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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

Teaching Collocations Through Comics: An Exploratory Study

M.Vijaya Lakshmi, India

Vijaya Lakshmi has submitted her doctoral degree in English Language Teaching. She has been teaching English as a Second Language for about 7 years in Gudlavalleru Engineering College in India. E-mail:


The Lexical Approach
Definitions on collocation
Pedagogical Implications of teaching collocations
Method of research
Exercises and activities


The paper’s present interest mainly lies in an attempt to display how collocations can be taught through comics using The Lexical Approach. The objectives of the present paper are four fold: first, it provides an introduction to the Lexical Approach. Secondly, offers varied views on the concept of ‘collocation’, and underscores the importance of collocations in the teaching of English. Thirdly, it highlights the advantages of using comics as a tool to teach collocations to the learners of English. Fourthly, it includes a few exercises and activities for the collocations which have been identified in the comics to aid learners in reinforcing these chunks in their mental lexicon.


A few decades ago, there was a predominant view in the linguistic circles that vocabulary was subservient to grammar. Linguists at that time strongly supported the dichotomy of grammar and vocabulary and they preferred to lay emphasis on the structures of language rather than the words. Also, they were of the view that acquisition of a language is dependent on the mastery of grammatical rules of the language and vocabulary is of secondary importance.

But during the 1990’s there was an increased interest in vocabulary teaching and learning. The book Teaching and Learning Vocabulary (1990)by Paul Nation provided useful insights into vocabulary acquisition and it extended guidance on classroom pedagogy. At the same time, the advent of corpus linguistics and the COBUILD project of John Sinclair (1987) gave new impetus to theories on language acquisition. Sinclair’s book Corpus, Concordance, Collocation(1991) and other corpus based studies shed new light on how language works and this led to a new understanding and description of language. Also, these studies revealed the widespread occurrence of multi-word units or lexical chunks in native speakers’ language. The studies then put forward a theory that is almost contrary to Chomskyan theory of language which holds that native speakers have a capacity of creating and interpreting unique sentences which they have never heard or produced previously.

But with the advent of corpus based analyses, many linguists departed from the Chomskyan view to uphold the new theory of language.
With the publication of the book The Lexical Approach: The State of ELT and a Way Forward in 1993, there was a shift from the traditional approaches to a lexis based approach.

The Lexical Approach

Lexical Approach to language teaching is based on the principles that language consists primarily not of grammatical structures/patterns but of lexical units. To quote Lewis, this approach focuses on developing learner’s proficiency with lexis, or word and word combinations. (1993:95).

He holds that native speakers store chunks in their mental lexicon to retrieve and use them in their language. Also, he states that the ability to chunk language successfully is central to an understanding of how language works. For this reason, Lewis suggests that language teaching should include the teaching of lexis or chunks. In fact, he advocates that lexis/ lexical phrases in any language offer more communicative and expressive power than grammatical structures.


Though the terms lexis and vocabulary are often stated in the same context and mostly treated as synonyms, there exists a wide difference in meaning between these two terms and they are not one and the same. The distinction will be made clear by making a note of these definitions put forward by Michael Lewis:

Lexis is a more general word than common vocabulary. Vocabulary is often used to talk of the individual words of language; lexis covers single words and multi-word objects which have the same status in the language as simple words, the items we store in our mental lexicons ready for use.


Although the lexical items are of different kinds, Lewis identifies them as falling into four types:

  1. Words and Polywords -- Words include all the essential vocabulary for learners to memorize (book, pen, etc.) Polywords is a small group of lexical items which fall between words and major multi-word categories. For instance, bread and butter.
  2. Collocations – Word and word combinations (take an exam, heavy rain etc.)
  3. Fixed expressions – the chunks which are comparatively rare and short and are mostly used in spoken language (Have a nice day and How do you do?)
  4. Semi-Fixed expressions — the expressions that range from ‘very short to very long’ (Its/That’s right, Looking forward to hearing from/seeing/ meeting you.)

Definitions on collocation

Most of the researchers who define collocation agree that it is a lexical chunk consisting of a group of two or three words from different parts of speech. The following definitions offer varied views on the concept of collocation:

You shall know a word by the company it keeps. (Firth 1957:179)

Collocation is the readily observable phenomenon whereby certain words co-occur in natural text with greater than random frequency. (Lewis 1997:8)

A collocation is a predictable combination of words. (Hill 2000:51)

Collocations describe specific lexical items and the frequency with which these items occur with other lexical items…… A collocational unit consists of a ‘node’ that co-occurs with a ‘span’ of words on either side. (Nattinger & De Carrico 1992:20)

These definitions of the term hold one common feature that collocations are words that keep company with one another. To illustrate the concept with an example, the words “make” and “do” are considered synonymous. Though these two words are thought to be synonyms, they cannot be used interchangeably. Each word has its own collocational field. For instance, the verb” make” occurs with nouns like ‘mistake’, ‘cake’, ‘decision’ etc., while “do” occurs with ‘homework’, ‘job’, ‘business’ etc..

Regarding the types of collocation, there are lexical and grammatical collocations. According to Lewis (2000:134) lexical collocations combine two equal lexical components (open class words). For instance, good decision, submit a report, examine thoroughly etc…. On the other hand grammatical collocations combine a lexical word, typically a noun, verb or adjective, with a grammatical word (one open class word and one close class word).For example, aware of, interested in, step into….

This paper focuses mainly on lexical collocations as it is advantageous for the learners to record a lexical collocation such as put off the meeting until rather than noting a grammatical collocation put off. As Lewis(2000:134) puts it: “recording grammatical collocations such as award of interested is unsatisfactory as these combinations are never used without at least one more word as aware of the problems, interested in football

Lexical collocations in the comics selected for the study include:

[1] Adjective + Noun (e.g. prospective customers)
[2] Verb + Noun (e.g. take a chance)
[3] Verb+ Adjective (e.g. look tired)
[4] Adverb + Adjective (e.g. totally unarmed)
[5] Adverb + verb (e.g. well rewarded)
[6] Verb + Adverb (e.g. walked quietly)

Having briefly described what collocation is and its types, the paper now focuses on the efficacy of collocations in the teaching of English.

Pedagogical Implications of teaching collocations

Teaching collocations will always be beneficial to the learners of English as the collocations will provide them a wide range of choices to express themselves. Also when the learners use the collocations in their speech and writing, their audience and readers are more likely to understand their message. Acquisition and correct production of such word combinations is a mark of an advanced level of proficiency in a language. As Lewis (1997:15) puts it, "fluency is based on the acquisition of a large store of fixed or semi-fixed prefabricated items.” Moreover, using the right collocation will make the learners sound like native speakers. James (1998:152) also agrees that the correct usage of collocations "contributes greatly to one's idiomaticity and native-likeness."

Furthermore, Lewis (2000:54) opines that collocations allow us to think more quickly and communicate more efficiently and enable the learners to process and produce the language at a faster rate. Added to this, collocation makes communication easier as we do not use new language all the time. Lewis (2000:55) substantiates this view as he states that collocation allows us to name complex idea quickly so that we can continue to manipulate the ideas or brain space to focus on the form of the words.

Also, knowing a large number of collocations enables learners to learn the stress and intonation pattern of a phrase as a whole. Learning collocations helps to increase the range of learners’ English vocabulary.

Advantages of using comics while teaching Collocations:

  • Comics have proved to be a rich source of collocations.
  • They contain natural and conversational English with many chunks of collocations which are useful for the learners during their interaction with others.
  • Comics contain a variety of collocations which aid the learners to communicate effectively.
  • Furthermore, comics provide us an excellent opportunity to gain exposure to authentic language.

Method of research

For the present research, initially, 5 Tinkle Magazines and 5 Tinkle Digests have been read. Thereafter, 10 stories have been selected for the study based on the presence of collocations. A total of 63 collocations were identified in these comics. These collocations have been categorized according to the combinations of the words. After categorizing them, exercises and activities have been devised to reinforce the collocations in the learners’ mental lexicon.

The main objective of all the exercises and activities that have been included in the paper is to raise the collocational awareness of the learners which is eventually expected to lead to their increased collocational competence.

Collocations identified in the comics

Adjective + Noun combinations

  1. Rough map
  2. Prospective customers
  3. Dangerous snake
  4. Clever deductions
  5. Casual visitor
  6. Precious time
  7. Famous singer
  8. Bare necessities
  9. Long queue
  10. Different matter
  11. Best investments
  12. Learned man
  13. Advancing age
  14. failing health
  15. Strange Bird
  16. Deep sleep
  17. Bad period
  18. Loyal subject
  19. Suspicious manner
  20. Odd jobs
  21. Horrid man
  22. Unsuccessful attempt
  23. Popular farmer
  24. New invention
  25. Narrow escape
  26. Famous scientist
  27. Finishing touches
  28. Heavy load
  29. Quiet behaviour
  30. Renowned wrestler

Verb + Noun combinations

  1. Take a chance
  2. Found an explanation
  3. Make a suggestion
  4. Make enquiries
  5. Marked wrong
  6. Served the church
  7. Took pride
  8. Arranging the ceremony
  9. Make a living
  10. Expand his business
  11. Break a promise
  12. Reveal the answer
  13. Solve the riddle
  14. Make a phone call
  15. Raise a crop
  16. Lodge a complaint
  17. Announce the verdict
  18. Picking fights

Verb + Adjective Combinations

  1. Look tired
  2. Knock senseless
  3. Get ready
  4. Look troubled
  5. Fall unconscious
  6. Feel comfortable
  7. Grew stronger

Adverb + Adjective Combinations

  1. Certainly impressive
  2. Really popular
  3. Quiet cruel

Adverb + Verb Combinations

  1. Well rewarded
  2. Finally decided
  3. Shamelessly betrayed

Verb + Adverb Combinations

  1. Walked quietly
  2. Earn enough
  3. Thanked adequately

Exercises and activities

Exercise 1 Adjective + Noun

Fill in the blanks with the collocations given in the box to make acceptable sentences.

Casual visitors Prospective customers Different matter Long queue Precious time Clever deduction Dangerous snake Famous singer Rough map Bare necessities

  1. We took a _______ of the place we wanted to go to.
  2. All _________ were invited for a meeting by the company.
  3. In the grass, I found a __________.
  4. Our teacher applauded my friend for making a ________ of the formula.
  5. Mysore palace has many ________ every day.
  6. I wasted my _________ and now I cannot get it back.
  7. Chris Ria is a _______ and his songs are liked by many.
  8. There are many people who do not even have _________ of life.
  9. As today is the last day for paying the fee, there is a ______ at the bank.
  10. I don’t mind lizards, but snakes are a ___________.

Activity 1

Ask the learners to sit in groups. Tell them to find out the parts of speech of the above collocations. Then, instruct them to refer to a collocation dictionary to provide at least three possible combinations for the words visitor, customer, time, singer, necessities. Ask the learners to read out their answers.

Exercise 2

Match the beginning of each sentence with its ending:

  1. The millionaire was looking for some best
  2. Ravi was very humble though he was a learned
  3. Anna is still active in spite of her advancing
  4. Her performance in her exams was marred by failing
  5. The villagers flocked to see the strange
  6. When my friend came in I was in a deep
  7. Like her mother, she too underwent a bad
  8. The queen considers him her loyal
  9. He was behaving in a highly suspicious
  10. To pay his tuition fees he took up many odd
    1. Jobs
    2. subject
    3. period
    4. investments
    5. man
    6. sleep
    7. health
    8. age
    9. manner
    10. bird

Activity 2

Let the learners sit in groups. Write the collocations on pieces of papers and place them in a container. Ask one learner from each group to pick a slip of paper to frame a sentence using the collocation on the slip of paper to frame a sentence using the collocation on the slip. Make them write the sentences on the board.

Exercise 3

Choose the right word from the given options to form collocations.

  1. Nobody likes to go to him. He is a ______ man.
    a) Unsuccessful b) narrow c) finishing d) horrid
  2. It was an ___________ attempt of making her realize her mistake.
    a) New b) unsuccessful c) popular d) renowned
  3. Every _____ invention loses its charm as time passes by.
    a) Finishing b) quiet c) renowned d) new
  4. The driver had a ________ escape from gunfire.
    a) Unsuccessful b) narrow c) famous d) heavy
  5. Ram was a ________ scientist among his contemporaries.
    a) New b) narrow c) famous d) finishing
  6. She is just giving _______ touches to her painting.
    a) Horrid b) unsuccessful c) finishing d) quiet
  7. The plane took off with a ______ load.
    a) Popular b) narrow c) heavy d) quiet
  8. Despite his _______ behaviour, his friends teased him mercilessly.
    a) Finishing b) renowned c) quiet d) narrow
  9. Adam was a ________ wrestler in his town.
    a) Heavy b) renowned c) horrid d) finishing

Activity 3

Make the learners sit in a circle. Instruct them to play musical chairs. Ask one learner to go around the circle with one word written on a slip of paper. Let him drop he paper at the back of one learner. The learner has to pick up the paper and write at least two collocations. On failing to do it, the learner will be excluded from the group.

Verb + Noun Exercise 4

Find out which of the noun in the brackets collocates with the verbs given below:

  1. Take (enquiry /change/ living)
  2. Found an ( suggestion / pride / explanation)
  3. Make a ( ceremony/ suggestion / wrong)
  4. Make ( explanation/ pride / enquiries)
  5. Mark ( living/ wrong/ suggestion)
  6. Serve ( ceremony/ the church/ living)
  7. Take ( wrong/ pride/ enquiry)
  8. Arrange ( suggestion/ explanation/ ceremony)
  9. Make a (living/ wrong/ the church)

Activity 4

Make the learners sit in a circle. Give a ball to the first group to pass on to the others in the group. Make one learner face the board and spell “stop”. The learner who has the ball has to go to the board and from the collocation to the word written on the board by the teacher. Every group will have a chance to pass the ball and write the collocation.

Exercise 5

Listen to the sequence of nouns one by one with pauses and write down the noun beside a verb to form acceptable collocations in the sheet provided to you. The list of the nouns to be pronounced is:

Crop Business Promise Phone call Answer Verdict Riddle Complaint Fights

1. Expand his _________ 2. Break a _____________ 3. Reveal the ____________ 4.Solve the __________ 5. Make a ___________ 6. Raise a ____________ 7. Lodge a ___________ 8. Announce the ________ 9. Picking ____________

Activity 5:

Instruct the learners to work in groups to frame sentences to the collocations they form. Ask anyone from the group to read out their sentences. Tell them to rectify their errors.

Verb + Adjective Exercise 6

Fill in the missing letters to form meaningful collocations by using the letters in the brackets.

1) Lo_ _- tired (k, o) 2) K_ o_ k senseless (c, k) 3) g_ _ ready (t,e) 4) _o_ k troubled (o, l) 5) F_ _ l unconscious (l, a) 6) G_ e_ stronger (w, r) 7) F_ e_ comfortable (l, e)

Activity 6:

Instruct the learners to identify the grammatical patterns of the collocations given above. Ask them to write at least three collocations without referring to the dictionary. Tell each group to come by one to write their collocations on the board by writing their group’s name. If the learners find new collocations on the board they will have to jot them down in their lexical note books.

Adverb+ Adjective, Adverb+ Verb and Verb + Adverb Exercise 7

Jumble the collocations underlined to make acceptable sentences.

  1. The new teacher will make a finally decided mark on the students.
  2. Jack was certainly impressive with the students.
  3. I was shocked to know that he was thanked me adequately.
  4. All the Nobel Prize winners are walked quietly for their inventions and discoveries.
  5. She well rewarded to go abroad for her higher studies.
  6. She earn enough her friend over and over again.
  7. I got up and quiet cruel out of the room.
  8. I must shamelessly betrayed to fund an old age home.
  9. He really popular for helping him.

Activity 7

Write the nodes and collocates on different slips of paper and place them in two different containers. Instruct one group of learners to take the nodes and other group their collocates. Ask both the groups to interact with each other to form the correct collocations. Tell them to place those pieces of papers on the table so that everyone in the class can have a look at them.

Conclusions and recommendations

In conclusion, the study had observed that one of the best ways to teach collocations is through the lexical approach. The study has also observed that authentic texts like comics are a rich source of collocations. The study recommends that comics be incorporated into the curriculum of the young learners as they are highly effective in breaking the monotony that crops up during the process of teaching/learning a language. The study also underlines the importance of teaching collocations to the learners by introducing them to exercises and activities as it unburdens the pressure of the learning at least a little bit and broadens the communicative ability.


Exercise 1

  1. Rough map
  2. Prospective customers
  3. Dangerous snake
  4. Clever deduction
  5. Casual visitors
  6. Precious time
  7. Famous singer
  8. Bare necessities
  9. Long queue
  10. Different matter

Exercise 2 1) d 2) e 3) h 4) g 5) j 6) f 7) c 8) b 9) I 10) a

Exercise 3 1) d 2) b 3) d 4) b 5) c 6) c 7) c 8) c 9) b

Exercise 4

  1. Change
  2. Explanation
  3. Suggestion
  4. Wrong
  5. Enquiries
  6. Wrong
  7. the church
  8. Pride
  9. Ceremony
  10. Living

Exercise 5

  1. Business
  2. Promise
  3. Answer
  4. Riddle
  5. Phone call
  6. Crop
  7. Complaint
  8. Verdict
  9. Fights

Exercise 6Look

  1. Knock
  2. Get
  3. Look
  4. Feel
  5. Grew
  6. Feel

Exercise 7

  1. Certainly impressive
  2. Really popular
  3. Quiet cruel
  4. Well rewarded
  5. Finally decided
  6. Shamelessly betrayed
  7. Walked quietly
  8. Earn enough
  9. Thanked me adequately


Lewis, M. The Lexical Approach: The State of ELT and A way forward. Hove, England: Language Teaching Publications, 1993.

Lewis, M. Implementing the Lexical Approach. Hove, England: Language Teaching Publications, 1997.

Lewis, M. Teaching Collocation: Further Developments in the Lexical Approach. London: Language Teaching Publications.2000.

Moudraia, O. Lexical Approach to Second Language Teaching. ERIC Digest. June 2001.web.10 October 2007.

McCarthy, M. and F O’Dell. English Collocations in Use. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.

Tinkle Digests, Nos: 47, 71,205,209 and 210: Mumbai: Amar Chitra Katha Pvt.Ltd.

Tinkle Magazines, Nos: 568,569,570,573 and 577: Mumbai: Amar Chitra Katha Pvt.Ltd


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