WHAT ARE BINOMIAL EXPRESSIONS AND HOW CAN I TEACH THEM?

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Have a look at the following phrases and see if you can fill in the missing words:

Short and ________

Hustle and ________

Knife and __________

Sooner or _________

Step by _________

Chances are you were able to do that quite easily, but how? There is no logic to these phrases, nor are there rules to govern them. Yet you were presumably quite sure that the missing words were sweet, bustle, fork, later and step, and you’d be correct.

These are what we call binomial expressions: expressions consisting of two words joined by a conjunction (usually and or or). These are fixed expressions, meaning that they cannot be changed and the word order cannot be reversed (just consider how “wrong” chips and fish sounds). As native speakers, these expressions come to us naturally but for our learners it is a matter of learning.

If you think about it, you will realise that binomial expressions are used widely in everyday language. For this reason it is important for our learners to learn them, because they are likely to be exposed to them. Because binomials are very natural for native speakers, being able to use them will help our learners sound more natural in their language usage. What’s more, because binomial are phrases or expressions – or chunks of language – remembering them will help our learners become more automatic and fluent in their speech.

On the downside, the sheer number of binomial expressions means that the task of learning them is an enormous one. But we can help our students out by incorporating a few activities into our lessons which can help them become more familiar with them. Bear in mind, learning binomials is not that challenging, because it’s a matter of learning the phrase and its correct usage.

Here are a few activities you can use in the EFL classroom regularly to revise binomial expressions:

Matching

When dividing the class into pairs, use binomial expressions to do so. Make laminated binomial expressions and cut them in half. Give each student a half and they need to find their other half – this is their partner. For example, touch needs to find and go.

Talk for a minute

This works well if you have a spare few minutes at the end of a lesson. Brainstorm a range of binomial expressions which your learners are familiar with. Put the learners into groups. Each student takes a turn speaking for a minute on any topics, trying to use as many binomials as possible. Their partners keep track and award points accordingly.

One a lesson

At the beginning of the lesson, choose one binomial expression and board it where everyone can see it. The learners must try to use that expression appropriately and effectively at any point during the lesson. The first learner to do so can get a prize. A different binomial expression is then used at the next lesson.

Binomial expressions are a great way for learners to increase their vocabulary and sound more natural. Incorporate these simple activities into your lessons and your learners will become more native-like and fluent.

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