Teaching Lexically is a brilliant book, written by Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley, influenced by Michael Lewis’s The Lexical Approach. I highly recommend it to not just DELTA candidates, but teachers who are always looking for new approaches to language teaching.

As the authors say, most coursebooks follow the grammar+words+skills approach. This means that grammar is treated as the most important element, followed by not lexis, but words in isolation; these are both introduced to the students through practising skills, e.g. reading texts, listening to recordings, etc.

However, as the writers would argue, language should not be treated as isolated elements, but as combinations of words and phrases that co-exist and create content.  There’s a lot of language in coursebooks that goes to waste. Dellar and Walkley describe some simple, yet interesting ways to make your lessons more lexical, by better exploiting your existing materials.

Here are my top 3 activities:


1. Teaching grammar lexically – from messages to mini texts

I love this one and I use it in every grammar lesson! It was inspired by Woolard’s messaging-chunking-personalising-texting. You can combine both horizontal (one speaker) and vertical development (dialogue) here. I also used it in my grammar LSA4, so I’m just going to paste that part of my essay here:


When focusing on can’t for illogical deductions:

  • Give student a sentence e.g. He can’t be in love with Anna because he’s always angry!
  • Show learner 3 more possible endings:
You can also say:

He can’t be in love with Anna because____________

..he’s always making fun of her.

..I saw him flirting with Lisa.

..he went out with another girl yesterday.


  • Ask learners to write a different ending.
  • Ask learners to include one sentence before and one after their message.

Show example:

  • I don’t think you’re right.

    He can’t be in love with Anna because he’s always making fun of her.

    He said she needs to go on a diet.


This is an effective technique as:

  • it does not test, it teaches (Woolard, 2019), thus, anxiety is lowered.
  • more scaffolding (Tomlinson, 2001), i.e. assistance is provided. Learners see multiple examples before asked to provide their own ending.
  • meaning is reinforced through multiple examples.
  • it focusses on the message.
  • learners will get to use the modals in a meaningful context that they themselves have created; thus, making language more memorable.
  • teenagers have vivid imaginations in my experience; tapping into them to contextualize the sentence is both interesting and a deeper process. This cognitively demanding task is more likely to aid retention of language (Benati, 2009).
  • it provides reasonable challenge for intermediate learners.

Differentiation: To increase the level of challenge, more than two sentences can be added.

Nevertheless, certain teenagers may find it boring as they prefer more social activities. Dellar and Walkley (2017) who reviewed this technique, suggest doing it in pairs and then acting out a roleplay, to add a communicative element, an excellent idea to prevent boredom in my opinion.

2. Teaching speaking lexically-  beyond correction

When doing Delta Module 2, my tutor brought to my attention that my teaching wasn’t   reactive enough. In other words, I should remember to teach the learners, not the plan, by also paying attention to emergent language, the one that comes up instead of only the one I have decided to teach. It may sound like stating the obvious, but I was so focused on the lesson aims that I didn’t really exploit some interesting things my students were saying. Guilty. So, as Dellar and Walkley also suggest, I learned that  when my students are speaking, I need to follow this procedure:

  • Listen to what they’re trying to say first
  • Help them upgrade their output
  • Write it on the whiteboard because hearing it isn’t enough  🙂
  • Practise it.
  • Recycle it.

Let me illustrate this with an example. Maybe you wouldn’t teach elementary students  used to but if you heard the following, what would you do?

Teacher: Do you smoke Ruben?

Ruben: Now no…but in the past, yes.

Right there, at the point of need is where you should board I used to smoke in the past but I don’t anymore.

And yes, you highlighted it and the student noticed it. What then? As the writers also suggest, do some more practice. Ask the student more questions:

Teacher: I used to smoke when I was younger too. What else did you use to do  when you were younger,  Ruben?

Then, record emergent language and treat as you would treat your target language. Some use  a journal where they take notes, or a word document if you’re more into digital records. Recycle it in next classes. Perhaps you include it in a warmer, or include it in homework tasks, gap-fills, etc.


This procedure ensures a balance of teaching target language versus emergent language, or as Meddings and Thornbury (2017) say “uncovering the syllabus within”.

As Prabhu (1999) states, although learners encounter language receptively, they are not always developmentally ready to produce it spontaneously when they need it. This means that we should exploit these instances, e.g. when they’re ready to use it in context and are just missing the form.

By practising and recycling useful emergent language in next classes,  learners are more likely to retain it.

3. Teaching reading lexically – mining for language

Think of all these reading lessons you’ve taught. How many times have you encountered useful language that wasn’t exploited in any coursebook activities? Quite often, right? There’s a lot of words, collocations, or idioms that go unnoticed, because students are more focused on  practising sub-skills.

I read this article  some time ago and I have to say I’m siding with Thornbury on this one. Reading is a transferable skill and we should be more concerned with teaching language instead of teaching reading skills. As he states, students have trouble understanding a text because of unknown language, not because they don’t know how to scan and skim!


After activating schemata and reading for gist/detail, I give learners a gapped text, which I’ve created by selecting and removing items that I believe each group of learners needs to notice at this stage. This could be for example two or three-word chunks, topic-related vocabulary,  or  grammar structures that learners should notice, e.g. negative inversion. I tell them to try and complete the gaps without looking at the text first, then I give them some help, e.g. the words in a box.


This exercise draws attention to specific items and depending on how you follow up, learners will have used the text as  a vehicle to learn new language (Thornbury, 2013).

By gapping your text, you personalize your materials and draw your learners’ attention to what you think they’re lacking. For instance, if they’re not using enough adjectives or adverbs in their writings, you can remove this type of lexis from your text. If they need to improve their fluency you remove chunks like “not to mention” or “come rain or shine”. If they need to practise essay writing, you can select passive constructions, negative inversion and so on.

To sum up

This is one of the books that can really help, whether you’re on the DELTA train or not. It’s practical, easy to read and will give you loads of ideas on how to teach both systems and skills using a lexical approach. The authors also run these pages on Facebook if you want to follow them:





Dellar, H. and Walkley, A. (2017). Teaching lexically. Stuttgart: DELTA publishing.

Meddings, L., & Thornbury, S. (2017). Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Ernst Klett Sprachen GmbH.

Thornbury, S. (2013). Debate: The end of reading? – Part one: What are we teaching, reading or English?. [online] Onestopenglish. Available at: http://www.onestopenglish.com/methodology/teaching-articles/debates/the-end-of-reading/debate-the-end-of-reading-part-one-what-are-we-teaching-reading-or-english/144668.article [Accessed 19 Feb. 2020].

Woolard, G. (2019). Messaging: beyond a lexical approach in ELT by George Woolard – Book – Read Online. [online] Scribd. Available at: https://www.scribd.com/book/194986984/Messaging-beyond-a-lexical-approach-in-ELT [Accessed 2 Aug. 2019].