No time for corpora? No worries!

For the majority of the ELT world coursebooks and syllabi dominate, consequently teachers have little time for anything unrelated to what they teach from a book and from their set syllabus. This is arguably one of the reasons for the low take up of corpus based teaching.

Frankenberg-Garcia (2012) helpfully outlines several ways teachers can easily integrate corpus information into the classroom without having to outlay much time investment (she does though assume that the teacher knows about corpora, can access them easily and knows the principles of corpus queries, Frankenberg-Garcia, 2012, p.35).

She divides approaches based on production vs reception activities and whole-class vs individual activities.

I have written about reception (e.g. Just the word and TOEIC), whole-class (e.g. general English lexis and DIY corpus) and individual activities (e.g. GloWbE and will suit you; do also see a recent post by Chia Suan Chong/@chiasuan on encouraging learner autonomy via corpora), what caught my attention was the description of the use of corpora in production activities.

Note: I was initially alerted to the Frankenberg-Garcia paper by Wilson (2013), another recommended read for corpora based teaching.

Frankenberg-Garcia gives the example of using collocations of the word beach as a warm-up to speaking or writing about beach holidays.

Looking at Unit 1 Careers in the Cambridge Target Score book (Talcott & Tullis, 2007), gives us the following for career: wordandphraseinfo-career-collocates (click on image for larger resolution)

From the collocates (circled in red above) we can compile say the following list:

  • professional career, successful career
  • career choice, career path
  • begin career, build career

and ask students to use the list to speak say about their current career path, if they know what professional career they want to follow, if so do they know how to build their career and so on. You could give fast finishers the list of synonyms:

  • business
  • profession
  • occupation
  • livelihood
  • calling
  • vocation

and ask them how they would use these when talking about careers.

More interestingly she describes using concordances for the bus that are given to students before they write about something happening on a bus. As the screenshot shows she also highlighted some potentially useful phrases with the bus: the bus concordances (Frankenberg-Garcia, 2012, p.40)

Adapting this for the TOEIC we can use the keyword contract negotiation(s) as appears in Unit 1 Exercise 1 page 9. An extension to this exercise would ask students to write a short news report of the contract negotiation using the picture from the exercise as a prompt: contract-negotiation

(Talcott & Tullis, 2007, p.9)

COCA tells us contract negotiation(s) is most frequent in the news register which can guide us in selecting what examples to use. gives concordances to use to help students before the writing task (note some sentences are adapted and not exact example given by

  1. They were participating  as  mediators  in  contract negotiations and monitoring  growers’ compliance with labor contracts.
  2. This is specifically  for  contract negotiations and  recruitment.
  3. More than  two  weeks  of  contract negotiations between Air Canada and its pilots broke off this Friday.
  4. The  contract negotiations had   been   confidential.
  5. Trouble has arisen  over  his  fierce  contract negotiations with the management.
  6. They averted a strike and completed the union’s  contract negotiations with the three major North American car makers.
  7. The strike began last October after 10  months  of  stalled  contract negotiations.
  8. During  contract negotiations a few years later, resentment ran high .
  9. Randy  Mueller  handled  contract negotiations and   made   all   personnel  decisions.
  10. They attempted to force a new round of contract negotiations.

Students can be asked to highlight words related to contract negotiations e.g. mediators in example 1 above. They can then proceed to the writing exercise.

It is worth looking up Frankenberg-Garcia in full as she makes a great case for teachers to integrate corpora into the classroom. Thanks for reading.


Frankenberg-Garcia, A. (2012). Integrating corpora with everyday language teaching. In: Thomas, J. and Boulton, A. (Eds.) Input, Process and Product: developments in teaching and language corpora. Brno: Masaryk University Press. 33-50. Retrieved from

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

Wilson, J. (2013). Technology, pedagogy and promotion: How can we make the most of corpora and Data-Driven Learning (DDL) in language learning and teaching? Higher Education Academy research report (July 2013). Retrieved from


9 thoughts on “No time for corpora? No worries!

  1. Hi there Mura,

    Some interesting ideas as usual. I wonder if in some cases an alternative to searching directly in the corpora would be simply to look in a good learner dictionary based on a corpora? I am really impressed by the Macmillan Collocations Dictionary – a huge improvement on the Oxford collocations dictionary. Also I wonder about the list of synonyms as a development. Without having written a dialogue I could imagine these words and their collocates might be more productive in terms of talking about a career – job, manager (or manage), responsibility, by the time, business. I think that apart from being more frequent words (something you’ve written about well), it avoids the confusions that can arise from treating words as synonymous, when (as Leo Selivan pointed out in his talk at IATEFL) most ‘synonyms’ will be used quite differently in terms of collocation, semantics, co-text, register / genre etc. Better to therefore treat them separately where you can.

    All the best


    1. hi andrew

      thanks for commenting, hope you had a relaxing summer 🙂

      for sure in many cases a good dictionary is enough. i’ll keep an eye out for that collocations dictionary, thanks.

      online interfaces do have certain advantages, instead of keeping both a regular dictionary and a collocational dictionary,, for example, gives you frequencies, genre, definitions, collocations, synonyms, and concordances in one screen. also i’ve written about affixes which a regular dictionary is lacking in here ->

      leo is right about synonyms and issues of polysemy are certainly a wider set of considerations which impact lesson design

      i am curious how you approach such challenges when making your you-tube series on frequent words? i was reading about yukio tono recently and his japanese shows on 100 frequent words in english e.g. –


      1. Pretty good summer thanks – busy at work but managed a camping trip to Cornwall. Very nice. I agree that some tools offer extra info, just worth bearing in mind that lexicographers use these tools and may present them in a tidier way for teachers. I certainly use The collocation dictionary for the youtube videos, with some additional research on occasions. Certainly when I write these – though it’s an ongoing thought process – I make choices sometimes about the possible frequency of meanings and try to keep to a minimum more idiomatic uses. In fact, one thing I have found already is that and advantage of the 2500-5000 word frequency is that there seems to be less variation in meaning of tokens / words, less opaque idiomaticity, than with highly frequent words such as say ‘hand’ or ‘give’. But this might be an overestimate. I think there is still danger of overloading with all the possible collocations and uses (maybe we are, still working that out). However, what I am more interested in and something which corpora and dictionaries fail at is the wider co-text of a collocation. So for example ‘get rich’, ‘easy to find work’ don’t collocate with ‘boom’ in terms of corpora, but we might well expect them to feature in a text (spoken or written) which talks about the collocation ‘the economy is booming’. In many cases this co-text will include very frequent words (top2500) and I usually try and ensure they are at least starred Macmillan words. Inevitably, there is also a certain amount of recycling of both these very frequent words and the key words we are focusing on – and that also guides my choices too.

  2. hi andrew

    thanks for that description, it looks like a lot of work! hopefully people like Hoey looking at textual colligation will make such work easier 🙂


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