“Teacher, what’s a collocation?”

“Well, they’re sort of words that go together.”

“Teacher, I don’t understand.”

“Well, you know the expression ‘heavy traffic’?  Well, traffic’s not really heavy is it?  I mean, it can be, but… erm…. Collocations are just sort of words that go together a lot.”

You may well have had a conversation with learners that runs along similar lines….  and I’m afraid I’m not going to even try and answer the question “what is a collocation?”  Definitions I’ve seen include “Two or more words that often go together…. (that) just sound ‘right’ to native speakers” or there’s always Wikipedia’s defnition of words that occur together more frequently than would be expected by chance.

One colleague uses the metaphor of celebrity couples…  You see Brad Pitt out and about with lots of different people, but you see him out with Angelina Jolie more often than anyone else.  I don’t know whether Brad and Angelina are still an item, so this one might fall down a little at this point!

Anyway, I found this little game the other day, which seemed like a nice way to try and help learners see the connections between a limited set of words, which might help raise awareness of what we consider a collocation to be:

Word Vines

As mentioned, the vocabulary set that is used in the game is a little limited for consistent classroom use, but it could be a nice warmer, or it could lead into a longer activity doing similar things on paper?

My thought was you could extend it into “word trees” – sort of like a collocation dominoes tree building and diagramming task.  I haven’t worked this one up into a lesson plan yet – but might give it a go over the next week or so, so stay tuned!

(There are quite a few “collocation dominoes” activities out there on the web – as a quick google search will show.)

Any suggestions, let me know and as always, any feedback, comments, criticisms and queries are welcome!