How to teach Lexis and Dictionary Usage according to the Curriculum

Term Paper, 2008

18 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Definitions
2.1 Lexis
2.1.1 Lexis, Vocabulary and Grammar
2.1.2 The Lexical Approach
2.2 Dictionary
2.2.1 Types of Dictionaries
2.2.2 Dictionary Usage in the Classroom

3. How to teach Lexis and Dictionary Usage according to the Curriculum
3.1 Niedersächsisches Kerncurriculum Englisch
3.2 How to teach Lexis and Dictionary Usage according to the Curriculum
3.3 Teaching and Learning Lexis with the help of Dictionaries

4. Conclusion



1. Introduction

In the seminar „Teaching English as a Foreign Language: Grammar and Lexis in Context“ (WS 07/08) “English-minor” students are obligated to write a term paper about an issue which fits into the course subject matter. In this case, the topic “How to teach Lexis and Dictionary Usage according to the Curriculum” was chosen.

The topic can be seen as one of the most important issues because the “future-teachers” need to be aware of what is expected and demanded from them due to the curriculum. This topic and respectively this term paper is a summary of what is meant by Lexical teaching and learning. Also, the “Niedersächsiches Kerncurriulum Englisch” is exposed inside of this paper in order to reveal the teaching/learning expectations related to Lexis.

An obviously important question is “How is Lexis learned and being taught in school and how can dictionaries help to acquire a language?” Furthermore, in this case, the curriculum has to be considered as well. This term paper describes some of the opportunities German teachers have, according to the curriculum, to enhance Lexis acquisition especially with the addition of using a particular dictionary. It mainly deals with the ideas of the Lexical Approach (Michael Lewis). The Lexical part of language acquisition is seen as the most important one within this approach. The term paper creates a relationship between how Lexis is involved in “ideal” language acquisition and the national standards of the particular German school curriculum (in this case “Hauptschule” is reflected on). As a result, it shows whether there is a conflict between language acquisition referring to the Lexical Approach and curriculum guidelines or unison between those two aspects. In order to do so, both parts of the discussion are particularly identified.

To describe and define the most important expressions, the paper starts with the definitions of Lexis, vocabulary, grammar, Lexical Approach and Lexis teaching in school. Then, different types of dictionaries and dictionary usage in school are portrayed. After that, the “Niedersächsiches Kerncurriculum” is depicted before teaching Lexis and dictionary usage according to it is explained. Moreover, it is shown how dictionaries can possibly help to enhance language/Lexis acquisition and some examples are supplied. The last chapter provides a conclusion to the reader and demonstrates a clear opinion on the topic of how Lexis is dealt within the curriculum and how dictionaries should be used, always keeping the guidelines of the curriculum in mind, to enhance L2 learning.

2. Definitions

This chapter defines the most significant terms and their relations. Lexis, vocabulary and grammar are characterized at first. Thus, it becomes apparent what these linguistic areas have in common and where they are different, mostly concerning to the Lexical Approach. The Lexical Approach, one of the central terms in this paper, and its handling regarding classroom teaching and learning are defined as well. The second part of this chapter mainly deals with the definition of different kinds of dictionaries and, moreover, the current usage, respectively ideal treatment of a sufficient dictionary in the language classroom.

2.1 Lexis

2.1.1 Lexis, Vocabulary and Grammar

The terms Lexis and vocabulary are often stated in the same context and mostly defined as synonyms (e.g. Oxford’s Advanced Learners Dictionary). In this case, it is important to make a distinction between Lexis and vocabulary. A good definition and comparison can be found in Michael Lewis’ “Implementing the Lexical Approach”:

Lexis A more general word than the common vocabulary. Vocabulary is often used only to talk of the individual words of language; Lexis covers single words and multi-word objects which have the same status in the language as simple words, the items we store in out mental lexicon ready for use (1997, 217).

Related to this, the term ‘chunk’ or ‘chunking’ is often expressed in this context. It emphasizes the use of the previously articulated ‘multi-word objects’. ‘Chunking’ in language is described as the act of formulating and remembering whole expressions (either fixed or semi-fixed), word associations, collocations etc. These ‘Chunks’ are stored in the mental lexicon and “according to psycholinguists, […] are likely to be handled mentally in the same way as [single] words” (Swan 2005, 32). The emphasis on multi-word items is one of the essential issues in this paper because it shows that Lexis needs to be perceived differently than it has been in ‘traditional’ teaching. Learning/teaching a language was defined by learning vocabulary and grammar as more or less ‘separated’ parts. Especially grammar (‘the set of rules’ in a language) has a different role now:

Grammatical knowledge permits the creative re-combination of lexis in novel and imaginative ways, but it cannot begin to be useful in that role until the learner has a sufficiently large mental lexicon to which grammatical knowledge can be applied (Lewis 1997, 15).

That indicates that Lexis gets more and more recognition in language teaching and learning. Furthermore, Hedge says that: “Errors of vocabulary are potentially more misleading than those of grammar” (2000, 111) which also underlines the communicative value of Lexis. The next subsection explains the Lexical Approach in detail and gives you an idea about the significance for the language classroom.

2.1.2 The Lexical Approach

Teaching Lexis in school and using dictionaries to facilitate learning is strongly connected to the idea of the Lexical Approach. This approach “argues that language consists of chunks which, when combined, produce continuous coherent text” (Lewis 1997, 7). How a dictionary is engaged in this context will be explained later in this chapter. The Lexical Approach is central for this term paper because teaching Lexis efficiently seems to be related to teaching not only single words but words and their collocations and, most important, their often context-depended several meanings. This approach sees teaching vocabulary, respectively Lexis, as teaching the ability to communicate successfully in the second language on the basis of its words. Thornbury suggests that knowing the meaning of a word “means knowing the word commonly associated with it (its collocations) as well as its connotations, including its register and its cultural accretions” (2002, 14). Michael Lewis, additionally, accentuates the pedagogic value of collocations:

Firstly, words are not normally used alone and it makes sense to learn them in a strong, frequent, or otherwise typical pattern of actual use. Secondly, it is more efficient to learn the whole and break it into parts, than to learn the parts and have to learn the whole as an extra arbitrary item” (1997, 32).

Consequently, teaching Lexis favours instruction methods which are based on the communicative importance of ‘chunked’ expressions and multi-word objects (e.g. im going to = “recalled from the mental lexicon as a single chunk, as if it was a one-word future auxiliary”; Swan 2005, 34). It is obvious now that ‘chunks’ and expressions, not single words without contextual meaning, should be promoted in classroom teaching and learning.

Students of a second language already have a mental lexicon because of their native language; therefore, it is necessary to find the best way of how to build up a new independent mental lexicon. Research suggests that ‘chunks’ which are taught with active involvement of the learner are learned much better than single words. The actual meaning and personal relevance (active involvement) of a lexical item is essential for remembering and recognizing it. Thus, lexical teaching needs to be smartly filled with activities and exercises which develop proficient learning strategies that improve awareness for chunks, collocations and expressions and their memorization. Supportively, Tricia Hedge means that: “the teacher’s ultimate role may be to build independence in learners by teaching them good strategies for vocabulary learning” (2000, 126). How a dictionary can possibly help to advance learning strategies and what kinds of dictionaries are available to the learner is explicated in the next part of the chapter.

2.2 Dictionary

2.2.1 Types of Dictionaries

Firstly, the dictionary has come more into focus during the last decade. It is now seen as a “learning aid” (Thornbury 2002, 65) and “with increasing interest in effective learning strategies and learner independence,[…] as an important classroom and personal resource” (Hedge 2000, 127). A dictionary used to be seen only as a ‘translator’ for unknown words and it was not totally identified as a useful help for acquiring communicative ability. Nowadays, good learner dictionaries and particularly modern English/English dictionaries are accepted as superior sources of learning and teaching. As a result, it is noteworthy to view at the different types of dictionaries and later on to discuss which particular one seems to be useful in the language classroom. According to McCarthy, you can typically find the following types: alphabetical, thesaurus, monolingual, bilingual, dictionaries of synonyms, dictionaries of false friends and CD-ROM and online dictionaries (2002, 10). These are the most common linguistic dictionaries that exist but there are also e.g. collocation and synonym dictionaries, encyclopaedias (non-linguistic) and special dictionaries which only refer to specific ‘topics' (e.g. Business-English).

Alphabetical dictionaries where words are arranged in alphabetical order, monolingual dictionaries, with explanations in the target language (in one language only) and bilingual dictionaries which give translations in the mother tongue are the most frequent ones used in school. What might be more efficient for learning, bilingual or monolingual is discussed in the following part of this chapter. Previously to that, it is constructive to take a look at what kind of information a good dictionary should include: word, spelling, pronunciation, meaning, senses, grammar and word class, collocations, register, connotations and cultural information, related words and examples (McCarthy 2002, 11). In addition, it might be useful to incorporate compound information (e.g. house – housework, housekeeper etc.). Dictionaries can also vary in size, number of languages included, purpose and target group. In this case, the purpose is acquiring a second language and the target group obviously is represented by teachers and learners.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


How to teach Lexis and Dictionary Usage according to the Curriculum
Technical University of Braunschweig
„Teaching English as a Foreign Language: Grammar and Lexis in Context“
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ISBN (eBook)
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666 KB
Lexis, Dictionary, Usage, Curriculum, English, Foreign, Language, Grammar, Lexis, Context“
Quote paper
Henner Kaatz (Author), 2008, How to teach Lexis and Dictionary Usage according to the Curriculum , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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