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Home > Lexical Approach in TOEFL Writing: The Independent Writing Task

The lexical approach is an ESL book written by Michael Lewis. It is an alternative practice that is beginning to redefine how ESL teachers instruct ESL classes. Lewis claims English language acquisition is still being delivered by providing complex grammar explanations about fixed language outcomes. Alternatively, the lexical approach is based on the notion that chucks of meaningful, unanalyzed expressions are more effective than the grammatical approach: a belief that the basis of language and that mastery of the grammatical system is a prerequisite for effective communication. However, this article will demonstrate how the lexical approach principles can be utilized in one’s teaching practices with regards to the iBT Independent Writing Task.

Some people claim that vocabulary teaching has come a long way since the days when courses would instruct students to learn word for word Grammar Translations. However, this is not entirely true. Vocabulary in some classrooms is more than a resource for single word gap fills. Most ESL learners associate vocabulary with single words and there is a tendency among learners to translate any text word-for-word. This includes trying to simplify most phrases to separate words. Therefore the role of teachers is to raise students’ awareness of the existence of lexical items. Teaching students to recognize familiar academic “collocations”; the way words combine, is probably one of the most significant breakthroughs for students and teachers. For example, knowing that you can say “by the way” and ‘with this in mind’ is central to academic communicative competence.

With regards to fixed or semi fixed prefabricated expression, conclusive evidence was found that words hunt in large packs, also known as formulaic prefabricated expressions. Lewis describes these as groups of expressions that are regularly found in spoken and written English. Lewis also points out that there are semi-fixed prefabricated expressions. These expressions have more flexibility than fixed formulaic expressions because certain words can be replaced.

With all this in mind, some iBT teachers have taken this premise on board and delivered formulaic academic phrases, this is especially the case when it comes to topic sentences for the iBT Independent Writing Task. An example of an iBT Writing task may be: “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Parents make the best teachers. Give reasons and examples for your answers”. Here are some semi fixed prefabricated expressions that fit well into this iBT writing task.

 The first reason why I agree with this statement is because parents instinctively identify their children’s learning styles.

The second reason why I agree with this statement is because parents have an innate relationship with their children.

Teachers can break these topic sentences or semi fixed prefabricated expression into three parts. The first part is an introductory phrase which is also a semi fixed prefabricated academic expression. For instance, ‘The first reason why I agree with this statement is because….” The reason it is a semi fixed prefabricated academic expression is because you could add extra information to the latter part of the expression. In this latter part of the expression there should be two parts; the topic and the controlling idea. This is the most important part of the phrase because it carries the principle idea. The topic gives the reader the main idea and the controlling idea contains your opinion about the topic, in other words it focuses it. The main idea is “parents instinctively identify” and the controlling idea is “learning styles”. Once again these expressions are not going into complex metalanguage but they show how these phrases function without getting overly complicated. Moreover, a student can rewrite parts of this expression by replacing the chronological signifier and the second part of the topic sentence: For example: “The second reason why I agree with this statement is because parents have an innate relationship with their children. When writing an iBT Independent Task, the second reason supporting the topic sentence should be the second body paragraph.

It is important to note that iBT Independent Writing can be a dull, but one of the teachers’ challenges is to develop student centered classes while integrating the Lewis Lexical approach. For English language learners the student-centered methodology has numerous unique benefits. One of the most memorable for participants is the creation of a dynamic class experience. By getting the students to actively engage and use the language, they retain more of it; compared to if they simply hear, read or write about it. They actively practice producing meaningful essays and other goal oriented tasks, thus facilitating a more direct route to fluency. Another distinctive characteristic of a student-centered class is that the creativity inherent in the activities adds an element of surprise to each class. Bear in mind, that participants often have many other commitments to attend to, and English lessons may seem like a dreary thought after a long day’s work. However, providing a lexical approach behind the back drop of a fun student-centered English methodology combats the tendency for boredom commonly found in iBT Independent Writing Tasks.

Clearly in recent years it has been recognized both that native speakers have a vast stock of these lexical chunks and that these lexical chunks are vital for fluent language production. Fluency does not depend so much on having a set of generative grammar rules and a separate stock of words. However, fluency depends on having rapid access to a stock of prefabricated expression or language chunks. English for Academic purposes (EAP) requires students to learn high-priority prefabricated English expressions which need to be selected and included into learning materials and class activities.


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