Language Teaching Research
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Many contemporary textbooks for English as a foreign language (EFL) and books for vocabulary study contain exercises with a focus on collocations, with verb–noun collocations (e.g. make a mistake) being particularly popular as targets for collocation learning. Common exercise formats used in textbooks and other pedagogic materials require learners to establish appropriate matches between sets of verbs and nouns. However, matching exercises almost inevitably carry a risk of erroneous connections, and despite corrective feedback these might leave undesirable traces in the learner’s memory. We report four small-scale trials (total n = 135) in which the learning gains obtained from verb–noun matching exercises are compared with the learning gains obtained from a format in which the target collocations are presented to the learners as intact wholes. Pre-test to post-test gains turned out small in all of the conditions, owing in part to the learners’ substitution of initially correct choices by distracters from the exercises. The latter, negative side-effect was attested more often in the matching exercises than in the exercises where the learners worked with collocations as intact wholes.