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Humanising Language Teaching
Year 5; Issue 5; September 03

Ideas from the Corpora

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[ Editorial note: I would like to warmly thank * Michael Rundell who has, over four and a half years, written nearly thirty articles in this column which almost certainly makes him the most prolific HLT writer. Sadly for us HLT readers, heavy pressure of work has forced him to cut out some of the extra things he does, such as this column. I doubt whether I will be the only reader to regret his decision. Michael has agreed to write occasional pieces for HLT. ]

* When you split an infinitive it makes such a marvellous “ crack” !

Below you will find two practical, corpus-based exercises that John Morgan has written for the heavily revised edition of Vocabulary, that Oxford University Press will be launching in Spring 2004. We need many more such exercises, devised by experienced methodologists, like John.

5.1. Reciprocal Verb Phrases

Aims To show how corpus analysis can highlight patterns of grammar and meaning.
Level Upper Intermediate to Advanced
Time 30-40 minutes
Materials Copies of the Tasksheet for each student


Read the Notes below and make copies of the Tasksheet. If you and your class share the same mother tongue, be ready to help them find good translations for the phrases.

In class

Give the students copies of the Tasksheet. Tell them to complete the worksheet in groups of four, using dictionaries and any other reference material they have. Tell them to call you over when they need further help. As the students work, go round helping to clarify meaning, offering translations and contexts for the phrases.


1. Look through this phrase list:
battle it out chew the fat compare notes cross swords
bury the hatchet do battle do business fall in love
change places go hand in hand shake hands go to war
have it off have it out settle accounts have words
hit it off hold hands join forces link arms
lock horns lose contact lose touch make contact
make friends make love make peace mend fences
part company pass the time of day see eye to eye

  1. Write down all the phrases you do not know the meanings of.

  2. Write down all the phrases that have to do with repairing a relationship.

  3. Write down all the phrases which involve negative feeling between two individuals.

  4. Write down all the phrases that basically mean to talk with, to chat with.

  5. Look at these examples:
      We made contact. - I made contact with him.
      They lost touch. - He lost touch with her.

    All the phrases above can be used in these two patterns. Choose ten of them and make your own example sentences for each, adding context and details, e.g.

      After she moved to London, Peter lost touch with her.


In Chapter 6 of Collins Cobuild's corpus-derived Grammar Patterns 1. Verbs (1998), "reciprocal verbs" are defined as those that "describe actions and processes in which two or more people, groups or things, do the same thing to each other, have a relationship, or are linked because they are participating jointly in an action or an event". They are used with either a plural subject and no object (We made contact. He and I battled it out.) or with a subject followed by with + object (I made contact with him. They made friends with her.).

The definition combines meaning and grammar in a way that makes vocabulary learning highly effective, and enables us language teachers to introduce them as a memorable and learnable grouping to our students. It is a typical product of corpus lexicography, which uses computers to extract from examples of natural language not simply a meaning for a word or phrase, but the patterns associated with it.

In the next activity (5.2.) we show what the output of a corpus search (often called a concordance) can look like, and how this output may be used in class.

5.2. 'Tend to': using concordances with students

Aims To present and practice the language patterns associated with particular words and phrases.
Level Intermediate to Advanced
Time 30-40 minutes
Materials Copies of one or more concordance printouts for the word(s) or phrase(s) chosen.


Make copies of the Example concordance below. Alternatively, if you have access to a corpus and appropriate software, make your own concordance of a word or phrase you or your students have chosen.

In class

  1. Explain to your students that tend to is extremely frequent in spoken English, and that second-language speakers who use it tend to sound more English than they really are! Tell them that this verb tends to express habit and regular occurrence.

  2. Give out copies of the Example concordance and ask them to read through and see how many of the excerpts they can make sense of. Give help where required.

  3. Pair the students and ask them to choose one utterance they like and to produce a four-line dialogue that it could be part of. Give them this example:

      A: Shopping pretty good down your way, in'it?
      B: That's right. Yeah, the shops tend to open about eleven o'clock.
      A: Bit late really.
      B: We're never up before eleven.

  4. Ask the pairs to learn by heart what they have written, and to decide where the speakers are, how they are standing or sitting, and what their relationship is.

  5. They turn their books over and bring the dialogues to life for the rest of the class.

  6. 6 Get them to create another dialogue with a new excerpt and act this out.

Example concordance


ch Erm yeah but we don't tend to go very often because I mea
quite far away  Mm but I tend to like to save my money and sp
the drift The thing is I tend to borrow things off Tim and he
 tend not to use names I tend to use direct names very little
ght to bed  Yeah  What I tend to do is read or watch televisi
s right  Yeah  the shops tend to open about eleven o'clock
lly if I do buy bacon we tend to have it for a lunch you know
 six good glasses but we tend not to use them   She was sayin
 couple of times and you tend to find that a lot of the Londo
 that a bit down or that tends to go back I don't quite know 


The Example Concordance above was edited down from a CANCODE output cited in Spoken Language and Applied Linguistics, Michael McCarthy, Cambridge, 1998.
(CANCODE is a specially prepared corpus of transcripts of spoken English.)

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