Oxford University Press

English Language Teaching Global Blog


2 Comments

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.


2 Comments

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).


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.


6 Comments

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


3 Comments

Re-purposing the writing process for beginner ELLs

DV-00146685-001

Trio Writing authors Alice Savage and Colin Ward offer 6 practical activities to help your beginner level students write successfully in English.

For native speakers, a writing process that starts with a plan and ends with sentence-level editing makes sense.  However, non-native writers have different challenges, especially at the introductory level.  Fortunately, process writing is not set in stone.  We can adapt it to suit our students’ needs.

The first step is to identify those needs. Lower level ELLs need language, lots of it, and early on.  They may also need extra support in meeting the expectations of target language readers.

The following classroom activities offer options for tweaking the standard writing process.  They are meant to be flexible, working tools that can be used individually or together depending on the unique characteristics of a class and its goals.

1. Front-load with language

Students who sign up for a low level English writing class bring very little language with them, so it makes sense to start with vocabulary and grammar, but which vocabulary and grammar?  Fortunately, the prompt itself points the way.

For example, in a beginning writing class, the prompt What does your country look like? suggests the target language.  The vocabulary elements might include mountains, beaches, rivers, a desert, and other place nouns.  Adjectives such as green, tropical, tall, beautiful would also be helpful. The grammar lesson might include the plural –s and There is/ there are.

Pulling all these elements together can already feel like an uphill climb; however, the lesson can be made more efficient if the language is taught in chunks. Consider using images to teach beautiful mountains, tropical beaches, or a large desert.  Then set up activities that allow students to mix and match to create new patterns such as the following:

Use the words to make phrases about your country.  Add a for singular, and –s for plural. Then fill in the chart below.

trio7

In the example above, students practice vocabulary and grammar to produce accurate sentences that are ready to go when it is time to write a paragraph about their country.

The activity can also be extended by eliciting additional adjectives and nouns related to the students’ own contexts.

2. Conference at the point of need

One on one conferencing is generally helpful for all writers, but it can be adapted to suit the particular needs of ELLs.  Multi-lingual writers may need more direct guidance if they are to meet the expectations of L1 readers. A simple checklist can provide both focus and flexibility for this task.  In the example below, developed for a two-paragraph assignment, the teacher may comment on all items, but targets only one for the conference.  This focus keeps the revision manageable for the low level English learner.

Conferencing Checklist

trio6

  • The assignment indicates the student has gone off topic, and the conference will focus on planning for a new draft.
  • Paragraphing might include options for rearranging content to develop ideas and shape them into paragraphs.
  • Language focuses on vocabulary, grammar, mechanics and/or other syntax issues.
  • Ideas discusses ways that a strong student might stretch their skills by elaborating or even adding an additional paragraph.

3. Share the revision process

Peer interaction helps English learners develop both language and writing skills.  The following activities can be implemented during conferencing or any stage of development where students need review or practice. The first partner activity below practices grammar and vocabulary, while the second focuses on paragraph awareness.

Grammar Puzzles

trio5

Collaborative Writing

trio4

4. Repurpose peer review

Students can sometimes treat peer review as an error hunt, but peer readers can play other roles as well.  For example, why not make the reader more of an active listener by asking questions to help the writer clarify ideas?

repurposing1

Teachers can also set a quick and motivating publishing stage by having writers exchange final drafts and directing them to simply enjoy and respond to one another’s ideas. This gives beginning writers the chance to have their final draft read without being evaluated.

trio1

Even beginners can write a paragraph or two when the process is tweaked to meet their needs. By going a little lower, a little slower, and rethinking the writing process from the perspective of language learners, it’s possible to help students succeed from the very beginning.

All materials adapted from Trio Writing by Alice Savage and Colin Ward, Oxford University Press

An earlier version of this article first appeared on englishendeavors.org.  If you’d like to read more ideas for the English language classroom, click here.


1 Comment

Using Corpora for EAP Writing Development

The challenges of academic writing in ESLMaggie Charles has taught English for Academic Purposes for more than thirty years and was consultant and contributor to the Writing Tutor in the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English and the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

Do you spend hours looking for appropriate EAP examples?

Do you sometimes struggle to answer when your students ask, ‘Can I say…?’ or ‘Is there another word for…?’.

As EAP teachers, we encounter such problems on a daily basis and this where a corpus can help. But where can you find a suitable corpus of academic texts?

The British National Corpus (BNC), available here, covers both spoken and written language and has an academic component. The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) is similar in content. These corpora are very large: the BNC contains 100 million words in total (16 million academic), while COCA holds 450 million words (81 million academic). Another freely available resource is The British Academic Written English Corpus (BAWE), which contains over 6 million words of high quality student writing. The examples I’ve used here come from The Compleat Lexical Tutor, which provides several smaller academic corpora. For teachers and students of EAP these corpora provide a huge store of examples of academic English as it is actually used.

What sort of help can a corpus provide? The corpora above come with their own built-in software, called a concordancer. To consult the corpus, you type in a word or phrase and the concordancer searches the corpus and presents every instance with its context in a line on screen. The search item appears in the centre, with a few words either side. Here is part of a concordance on emphasis from a 6+ million word general academic corpus. I’ve selected and sorted the lines by the first word to the left to show some useful adjective-noun combinations.

EAP1

My student wrote this:

Brown (2010) put high emphasis on the failure to distinguish between permanent and temporary shortages.

Studying the concordance showed her that the combination high emphasis wasn’t present in the corpus and gave her three possible alternatives (great, particular, special).

Concordance data like this has many applications in teaching writing. At the pre-writing stage, the concordance above can be used to help students notice collocations and chunks of authentic language which they can use in their own writing e.g. placed/laid great/particular emphasis on or with special/particular emphasis on. You can also make a concordance on key terms from the students’ own writing topic, which will retrieve phrases that are frequently used when discussing the topic. By studying the concordances, students can identify typical phrases associated with the topic, which reduces their reliance on literal translation in their writing.

At the post-writing stage, using concordances makes it easy to construct short tasks to deal with problems that have arisen in students’ texts. You can make concordances on two contrasting terms to focus students’ attention on important differences. The concordances below come from the BNC medicine corpus (1.4 million words) and highlight the difference between increase in and increase of. Most corpus software allows you to make gapped concordances so that you can check students’ understanding of the teaching point.

EAP2

You can use concordance data in many ways: before class you can prepare tasks for your students or check your own intuition about academic language; in-class you can ask students to study concordances on paper or respond to student queries as they write; after class you can supply short concordances to individual students or devise class tasks to deal with more general problem areas. Studying concordances either individually or in class helps students notice grammatical and lexical patterning and improve their own writing.

In addition to gapped and ungapped concordances, corpora can also provide sentence length examples, lists of collocates and short extracts. You don’t have to worry about making up examples or spend time reading through multiple sources to find suitable texts. Using an academic corpus in your students’ field(s) you can just input an appropriate search term and quickly retrieve a wealth of material.