Binomials, dictagloss and expanding range

So, a good friend of mine, Kat, has started her DELTA, so I dug out some of my books and started flicking through them and had the idea that Binomials might be quite a useful thing to help my students make their informal writing seem a little more natural and give it that extra sparkle it needs.

This lesson grew from that and starts with a dictagloss, something I am quite a fan of, before moving onto a language focus.  The text here isn’t authentic but is a series of little monologues which enabled me to emphasise the target language.

From there the lesson moves on to look at collocation building with the binomials and the construction of chunks which can be used in students own writing or speaking.  There is a little bit of a focus on punctuation too, as this is something often neglected.

Aim: raise awareness of binomials and collocations

Level: Advanced, maybe a strong Upp Int if you scaffold.



  1. Read the 1st extract twice and ask the students to take notes and write down as much as they can, I have been known to read it three times. (recording included, but it might be more fun to read it)
  2. Ask the students how the person is feeling.
  3. Ask the students in pairs to check what they have written and see if they can make it work grammatically.
  4. Compare it to extract 1 – you could either put this on the board or photocopy half of the teachers copy and hand them out in groups.


Give the students the sheet with the extract on and the question, page 2.

  1. Ask the students to look at the 5 questions written on the worksheet.
  2. Do group feedback, you want them to underline:

Answers below:

  • sick and tired / life and soul / ups and downs
  • they make it more informal and more natural
  • informal
  • to make their own writing and speaking more natural and more interesting
  • I’ll be honest / I mean / like everyone /


3. Now look at extract 2.  Ask the students if they can predict the missing words, read the text once for them to check.

4. Ask the students to try to fill in the table, the box below has the answers but tell them to try to do it without initially if you want to raise the level of challenge.

Now check together as a group and accept any others which would work, e.g. life and death as well as life and soul.


My students struggled with this, so you could allow them to use dictionaries, looking at the examples or encourage them to look online or use something like the British National Corpus

e.g. spick and span – usually works with the verb ‘be’

Why do this?  As well as making them more autonomous, i just think it is a far more engaging task than you telling them what the answers are, you might also get some interesting different answers this way.

Plus it will help them later on.


This is a really important element that students have difficulty with and since there are often a lack of rules, teachers avoid. Therefore it is something to focus their attention on, getting them to ‘notice’ the punctuation as it occurs

Follow the instructions on the sheet.  I would be tempted to get the to add them to the board if you can copy and paste into an IWB before the big test so that you can observe any errors that you can then highlight and teach.

Follow on activities

The obvious ways to go, would be to get students to record little monologues or dialogues, where they have to use 3 of the binomials.

Alternatively, and this is what I did, ask your students to write a blog about something, e.g. living in their home town, whatever topic you have been doing recently will be fine.  I was teaching a Cambridge exam class and so we focused on article writing.



Opening lines – Making an impact

So, any students of mine who have been in my Cambridge classes in the last few years will recognise this lesson, I usually do it right at the beginning of term.  I like it as it uses novels, and asks students to respond to them in a natural way, then examines the language that is used to attract the reader, and then features a bit of peer teaching of vocab.


Right, to begin you need to pick 4-6 novels and photocopy the first page (it can be a good idea to blow them up a bit to make them easier to read), cutting off any paragraphs that continue onto the next page, or you can just use the first paragraph if you prefer.  Also have the extracts photocopied onto A4/A3 so that you can hand them to the students.

Books I have used include:

  • Girlfriend in a coma – Douglas Coupland
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
  • The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
  • The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguru

Those ones have always worked pretty well and all have a different beginning, but any books that have a good opening that you think might interest your students will do the job.

At the beginning of the class, stick the different beginnings up around the classroom spaced out.

1: Reading:  Ask students to read all of the 1st pages, give them between 5-10 mins depending on their reading speed.  Emphasise that here you are not worried about them understanding every single word, but just reading to get the general idea.

2: Reacting: Ask students to go and stand next to the extract they found most interesting and ask them to try to justify why.

3: Checking gist / memory: Ask the students to sit back down and brainstorm in pairs what they can remember about the different extracts.

4: Genre / dating: Hand out the photocopied extracts to students in pairs and ask which they think is the oldest and why.  Give them the answers, but accept that in some cases they will be written in a more archaic way.  For example in the books above, students always expect “the remains of the day” to be oldest due to the formal language used, when in fact it is the most modern.  Similarly, “Catcher” is normally believed to be the most recent, as long as they can say why, I am happy with any answers.

5: First line analysis: Ask students to look at the first line in each extract and to look at what grammar or lexis has been used to try to grab the readers attention. I monitor while they do this to help students and push them in the right direction.

For example

Girlfriend in a Coma“I’m Jared, a ghost” – short sentence, abrupt, shocking, directly addressing the reader.

The Remains of the Day – “It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days” – Directly addressing the reader, use of language of prediction, being vague about the expedition

Jonathan Livingston Seagull – “It was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea” – Very poetic, lots of adjectives, setting the scene, letting the reader picture it.

The Catcher in the Rye – “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” – Conditional makes it confrontational, use of slang, really long sentence that sounds as if the narrator is speaking to the reader directly.

Optional: You can ask for students to look for other specific bits of grammar, depending on their level, you could do it as a grammar hunt, or just ask them to find things of interest if you think they are strong enough, basically, scaffold the task as much as you think your class will need.  I do this on the first day so I tend to use it as a form of diagnostic to see how much grammar students know.

6: Vocab: Ask students in pairs to work on one of the texts each, they can use their dictionaries if you want. Or you can help each group.  If you have already worked on meaning from context, encourage them to do this.  Then, ask them to peer teach the other students the new vocab.

7: Reflection:  Ask students to think about where this could be used in their writing to improve it, give it more range.  This stage is especially useful for Cambridge Exam Students