I have written about corpora, concordancing, and DDL on this site before. Last year, my colleague and I completed a semester-long quantitative research project and co-wrote a paper on using DDL in the classroom (which has now been rejected three times!). I used to be a big fan of teaching students how to use these tools as an alternative reference and learning resource. However, due to lack of patience with computer illiterate “digital natives“, heaps of incomprehensible input that is difficult for learners to parse, and the paucity of the linguistic sixth sense among students, this kind of practice fell out of favor with me. Then, I stumbled upon Cynthia Quinn’s (2014) article in ELT Journal, and now the interest has been slightly rekindled. A snowball effect took place after reading this article, and I was happy to find a number of new corpus tools and active corpus linguistics websites. I’m not sure what effect this will have on my teaching, but I do present to you the latest Research Bites.
Quinn, C. (2014). Training L2 writers to reference corpora as a self-correction tool. ELT Journal. [$link]
Introduction and Findings
Quinn’s article outlines how she introduced the Collins Wordbanks Online corpus to her Japanese EFL university students in order to help them self-correct teacher coded errors on their essays. She discovered that most students found the corpora useful, especially for easily identifiable preposition, word form, and article errors – but not so much for more lexical (as opposed to lexicogrammatical) items like poor word choice. She also found students enjoyed finding more natural and varied language patterns with which they could express themselves.However, as is typical with DDL, students often found the interfaces, search queries, and data difficult to wade through. Nevertheless, she found that “corpus referencing was a positive experience for the majority of learners who agreed that it could improve their written expression”. Because of this, it remains a worthwhile tool to introduce, if not for its effectiveness, then at the very least, for its ability to supplement or supplant dictionaries, thesauruses, and translation tools.
There is a time investment and learning curve to doing DDL, and Quinn’s article explained how she scaffolding concordancing to address these issues. Here is what she did (note: my outline below does not necessarily represent the way her introduction was organized in the article):
For the first five 90-minute classes (about half of each class spent on DDL):
- Introducing corpora
- Introducing students to the concept of a corpus
- Showing the types of rich data that can be gleaned from a corpus
- Justifying corpus use
- Comparing corpora to other resources
- Showing students how a corpus may be better than other resources in some situations
- This is especially useful, as students need to often convinced to use such a tool
- Paper-based practice
- Numerous other researchers have pointed out that it is easier to make sense of concordance data if it is first presented on paper
- Students practiced essential DDL skills, learning:
- scanning for linguistic features
- identifying language patterns
- making “pragmatic generalizations” about the patterns
- Controlled practice where “question prompts guided learners to notice meaning and usage pattern”
- Controlled computer-based practice
- Before using the online corpus, students completed exercises to learn important vocabulary such as query, part of speech, lemma, token, etc.
- Students did in-class searches on terms from class readings
- Students investigated a single word for homework and reported the information they found.
- Students discussed these reports with classmates
After the first five class sessions:
- Controlled revision practice
- Independent practice
- After students wrote their essays and the teacher gave them feedback (content and language), students worked to correct their own errors using the corpus.
- Students kept a revision log to document what they had found, changed, and their experiences with DDL
What Quinn offers is a model way to introduce corpora usage to students. She presented it in a logical fashion which naturally led to learner uptake and clearly helped students. If anyone is taken with using DDL in their classrooms, I highly recommend the model Quinn used. But, as she said, there is a certain time investment (not to mention the need for a computer lab) that is involved. What this research report lacks is an empirical aspect which looks at not just learner feelings about using corpora, but actually tracks their effective employment of such a tool.
If going full blown concordancing scares you, as it should if you have ever played with COCA, there are a number of simpler corpus tools out there. Some that I use, either behind the scenes to create materials, or in-class with students are: