Posted by: Alastair Grant | December 16, 2011

Corpora and other beautiful bodies: a summary for ELT Chat.

Using corpora in our teaching: what is available and how can we best use it? 

A quick word for the uninitiated! ELTChat is a twitter-based forum where keen ELTers meet on Wednesday morning and/or evening (depending on just HOW keen they are) and hotly debate a voted-for topic.

After which, some kind (if misguided) soul offers to write a summary of the chat, its pert points and lusty links.

So here’s what happened on Wednesday morning at 12pm GMT…

Many of us have either fallen in love with corpora or looked at them and gone, “wow, cool… err… now how on earth could I use that in class…?” Well fear not! ELT Chat is here to save the day – with ideas and links galore… millions of links, in fact…

Although Marisa Constantinides’ “smiley” emoticon was charitably humouring my calling Wednesday morning’s ELT Chat “linktastic” (I’ll get my coat) it kinda was. People seemed to be hitting the “paste” key as frequently as they were the “eltchat” hashtag.

This at least demonstrated the awareness of material out in the big wide webby world, and gave everyone (as now I give to you) a smorgasbord of yummy material to get browsing through for your classes.

Below is the summary, with the categorised links at the end of the text.

How to use corpora

This was the “show me the money!” moment…while many of us had seen and used corpora, there was some confusion about HOW to use them effectively.

A summary of the ideas and points raised:

Ideas for general use:

  • Many use corpora for teacher training but not so often with students – why?
  • Useful if the student asks a question about a word in a very specific situation and the teacher is not sure which way is most common.
  • Checking intuitions for academic English and translation.
  • We needn’t get too academic – Google is one of the best corpora around, put in the word or phrase, hit search and students can see the item in context. Although a little dodgy for younger learners as they could end up being directed to sites with more “X”s in them than most words do.

In-class activities:

  • For EAP students – when they want to check if the verb+noun combo in their essay is correct or not.
  • For EAP/ESP – take most common collocation from business corpus and ask students to discuss why they are the most common.  And discussion on the intonation of these common expressions.
  • Ask students to choose 5 collocations from a text, then look to see how common/useful etc they are.
  • Incorrect collocations infogap – one learner has list of collocations, one learner has error-strewn text.
  • Get students to write up a corpus of their teacher to find the most common expression you use!
  • Just record one single lesson and tell them to create a corpus of common errors.

Dictionaries vs. concordances

  • Much more cognitive value so vocabulary is going to stick.
  • Dictionaries can be used with concordances to give students many in-context examples and then personalise them.

So a tricky topic but well executed – many thanks to all involved!

We even behaved ourselves when Shaun was out of the room dealing with a plumber.

A final thought… if corpus data reflects authentic use… and authentic use is not necessarily correct… are we causing problems for our students?

And now the promised links…

Articles on using corpora

Article on using corpora and whether it’s just a fad

Using corpus to write teaching materials – article

Jamie Keddie on the what and the how of corpora

Article by Nik Peachy on using concordancers

Article re. how to use the American English online corpus

Using concordancers in the classroom – how and why

Using a concordancer to create a vocabulary syllabus

List of corpora

British national corpus

Spoken language corpus

Massive corpus from Princeton

This website lets you search and browse pedagogic corpora in 7 European languages.

British National corpus base but more user-friendly

List of learner corpora around the world

Wide selection of concordance links

Bookmarks for corpus-based linguistics

Visual representation thesaurus

Corpus of academic spoken English

Great concordancer for learners – words in context with their collocations

Collection of spoken English

Concordancer with filters

Concordancer that compares two expressions – which is right and which is wrong?

Funny but useful:

21 English accents

Word games

US vs. Brit English accents

A dictionary of very, very modern English

Chav dictionary


  1. Wow!!! We did outdo ourselves with the links, didn’t we, on this last #ELTchat…

    It certainly got us all thinking and sharing a lot of ideas!

    Thank you o kind and not at all misguided soul!!!!

    We shall be knocking on your blog door again!!!


    • Thanks Marisa!

      It was very interesting, especially as corpora still seem to be a relatively new idea for classroom use. I mean, we KNOW they’re out there but they still seem like a bit of a “weird” thing to use with students.

      I mean, how often do you hear in the staffroom “damn, we had a good corpora class today…” And yet, they’re SO useful!

  2. Nice summary of a very interesting chat.

  3. What a shame I missed this #eltchat. I think despite the technological revolution in ELT in the past few years, Data-Driven Learning (using corpora with students), is not likely to gain much popularity. While corpora findings have started to shape the ELT materials, corpora will probably remain the domain of researchers, materials writers and some teachers.

    More linguistically minded students may find it fascinating going through numerous concordances and looking for patterns but it’s clearly not for everyone, even though it has been shown to have a beneficial effect on vocab learning (Nina Daskalovska from Macedonia presented a paper at IATEFL 2009). Having said that, I find that “corpus-light” websites such as are popular with learner in my experience as they are more accessible.

    • Hi Leo! Yes it was a good one and despite the misgivings about whether it was the preserve of academics etc., the excellent Rachel Clark at the IH DoS conference showed us some great options for using concordances with younger students too, such as

      I think certainly, that making students aware of concordances etc. is the most important thing. It’s another excellent tool for their learning autonomy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: