KWIC Vocabulary Review Activity

I am a big fan of data-driven learning (DDL) and using linguistic tools (such as COCA, StringNet, and Word and Phrase) in the classroom in order to give students a different perspective on language study. I had been looking through a wonderful little book called “Classroom Games from Corpora” by Ken Lackman and modified one of his activities for one of my classes, with good results. This book presents a number of useful activities that can be used in the classroom after a little preparation from your favorite corpus.

So, I would like to present a fun and useful activity modified from Lackman’s “Guess the Missing Word” activity (p. 14) that can be adapted and expanded in a myriad of different ways. It is based on showing a list of KWIC (keyword in context) concordances with the keyword missing. Students will have to guess the missing word during a line race activity. This is a simple review activitya that works well at the beginning of class, as it gets students up out of their seats and moving around a bit.

Basically, students will be split into two teams and make a line on either side of the screen or board. The instructor will show a slide with a number of concordances all missing the same keyword. The first to guess the keyword wins a point for their team. They go to the back of the line and the next two students continue the game. Afterwards, students can be given the complete concordances and asked to search for common patterns (collocations, colligations), which can then be discussed together as a class.


This activity assumes you have PPT or some way to project something on a screen. If you don’t, it can still be done with the modified KWIC concordances printedb.


(Note: there is a video of this method below.)

  1. Using Word and Phrasec (or COCA), do a search with your missing word. You may have to select the correct word form if your word can also be used as a verb, noun, adjective, etc.
  2. Copy the all the KWIC concordances at the bottom. The quickest way to do this is to click on the concordance frame and do CTRL+A (select all) and CTRL+C (copy). Then paste them into excel and remove the first 8 rows (which will leave you with only the concordances) and the first 2 columns. Resize columns to your liking.
  3. Now, for this activity, a maximum of 20 concordances is suggested. You probably have over 100, so select some rows to delete and whittle down until you have 20. I wouldn’t recommend randomly removing rows. Instead, consider what common words, parts of speech, or patterns you think students already know, or you will want them to study as part of the expansion.
    1. For example, for the verb “commit”, most common words on the right would be a crime noun, “by” for the passive form, and maybe “in” for places.
  4. Do steps 1-3 for each vocabulary word. It only takes a few minutes once you’ve done it a few times. Add each word to a separate tab/sheet in Excel.
  5. When you have all your words, in Excel, choose a sheet, select all the words in the three columns and paste it into PowerPoint. Resize and format as necessary.
  6. Delete the keywords in the middle.
  7. Repeat this, with each set of concordances on a different slide.
  8. Add whatever bells and whistles you want.


  1. Students are split into two teams (evenly or randomly; more than two teams is also possible).
  2. Each team forms a line facing the board.
  3. The teacher explains/demonstrates/models the activity:
    1. The students at the front will see a list of sentences missing a common vocabulary word.
    2. Whoever guesses the word first wins a point for their team.
    3. Both students will go to the back of the line and the next students will continue the game.
    4. The team with the most points is the winner.

Here is an example PPT of concordances I made. It’s really nothing special. For this PPT, I made the concordances in Word, put them into a PDF (for an unrelated reason), and then took a snapshot of the concordances in the PDF and pasted them into PPT. Sounds complicated but it probably took me 2 minutes.


There are a number of ways to expand this activity. Here is one idea I had:

  1. After playing the review game, students are given the one set of complete concordances so that each group has a different set.
  2. Students look at the examples and try to find any language patterns apparent.
  3. Meanwhile, the teacher writes the vocabulary words on the board.
  4. After a set amount of time, the students come to the board and write the language patterns they found under the respective keyword.
  5. A short class discussion is held.

Some other ideas would be to have students fill in the keyword using the correct verb form (if you are looking at verbs) or to randomly mix concordances so that one set has a range of different vocabulary words. Then students must guess what words are possible there. I did this last idea in class with adjectives where multiple adjectives are possible. It was a good activity, though it seemed difficult for students.

So, what do you think of this activity? Have you tried something similar? Do you have any comments or suggestions?


  1. You could also get students to investigate these words on their own for homework. This may make them better prepared for this activity.
  2. If you don’t have the technology needed for this activity, you can simply print each concordance set on a piece of paper. Instead of showing the set on screen, hand one set to each student at the front of the line. Do this at the same time and it is just like looking at one projected screen. They can then keep the set to use during the expansion stage.
  3. With Word and Phrase, you can only search for one word terms. However, you can click almost any word in the concordances to show it with the keyword. This might help you find more specific instances of the term you are looking for. You can also click on the words in the “Collocates” box and choose different examples of different collocates. Copy and paste them as you would above. You’ll just have to remove more rows in Excel.

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