TEC15 Day 2 | Using the Collins Dictionary Corpus | Talk summary

This talk was by Dr. Elaine Higgleton who besides being measured, articulate and erudite, had whet everyone’s appetite with a quiz the preceding evening on Old and Middle English spellings and pronunciation along with lexis borrowed from around the world. Her talk was not so much an introduction to corpora as it was a look at how a corpus can help us understand shifts in language use and whether this language change matters to Ts and T educators.

She started off by asking for the different senses of the word “club” both noun and verb.  She elicited two responses for the verb form: to batter someone and to gather together. She then explained to us that the use of the verb club without “together” in the sense we clubbed money to buy him a present is only seen in Indian English whereas the British equivalent would generally be we clubbed together money …  A corpus that includes a wide variety of ‘Englishes’ from around the world could potentially help us recognize this variation.

Dr Elaine Higgleton corpus

While a concordance view can show us what’s around the target word, Dr. Higgleton suggested that it’s not actually very helpful and that a word sketch view (I think this might be an exclusive feature of the Collins corpus) can help us understand which words the word that we are looking at frequently collocates with. In the case of club, it most frequently collocates with “join” so we might prioritize “to join a club” for teaching depending on the level of the Ss.


In the next exercise, she had us looking at the distinction between trip and journey. The denotative meanings she elicited largely distinguished between the two seemingly synonymous words in terms of duration. However, the corpus suggests that connotations of trip are far more neutral than journey (e.g., arduous journey).

Dr Elaine Higgleton corpus 2

A corpus can also give us other insights about a word. For instance, when we consider adjectives used to describe “footfall”, we’d think of “heavy footfall” in the sense of “… increasingly heavy footfall at the Taj Mahal”. But, what is the opposite of heavy? Light? Not in this case as the corpus tells us that the opposite of heavy footfall is in fact soft footfall and in the middle somewhere is average footfall.

Corpora can also indicate language change such as the tendency to use the progressive -ing form in utterances such as:

But hang on a tick, I’m forgetting my manners.

Nobody is imagining that the Conservatives can win.

I’m wanting the film to be deliberately old-fashioned

Or “and I was like” (be like) as a reporting structure in examples such as:

We saw that and we were like ‘Oh my god!’

At first, I was like, no, what are you talking about?

They look at you like you’re mental and it’s like, “Chill out, what’s your problem?”


The corpus also tells us the use of the be like structure is more prevalent in US English and in conjunction with the first person. The other example Dr. Higgleton picked up was “mouse” whose dominant sense has changed in the corpus from rodent to computer hardware. Cloud has also undergone a similar change.

Dr. Higgleton, however, cautions against the taking these inferences at face value alone and demonstrated why we might need a lexicographer to help us analyse this information. She used a sketch difference view to suggest that clever and intelligent, despite being near-synonyms reveal something else on closer analysis. Clever tends to be used with adverbs that have a negative connotation and being clever has increasingly become a negative quality.

She saved the best for last though. A quick audience poll proved that nearly everyone was taught and currently teach the following rule:

I shall

you shall

you/he/she will

She explained that this was an 18th century rule that had long since fallen out of use but was regrettably fossilized in Wren & Martin. Wren & Martin or to use its actual title – High School English Grammar & Composition is a book that millions of Indians swear by and is used by a large number … perhaps even a majority of English teachers in India. It largely retains the same prescriptive rules that it contained when it was first published in 1935 and is still among the top selling books, year after year. Dr. Higgleton’s advice was to stack up our Wren & Martins and burn ’em. This obviously deeply traumatised one woman (who I discovered later in the conference guide under the list of organizers as serving on the teacher-training boards of two Indian states) who stood up shook a trembling fist at the speaker and proclaimed that no evil corpus would dictate circumstances that would cause language to change before she managed to teach it to students (no she didn’t say these words but I sense this is what she wanted to say). The fact that the corpus Dr. Higgleton was referring to had a large set of Indian English data made little difference to this woman.

I threw out or gave away my Wren & Martin when I was in my early teens. A pity because this low pressure system and unseasonal chill would have lent itself to some nice prescriptive grammar book burning.

Wren & Martin



TEC15 Day 2 | How to help teachers find, create, recycle and adapt good-quality teaching materials | A quick summary

How ever do the Sandy Milins and Lizzie Pinnards of the world manage to write detailed summaries while they are attending conferences and events? 🙂 I tried but I couldn’t do it. So here’s my attempt at playing catch-up


This talk was by Katherine Bilsborough and she started off by stating that while the downloading of illegally shared materials is a problem, there’s also a dire need for good quality materials because a lot of the stuff on the net is terribly dodgy. Additionally, there’s tremendous interest in materials writing because in a sense it is a form of professional development and requires Ts to bring together and apply a range of skills. IATEFL’s Materials Writing special interest group (MawSIG) is the newest but also the fastest growing SIG.

Katherine Bilsborough

8 principles for materials writing

1. Apply Krashen’s theory to pitch materials at the right level i.e., just above the learner’s level.

2. Use good English.

3. Ensure the materials are visually pleasing.

4. Cover useful language (from the learner’s perspective).

5. Consider PARSNIPs (politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, isms and pork). Although Katherine did go on to say that what’s important to her is whether Ts are comfortable teaching these topics (she didn’t mention Ss here). Interestingly, this directly contradicted what Dr. Todeva was talking about the previous day when she spoke about market forces and perceptions shaping publishers’ choices about content in course books.

6. Ensure accessibility of materials for all Ss including those who may have some form of visual impairment.

7. Provide clear rubrics. By rubrics, Katherine was referring to written instructions in activity sheets. The audience seemed a little puzzled at first because in India, the term usually refers to assessment rubrics.

8. Sequence tasks and activities logically. Provide Ts practice with this skill by giving them jumbled-up tasks from a course book and asking them to reorder it such as with the following example:

Complete the sentences. Use the words in the box.

What are you wearing today? Write.

Complete the sentences. Write one word.

Match the words and pictures.

Katherine then moved on to discussing how Ts could be encouraged to exploit authentic texts. For example, give them a photo of a menu and ask them to identify language or features they could get their Ss to notice. Just before she ended, Katherine spoke about ELTpics which hardly anyone in the room seemed to be familiar with. Her twist on the old ‘give ’em a picture with some questions’ was to give the Ss some answers related to a picture and ask them to write questions as in this example which elicits the present and past forms respectively.

Write questions for these answers:

1. Canada

2. Cold and windy

3. Two brothers

Write questions for these answers:

1. In 1984

2. Because they needed a secret meeting place

3. No, they didn’t

I know a lot of this seems really basic but from my conversation on the flight back home with one of the organizers, it appears that speakers at the Teacher Educator Conference are finally talking to the audience, instead of at them. Despite the proliferation of PhDs among English language educators in India, teaching as a professional practice is severely underdeveloped. Many of these teachers would never even have considered writing their own materials, let alone actually creating them. So, a basic set of principles seems a good place to start.

TEC15 Day 1 | Paradigms of enrichment in language & teacher education | Talk summary

I’m currently attending the Teacher Educator Conference (TEC15) in Hyderabad and this is the first of several summaries I hope to write on some of the more interesting talks I heard. This enigmatically titled session was facilitated by Dr. Elka Todeva who works with the SIT Graduate Institute.

Elka Todeva

Dr. Todeva started off by talking about how metaphors define us and constrain things. For example, if we think of marriage as a contract or a box of chocolates or Russian roulette – we recast it in different ways. Similarly, we tend to label language learning using the input-output model which is not only highly mechanistic but also diminishes language learning and the learner’s agency.  Many are attempting to move away from this perception to talking about:

  • affordances, learning, opportunities & engagement
  • an ecological approach
  • iteration

Dr. Todeva explained iterative using the example of Ss of who narrate the same story three times but with shorter time spans (3 min, 2 min, 1 min) and with a different partner, imposing two variables on this activity: time and person. This, she said, helps develop automaticity and iteration ensures that things are never mind-numbing because predictability of responses is not our goal.

The deficit approach to language learning is detrimental … where Ss are seen as walking deficits.

She then arrived at the crux of the talk – that we keep looking at language learning in deficit terms. or that we see language as a problem. Instead, she sought to change the lens using additions to Canale & Swain’s (1980) communicative competence model (grammatical, strategic, discourse  and sociolinguistic competence). She spoke about two more competences: symbolic competence  Kramsch (2000) and performative competence Canagarajah (2013). She briefly spoke about translanguaging which I think is also one of Canagarajah’s terms.

The rest of the talk was mainly about symbolic competence and approaches to enrichment. Some of the examples of enrichment included situated learning, ecological approaches to teaching, more realistic representation in our teaching materials and real corpora-based language. This requires some amount of reframing as we shift away from a deficit mentality to paradigms of enrichment. She presented this concept through the image of Hawkins’ triangle where ideas and information are always determined by the teacher or the subject matter (coursebook) which then flow to the learner.

This transactional one-way relationship deprives Ss of ownership of language and topics. For instance, the classic PPP model (which Dr. Todeva called PPU), she suggested leads to inert knowledge.  If our goal is optimal engagement and enrichment, then we need to take a different approach. Before we knew it, she had us engaged in an activity that was full of insights about enrichment. She displayed different versions of the 10 rupee note and asked us questions about what it contained and why it had these things. She then brought up some American bills and had us notice elements of it. The audience was really buzzing at this point. Dr. Todeva talked about how an activity such as this one encourages situated learning promoting genuine authentic sharing and in this case each question she asked was in the passive and the follow-up activity could have been a grammaring task where Ss explore authentic uses of the passive. Another example was from Facebook. One of Dr. Todeva’s students posted a photo of a bucket load of drugs that she was required to take after getting bitten by a tick. Her friends and colleagues then commented with remarks such as “That’s insane”, “Wow” and “Oh my! So sorry – thinking of you” and she pointed out how this is in fact a very authentic source for exploring empathetic responses.

Dr. Todeva spoke about the benefits of adopting a ‘you are already there’ type of mindset. One way of doing this is to make connections between new skills and what is already familiar to Ss (she called this brain friendly learning which I’ll need to look up but sounds a bit faddish). Her example referred to an academic teaching context where Ss need to learn to write in the argumentative format. A segue into this skill is to ask them to write an argument about who is the better of the two: Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, have them notice the features of their written argument and transpose these into their argumentative essays.

Towards the end, she spoke about pluralistic pedagogy as well as how the Hawkins’ triangle applies to Ts as well with teachers taking the place of Ss and the flow of ideas coming in from researchers and publishers. She wrapped up by taking about addressing this issue using reflective teacher education and briefly referenced the CATRA model (Copying, Applying, Theorising, Reflecting and Acting).

Books mentioned during the talk

  • Multiple Realities of Multilingualism by Elka Todeva & Jasone Cenoz
  • What the bleep do you we know? by William Arntz (This might actually be a movie as well)
  • Metaphors we live by George Lakoff & Mark Johnsen
  • Reflection in action by DA Schon
  • Contrasting conversations: Activities for exploring our beliefs by John Fanslow
  • Breaking Rules by John Fanslow