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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 5; Issue 5; September 03

Major Article

Chunking for language classes
Some lesson outlines

Hanna Kryszewska, University of Gdansk, Poland

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The Lexical Approach is one of the buzz words in EFL. We come across the term The Lexical Approach or chunks in blurbs recommending dictionaries, course books and resource materials, especially those recently published. “What is a chunk?” people ask. There are many definitions. The one I like best is: a chunk is a meaningful bit of language. This is to say that for example, at on its own does not have meaning, or much meaning to be precise. At gains meaning and functions in chunks such as: not at all, at the table, at five, at times etc.

The reason why we need to look closer at the phenomenon of chunks is not that it is a buzz word and everybody is talking about it. (Some people may not like following the latest trends or fashions in life or teaching, anyway) The reason why we, teachers, should investigate the problem of chunks is that learning through chunks helps our students to learn language faster and more efficiently. It also helps in more natural language use and last not least helps students to perform better in real life situations as well as in exams. A student who has learned the word at as a preposition of place, will not be able to produce the chunk at times, even if the student knows the word times, too. The chunk at times has to be learned independently.

Raising awareness of chunks is part of classroom practice and learner training. (See the article by Hanna Kryszewska in HLT, January 2003, for a more detailed rationale). We need to introduce the concept of chunks to the students as well as practice the quick retrieval of chunks and their accurate production. Work on chunks is suitable for all levels, including beginners. ( See article by Paul Davis and Hanna Kryszewska in HLT January 2004: Chunking for Beginners)

In this article I would like to share a few tried and tested ideas for chunking, helping the students to recognize chunks, remember them, retrieve them and produce accurately. The presented activities are an example of what we can do in class with chunks and show that these activities can be used at various levels. They supplement the course book and do not replace your methodology. This is why they are short and sweet.

Song 1

Before Class: Choose a song suitable for your class /age and level/. Make sure the song is not too well known. Write the lyrics with gaps. A gap replaces a complete chunk of two, three or more words. Prepare one copy per student.

Aim: to help students recognize chunks in listening
Level: Elementary and above
Time: 25 minutes


  1. Give out the prepared worksheets.
  2. The students work in pairs and try to predict how many words have been removed in each gap.
  3. Pairs of students compare their predictions.
  4. Play the song twice. Students write down how many words have been removed, or the chunks as such. They can choose.
  5. Pairs of students compare their notes. They discuss their predictions.
  6. Play the songs again and this time the students complete the lyrics.
  7. Discuss the answers with the whole class.

Variation: Instead of predicting the number of words missing the students predict what the missing chunk is, the actual words.

Rationale: This activity helps students with their listening and their listening strategies. It helps them to realize that in listening chunks sound like one word, for example: eraseandrewind, not erase and rewind.

Song 2

Before Class: On separate slips of paper write chunks from a song you did in class before, one slip per student. If the class is too big prepare the same sets for groups.
Aim: help students memorize and retrieve whole chunks
Level: All
Time: 10 minutes


  1. Play the song to the class to remind them of the song. Tell them to listen carefully because there will be a mini test.
  2. Give out slips of paper. Tell the students to keep them secret.
  3. Students stand up and pair up.
  4. One student mimes the chunk, the other one has to remember and say the chunk. Then they change roles.
  5. Students mill around and form new pairs.
  6. Stop the activity when you can see that it is hard for students to find a partner they haven't worked with yet.
  7. Discuss with class which chunks were the hardest to remember.


  1. Students select the chunks from songs themselves and prepare them on slips of paper. Mix the slips and redistribute.
  2. You can recycle an old listening or reading text in the same way.

Rationale: to help the students remember chunks in a kinaesthetic way with an element of fun

The Class Blues

Before Class: Prepare slips of paper. If you have a student who plays the guitar ask him/her to bring it to class.
Aim: to reinforce the idea that chunks can be of various length and what follows on from that
Time: 20 minutes or longer


  1. . Tell the students that they will write a class blues.
  2. . Tell the class each line follows the same pattern:
      This blues is a _____________ blues.
  3. Divide the class into pairs. Give out 3 slips per pair.
  4. Each pair writes 2 –3 lines of the blues, each on a separate slip. Make it clear that the number of words in each gap is up to each pair, and the number of words can differ from line to line. Give an example. /see below sample text/
  5. Students pool the lines and arrange them in an order they like. Then they write them on the board.
  6. The class sings the blues as one group, or each pair sings their lines.

Example of student text

This blues is a miss you blues
This blues is nothing to write home about blues
This blues is a nothing to wear blues.
This blues is a my mother is angry with me blues.


  1. If nobody plays the guitar, students just clap or tap the blues beat.
  2. You can use an OHT to write the lyrics and then project them from the OHP onto a screen.

Rationale: This exercise helps students to expand chunks, play with chunks of various length and focus on stress, intonation, and pronunciation of words in the stressed and unstressed positions in a chunk.

Chinese whispers

Before Class: No preparation required
Aim: to pool chunks and student corpus
Level: Elementary and above
Time: 15 minutes


  1. Students stand or sit in a circle.
  2. Introduce the rules of the game: The first student says a chunk. The next student chooses a word from that chunk and says another chunk that contains this word. And so on.
  3. Stop when you begin to see that the students are showing signs of boredom, or the time you planned for the activity is up.

Example of student text

- at home
- home alone
- home, sweet home
- short and sweet
- sweet sixteen.
- sweet and sour
- etc


  1. It can be knock-out competition. A student who cannot think of a chunk, says a chunk containing a mistake or says something that is not a chunk is out.
  2. Introduce a time limit for thinking.
  3. At higher levels, introduce the rule that the key word cannot repeat. So the chain in the example would have to change:

- at home
- home alone
- not alone
- not at all
- at times
- times are changing
- etc

Rationale: This exercise makes the students recall the chunks they know, makes them think in chunks.

What's the word in the chunk

Before class : prepare some slips of paper, big enough to write 3 sentences on.
Aim: revising and pooling chunks
Level: elementary and above
Time: 20 minutes


  1. Get the students into pairs, and give each pair a number.
  2. Students work in pairs and choose a word, e.g. one.
  3. Students look through their course books (units already covered) and find 3 different chunks that contain their word, in the case of the example the word one.
  4. Students copy the three sentences onto one slip but they leave out the selected word, for example:

      I was there at ________o'clock
      You don't need any more helpers. This is a ________man job.
      She had some problems with her English so now she has some ______ to ______ lessons.
  5. Students also write the number of their pair on the slip.
  6. The slips circulate. Pairs write the number of the slips and the word that they think is missing from the three sentences.
  7. When all the slips have circulated stop the activity and discuss the answers.


  1. You can allocate the key words to the pairs so that the key words don't repeat.
  2. Students can look through their books when they cannot guess the word.
  3. Pairs give extra information about the chunks, e.g. give the unit or page number where to find them.
  4. At higher levels instead of using the course book ask the students to use a corpus based dictionary.

Rationale: This exercise recycles language from the course book and helps students to memorize chunks. At higher levels is very good preparation for exams, e.g. CPE.

Board Game

Before class: Prepare a board game, for example Snakes and ladders. Write key words for chunks in each box. Make enough copies for groups of 3-4 and prepare enough dice.

Aims: to revise and recycle chunks
Time: 15 minutes


  1. Tell the students they will play a board game. Each student must get himself/herself a pawn.
  2. Divide students into groups of 3-4. Distribute the boards and dice.
  3. Explain that as the student moves to a square he/she must say a chunk with this word. The rest of the group can question the chunk if it is not correct. In that case the student's pawn does not move forward. The winner is the person who finishes first.


  1. Students write down the chunks on a piece of paper. Then the teacher collects the sheets and gives one point for each correct chunk. So a missing article or wrong preposition disqualifies the chunk. The winner is the group which had the most correct chunks.
  2. The teacher gives blank boards to the groups and the students themselves write the key words for the chunks. After the game is completed the boards circulate from group to group, or can be used during another lesson.

Rationale: This activity helps the students to retrieve chunks from memory and work on accuracyin production of chunks.

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