Teaching Collocations: a Low-Prep Activity

I am almost embarrassed to share this super easy lesson plan with you, but right now I am in the middle of a love affair with collocations and all my classes, no matter the level, are working  with collocations.

Please, don’t freak out! I am not going to give you an obnoxious list of collocations and ask you to learn them by heart. That’s not the way I do things!, but you’ll surely agree with me  that there is no point in learning the adjective “interested” if you don’t know that it’s followed by the preposition “in”. Yes, Ok, you can say “I’m interested”, but that’s it!! And we are aiming for a bit more, aren’t we?

(at the end of this post, you’ll find  some interesting links to learn more about collocations)

So, take a deep breath and follow me!

Step 1. What is a collocation? Though students don’t really need to be familiar with the term, it might be a good idea to introduce the concept.

In English we can say I absolutely agree but we cannot say I absolutely go; we can say I am interested in, but not I am keen in. We can say a heavy drinker, but not a strong drinker or a  chain drinker. These conventional combinations of words, chosen naturally by the English speakers to express an idea, are called “collocations”.

Below you’ll see some of the collocations I am going to use, but this activity will work with any collocation:

Depend on/ interested in/ arrive in/ arrive at/ fed up with/ spend on/good or bad at/ close to/fond of/keen on/ look forward to…etc.

Step 2. Slips of paper. Oral activity.

  • Select the collocations to be studied, as many as students you have in the class. In my case, I have decided to give them dependent prepositions with common adjectives and verbs because I have noticed they always make mistakes here.
  • Write the adjective or verb on the slip of paper and on the back of it, the preposition(s) it collocates with. Stand up in the middle of the class for everybody to see you. Show students the slip of paper containing the adjective or verb and ask them to guess the missing preposition, and then give you a sentence containing the collocation.
  • A small competition. Divide the class into two groups and repeat procedure. This time, groups will need to guess the preposition and give a sentence -different from the one they gave in the previous stage- to win the point.

Step 3. Slips of paper. Writing activity.

  • Give every student a slip of paper from the previous activity and ask them to individually think of a question to ask their partners containing this collocation.

Offer help if necessary.

Step 4. Speaking activity using the speed-dating technique.

Students sit facing each other. Some students will remain seated during the whole event (in real speed dating, women remain seated). They have 4 minutes to talk asking and answering the question they have written containing the collocation. Then, a bell rings and “men” need to stand up and move to their right to start a new conversation and the whole process is repeated again. I didn’t have a bell so I used a Class Timer (here).

A highly engaging activity your students are likely to enjoy!

Useful links to learn more about collocations

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Thanks for reading!

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4 thoughts on “Teaching Collocations: a Low-Prep Activity

  1. There must be something in the air, I too spent the past week teaching collocations to students of all levels (with almost the same ones, but not quite).

    We chose 10 which we thought would be most useful, then everyone wrote 10 sentences about themselves – 5 true and 5 false using them. The lower levels wrote simple phrases e.g. I’m scared of spiders; the higher levels told stories or anecdotes e.g. when I was a child I was bitten by a spider on holiday and had to spend three days in hospital resulting in the fact that I am scared of spiders. After reading their phrases/anecdotes aloud, the other students have a chance to ask questions – “You say you are scared of spiders due to being in hospital for three days, can you tell me more about your hospital stay?” At the end of questions, we vote to try to decide which 5 are true and which 5 are false, giving reasons for our decisions.

  2. Hi Liz
    It’s a great activity and it doesn’t seem to involve any prep , which is -I would dare say- even better :).
    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Great activity! I know what I’ll be trying out tomorrow, thanks for sharing 🙂

    I use an activity with post-its for verb + noun collocations. I might stick A4 sheets of paper around the classroom, each with a verb in the middle, and give students post-its with nouns and they have to stick the post-it on the correct piece of paper.

    As a side, it is possible in English to use, ‘big drinker’, as in: ‘I’m not a big drinker’ which means ‘I don’t like drinking a lot.’

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