Helping language learners become language researchers: (part 2: 3 activities)

In the first post of this series, I described the potential power of and offered some materials I had made to introduce my students to the site. I also identified the possible issues around getting learners to use this site independently and wondered about helping them do so by bringing the site into the classroom through concordance activities based on information from it.

This post describes the first three activities that I’ve created and done with my advanced and upper intermediate learners since then. 

1) Finding the mistake

In this activity, which I did with my advanced learners on Monday evening, the starting point was a sentence taken from a learner’s homework, which had been posted on the class blog. It was a common mistake: misuse of “despite“.

  • First, learners were asked to look at the sentence and try to identify the mistake.
  • Next, their attention was focused on some concordance lines taken from via screen-shot (to preserve the colour-coding), which they used to identify which word types can follow despite and then to make a word profile for “despite“.
  • Finally, they were redirected back to the original sentence and asked to reformulate it correctly, using the information they had gleaned from the concordance.

The learners were engaged, there was lots of discussion and they had a clearer picture of the use of “despite” by the end of it. Initially they worked in pairs, and then we discussed it as a class. The whole activity took about 15 minutes.

Here is the activity: Concordance activity for “despite”

2) Finding the missing word

This activity, which I did with my upper intermediate learners, was based on vocabulary they had met in a previous lesson. I selected two compounds – a compound noun and a compound adjective – from that set of vocabulary and prepared a set of concordance lines (again, screenshots from, to preserve the colour-coding) for each. I blanked out the compound (using tip-ex!) in each concordance.

  • First they had to look at the concordance lines and identify what the compound was.
  • Then, for each compound, learners had to answer questions which focussed them on what words can be used with it.

They worked in pairs. We did it towards the end of the lesson, and by the end of the lesson most of them had identified the compounds (following much discussion). I asked them to answer the questions about the collocations for homework, so that in the next lesson they could discuss their answers together. As with the advanced group, this gang were also engaged by the activity. With both groups, they seemed to welcome the challenge of solving this “puzzle”.

Here is the handout I made for this activity: Compound adj & noun concordance activity.

NB: As mentioned, I did the blanking of the focus word manually, so in this document they are not blanked out.

TIP: Make sure that the learners know that each concordance is for one word only, so that they don’t try and find a different word for every space… I have now updated the materials to make this clearer!! 🙂

3) Finding the missing word and guessing the frequencies

This was my second foray into concordance activities with my advanced class.

  • This time, I used two nouns, from a page of vocabulary in their course book, again preparing concordance lines using screen-shots from
  • As with the upper intermediate class, the activity involved using these concordance lines to identify which noun had been blanked out and then focusing on adjective-noun and verb-noun collocations. (There were no questions on this page, other than “What is the missing noun?”, but we discussed the patterns anyway. If you think your learners need more scaffolding, you could always add questions, as I did with my upper intermediate learners.)

My goal here was to try and extend the vocabulary presented horizontally, as in the book it was very much a vertical list (of nouns for emotions).

In addition to focusing on concordance lines, I did screenshots of the frequency information of each word that had been the focus of the concordances, both in terms of the top 3000 words and in terms of different registers, all of which provides very visually.

  • The learners had to guess which selected word matched which frequency information (two were >3000 and one was 501-3000, so it was a case of deciding which they thought was the most commonly used)
  • Next, we looked at the frequency information, with regards to the different registers, for each word. The learners guessed which word the first two sets of frequency information referred to.
  • Then before I revealed the final set of frequency information, they made predictions about the frequency for each register – rough predictions, focusing on the size of the bars in comparison to one another, rather than on numbers.
  • Finally, we discussed intuition with regards to frequency vs actual use, and intuition with regards to structures and collocations vs actual use.

Doing both activities took about 15 minutes or so. After each activity, 1 and 2, I asked them what they thought the purpose of the activity was, to encourage them to link this work with using the website and developing their noticing skills so that they are able to use it better. I thought being explicitly aware of this might help their confidence when it comes to using the website independently. We shall see…

Here are the materials I used: Missing nouns conc. lines and Frequency info activity

NB: As above, blanking out of nouns done manually (and in the case of part 2 of the activity, not at all because the printer failed so I used the projector and got the learners to look away while I got the relevant part of the activity on the screen and hid the word with my finger!), so no words blanked out in the .pdfs.

Common themes

What I’m trying to do with all of these activities is introduce the power of to the learners and help them develop the mindset and noticing skills necessary for successful independent use of it.

  • The activities all encouraged learners to focus on patterns and word usage, which information can be found on, and of course the final activity brought frequency information into the mix.
  • Working in pairs, and then discussing as a class, scaffolds the process by allowing learners to collaborate and combine their powers of noticing.
  • In the case of the upper intermediates, letting the learners finish the activity for homework encourages some independent effort, which was scaffolded by the in-class pair work preceding the homework task and developed by the in-class pair work done in the subsequent class.
  • For the advanced class, following the second activity, I set them the task of each finding out about 3 of the words we had focused on in that lesson: to look for patterns of use and find out frequency information. At the beginning of next lesson, they will share their findings, perhaps encouraging prediction prior to sharing.

Time issue:

It is quite time-consuming producing the activities. However, the way I see it, these can be built up into a bank, so in future, one would have plenty of such activities to draw on, whether to use as they stand, or to adapt to different learners.

What next:

I want to continue integrating these little concordancing activities and introduce activities that require learners to go away and use the website, coming back to class to share what they have discovered. Hopefully the self-access materials I made will help them be able to do this from the technical point of view, and the activities done in class will help them be able to do this because they will have had practice in noticing patterns and interpreting the information provided by the site.

I’ll continue to share the little activities I make, both for use in class and for the using-the-website homework, periodically… 🙂 And in the next post in this mini-series, I’ll probably discuss how the learners (the upper ints and the advanced) got on with their respective homework and how the subsequent in-class discussions went.

NB: I am new to this data-driven learning malarkey, and using with learners, so it’s all very experimental. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on it!! 🙂


4 thoughts on “Helping language learners become language researchers: (part 2: 3 activities)

    • Thanks! Once I can work out how to log into the site, I’ll have a look! 🙂 (Not sure if when I registered I used my now defunct uni email address…)

  1. Pingback: Around The Web In ESL/EFL/ELL | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

  2. Pingback: Helping language learners become language researchers (part 3): concordance activity outcomes | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

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