The Tinkerer – a corpus informed video activity

This post is a response to Vicki Holletts’ hosted ELT blog carnival on the theme of teaching and learning using videos. I had sent in a previous video activity but seeing as that was a bit old a new one was in order. The video is most suited for engineering/technical students.

This is a video activity that is also a little corpus informed. The lead-in is words taken from COCA using its synonym function. So in this case the search term was [=tinker]. I have included my transcription so that variations/extensions can be done such as gap-fills for detailed listening, or noticing spoken grammar. The jumbled text was made from Textivate.

1. Dictate the follow words to the class (the numbers are the rank order frequency from COCA):

tamper(7), fix(2), toy(4), fiddle(6), mend(8), play(1), interfere(5), repair(3).

2. These words are synonyms of this word T_ _K_R. //write gapped word on board, Tinker// What’s the word?

3. What do you call a person who does this? //Tinkerer; check that they understand the word, room here to personalise e.g. do you like tinkering?//

4. Re-arrange the text (that goes with the picture) into the correct order:

original text from Hackaday; scrambled text from Textivate

Original text from Hackaday.

5. Watch the video. //approx 8 mins//

6. What word from the list do you think is the best synonym for JJ, the tinkerer? //you could comment on the rank order frequency of the words if most students pick play as best synonym//

7. Why do you think JJ says things are too easy now?

8. Do you agree with him? Why/why not?


When I was growing up, we grew, uh we grew up in the country. I didn’t have a whole lot. Uhm, my dad is very mechanical, uhm he owned a motorcycle shop when I was growing up. So a lot of what I worked on was with engines. Yeah if a go-kart breaks I would have to fix it myself. And sometimes it was held together with bailing twine and stuff just so that I could ride it, but.

It was in West Virginia [laughs] and I picked up a runt bicycle, a bicycle with little tiny wheels. Monkey bikes or whatever they’re called. Picked one up at a yard sale for about five bucks. And I put an engine on it. And I left the bike the way it was. So it was still a pretty big size. And then I thought to myself I’m gonna make it smaller. And then I cut the frame it half. And then I welded a bunch of stuff on there, a little tiny swing arm and used the wheels off a go-ped, uh the sprocket and chains off a go-ped the engine’s off a wheat eater. It’s a micro-bike I like that. That one’s lingered I, I’ve had that a longtime now and it just keeps going.

Yeah, yeah I do a lot of just research on the internet, or uh random stuff. I’ll get on tangents on scientific topics or, or on something engine related or on some sort of hacking thing. I’ll just absorb knowledge I suppose. I normally, I’ll have some sort of inspiration or see a video or something that, I’m like I gotta do that. Or I’ll do something similar or  beat it or something like that. In fact I gotta an idea. You got, you got a rolly chair and there’s a leaf blower right there. Do we want to interrupt this interview, and? [laughs] See if it works. Nope. Oh well. [laughs] It was stupid. But now we know.

And sometimes I feel like tinkering with engines and sometimes it’s that and I keep focus all my attention on that. And sometimes it’s something electronic. And sometimes it’s sumthin else. It’s just that, it varies. Right now it’s the Tesla coil ’cause I’ve been working on it a while all week. That’s, that’s my top priority. That’s what I’ve been researching. I dunno I saw a Tesla coil video, I think, on the internet when I was a teenager. And I just thought I gotta build one of those. I got my son now, and slowed, slowed down my projects. But that’s okay. He is a project, he’s a good project. I’m forming him, in, into what I want [laughs]. Did he do it? Yeah he did.

I, I’ve always had a knack for finding really good deals and stuff, like I’m good at negotiations, I’m good at spotting things that are worth money at thrift stores. It started at thrift stores. Uhm, go there and I would just see stuff that other people wouldn’t recognize. And I clean them up makes sure they work. Go through it, just resell it on Ebay.

You heard that? They shake their body. And hiss like that to sound like a rattlesnake. But you see there’s no rattle. I’ve always, I, I’ve always been a really really curious person. Hafta explore things if I see sumthin I sometimes have to just pull over and hafta look. I’d be the guy you want in a zombie apocalypse that’s for sure. [laughs] Cause I’m very uh, I’m very resourceful. I can pretty much make anything happen with whatever I’ve got on hand.

It’s too easy now. Like back in the day when you wanted a radio. Like you wanted a transmitter or something, you build it. People don’t build them now, you just go out ‘an buy it. You don’t hafta learn how it works, you just use it. Same with computers, back in the eighties and stuff you hadta know how the computer worked before you could just use one. So, stuff’s too easy nowadays.

Thanks to the ELT blog carnival for the inspiration.

5 thoughts on “The Tinkerer – a corpus informed video activity

  1. This is an awesome video. It’s rich in vocabulary. There are many teachable moments you can do with this video. Students will be able to master synonyms through this lesson. Thanks for showing us this.

  2. Oh excellent. I’d seen that video before and thought it would be great for technical English students and you’ve really made it easy for us here! Great lesson!

    1. hi vicki

      thanks, i used it recently and as i had underestimated the group’s level, added some last minute comprehension type Qs in the form of gap fills taken from the transcript e.g.

      Yeah if a go-kart ______ I would have to fix it myself.
      I do a lot of just _______ on the internet.
      I’d be the guy you want in a _____ apocalypse.


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