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Why do we need EAP word lists? | Michael McCarthy

The EAP vocabulary challenge

If you are like me, and your English for Academic Purposes (EAP) teaching typically consists of a mixed group of students from a variety of language backgrounds and a variety of academic disciplines, then you know how difficult it can be to satisfy everyone’s needs. The pre-sessional PhD student who is going to go on to study cosmic black holes may get frustrated if the teacher spends a lot of time engaging with the special terminology of medicine for another student in the class. It is far more straightforward if you are teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP), the special language needed for groups who share the same discipline, for example a class of marine biologists or a group of town planners.

Given the size of the vocabulary of all our academic disciplines put together, with a total specialist terminology that probably runs into tens of thousands of words, we are faced with what would seem to be an impossible task. However, thanks to the power of corpora (computer-searchable databases of written and spoken texts), we are able to establish a common core of vocabulary which is used across a wide range of disciplines, one that we can use in teaching. You may well already be aware of general English word lists for EAP that are freely available online or which have been incorporated into some of the text books you and your students use. Nonetheless, a general English word list only tells us part of the story, and we need to do more to arrive at something which will genuinely be usable and useful for our EAP students.

A common core?

Let’s consider what a common core vocabulary for EAP might look like. There are different options for exploiting corpora, and each one has PROS and CONS:

  • A straightforward frequency list going from the most frequent to the least frequent words that are shared across many or all disciplines.

PROS: Easy to produce at the click of a mouse if you have lots of academic texts stored in a computer. We can focus on different segments of the list for students at different proficiency levels.

CONS: The list will still be very long, and much of it will be common, everyday words your students already know from general English.

  • A keyword list: this tells you which words are significant and distinct in academic English, when compared with any other type of English.

PROS: More powerful and targeted than a frequency list. We can concentrate on the ‘fingerprint’ or ‘DNA’ of academic English.

CONS: It’s not immediately obvious why a word might score so highly as a keyword. ‘Terms’ is an academic keyword. Is it because universities and colleges break the year up into teaching terms, or is it something else?

  • A list of chunks: chunks are recurring patterns of words. Most corpus software can produce lists of the most frequent 2-word, 3-word, 4-word, etc. chunks in a corpus of texts.

PROS: Chunks are extremely common in all kinds of texts and are fundamental in creating meaning, for example, structuring academic arguments, linking parts of texts, etc. They take us way beyond single words.

CONS: The computer often finds chunks that are incomplete or not easy to understand out of context (e.g. in the sense that).

Is one set of lists enough?

All these different ways of approaching a common core for EAP have pros and cons, as we have seen, and in most cases, it’s true to say that the pros outweigh the cons. But there is another factor, too. Much of a student’s experience of academic life will come through speaking and listening. The students I teach typically must write essays, dissertations and reports, but they also have to attend lectures, take part in seminars and discussions and give presentations. So good academic word lists will consist of different lists for spoken and written EAP, taken from different corpora. Spoken EAP often overlaps in surprising ways with conversational English and yet is still first and foremost concerned with transmitting, creating and sharing academic knowledge. How is that achieved? The big question is: what do we learn from separating spoken and written EAP lists?

Then what?

Even if we build an ideal set of lists, the question remains as to how we can use them. Simply drilling and learning lists is not enough; the real challenge is how to harness the words, keywords and chunks to create continuous texts in speaking and writing. First comes the problem of meaning, so it will be necessary to experience and to practise the common core words and chunks in context; we may find that a particular word or chunk has developed a special meaning in one or more disciplines but not in a wide range of disciplines. It will also be important to exploit technological resources such as links between word lists and online dictionaries and other resources. No one, simple approach will deliver the results we hope to get from word lists, and an integrated approach will serve us best.

Click here for a collection of four different word lists that together provide an essential guide to the most important words to know in the field of English for Academic Purposes (EAP): OPAL (the Oxford Phrasal Academic Lexicon).

Watch Michael’s webinar to find out more about the power of corpora to create EAP word lists. See some examples from OPAL, and get some practical ideas for using the word lists in your teaching.


Michael McCarthy is Emeritus Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Nottingham. He is author/co-author/editor of 53 books, including Touchstone, Viewpoint, the Cambridge Grammar of English, English Grammar Today, Academic Vocabulary in Use, From Corpus to Classroom, and titles in the English Vocabulary in Use series. He is author/co-author of 113 academic papers. He has co-directed major corpus projects in spoken English. He has lectured in English and English teaching in 46 countries.


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Teaching English to Preparatory Year Programme (PYP) students

PYP student

To be successful at university, students in Preparatory Year Programmes need to improve their language skills in a fairly short amount of time. At a minimum, PYP programmes will prepare students to be able to read the course books, listen to lectures, and take exams in English in their chosen field. They may also need to write essays, discuss issues in seminar discussions, or defend their thesis. However, teachers in these programmes often face challenges related less to language learning and more to motivation.

Goals and aspirations

Although it’s tempting to start with the coursebook on day one of a course – after all, there is so much to get through! – it might be a better strategy to spend some time getting to know students as individuals, and especially getting students to think about their own educational and personal goals for learning English. Once students have an idea of ‘where they are going’ or ‘what they want English for’, teachers can then help them to see how what they learn in class connects to their goals. They can explain the approach they will take and how it will help them on their journey. On another level, when a teacher spends time getting to know their students and sharing information about themselves, the students are more likely to like him/her which may lead them to work harder so that they can please the teacher. A good rapport is an important factor in motivation.

What’s in it for me?

The next step in motivating learners is to help them see how the lessons lead to those goals. Students want to know, ‘What’s in it for me?’ and teachers can help by creating lesson aims with a clear context and purpose, and communicating those aims to the students. In this way, students will begin to see the benefit of planned activities and will be more cooperative and motivated. Instead of ploughing through pages, teachers can link activities back to the lesson aims. Of course, in an ideal classroom, students would have some say in what is taught, and would be able to choose topics of interest, but in the absence of that option, letting them know what’s in it for them at least involves them to some extent by explaining what they are going to gain.

Progression

Another piece of the motivation puzzle is related to progression: students are more motivated when they can see their progression as it relates to goals, and when they know what they need to do to improve. This highlights the need for a clear link between lesson aims and ongoing assessment, in-class revision, and quick checks to make sure students are still on target. It also means setting individual student targets whenever possible – once a student reaches a target, another is set. In that way, students have a clear sense of where they are going and what they have achieved.

If you’re interested in learning more, don’t forget to join me in my webinar.  During the webinar, we will first make a case for and suggest activities for helping students identify their own goals and aspirations and consider how English fits into their future version of themselves. We will then look at improving lesson aims to include a context and purpose and make them SMART. Finally, we will look at ideas for making progression and next steps more visible to students. By the end of the webinar, teachers will have a set of tools which will help them in their quest to increase student motivation which will, in turn, give them the incentive to tackle the daunting task of learning English in their PYP year.


Stacey’s webinar will feature content from Headway Plus Special Edition 2nd edition, developed by Oxford especially for PYP classes. The trusted Headway approach combines a perfectly balanced grammar and skills syllabus, supporting teachers in Saudi Arabia to deliver results driven preparatory English tuition.


Stacey Holliday Hughes is a part-time lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and also works freelance as a teacher developer, materials writer, learning resources editor and educational consultant in ELT. She has taught English in the US, Poland, Italy and the UK in many different contexts. Stacey’s main interest in ELT is in maximising student engagement through student-focused learning using traditional and digital tools.  As a teacher developer, she enjoys working with teachers seeking to explore alternative approaches and strategies often in response to emerging classroom issues. Stacey has written a number of blogs, online student exercises and teacher support materials.


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5 things you need to know about Academic Vocabulary

Learning vocabulary is about so much more than ticking off words on a list as you manage to match a written word form to a surface meaning or translation. For a learner to say they really know a word, especially if they hope to count it amongst their productive vocabulary, then it takes time, repeated encounters, and digging a bit below the surface. This, of course, is true of all language learners, but for those learning English for academic purposes (EAP) the specific aspects of vocabulary knowledge differ somewhat. In this post, I pick out some of the factors that those teaching and learning academic vocabulary might need to bear in mind:

1. Form & families: With any vocabulary learning, recognising the spelling and pronunciation of a word is generally a starting point and from there, the learner needs to become familiar with inflected forms (plurals, verb forms, etc.). In an academic context, being able to switch between different parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) is also vital. When constructing (or decoding) the longer, more tightly-packed sentences typical of the genre, being able to flip between an adjective and noun form, for example, can make the difference between a smooth, coherent sentence and a slightly awkward, ambiguous one. Abstract nouns (significance, reliability, establishment), in particular, are must-knows for the academic writer. Knowing that reliability is the noun form of the more common adjective reliable is really helpful. Better still is recognising that adjectives ending –able can typically be transformed into nouns ending –ability. And being able to add the appropriate negative prefix (unreliability) might help construct that killer sentence.

2. Meaning(s): We all know that there isn’t a simple one-to-one relationship between form and meaning in English. Many words have more than one meaning; take, for example, table as the piece of furniture or the chart with rows and columns. In academic disciplines, these common words often also have specialist meanings. Some of these are clearly related to the word’s basic meanings (e.g. periodic table, Chemistry), others are further removed (e.g. water table, Geology). For the EAP student, recognizing these specialist uses and compounds is an important part of their learning journey.

3. Collocations & chunks: If students are to use words productively, then they need to understand the kind of words they are used together with: collocations, dependent prepositions and fixed phrases. Again, this is true of all vocabulary, but academic writing has its own set of specialist collocates, the correct choice of which might not just ensure a more fluent, natural style, but might affect the message the writer is trying to convey in important ways.  For example, the difference between being responsible to (the directors are responsible to shareholders) and responsible for (the manager is responsible for the safety of staff) could make all the difference in an academic essay.

4. Grammar: I’ve written before about the importance of understanding ‘word grammar’ in EAP. For example, going back to those key abstract nouns, when you need to ensure that the verb in a sentence agrees with the head noun in a long noun phrase, you need to know whether that noun is countable or uncountable. What’s more, words that are typically uncountable in everyday usage (like behaviour) can be used countably in some specialist academic contexts.

5. Register & connotation: Finally, getting a feel for which words are appropriate to use to convey your intended meaning in a particular context takes time, plenty of reading and noticing. It involves understanding formal and informal words (get vs purchase), strength of meaning (unsatisfactory vs appalling), positive and negative connotations (tough vs challenging) and appropriate terms to talk about potentially sensitive topics (e.g. patients with mental health issues).

In my upcoming webinar, Academic vocabulary: what do students need to know about a word? on Thursday 19th April at 15:30 BST, I’ll talk a bit more about these aspects of vocabulary knowledge in EAP and we’ll look are some practical ways of helping students to improve their depth of understanding as well as simply expanding their range of vocabulary.   


Julie Moore is a freelance ELT writer, lexicographer and corpus researcher. Her specialist area of interest is teaching vocabulary. She’s worked on a number of learner’s dictionaries and specialist vocabulary resources, including the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English and the Oxford Academic Vocabulary Practice titles. Julie is also an EAP teacher and a teacher trainer.


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(Reads, reading, has read): 5 smart tips for teaching grammar through extensive reading

extensive reading teenagersNigel A. Caplan, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of Delaware English Language Institute in the United States and the co-author of Q: Skills for Success and Inside Writing. In this post he provides some useful tips for teaching grammar skills through your reading program.

We often encourage language learners to read for pleasure, read for comprehension, and read for vocabulary. But reading is also an excellent way to learn and practice grammar. It is important for teachers and learners to recognise that grammar is not a separate skill divided into discrete chunks (or textbook chapters!), but rather the resources which make meaning in a language. In other words, grammar is everywhere, and everything a learner does with the language is an opportunity to improve their grammar.

Here are some activities you can suggest to your students to help them discover the grammar of their reading beyond the classroom walls.

1. Read for meaning first and grammar next

We have limited attentional resources as we read, so it is natural to read first and foremost for meaning. However, language learners benefit from multiple readings of the same text. So, once they have understood the text and checked the meaning of any important new vocabulary, encourage your students to read all or part of the same text again and pay attention to the language use.

2. Start with verb tenses

One of the most interesting questions readers can ask is which tenses are used in the text. This will tell you a lot about the type of text you are reading. For example, we would expect to find a lot of present tenses in scientific texts because they describe facts and phenomena, but a sudden shift to the past tense might indicate a discussion of the history of an idea or a particular scientist. Meanwhile, historical texts unsurprisingly use mostly past tenses, but they may nonetheless contain present tense verbs to discuss the current significance of past events.

Also encourage your students to look for less frequent verb tenses; if there’s a present perfect progressive verb, why is it used? Could the writer have chosen a different tense?

3. Learn the grammar of new vocabulary

We want learners to notice new and useful vocabulary when they read, but the context of the text is an opportunity to learn more about the word than its meaning. When encountering a word, in particular a word that the student understands but doesn’t yet use, ask questions about its use in the sentence. For a noun, is it countable or uncountable? What verb goes with it? For a verb, is it transitive or intransitive? What prepositions go with it? What kinds of nouns are its subject? This approach will encourage learners to see words in collocations and phrases, which will expand both their receptive and productive vocabularies.

4. Play with the Grammar

Grammar is a system of choices, and for every choice a writer makes, there are others which could be made. These choices are worth exploring.

We can encourage learners to rewrite texts using alternative grammar patterns. For example:

  • If the writer repeats the same nouns a lot, could pronouns be used instead?
  • If there are many short sentences, how could they be combined?
  • If an advanced text uses a lot of reduced clauses, what would the full (finite) clause be?
  • If the text is academic, how could you rewrite it for a different audience, such as magazine readers?
  • If it’s written in a less formal register, what changes would you make for formal, academic writing?

The last example exercise benefits both reading comprehension and writing development. Readers of sophisticated and academic texts, such as those in Q: Skills for Success, may need to “unpack” long noun phrases and reduced relative clauses in order to understand the structure and ideas.

Meanwhile, when writing for academic purposes, students can draw on the techniques they see in their reading, such as nominalisation, demonstrative pronouns (this, those), and reductions.

5. Keep a Grammar (B)Log

In order to develop their grammar, students need to notice the language they are reading and internalize it, not just move on to the next page, show, or app. A great way to develop independent study skills is to have students keep a grammar log, journal, or blog to complement their extensive reading.

In my classes, I ask students to post an entry on the discussion board in our learning management system in which they write about an interesting phrase or sentence that they’ve read. They have to either explain the grammar or ask a question about it (I don’t allow them to focus only on word meanings: there are dictionaries for that!). I then encourage students to answer their peers’ questions before I provide an answer. Students might wonder why a verb has a third-person ending, why an uncountable noun has been unexpectedly used in the plural, what a new clause connector means, or what a pronoun refers to. This works at all proficiency levels! Most importantly, the grammar log helps students develop the habit of looking for new and interesting structures while reading, and the discussions allow for the kinds of negotiations over language that can promote acquisition.

These simple techniques can be used for homework or self-study to turn any reading activity into a grammar lesson! If you try these with your students, let me know in the comments how they worked.

Get a sneak peek at the exciting free resources being made available for Q: Skills for Success from August, including new Skills Videos and a new Extensive Reading program in which every unit has been matched with a free, downloadable chapter from Oxford Graded Readers.


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Making the flip – jumping headfirst into Flipped Classroom teaching

Kate Adams teaches ESL to university students at the Illinois Institute of Technology and works with immigrants through the Chinese Mutual Aid Society in Chicago, Illinois. She is the co-author of Trio Reading and Inside Writing. In this article she describes the process of transitioning to a Flipped Learning classroom and how it has benefited her lessons and her students.

Flipped learning

When the university where I teach recently switched to a flipped learning model, I was nervous. I’d had confidence in my lessons which revolved around the narrative of my presentation interspersed with activities to practice skills, but now I would have to adapt them to an entirely new approach. How would flipped teaching and learning affect my classes? I’d like to share some of the insights and tips I gained from making the switch.

What is flipped learning?

Our program’s new approach to flipped learning most closely matched that described by Cynthia Brame (2013) of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University:

In essence, “flipping the classroom” means that students gain first exposure to new material outside of class, usually via reading or lecture videos, and then use class time to do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge, perhaps through problem-solving, discussion, or debates.

This doesn’t contradict the popular perception that the Flipped Classroom is one in which you are assigning videos to students to watch outside of class. Nor does it dictate that this is necessarily what you have to do. The fundamental idea is that students process new information at home on their own so that they can read, watch or listen at their own pace and repeat as needed. Then in class the focus won’t be on you, the teacher, explaining a new concept for the first time, but on working with students to deepen their understanding, correct misunderstandings, practice, and produce.

According to Brame, when we apply this model to Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy we can see that a flipped learning approach has students working on the lower levels of knowledge acquisition at home through autonomous understanding and retention of new material. This foundation prepares students to engage with new language and “do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge” at the higher levels with the teacher during class. In this way flipped learning enables teachers to focus on the areas where their guidance is most beneficial to students’ language acquisition.

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

 

What does flipped learning look like?

Different schools and different teachers will have their own unique approach to flipping the classroom. There is not one “right” way to go about it because learning outcomes and learners’ needs vary. The following is what my listening class looks like in our English Language Program since we have adopted a flipped learning approach:

  • All materials are posted before each class. In addition to the learning materials, when I do have presentation slides, I post them for students to look through before class so that they’ve seen my questions and had time to contemplate the answers before the lesson. I also post all audio for students to listen to and take notes on at home.
  • Understanding is checked at the beginning. Class begins with a “bell ringer”—sometimes a quiz completed individually, sometimes a task with a partner, but always an activity based on the work done before class to check comprehension.
  • The whole class uses a shared document. In my class we now use a shared Google Doc which acts as a constantly evolving focal point and allows instant production and collaboration from students and ongoing feedback from me. For example, in class on the Google doc I’ll have students list tips for listening to a lecture, complete a KWL chart on a lecture topic, talk with a partner and then summarize thoughts on the document, etc.
  • Work is “product” oriented. Students are engaged in activities, but they are now producing something too. I’ll have students create a graphic organizer to match notes they took, use a rubric to assess another student’s notes, etc. As they work, I am able to quickly evaluate learning/understanding. Products hold students accountable.

Why flip the classroom?

Transitioning to a flipped learning approach has changed my classes for the better in many observable and measurable ways. A few of the most significant are:

  • Students talk more and present more. A lot more! I still present, but it’s now always targeted and based on students’ work.
  • I see more student work and give more feedback. Because we use a shared Google Doc, I now have more written examples of students’ language use. I can give instant feedback and I gain more insight into students’ thought processes and progress.
  • Students demonstrate more understanding. I see this in the quality of what they produce during class and in their increased output.
  • Students do the work. In fact, I find that my students participate even more now. Quizzes, group work and partner activities in class motivate them to do the pre-work before class.

How to make the flip

So are you interested in making the flip? How can you start using flipped learning in your classroom? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Identify clear focus points for pre-class work. Expose students to the content at home and supply them with a targeted activity to check for understanding, which they then bring to class.
  • Be consistent. Explain the routine to students and stick to it. Always have a pre-class assignment for the new content you’ll be focusing on.
  • Mix it up. Flipped learning isn’t just about videos. Provide students with different ways to engage with new language and concepts before class. For example, if you are working on reading skills, you can have them not only read a passage before class, but also take notes on it, compare it to a related passage, research the topic and fill out a KWL chart, or work with key vocabulary to build background before class.
  • Ensure accountability. Begin each class with an activity based on students’ pre-class work. I suggest grading the pre-class activities, especially in the beginning of the semester to establish the routine. Quizzes based on the pre-class learning are also a good option as research shows that students retain information better when they take frequent quizzes (Carey, 2013). And you don’t have to just make it an individual assignment— for example, I have students complete a quiz and then debate the answers with a partner. Whatever your approach, make sure to stress to students this is for the benefit of both them and you because it makes it possible for you to identify and address any misunderstandings in class.
  • Integrate technology: I use Google docs, Blackboard (a Learning Management System), and Voice Thread in my classes. Blackboard is great for not only hosting learning materials, but also for having students check understanding by taking quizzes and submitting questions before class. Voice Thread allows collaborative voice recording so you can have class discussions outside of class. I’m sure there are many more ways and platforms that can be used to enhance your Flipped Learning classroom so don’t hesitate to explore and experiment to keep your lessons ever-evolving and relevant.

Is making the flip worth it?

I made the flip and I think my teaching is better for it. And my students? I won’t get evaluations until later this summer, but I recently ran into a student who said, “Excellent. Everything excellent.” He told me he’d been studying English for ten years and hadn’t thought he needed the class, but that it had really, really helped him. If his review is anything to go by, flipping my classroom has been worthwhile for my students as well.

Are you interested in trying the Flipped Classroom approach to teach reading skills? Find out more about Trio Reading and get a free sample chapter, overview, and see the complete syllabus.

Interested in hearing more from Kate about Flipped Classrooms? Join her at the International Convention of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages for a talk and discussion on “Strategies, Activities, and Reflections on Flipping a Language Classroom” this November.

 

References

Brame, C., (2013). Flipping the classroom. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved April 10, 2017 from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/

Carey, B. (2013, November 30). Frequent tests can enhance college learning, study finds. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com