Friday, September 21, 2012

Helping Students Understand Similar Vocabulary Words with Concordance Lines

I'm currently teaching an advanced course in my university's IEP on Reading and Vocabulary. One of the things that my students have difficulty with is discerning the difference between words with similar meanings.

One of the most recent examples that came up in our class was the word "ultimate" and the word "outcome." A definition given for ultimate is "happening at the end of a process or activity." Similarly, one of the definitions for outcome is " the final result of a process, meeting, or activity, etc."

It was pointed out to me by a teacher observing my class that I could make the distinction between these similar words by showing how they are used in context. A way that I could get at that difference was to use concordance lines and have students identify the patterns of use for both of these words.

So I adapted example activities from vocabulary textbooks and, by using COCA and the MicroConcord Corpus Collection, created seven different concordance lines of text for the words "ultimate" and "outcome." I then crafted four questions to help learners analyze the usage of these words and then write sentences using some of the collocates they identified.

Below is one of the activities that I used for outcome. I purposefully chose the concordance lines that contained a preposition after the word so that students would see this reoccurring pattern as well as the use of adjectives before outcome in the other examples (question 2 & 3). The idea then is that they can use a similar pattern in their own writing (question 4). Again, my aim is to get students to understand how these words with similar definitions are often used very differently based on the words they often co-occur with.

D. Read the concordance sentences containing the word outcome and answer the questions below.
  1. they are not the risk of a tragic                 outcome              is more likely. Understandably,
  2. ated that in order to predict the                outcome              of a change of context it is necess
  3.  because the supposedly inevitable            outcome              of that choice is not really neutral
  4. stol or Coventry, depending on the           outcome              of their game against each other. T
  5.  nt which did not have a very good            outcome              , probably because the therapist did
  6.   iated that in order to predict the               outcome              of a change of context it is necess
  7.   estored by contextual change. This           outcome              can be predicted if it is allowed t
1.  List the words or phrases used before outcome.

2.  Find two patterns in the words or phrases in the examples and write them here.

3.  List the words or phrases used after outcome.

4.  Write two example sentences using the word outcome with one of the words that usually goes with it.

I plan to continue to look for other ways that I can integrate corpus into my teaching. For now, using concordance lines to help learners understand the difference between words with similar meanings is the most practical and important for my own pedagogical purposes.

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