Collecting Collocations: A vocabulary activity

When you ask students to start using key words in a vocabulary lesson, do you place importance on collocations? Students’ use of the new vocabulary will have greater accuracy if those target words are learned as part of commonly occurring phrases. Consider the following survey activity (one of my favorite formats for speaking practice since it can easily be adapted to different levels).

STEP 1 – Recall the meanings of 3-5 target words as a class. On the board, present collocations for those words in the form of sentences. [Modeled below with highlighted collocations from Chapter 5 of Vocabulary Power 1.] Discuss the full meaning of each collocation as a class. This can be done by trying to paraphrase each statement.

  • DOUBT: Yesterday I thought I knew what I wanted to do, but today I’m starting to doubt myself. Did I make the right decision?
  • GAIN: My roommate stopped exercising, and I can see he’s gained weight over the past few months.
  • HABIT: When I’m nervous, I have the habit of biting my nails.
  • HANDLE: Sometimes when children fight, the parents make them go to their rooms until they can get a handle on their anger.
  • LEAD: I believe some talent and a lot of hard work leads to success.


STEP 2 – Have students work in small group of 3-4 to create a survey. They must write one question for each collocation. Models:

  • How often do you doubt yourself?
  • What kinds of foods make people gain weight?
  • What do you have the habit of doing when you’re nervous?
  • What advice do you have for a friend who can’t get a handle on his/ her anger?
  • Give an example of how one problem and lead to another.


STEP 3 – Break up the small groups and have each student pair up with someone from a different group. The new partners must take turns asking their questions. Encourage them to answer in full sentences using the collocations.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for this post. I’m wondering if you know any good way to teach collocations for higher level students. I’ve been trying to search for this. I’ve been trying to find such a way to teach my IELTS students! Thanks.

    1. Hi Jonathan. I usually prefer to work with readings, texts we can discuss. This allows for multiple encounters, but always in a meaningful context. Readings for higher level students can be taken from authentic sources. Let me give this some thought, and maybe I can come up with an activity with some versatility, so it can be reused. Thanks for stopping by and checking out this post.

      By the way, have you seen this post?
      The handout:

      A few more ideas:

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