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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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Task-Based Instruction: The marriage of College and Career Readiness and English Language Proficiency

OPD3e_Image (1)Step Forward Series Director, Jayme Adelson-Goldstein, identifies several task types that incorporate the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (CCRS) and the English Language Proficiency Standards for Adult Education(ELPS) as a preview of her CCR presentation at TESOL 2017 this month.

Taking Our Instruction to Task

The focus on 21st century college and career readiness (CCR) for adult English language learners has sent adult ESOL instructors scrambling to create (or locate) rigorous lessons that

  • include practice with complex text and its academic language (at the appropriate level),
  • require critical thinking and problem solving, and
  • provide direct instruction in language strategies.

Many of us need look no further than our texts to find the basis for meaningful tasks that help learners accomplish all the above. Task-based instruction (TBI), as discussed by N.S. Prahbu, David and Jane Willis, David Nunan, Rod Ellis and others, creates opportunities for learners to use authentic language and processes that result in a product or tangible outcome that learners first share and discuss, and then analyze in order to improve their accurate use of the language.

In the world outside our classroom, we do not use language skills in isolation. Both the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (2013) and the English Language Proficiency Standards (2016) show the intersections between skills. A well-designed task embodies this connection, creating a more robust use of language and greater relevance for the learner. In this blog, we will look at basic task design and provide three task types that integrate CCR skills.

A Basic Task Framework

Your preparation for the task includes gathering any essential task materials (e.g. links or tags for research, poster board and markers, sentence or paragraph frames for report backs, etc.) and determining what instructions are needed in addition to those in your textbook.

1) Present the task objective to the class and any essential information learners will need, (e.g. instruction vocabulary and/or background knowledge)

2) Next, show learners a model for–or example of–what they will produce (a list, a chart, a poster, a written report, a photo, etc.) including examples of the type of written work they will generate for their report on their task outcome(s). Note that the outcome of the task is not a right or wrong answer. A successful task will have divergent outcomes that take full advantage of each team’s prior knowledge, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and language skills.

3) Learners form pairs or teams and select (or are assigned) team roles. Task instructions are distributed to each pair or team or posted/projected for all learners to see. General comprehension is checked and time limits are set.

4) While learners work on the task, you are an observer and monitor. Once they complete it, they plan and rehearse a short report back on the work they did and their outcome(s), (e.g., the list, poster, conversation, advice letter, etc.). At this point in the process, you engage with the teams, supporting learners’ language needs as questions arise.

5) When it’s time for teams to report out, they can take turns presenting to the whole class or make simultaneous reports, with one or two members of each team traveling to other teams to make their presentation.

6) Briefly highlight each team’s success following their presentation or once all presentations are complete. Ask the class to provide feedback as well.

7) Once all presentations are complete, it’s time to help learners notice global and/or egregious errors that interfered with their collaboration or their report out. Provide practice or take home activities that correlate to the language challenges learners had during the task.

Developing a Task Repertoire

A task repertoire can make instructional planning much easier, but there are some important considerations. First, there is the issue of teacher intention versus learner interpretation (B. Kumaravadivelu, 1991) We can address this issue with

1) a learning objective or outcome that is written at the learners’ level and is accompanied by an example of the outcome;

2) clear instructions; and

3) a tracking tool to help learners monitor their progress towards the task objective, for example a checklist or rubric.

It’s also important to consider differentiation. Even in classes identified as “single level”, there can be distinct variations in language proficiency. Support learners’ varied needs by having them work in like-ability (same-ability) teams on the same basic task but with adaptations that make the task level-appropriate, e.g. scaffolding for lower-level learners and increasing the challenge for higher-level learners. Another option is to place learners in cross-ability (different-ability) teams, working on the same task but providing task roles that allow each team member to participate fully.

Authentic Team Chart (2) (1).png

The three task examples included with this blog are categorizing, dictocomp and problem solving. Most textbooks have the raw materials you can use to employ one or more of these task types in your lesson. (E.g. a set of vocabulary from a unit, a listening passage, a conversation, photo or text that poses a problem.) These tasks can be differentiated for the proficiency level of your learners and can help learners develop the skills they need to transition into college, career and community settings. For example, learners in each of these tasks “prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners” (CCR Speaking/Listening Standard 1) and “present information and supporting evidence such that a listener can follow the line of reasoning and organization.” (CCR Speaking/Listening Anchor Standard 4).  There are also opportunities for teams to “develop and strengthen their writing by planning, revising, editing, rewriting or trying a new approach” (CCR Writing Anchor Standard 5).

Download the three task examples here.

Developing a task repertoire that includes college and career readiness skill development is relatively painless when you can base your tasks on the practice activities in your textbook.

Are you attending TESOL 2017 this year? Join me on Wednesday 22 March at 10.30am to further explore how we can help our adult learners achieve their personal and profession goals using tasks to integrate the College and Career Readiness Standards in to our lessons. Find out more here.

For more educational resources to use in class visit the Oxford Picture Dictionary Third Edition Teacher’s Club website.

References

American Institutes for Research. (2016) English Language Proficiency Standards for Adult Education. Washington, D.C: AIR

Ellis, R. (2006)” The Methodology of Task-based Learning.” Asian EFL Journal, Volume 8, Number 3. Retrieved on February 1

Kumaravadivelu, B. (1991). “Language learning tasks: Teacher intention and learner interpretation.” ELT Journal, 45, 98-107

Nunan, D. (1987) Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pimentel, S. (2013) College and Career Standards for Adult Education. Washington, D.C.: Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education.

Prabhu, N.S. (1987) Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Willis, D. and Willis, J. (2007) Doing Task Based Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press


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English Language Assessment For The Classroom – Q&A Session

proofreading for English language students in EAP

Should placement tests be given without students’ doing any preparation so that we can see their natural level in English?

Ideally, placement tests should not need any special preparation. The format and types of questions on the test should be straightforward. This ensures that all students can understand what they need to do. Continue reading


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How to get your students writing – your questions answered!

Teenagers writing in the classroomLast month, we hosted Gareth Davies’ webinar, ‘Making the Impossible Possible: How to get your students writing’! During the webinar and on his previous blog post, we asked you to send us all your burning questions for Garon teaching creative writing in the EFL classroom.

What is your opinion on teachers writing a sample text for students to get used to writing?

This is a good question, reading and writing go hand in hand and there is evidence to suggest that the more reading a student does the better their writing will become, so in general having as much exposure to different texts can only help students.  Having or not having a model is often cited as the major difference between process and product writing. In process writing the students study a sample text and use it as a model and is a good approach for students who are preparing for an exam or who need to write formulaic emails or reports. However, sometimes I think this can impose restrictions on students. So if I am doing a creative writing exercise I might avoid giving students a model at the start of the activity, to allow their creative juices to flow.

How could we use these ideas to writing for exams? I mean, IELTS, Cambridge exams?

Thanks for this question, let me try to give you an analogy. When someone trains to run a marathon, they don’t only run long distances. They do some gym work, some short runs, and perhaps they change their diet. For me, this is the same as preparing for an exam. You need to do some exam practice, but you also need to hone your skills and prepare in different ways. Creative writing tasks can allow students to practise their writing in an interesting way, but they are still using the skills they will need for academic purposes. When I was teaching an EAP course in the summer I did several storytelling and writing activities just to free the students up, and they found it very helpful.

How you would evaluate or share the poems?

This is a very interesting point. When I ask my students to do creative writing activities, I try to focus as much as possible on the content rather than the accuracy. I see it as a fluency activity. Therefore, on their first draft, I might comment on how the story or poem made me feel, how I enjoyed it, etc., and only point out errors where the meaning is confused. I might also ask the students to peer-correct each other’s work and ask me if they are not sure about something. As for sharing their work, I ask the students to decide if they are public or private and they mark the top of the paper. If they are public then I will ask them to read them out or put them on display. If the students have marked it as private then only I will look at it.

With creative writing, it is often personal, I don’t think it is fair to share the students’ work if they are not ready.

What do you think of beginning with more concrete descriptive language?

In one of my previous webinars, I talked about the following activity, which looks at descriptive language.

  1. Write a sentence on the board e.g. The boy walked up the stairs.
  2. Tell the student the boy was scared, ask them where they would put that word in that sentence. e.g. The scared boy walked up the stairs.
  3. Now ask them how he walked up the stairs. Elicit an adverb and ask them where it goes in the sentence. e.g. The scared boy walked quickly up the stairs.
  4. Next ask them to describe the stairs, (narrow? steep? dark?) and ask them where their adjective goes. e.g. The scared boy walked quickly up the dark stairs.
  5. Finally, ask them to think of a different word for ‘walked’, (ran? climbed? tip-toed?) e.g. The scared boy tip-toed quickly up the dark stairs.
  6. Now it is time to edit. You’ve gone from a simple sentence to a much too complicated one. Which words leave the best impression on the reader, which are not needed? e.g. Perhaps you don’t need scared because tip-toed and dark imply this.
  7. Put the students into pairs and ask them to do the same for other adjectives, excited, happy, sad, angry etc. You can help them with the words by translating or filling in gaps in their knowledge.

Which do you prefer? Poet or Teacher.

Actually, I love both and they are not that different. Both require you to plan and prepare carefully, both make you bring your personality to the work. Both encourage you to be creative. With both, you hope to leave a positive influence on your audience. And finally, with both sometimes things go wrong and you have to reassess and start again.

Watch Gareth’s webinar, ‘Making the Impossible Possible: How to get your students writing’!, free on the Oxford Teachers’ Club!

watch the recording

 


Gareth Davies is a writer, teacher, teacher trainer, and storyteller. He has been in the ELT industry for 21 years teaching in Portugal, the UK, Spain and the Czech Republic. Since 2005 he has worked closely with Oxford University Press, delivering teacher training and developing materials. Gareth joins us today to preview his webinar ‘Making the Impossible Possible… How to get your students writing’.


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Making the ‘Impossible’ Possible – How to get your students writing

Teenagers writing in a classroomWriting – is it a chore?

When I was on a recent short-term teaching assignment in Northern Spain, I decided to ask my students to do some creative writing. I gave them some prompts and asked them to write a story. Far from being a joyous activity, the students rolled their eyes. There was a lot of grumbling and sighing and the finished versions were no more than four or five lines long. They had written stories, but they had not written creatively. Why did my students have such a negative reaction to writing and how could I encourage them to enjoy it?

Students often associate writing with tests. In fact, schools and teachers often see writings as something to be done and assessed, so rather than being treated as an essential 21st-century communication device it is relegated to the role of the examiner.

Why is writing an essential 21st-century communication device?

Take a brief look around. In any town, in any country, you will see people hunched over their phones, tablets or laptops, sending texts, emails or WeChat messages. Writing is in vogue. But it is more than that. It is argued that encouraging students to create in a foreign language helps them to internalise it more effectively. This is because they need to think about how language works and what they know, in order to be able to use the language successfully.

Merril Swain argues that input, being taught the language and being asked to manipulate it in controlled exercises, is useful, but it doesn’t produce the cognitive processing required to internalise the language. Whereas:

Output pushes learners to process language more deeply – with more mental effort… With output, the learner is in control. In speaking or writing, learners can ‘stretch’ their interlanguage[1] to meet communicative goals.

– Swain

[1]Interlanguage is the learner’s current, work in progress version of the language. 

Thus when producing language, whether it be writing or speaking, students are being cognitively challenged which is helping them to internalise the language, and get better at it. Therefore, the work we do on writing in the classroom can be seen as work done on language development, helping students to improve their linguistic ability.

So how do we get our students writing?

One complaint I often hear from students is that they don’t know what to write about. Here are a couple of solutions.

  1. Sit the students in circles of six. Ask students to write the topic they want to write about on the top of an A4 sheet of paper and then pass the paper around in the circle. Each student writes a question on the sheet about the topic at the top. Now each student has the subject they are going to write about and five questions to answer in the text.
  2. If you want the students to all write about the same topic, write the topic on the board and draw two columns. Elicit all the things the students know about the topic and write them in the first column. Then give them time to think of what they would like to know about the topic. Elicit the questions they have thought of and write them in the second column. Now ask the students to do the writing task. The weaker or more cautious ones can rely on the information in the first column the more adventurous ones can try to find answers to the questions in the second column.

Task: You are on a shopping trip to a big city with friends. Write a blog entry about your experience.

Instruction to Students: Decide which city you are visiting write it on top of the piece of paper.

Examples

Paris

  1. Are the shops expensive?
  2. Are there any street markets?
  3. Is there a department store?

London

  1. Are the shops expensive?
  2. Is it crowded?
  3. What is the food like?

Task: Writing a small advert for tourists about your home town.

Prague

What do we know?

  • Traditional markets at certain times of the year.
  • The best time to come is spring.
  • Two castles.

What would we like to know?

  • How much do taxis cost?
  • How do you take a boat trip?
  • Where’s the best place for a view of Prague?
  • How much is it to stay in a hotel?

Task: Storytelling

If you want your students to do some creative writing, you might want to start by asking them to adapt an existing story. For example, you could take the story of Aladdin and ask the students to write a fifty-word summary or to write a 21st-century version or a version that would be more specific to their own country. This allows the students to work within an existing structure, but create their own ideas. An alternative might be to take a song or poem with regular repetitions and ask students to write their own version. Ian Dury’s I Believe is a good song for this kind of activity and can be found in Headway Intermediate.

Call a draft a draft

It is a good idea to encourage students to call their work drafts, to give them a sense that they can, and should, make changes. Asking questions is a really good way of giving feedback. The questions can help create a richer piece.  Some example feedback questions for a piece of creative writing might be: what happened next? why did this happen? how did the people feel? What did the street look like? This shows that the teacher has read the piece with interest and is keen to know more about the story, and was not just looking for mistakes and errors to correct.

In my webinar, I discuss some of these ideas in greater detail and suggest other ways to make the impossible possible and to get your students to enjoy their writing tasks.

watch the recording

For more information on this topic, check out Gareth’s Q&A session, where he answers all of your questions on getting students writing!

 

References

  1. The tasks mentioned are taken from Solutions Pre-Intermediate 2nd Edition.
  2. Swain, M., ‘The output hypothesis and beyond: Mediating acquisition through collaborative dialogue’ in Sociocultural theory and second language acquisition ed. James P. Lantolf (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 97- 114 p. 99.

 


Gareth Davies is a writer, teacher, teacher trainer, and storyteller. He has been in the ELT industry for 21 years teaching in Portugal, the UK, Spain and the Czech Republic. Since 2005 he has worked closely with Oxford University Press, delivering teacher training and developing materials. Gareth joins us today to preview his webinar ‘Making the Impossible Possible… How to get your students writing’.