A photo hint of where this story goes. If you figure out the ending in the first paragraph, 10 points; if you get it in the second, 5 points. (Photo courtesy of gordonflood.com)
A few weeks ago we held what I thought was an excellent #KELTChat on the Lexical Approach, which came directly after I had finished reading Michael Lewis’s 1993 book on the subject. For anyone not familiar with the book, Lewis recommends less of a focus on grammar (at least, rule-based, written style grammar) and a greater focus on lexis, which to him means single words, multiple word combinations (eg.”It’s about time”), sentence heads (eg. “Would you like…” [nb this is taught lexically, not grammatically]) and institutionalized phrases (eg. “Can I say a few words?”). There is also a far greater role for both context (where a word appears) and cotext (the text around it) in determining the selection of a word.
While I wouldn’t say that I taught lexically (frankly, I think that focusing on lexis in too much detail would bore the arse off my students), I have started to incorporate the odd lexical diversion into class from time to time. This one came when reading about a rave, and the phrase “wild party” came up. Another key tenet of the Lexical Approach is collocation, especially that between adjectives and nouns, and yet another may be that drawing out the literal meaning of words should be highlighted if it links to a more idiomatic usage.* My thoughts here were twofold, one that “wild” may actually be quite a powerfully generative adjective, and that its usage here was slightly idiomatic. To highlight this, I asked students to brainstorm some other nouns that could follow wild. They came up with “animal” and “man”, to which I added (with the help of Just the Word) “flower” and “laughter”. Having established what “wild laughter” might sound like, I asked the students to draw a connection between the items. With a bit of prompting, we came up with “out of control”.
So far, so unremarkable, and I proceeded to move on to something else, while wondering whether I couldn’t slip this into the final exam somehow, and soon this little diversion had dropped out of my head entirely. That is, until I was standing watching our English department’s weekly game of football with the students last Thursday. Next to me was one of my more committed students, who, when the boards in front of us were rattled by an overenthusiastic player hurtling into them feet first, turned to me and said “You could call that a wild tackle, right teacher?”
I am not in the business of hugging students, or anyone really, but I almost did there.
* I think this is in Lewis’s book, and I’m certain it was in a talk by Frank Boers at the recent KOTESOL International Conference.