly evident.

  1. What a native-speaker writes and says consists very substantially of memorized combinations of words rather than individual words spontaneously combined in the mind of the individual according to principles of syntax. Erman and Warren (2000), for instance, reckon the proportion of chunks in spoken and written texts to be about 55%. (See especially Wray 2002.)
  2. The remarkable fluency of a typical native-speaker is supported very largely by knowledge of such memorized word combinations. (Again, see Wray 2002.)
  3. It is the heavy use by native-speakers of such memorized combinations that explains why it is so hard for non-native-speakers to sound completely natural even when – in terms of grammar, word knowledge and pronunciation – they may be highly proficient (Pawley and Syder 1983).

As is well-known, since the early 1990s foreign language teaching methodologists such as James Nattinger, Jeanette DeCarrico and Michael Lewis have argued that these three facts oblige all of us to participate in a radical shift of emphasis (called the Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis) away from teaching single-word vocabulary and rules of grammar and toward teaching word combinations. A result of this shift, it is claimed, will be learners who have greater fluency and who speak and write with greater naturalness of phrasing.1 Perhaps because these ends chime so harmoniously with basic goals of the Communicative Approach, the Lexical Approach made great headway – at conferences, at least. In classrooms, that change has almost certainly been far from dramatic.

Before continuing, let us look more closely at three key terms: ‘fluency, ‘native-like phrasing’, and the term ‘lexical’ as it is used in the phrase the Lexical Approach:

Fluency: In talk about the Lexical Approach (LA), the term ‘fluency’ mainly means a comparatively relaxed quickness of speech although fluency in writing can also be a good thing. Very useful too is being able fluently to understand what one hears or reads. Authorities on fluency recognize all these facets (see Riggenbach 2000).

Native-like phrasing: This denotes the ability to use conventional word combinations as native-speakers use them so that what one says or writes does not seem odd to native-speakers or to other very good users of English. For example, the following is conventional: Cameron casts doubt on Brown’s forecasts. (= ‘Cameron says something intended to make people doubt what Brown has said’). Also perfectly grammatical, but non-conventional ways of expressing the same idea include Cameron puts doubt on … and Cameron throws doubt on….

The Lexical Approach: The term that Nattinger, DeCarrico and Lewis have used for conventional, memorized word combinations is ‘lexical phrases’. By this they mean phrases that are remembered, and used, as if they were single words – i.e., as lexemes. An uncontroversial example of such a phrase seems to be by the way, which is more or less synonymous with the single word incidentally. As it happens, dozens of other terms have been used by other writers: e.g., ‘multi-word vocabulary’, ‘formulaic sequences’, ‘prefabricated sequences’, ‘lexical chunks’, and ‘chunks’. On account of its brevity, we generally use this last term, ‘chunks’. (For more terms, and for more about the role of chunks in linguistic cognition and communication, see Wray 2002.)

Difficulties with implementing the Lexical Approach so far

The sheer number chunks is daunting.
One obvious practical difficulty concerns mainly the quantity of chunks. That is, how can masses of chunks be learned and remembered during a non-intensive course (in a mother tongue setting at that) which must also cover various aspects of the target language? Increasingly, proponents of the Lexical Approach have advocated some version of the following:

  • In class, teach mainly the commonest chunks. Medium and low-frequency chunks (i.e., the vast majority of chunks) merit little in-class attention.
  • In class, show students how to recognize chunks and how to learn them on their own, outside of class – in particular, while reading.
But there are problems with this prescription. (1) It would seem that the commonest chunks are precisely those which students have the best chance of learning without a teacher’s help because these chunks are likely to occur sufficiently often within a short space of time or number of pages for learners to notice, understand and remember them. (2) Incidental learning of vocabulary during, say, sessions of out-of-class reading, can go very slowly (Laufer 1997, 2005). For one thing, for noticing, understanding and some degree of remembering to happen, a learner must generally meet a new vocabulary item from 6 to 12 times (estimates vary) within a fairly short span of time. If a chunk is not highly frequent, this condition is exceedingly unlikely to be met. (3) Learners find it particularly difficult to notice chunks. All in all, there is reason to doubt that a typical learner can incidentally acquire a considerable number of medium-frequency (let alone low-frequency) chunks through, say, out-of-class reading. (See Boers et al. [Forthcoming] for a more thorough discussion of these matters.)

Quality of learning matters.
A less obvious, but no less serious difficulty has to do with the quality of learning. In short, for good fluency, passive knowledge of chunks is not enough. For any given chunk to be recalled immediately as it is needed for production, memory traces must be strong (Eyckmans 2007). It seems uncontroversial to say that incidental learning of chunks through reading is most likely to result in knowledge that is passive.

The Lexical Approach is underpowered in terms of task types.
The key question is this: How can teachers help students remember chunks well-enough to reap the hoped-for benefit of increased fluency? Techniques and exercises currently associated with the Lexical Approach tend to encourage students to notice chunks, which is plainly necessary. But, in the main, these techniques and methods show insufficient promise as means of helping learners form memory traces that are strong and durable. It is simply a fact that the Lexical Approach has been supported by a minimal infusion of new practices and techniques. One new family of practices that we know of consists in getting learners to use concordancing software (see, e.g., so that they can learn more about how words combine with other words in real discourse as represented by large, digitally stored collections of texts known as ‘corpora’ (see, e.g., ‘corpora ideas’ in the subject index of this magazine). We doubt, though, that many teachers would agree that this sort of thing is likely without further ado to consistently result in students having firm productive knowledge of the word combinations they encounter.

Where are we then?

The status quo seems to be this.

  • Virtually everyone agrees that it would be wonderful if all language learners knew huge numbers of chunks very well. Some writers, though, are most impressed by the practical difficulties students face in achieving such a result in a non-intensive classroom setting. These people refer to the impossibly huge number of chunks to be learned as well as to the other important things (e.g., grammar teaching) that would have to be neglected were chunks to be made the object of intensive focus in the classroom (see. e.g., Swan 2006).
  • Virtually everyone agrees that the huge number of chunks in (probably) any target language means that only a fraction of them can receive attention in the classroom and so teachers and materials writers must prioritize and winnow them according to some such criteria as level of frequency and degree of immediate usefulness.
  • Unless students are immersed in the target language (e.g., during a long stay abroad), it is unrealistic to expect that they will learn many chunks out of class – or, at least, learn them well-enough for their fluency to be significantly improved.
  • It is implicit in proposals for students to learn chunks out of class that current methods for teaching chunks in class are not outstandingly effective.
In sum, this is why we decided to write an ideas book for teachers about how to make the Lexical Approach, or ‘Teaching Chunks of Language’, more effective. So then, what are our proposals?

Making Chunk Teaching more effective

The major weakness of the Lexical Approach as we have known it is its general neglect of the absolutely crucial issue of memory, an issue which, for practical purposes, we can sub-divide as follows:

  1. noticing (which current methodology addresses moderately well)
  2. formation of strong memory traces (massively overlooked so far)
  3. review/revision: maintenance and of memory traces (also neglected in practice although everyone recognizes its importance in principle). 2
Let us look at these three issues one by one:

Noticing and initial memory formation

Noticing is when learners fixate on a new expression that they either hear or see in print. This is when learners devote some attention to the spelling (or sounds), when they consider the word boundaries and when they pause (if only very briefly) to consider meaning. Noticing is primary in the process of memory formation, and any successful teaching method must include techniques for helping students notice what could be useful for them to recall later on. Simple, but potentially effective techniques include underlining target chunks and/or writing them in color. These and many other useful techniques will already be familiar to an experienced teacher (after all, the importance of noticing is not a new discovery whatever some may think!).In chapter two of our book Teaching Chunks of Language includes 14 separate activities (or activity sequences) designed to help students notice chunks (with most activities including more than one technique for promoting noticing). What is new there, for the most part, is how these techniques are adapted in order to focus on the learning of chunks. Some readers may also find that that chapter includes new ideas about what kinds of chunks you can teach. Activity 2.14, for instance, is about teaching ‘situational clichés’ such as Fingers crossed! (You have already met one of our shorter activities above in Section 1.0 – ‘What are those initials for?’ – although here we’ve used a new text.)

Formation of strong memory traces

The best-known writers on the Lexical Approach appear to have entirely overlooked the following important facts:

  1. Many chunks are figurative (e.g., metaphorical) and are, consequently, relatively easy to remember (especially in terms of their meaning), provided that they are properly approached (see Boers and Lindstromberg [2006] for a review of the evidence).
  2. Many chunks show patterns of sound repetition (e.g., alliteration as in beat around the bush). These chunks too, particularly their form, are potentially relatively easy to remember (e.g., Boers and Lindstromberg 2008 & Lindstromberg and Boers 2008a, 2008b).

You probably recall activities ‘b’ and ‘c’ in section 1.0 – ‘Slate idioms’ and ‘Sort these phrases’; each implements a different strategy to achieve the same overall goal – formation of more durable memory traces. The ‘Slate idioms’ activity is a very brief example of a way of working with figurative idioms which significantly raises learners’ rates of recall and, in particular, strengthens memory for meaning. The activity ‘Sort these phrases’ is an example of a simple, but mnemonically effective, way of working with chunks that show patterns of sound repetition.

Let’s look at both strategies in more detail.

Working with figurative chunks

These chunks tend to be known as idioms. As it happens, the view is still widespread that the word-by-word composition of idioms is fluky and that the origins of their meanings are lost in the mists of time (viz., kick the bucket). In fact the number of such expressions whose meaning seems wholly arbitrary (i.e., the result of chance factors) is relatively tiny. Grant (2003: 96-7, 161) persuasively estimates their number to be a bit above 100, and she includes “borderline” cases in this total. Except for these, the vast majority of idioms are figurative in ways that learners can be helped to see. This process of coming to understand the ‘why and wherefore’ of an idiom is known to be powerful mnemonic. For one thing, this process of ‘unlocking’ the figurative essence of an idiom will involve, for many learners, the generation of mental images, which has a powerful positive effect in memory formation. Most of chapter 3 in our book is devoted to activities (all being a good deal longer than the ‘Slate idioms’ example) which we designed to help students unlock the figurative heart of common idioms in order to make them more memorable. In the appendix to this article, you will find another activity – which we forgot to include in our book – that focuses on chunks which can be used figuratively. (If you would like to see a list of good reasons for teaching idioms in the first place, despite the fact that few of them are highly frequent, see McCarthy [1998: 131-49].)

Working with chunks that show sound repetition

It has long been assumed – especially by poets, lyrics writers and slogan writers – that rhyme and alliteration (and so on) are ‘catchy’, i.e., that passages of text which rhyme and alliterate (and so on) ‘catch’ in your memory, maybe a bit like a burr catches on a woolen shirt or pullover. Surprisingly it appears to have been only very recently that applied linguists began to investigate this matter with respect to learning a second or foreign language. The findings have been unequivocal: all else being equal, students find a chunk which rhymes (have a thin skin), alliterates (have street smarts) and/or assonates (high tide) easier to remember than a chunk which shows no such pattern of repetition. We believe that the activities in our book which focus on this aspect of phrasal vocabulary are a significant innovation in chunk teaching, especially because sound repetition is actually very common in (English) phraseology (e.g., Lindstromberg and Boers 2008b)

In sum, what we propose is the foregrounding of a third criterion (in addition to the criteria of frequency and immediate usefulness) for deciding which chunks to focus on in class. We call it the criterion of ‘memorability’ although ‘teachability’ could do as well. Taking account of this criterion would raise the priority of most figurative chunks and chunks showing mnemonic sound repetition.

Review/Revision for maintenance/deeper entrenchment of memory traces

Here, we will mainly repeat what everyone probably knows – published materials for chunk teaching provide far too few review exercises. After all, chunks are hard to remember – even harder than single word lexis and Lord knows even those are difficult enough to remember. So, lots of review is essential! We believe our book, Teaching Chunks of Language, is also innovative also in the extent to which it recognizes the fact that without review the results of good teaching and learning can simply go up in smoke. Aside from devoting a chapter entirely to review activities, activities in earlier chapters conclude with ideas/materials for review and/or these activities can themselves be used to help students strengthen their memories of chunks met earlier. The activity ‘Sort these phrases’ (Section 1.0 above), is an example of such dual-purpose potential.


We do not claim that adoption of our proposals would dispel every problem connected with the Lexical Approach. There simply is no magic wand for learning the myriad chunks that are worth learning by anyone wishing to become a good, fluent user of an L2. However, we do believe that teachers and materials writers ought to pay more attention to the factor of memory. In particular, we believe that good results can follow special in-class treatment of chunks that are potentially memorable because they are phonologically repetitive (like fully functional), because they are figurative (like bend the rules), or because they are both (like lift the lid [on a scandal]).

Appendix 1: Another noticing activity

‘When I give the signal’

Focus: All kinds of chunk; intensive reading; reading out loud; listening to a partner
Level: Pre-intermediate – Upper-intermediate
Time: 10 - 20 minutes
Materials: A copy of a story

This exercise focuses on chunks in a text that students have already read and understood. Its purpose is to encourage noticing and slightly delayed recall. Stories seem to work best.


Prepare your story by underlining the chunks you want to target and highlighting the last few word(s) just before the chunk. To indicate good pause points (see Procedure, below), insert marks; in the text below we have used double slashes. Note that it will probably not be possible to focus on every single chunk in the text.


  1. Tell your students that you are going to read a story out loud, slowly and dramatically. Add that –
    1. Sometimes you will pause and signal that it’s ‘memory-test time’ by snapping your fingers or by giving them a significant look.
    2. You will then re-read part of what you just read out (i.e., the words given in bold in the example below), but then you will pause.
    3. They should try to say from memory whatever words come next, right up to where you paused in step ‘a’ just above. That is, they should call out the words that are underlined in the example text below.
  2. Start the activity. Paraphrase any potentially unknown vocabulary as you go along.


Once you have led students through this activity a couple of times, they can do it themselves in pairs or trios. In this case, unless students can sit well away from each other, it is best to do this activity with two or three different texts at the same time so that pairs sitting next to each other are not distracted by hearing someone else say ‘their’ words.

Story (traditional Middle Eastern): intermediate level (the main target chunks are underlined):

One day, a man named Joha bought a pitta from one of the sellers, or ‘traders’, in the central market of his home town.// Pitta, by the way, is also called ‘pocket bread’. It’s like a pocket, but it’s bread and you can put food in it to make a kind of sandwich. Anyway, Joha didn’t have enough money // to buy anything tasty to put in his pita. What he really wanted // was to put a bit of cooked chicken in his pita, or at least just some slices of cucumber or tomato, but he couldn’t afford to buy any.// In fact, he was so short of money // that his pita wasn’t even fresh. That was because he had had to buy one that was two days old. So it was, not surprisingly, dry and hard. // Anyway, while strolling through the market, Joha took a little bite of his pita. “Yuk!”, he thought. “This has no taste at all!” Just then, he noticed a man roasting a chicken over red hot coals.// These chickens were already golden brown, sizzling, and dripping fat onto the coals. Joha moved closer in that direction. // Ohh! The air was filled with wonderful, chickeny smoke. It was divine! Irresistable! Suddenly, Joha had an idea, ‘a Eureka moment’.// He stood near the roasting chicken and held his stale, dry pita in the smoke so that it would take in some of the smoky, chickeny flavour. The man who was roasting the chicken didn’t notice at first what Joha was up to // because he was busy dealing with customers.// When he did see what Joha was doing to, he shouted, “That’s my smoke! I’m not running a charity here. You owe me 50 dinars! Pay up! Fork it over! ”// Joha was too surprised for words.// “You’re crazy”, he replied. And added, “You’ve got a screw loose! ” // And he refused to pay any money for the smoke. The trader immediately began shouting for a policeman. Unfortunately for Joha, a policemen quickly appeared on the scene. Also unfortunately for Joha, as soon as the policeman laid eyes on Joha’s old and shabby clothes //, he took the side of the trader. Roughly, he grabbed Joha’s left ear, and dragged him off to face a magistrate…a sort of local judge. The gleeful trader followed on behind. In court, the magistrate listened both to the trader and to Joha. When all the talking was finished, he ordered Joha to give the trader 50 liras. Joha said, “I don’t have 50 lira on me!”// “In fact,”, he added, “I don’t have 50 lira full stop.”// “Tough luck”, said the judge, // who added, “If you can’t find 50 lira to give to the trader by tomorrow, you’ll have to go to jail.” Joha was furious, as mad as could be. // That night he couldn’t sleep for hours. He couldn’t stop thinking about his humiliating experience. He tossed and turned all night. // But then, just as the sun came up, inspiration came – Joha had Eureka moment number two. “Yes!”, he thought, “That’s the solution! That’s what to do!”// And with that, he fell into a deep sleep // and didn’t get up until well after noon. The next day, Joha went to a pawnshop and said, “My shoes, what will you give me for them? // “Fifty dinars”, was the answer. Joha replied, “Great! Oh, one thing, give it all to me in coins! ” // So, with the handful of coins he got for his shoes, Joha went back to the chicken roaster in the market. When he saw him, Joha shouted “Here is your money!” Then he cupped his hands around the coins and shook them so they jingled loudly. And then Joha said, “There! You’ve just been paid!”. // And with that, he put the coins back in his pocket.
The trader replied, “What on earth are you talking about?!” // “Pay me! Paaaaaay meeeeeee!””
“Pay you?!”, said Joha. “I just did. Let me explain, you charged me for the smell of chicken.// So I have paid you with…the sound of money.”

Appendix 2: Another activity focusing on figurative chunks

‘Talking about love’

Focus: Figurative idioms having to do with love
Level: Upper-intermediate – Advanced
Time: 35-50 minutes for steps 1-7
Materials: A class set of a handout or the same material on a slide; in an advanced class this material can be dictated


  1. Hand out (or dictate/display) all or part of the list of figurative expressions of love given further below.
  2. Ask students to decide about each expression whether it is based on an image of heat; madness; magic; sudden, hard contact; or illness.
  3. When students have considered all the expressions, they compare their thoughts with a partner.
  4. Bring the class together and go through the expressions one by one. (See the Key further below.)
  5. Give each student a set of song lyrics and/or short love poems each of which includes at least one ‘love’ expression which is figurative. It doesn’t matter whether the expressions have to do with heat, madness, magic, illness, or thirst/hunger or not.
  6. Give everyone time both to read through the texts and to mark any figurative expressions of love.
  7. Ask your students to (a) form groups of four, (b) tell each other which expressions they have marked and (c) explain to each other the roots of each expression’s imagery.


Exploit the musical or literary effect of at least one of the texts – i.e., if it’s a song sing or play it; if it’s a poem, ask each group of four to plan and then deliver a dramatic, group recital.

Review/Consolidation, perhaps in the following lesson

  1. Set the following writing assignment. Students should each write a story of from 6-8 sentences (but don’t be too strict about these limits). The story should include at least one of the ‘love chunks’ and also include the three following characters: a (jealous) wife or girlfriend, a (jealous) husband or boyfriend, a private detective.
  2. Students read out their stories either to the whole class or to each other in groups of 5 or 6. (You might decide to collect and correct the stories before this step.)

Tip for Step 2
Don’t mention that some of the expressions in the list have to do with thirst or hunger (esp. hunger for something sweet); let them find this out on their own. One of the ‘hunger’ expressions is cupboard love; because food may be kept in a cupboard, this means loving someone mainly because they provide food.

Figurative expressions of love

Figurative phrase Sudden, hard contact Heat Madness Magic Disability, helpless-ness, loss of control ?
She’s an old flame of mine.
She’s madly in love with him.
I was burning with love for her.
Just seeing her makes me feel weak at the knees.
Look at him standing there, utterly love struck.
He has the hots for her.
I feel like she’s cast a spell over me.
It may sound corny but I actually thirst for your kisses.
What’s happened to us? The magic is gone.
Ooh! I’m still feeling lovesick.
Ha, I thought so! You have a crush on him, don’t you!
I long for your sweet lips.
I just can’t get enough of her.
Is he in love? Let’s just say that she’s the apple of his eye.
He’s smitten with her, and how!
He loves her, yes, but is it true love or cupboard love?
She fell for him, hard.
I’m crazy for you, baby.

Notes: Re smitten: This comes from an old word meaning ‘strike’. So, smitten and love struck mean about the same thing. Re cast a spell, note also the collocations cast a net (over) & cast a shadow (over). That is, a spell seems at least partly equated with a net and/or a shadow.

Suggested key

Figurative phrase Sudden, hard contact Heat Madness Magic Disability, helpless-ness, loss of control Hunger thirst
She’s an old flame of mine. X
She’s madly in love with him. X
I was burning with love for her. X
Just seeing her makes me feel weak at the knees.
Look at him standing there, utterly love struck. X
He has the hots for her. X
I feel like she’s cast a spell over me. X
[i.e., as if trapped under a net]
It may sound corny but I actually thirst for your kisses. X
What’s happened to us? The magic is gone. X
Ooh! I’m still feeling lovesick. X
Ha, I thought so! You have a crush on him, don’t you!
I long for your sweet lips. X
I just can’t get enough of her. X
Is he in love? Let’s just say that she’s the apple of his eye. X
He’s smitten with her, and how! X
He loves her, yes, but is it true love or cupboard love? X
She fell for him, hard. X ?
[i.e., When you fall, you may hit the ground.]
He’s crazy about her.


  1. Another proposed advantage of memorizing whole phrases is, according to Lewis (1993), that learners can “get grammar for free” because many phrases, provided they are remembered accurately and used appropriately, will be grammatically well-formed. This is also known as the ‘islands of accuracy’ argument for teaching whole phrases.
  2. Of course, ‘understanding’ is crucial too. However, we haven’t given it its own number, two reasons. Firstly, all mainstream teaching methods place a high value on understanding. Secondly, what we say about our point 2 (formation of strong memory traces) is relevant to understanding since understanding a metaphor or a metonymy is understanding at a relatively ‘deep’ level.
  3. Also likely to be especially memorable are chunks which are similar to ones in L1. For example, in English we may say Don’t buy a pig in a poke (a ‘poke’ being a large sack) to mean ‘Don’t buy anything you haven’t been able to inspect’. For French learners, this might be relatively memorable not just because of the p-p alliteration but also because an equivalent French expression is Ne pas acheter un chat en poche, i.e., ‘Don’t buy a cat in a pocket’. Note, incidentally, the triple consonance in the French expression. (The ‘ch’ sounds like English ‘sh’.) In other words, it is not just learners of English who can benefit from noticing mnemonic sound repetitions.


Boers, Frank, Julie Deconinck and Seth Lindstromberg. Forthcoming. Choosing motivated chunks for teaching. In The Lexis-Grammar Continuum in Second or Foreign Language Learning, Sabine De Knop, Teun De Rycker and Frank Boers, eds.. ACL Series. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter

Boers, Frank and Seth Lindstromberg. 2006. Cognitive linguistic applications in second or foreign language instruction: rationale, proposals and evaluation. In Cognitive Linguistics: Current Applications and Future Perspectives, Gitte Kristansen, Michel Achard, René Dirven, Francisco J. Ruiz de Mendoza Ibáñez, eds., 305–355. (ACL 1). Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Boers, Frank and Seth Lindstromberg. 2008. Structural elaboration by the sound (and feel) of it. In Cognitive Linguistic Approaches to Teaching Vocabulary and Phraseology, Frank Boers and Seth Lindstromberg, eds., 330–353. (ACL 6). Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Boers, Frank, and Seth Lindstromberg, eds. 2008. Cognitive Linguistic Approaches to Teaching Vocabulary and Phraseology. (ACL6). Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Erman, B. and B. Warren. 2000. The idiom principle and the open choice principle. Text 20: 29–62.

Eyckmans, June. 2007. Taking SLA research to interpreter-training: does knowledge of phrases foster fluency? In Multilingualism and Applied Comparative Linguistics: Pedagogical Perspectives, Frank Boers, Jeroen Darquennes & Rita Temmerman, eds., 89–104. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Grant, Lynn. 2003. A Corpus-based Investigation of Idiomatic Multiword Units. PhD thesis. Victoria University of Wellington, N.Z. Online at:

Laufer, Batia. 1997. The lexical plight in second language reading. In Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition: A Rationale for Pedagogy, James Coady & Thomas Huckin, eds., 20–34. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Laufer, Batia. 2005. Focus on Form in second language vocabulary acquisition. In EUROSLA Yearbook 5, Susan Foster-Cohen, ed., 223–250. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing.

Lewis, Michael. 1993. The Lexical Approach. Hove, UK: LTP.

Lewis, Michael. 1997. Implementing The Lexical Approach. Hove, UK: LTP.

Lewis, Michael, ed. 2000. Teaching Collocation: Further Developments in the Lexical Approach. Hove, UK: LTP.

Seth Lindstromberg and Frank Boers. 2008a. The mnemonic effect of noticing alliteration in lexical chunks. Applied Linguistics 29: 200–222.

Seth Lindstromberg. 2008b. Phonemic repetition and the learning of lexical chunks: the mnemonic power of assonance. System 36: 423-436.

McCarthy, Michael. 1998. Spoken Language and Applied Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nattinger, James R. and Jeanette S. DeCarrico. 1992. Lexical Phrases and Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pawley, Andrew and Frances Syder. 1983. ‘Two puzzles for linguistic theory: nativelike selection and nativelike fluency’ in J. Richards & R, Schmidt, eds.: Language and Communication, pp. 191–226. Longman, London.

Riggenbach, Heidi (ed.). 2000. Perspectives on Fluency. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Swan, Michael. 2006. Chunks in the classroom: Let’s not go overboard. Teacher Trainer, 20/3: 5-6.

Wray, Alison. 2002. Formulaic Language and the Lexicon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


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