Affixes, IntelliText and corpus use literacy

If you follow social media education talk, you will have heard a lot about digital literacies, or 21st century skills. It is an open question as to how most of such literacies are relevant to language learners. However language teachers will recognize that being able to use a dictionary is a key skill, and I would argue that being able to use a corpus is another crucial skill.

This post looks at using the IntelliText corpora interface to extend an exercise from a TOEIC coursebook on prefixes and suffixes.

On page 22 of the Cambridge Target Score coursebook (Talcott & Tullis, 2007) there is an exercise on using prefixes and suffixes to construct a word family diagram of the root word form. Question A asks students to add a list of prefixes and suffixes to the root word grouped by part of speech, see figure below:


(Talcott & Tullis, 2007, p.22)

The last question D asks students to choose one of 6 listed words (draw, present, quest, sign, move, employ) and to use a dictionary to make a word family diagram. This is a major task as dictionaries do not list prefixes and suffixes in an easily accessed way.

The Macmillan Online dictionary is useful though to see which of the words presented are frequent, so all the words here except for quest are three star words meaning they are in the 2500 most common words. Quest is a one star word meaning that it appears in the 7500 most common words.

The IntelliText interface has a dedicated feature to look up affixes. To get to this page as shown below follow Home Page > Search the Standard Corpora > Choose Language > English > Choose Corpora > BNC > Choose Type of Search > Affixes :

Screen shot 2013-08-10 at 1.31.33 PM

(click on image to see full resolution)

The base word draw has been entered and the [with Prefixes] tick box checked, the results are shown in the next screenshot:

Screen shot 2013-08-10 at 1.31.56 PM

(click on image to see full resolution)

Students can do similar searches for suffixes, and both prefixes and suffixes. This feature is certainly much quicker than using just a dictionary to build a word family diagram. Also there is an option to search using part of speech which is handy.

There are many other features in IntelliText e.g. annotation of concordances with CEFR classification that make this interface worth exposing to students and which I may write about later. Do note that certain searches using IntelliText take some time compared to speed of say COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English).

If you teach the TOEIC you may be interested in using Just the Word and an exercise from the Cambridge Target Score book; and using with production activities.

Thanks for reading.


Talcott, C. & Tullis, G. (2007). Target Score: A communicative course for TOEIC Test preparation. (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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