The importance of lexical notebooks for improving your vocabulary. By English with Stephen

Lexical Notebooks

This is the transcript for my podcast episode on how to create a lexical notebook. When I did this for my Portuguese, it was seriously the best thing I ever did. If you try this strategy, you will not be disappointed.

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Finally, at the end of the transcript, I have included a link for you to see an example of a lexical notebook.


Hello and welcome to Learning English with Stephen. My name’s Stephen Greene and you can find the transcript to this episode, as well as links to all the other episodes at my site

In the last two episodes, we looked at what lexis is and why it is more important than grammar. Then we looked at why it is better to think about lexis instead of vocabulary. If you missed the episodes, you can find links to them at my site

Today we are going to look at a technique for learning lexis that takes a bit of work to start but produces simply amazing results. Seriously, when I started to learn Portuguese, I used this technique and it was the best thing I ever did.

This technique is a Lexical notebook.

Nearly all of my students like to make notes about the language we cover in class. They write down the words or phrases, plus anything else that we think is important. They spend a lot of time making sure they have all of the examples and that everything is correct.

And then they never look at the notes again.

Their notebooks are totally disorganised with words, phrases, and examples all over the place. The only organisation to it is time, so if they cannot remember the date of a class, they will never find the word again.

A lexical notebook solves this problem, and gives us so much more.

A lexical notebook organises words and phrases according to their meaning or collocation instead of by the day you were in class.

Let me give you an example.

Ok, so let’s say you are in class and your teacher is looking at the topic of education. You get some great lexis and you make a note of it. Under normal circumstances, that is the end. You won’t look at the notes again. All of that beautiful language is wasted.

When you have a lexical notebook, though, this is only the beginning of the story.

When you get home, you should transfer all of that great language about education to your lexical notebook.

You create a page just for education, and all the words and phrases that you learned today go in there. You could include a translation, a picture or an example or anything to help you remember. This is YOUR notebook, so you can do whatever you think works.

In this lexical notebook, you have other pages. For example, one for sport, one for homes. Each page has words or phrases associated with that topic.

An alternative is to have a page for a specific word. For example, you might have a page just for the word ‘get’. On this page, you could include expressions such as ‘get away with it’ or ‘get down to work’. You might also include phrasal verbs such as ‘get on’, ‘get off’ or ‘get back’. In this way, you will be focussing on the phrases and collocations of a word just as we mentioned in the previous podcast `What is lexis?’

There are a number of reasons to do this.

First of all, it is much easier to find the word or phrase you have made a note of. Instead of hunting through your notebook looking for the day you made a note, all you have to do is go to the topic page. For example, if there is a word associated with sport that you cannot remember, well, you just go the page for sport and there it is.

A second important reason is that when you go looking for that word, you also have the opportunity to revise all of the words and phrases on the page. You can also add a new phrase to the page later and once again you will have the opportunity to look at the old words you have already noted and remember them all over again.

Thirdly, we think that this is how the brain works. To simplify it a bit, you store words in your brain according to their meaning. If you access one word about education, it is easier to access other words about education.

Another reason that lexical notebooks are so useful is that you are interacting with the language more. By organising your lexis, writing it down, thinking of an example, you are more likely to remember it.

There is one final step. After a while, you will have too much information on your page. What should you do then?

Well, the answer is to reorganise the information. In the example earlier we looked at education. Well, once the page is full, we can rip it out and decide to have three new pages, one about study, one about teacher, and one about other education. We now have the opportunity to interact with the lexis once again as we decide what page it should go on.

So, lexical notebooks. If you experiment with this strategy for a few weeks I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Before you go, this is my 6th episode and so far the response has been amazing. I have had a few questions about me, you know, things like where I am from, where I teach and that sort of thing. I have decided to produce a special programme to celebrate the 10th episode in a few weeks.

If you have a question, any question at all, send it to me and I will try to answer them in the 10 week anniversary podcast.

You can send a question at my site, or you can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube at Learning English with Stephen.

Thanks for your time and see you next week!

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Lexical Notebooks – British Council


  1. Great stuff, Stephen. I will use this in Business English classes with some of my pre intermediate clients who are always too busy/lazy to write new vocabulary down.

    1. Hi Nelson,

      Thanks for your comment. The best thing is to do a little bit every day. Find something you like doing: reading books, playing computer games, listening to songs, and then analyse the language. Use a lexical notebook to help you remember the vocabulary. Good luck!

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