Sunday, March 29, 2015

Corpus Tools Session Report from the 2015 TESOL Convention

I have just returned from the TESOL 2015 International Convention and English Language Expo in Toronto, Canada. The theme for this year's convention was "Crossing Borders: Building Bridges." In this blog post, I comment on one of the sessions I attended that is of interest to those such as myself who are teaching in university intensive English programs. This year I did not present, but went as an attendee looking to get new ideas on teaching reading, writing and vocabulary. 

Corpus Confidence: Turning Language Data Into Language Learning
Amy Tate, Rice University, USA

In this presentation, the presenter provided examples of activities that used three different corpus tools: Google Ngrams, just the word, and wordandphrase. During my time as a graduate student at Northern Arizona University, I was immersed in talk about corpus as many of our faculty specialized in corpus linguistics, but as a teacher I have not always found corpus tools readily available or accessible for use in the classroom. So I was excited about this presentation's aim of making practical usage of corpus tools, especially for teaching collocations. Here are three activities I found very useful in that I can see using them in my intermediate to advanced reading and writing course I am teaching this term.   

Activity 1: Collocation Forks 
One of the activities Amy mentioned that I am looking forward to trying out for teaching collocations of new academic vocabulary terms was the use of collocation forks. Collocations forks involve selecting an important vocabulary word and then using wordandphrase to look up the most frequent collocations as a first step. Once you have chosen 3-4 collocations, then you write a fork on the board with a number of tines for the number of collocations. You can first teach this explicitly by writing the fork and the collocations for the target vocabulary word (see the post from Leoxicon for more example activities). Later, as a way to review and recall important collocations associated with a vocabulary word, you can write the fork on the board with the only the collocations. Then ask students to look through their vocabulary list to come up with the associated target vocabulary word. 

Activity 2: Student Mis-collocations 
Amy pointed out that often times one of the error codes she commonly puts on student's papers is ww-"wrong word." This error commonly occurs, she said, due to a mis-collocation. She provided the example of "They can buy it for a comfortable price." Once a number of sentences from student's own writing such as the one above are collected from student's first drafts, she goes to the site just-the-word and puts in the word combination in the search box. In this example she used "comfortable price" and selected "alternatives from thesaurus." The results of the search provides a number of collocation combinations for the word " comfortable price." She demonstrated how in the classroom teachers can point out how the green lines next to the combination shows the most commonly used word collocations, while the red are bad combinations. This seems like a great way to have students develop a greater awareness of vocabulary use in their own writing by helping them self-correct. I plan to implement this as a necessary stage in student's revision of their error feedback on essay drafts. 

Activity 3: Repairing Missing Words in Writing
One of the other errors that students have is leaving out words in their essays. Amy showed how Google Ngrams could be used to have students input the word into the search box that is missing a word after it. In her example, she used "refers" to show that the student was missing something after refer. By including *refer in the Google Ngrams search box, she was able to show that "refers to" was much more commonly used than other collocation combinations. This was my first introduction to GoogleNgrams. And even though it searches only google books, it does seem like a great way to show students statistically driven choices in vocabulary usage. 

Amy Tate provided her handout and slide presentation in pdf format online, which can be accessed by logging into the TESOL 2015 Conference Planner and searching for her presentation. You can access as a guest without having to create a profile. 

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