Lexical bundles

Friday 9 December 2011

by Ken Paterson

When we were deciding on the contents for ‘A Handbook of Spoken Grammar’ (follow the links ‘Titles’ and ‘Language Practice’ on the DELTA website for details) we were fairly sure we wanted to include some spoken English ‘lexical bundles’. These are strings of words that corpus research has shown are particularly frequent in conversation. See the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English for a series of examples.

We thought we would take a look at bundles with the verb ‘know’, which often top the frequency lists. The three word bundle ‘I don’t know’ is very common, but can be used in almost too many contexts. Five word bundles with ‘know’ (e.g. ‘I don’t know what to’) seemed too restrictive. So we settled for a four word bundle pattern that we thought might be productive for learners:

‘I don’t know what/when/where/which/who/why/how…’

When I first started teaching I would almost certainly have thought that the break in this pattern should come after the word ‘know’, and probably taught it as ‘know + a wh- clause’. Now I think it is equally as useful to let learners work with the chunks ‘I don’t know what…’ or ‘I don’t know how…’, particularly in spoken English activities.

In the book, we offer an explanation of these chunks with ‘know’, some natural dialogues and some practice. But you might like to try a simple activity in class yourselves:

Write all seven four-word chunks (‘I don’t know what …’, ‘I don’t know when … etc.) in a random order on the whiteboard. Then get your students into pairs or threes. Ask them to talk about a holiday they might take in the near future (or any other subject you like!). The only condition is that they try to include some of these chunks in their conversation. Monitor the groups, and if you hear some good examples, ask the students to rehearse and repeat these to the class.

Let me know how it works.  Next time, we’ll look at the ‘vague’ use of ‘thing’.

3 responses to Lexical bundles

  1. I’ll try this, but I’m going to add a task. When I have some sentences that include a “know” phrase, I’ll ask the student(s) to say what meaning of know they intend. Hoping to get them into making wider connections. Bye for now…

  2. Ken Paterson says:

    Thanks, Patsy. It would be interesting to hear how your lesson goes. Ken

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