Tag Archives: vocabulary

Writer’s World: How I learned to use AntWordProfiler

Last year I was very lucky to be invited to try out ELT writing. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity, and for the people who believed in me enough to give me the chance. I marvel at how lucky I am (and what amazing friends I have!).


So anyway, I joined a project writing reading texts for a middle school book. I started learning immediately.


I was given an excel file with a vocabulary list. Words in white were level 1. Words in green were level zero. Words in yellow were level two. I was asked to use 70% of the headwords from the white list. I was also given a grammar point to include, and specified a format, topic, and word count.


Now I’m a bit of a tech-dunce, but not a technophobe, and I saw a couple problems.


Dunce cap flickr kmakice

Image by kmakice on flickr (CC)


1) The words were all mixed together (arranged alphabetically and not separated by color). How on earth was I going to compare a 200 word text with the vocabulary list without painfully going through it word by word? Particularly since words like ‘I’, ‘a/an’, and ‘the’ are on the green list!


2) They weren’t all lemmas! Multiple forms of some words were on the list, but not others. But ‘headwords’, they said, so I assumed inflection would be okay.


What I needed was a way to compare the texts with the word lists. And before I could do that, I needed distinct word lists.

Did you know Excel can sort by color? That’s the first thing I learned. This website explains how to do it very well. But because of the way the excel file was set up, I had to do it column by column. Each column was a letter of the alphabet, so that meant 26 times of sorting and then grabbing words from each level and putting them into new pages.

I already knew about some vocabulary tools. Lextutor, for instance, can compare a passage with the general service list and tell you how difficult it is (by telling you which words appear in the first 1000 or 2000 high frequency words). I needed something that work a little differently. I needed to compare against the lists I’d been given and not the GSL. Was there something that could do that?

To find the answer, I took to Twitter. Costas Gabrielatos came to my aid right away. He is a corpus linguistics expert and really helpful person. He introduced me to AntConc and showed me how to make a corpus out of the texts I have and compare the texts to the excel file to find out how many times the words appeared in which text.


I may have mentioned that I’m a bit of a tech dunce. Even with the screenshots of how this would look and what it could do, I couldn’t really understand how it would solve my problem. Reading his suggestions again, I see now that he was solving my problem very neatly. But at the time, I didn’t get it.


Luckily, there was a simpler way. Mura Nava came to my rescue with a patient, dunce level explanation. have you tried antwordprofiler? that’s exactly what it does. So off I went to the antwordprofiler website to watch the helpful video tutorials. This was exactly what I needed.


Now, antwordprofiler comes with GSL 1 and 2 and AWL already installed. I had my own word lists to compare against, though, and needed to replace them. Fortunately, Mura solved that problem for me, too. He directed me to his Google+ Community on Corpus Linguistics, and to a post about how to deal with specialized or technical vocabulary. His post showed how to extract the off-list words into an excel file and from there use them to make a txt file to add to the GSL files. I already had excel files, so I just used the latter part of the process. Once my wordlists were uploaded, I deleted the GSL files.



Finally, I put my reading passages into txt files and ran the program. It worked.



I made adjustments to make my texts closer to 70% on the second list, and felt very techy indeed. Problem solved. I proudly sent in my first five passages and waited for feedback.


And anyone who has worked in this field can probably predict what happened next.


Please consider the difficulty of the passages. I was told. They should be easier than level 2.

I wish I could say that that’s when I figured out that ‘headwords’ to them meant the 7~10 vocabulary items they will highlight and pull out of the text, but I actually only just figured that out now reflecting back 8 months later. So they meant 70% of those 7~10 words, not 70% of the whole text. The antwordprofiler tool would still be useful, but maybe I should have stuck with the GSL.


On the plus side, now I know how to sort in Excel by color, how to use antwordprofiler, and I can start to learn antconc. And I think that’s pretty cool. 🙂

Headliners, the activity

This is an activity I shared on the #flashmobELT lino board.

(For more information about #flashmobELT, check out this, this, or this.)

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 오후 2.54.42


So here’s how this works:

My 6th grade (13 years old) students had been reading an article about fish farming and we were just wrapping up the unit. I asked them to form teams and choose a scribe for each team. The scribes went to the board and the teams called out all the words they remembered from the unit while the scribes wrote them down – pausing at times to ask for spelling. The result was a board full of words.

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Then the teams went to work together and formed headlines or titles from the words on the board. The rules: they cannot use words that are not on the board, but they can change the part of speech or form of the word. I wrote an example for them.

They wrote their headlines in their notebooks, checking with their groups for ideas and clarification. I checked all the headlines and made some suggestions.

The next step was writing a story to accompany the headline or title. They could, I told them, write any kind of story they want and did not need to stick to the topic or vocabulary from the unit. They attacked the task with determination and some of their resulting stories blew me away.

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The final step was creating a picture to go along with their stories. They could either find a picture they wanted to use or draw their own picture. I gave them paper to re-write their stories and add their pictures and asked them to bring them back the next class.

My original plan had been to post them up on the walls so that the students could walk around and read the stories, but they were a jump ahead of me. As soon as they were seated they started passing their stories around with pride and reading them anyway. Now the stories are all posted on the walls for other classes to read.

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I’m proud of the way my students approached this task, using all the resources at their disposal to help them work with the language and turn input into their very own output.

…and then I gave them all three hours worth of homework

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my own teaching. Regular readers (all three of you) will remember that I recently moved to a private academy. I’ve spent the last 5 weeks settling in and getting used to the challenges of a new position.

The settling in period is far from over and life has been confusing and challenging as well as interesting and rewarding. I will put aside time in another post to try and unravel all the confusing threads. Today I want to talk about a lesson that I’m dissatisfied with.

My boss and I are working together to design a writing curriculum focusing on a combination of genre writing and process writing. We created a syllabus for a two month course, with the aim to teach our middle school students to write within four different genres: informal letters, formal letters, newspaper articles and reviews. Today was the first day of that and it didn’t go so well.

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

First of all, today was the first day back after a two week break for the middle school students, who just finished their midterm exams. Thus a 50 minute lesson turned into a 40 minute one while they chatted and got caught up with each other and reestablished the class dynamic. All three classes spent at least 10 minutes getting caught up and settled in.

Then we spent a few minutes free-writing. In the first two classes, I selected the topic and set a time limit. In the third class, I told them my selected topic was optional if they didn’t think of anything they wanted to write about on their own. This seemed to work well. After the time was up, I told them to read their writing again and use their dictionaries to fill in words they didn’t know. A few students also asked about structures they were uncertain of. I got to glance at their notebooks, but since they needed them for their next tasks, I couldn’t take them up. I realised that the students will need notebooks dedicated to writing class.

The next thing we did was look at example letters. I gave the students three example letters to read and told them that I wanted them to compare the letters and figure out the format of an informal letter. We put the results on the board and they wrote down the vocabulary they didn’t know. Then they drew diagrams to show where each part of the letter goes.

And that’s as far as I got, in every class. I had a collaborative vocabulary activity planned that there wasn’t time for. We were meant to complete five units’ worth of “useful expressions” and so I gave them those five units as homework. The first class didn’t buy it. I had failed to explain the purpose of the homework and the target we were reaching towards. The second class bought it because we looked through the topics of each unit and they immediately saw for themselves why it’s so useful. The third class grumbled, but they bought it, too. I had to sell them the usefulness of the vocabulary in those five units, though.

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by Ellen de Preter, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by Ellen de Preter, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

In every class, I was left with the impression that it could definitely have gone better. I think what went wrong was my expectations of what could be done in a single class. I forgot that the students would need some time to get used to being in the class again. I forgot that I’d have to sell this new idea of learning genre writing to them. I forgot that many of them had never studied writing before. I forgot that five units of vocabulary can’t possibly be learned in a day. The first class greeted me with blank stares and silence. They’re the lowest level and I was the first teacher who saw them today. I had to threaten motivate them with a test to get them to participate at all.

On Friday, I will teach this lesson again. I still have no idea how to help the students manage the amount of vocabulary they need. I have to find a way to shift the focus away from the vocabulary and onto the writing process, using the vocabulary as a resource instead.

Questions, suggestions, ideas and advice are all quite welcome.

all the things i didn’t mean to write (or Today I learned a lot, a summary)

It’s been an incredibly active week on the forums for my TESOL class. Some of the topics discussed were authentic materials, strategic investment (and language learning strategies), learning styles, teaching grammar and vocabulary, and professional development. I don’t always feel like I have anything to contribute in the class forums, and it’s sometimes a struggle to post. This week, however, I was happy to be part of these conversations.

I have a lot to say on authentic materials stemming from previous discussions on #KELTchat and with members of #KELTchat.  I learned from the class discussion that I was missing half of the argument – that they need to be authentic in their production and in their use. I think this might mean that once we bring them into a classroom, it will be very difficult to justify their authenticity, but I’m not done thinking about it. My opinion right now is that whatever we do in class should have a purpose. Anyway, this isn’t what I want to write about today.

The learning styles discussion stemmed from some tests that a classmate posted about learning styles. I’ve seen these before (during an iTDi.pro impromptu webinar – I don’t know how I ended up there, I just saw a tweet that announced it and it read to me like, ‘come out and play’, so I did) and I score firmly in the “auditory learner” category on every test. Funny thing I just thought of: I clearly remember my US History teacher get up in front of the class with some slides and announce that she’s a visual learner. I have no idea what her presentation was about that day. The tests in my textbook score me (unsurprisingly) as right-brained and introverted. The interesting thing about all this is that I teach as though my students are the same way. I also have had to learn some compensatory strategies myself or  I wouldn’t be able to teach at all. (Anyone who’s never seen me teach might be shocked to see me dancing in front of a group of college students, but it really does happen on a regular basis.) The other interesting thing is that 75% of the people posting on the thread about learning styles (teachers all) were similar to me. It makes me wonder about my chosen profession. But this isn’t what I want to write about today either.

The discussions on teaching grammar and vocabulary were timely after reading this blog post by @teflerinha and this possibly unrelated post by @hughdellar (but it felt related, even if I can’t figure out why anymore). Because in the midst of a large group of people posting about using language creatively and placing themselves firmly on the side of the fence against repetition of language, one lone student in the class had the courage to say “I use choral drills.” And while everyone pretty much ignored the post, I could respond, “you know what, that’s okay.” And when I reflect on it, I think it is okay. As long as we have reasons for the things we choose to do, if they work that’s awesome and we see how we can make them work better, and if they don’t work, we change them and try something new, but we should never just not try because it’s not done in communicative teaching (in my humble opinion). Anyway that’s not what this post was meant to be about.

Then there was the discussion on professional development, a topic very close to my heart. I was delighted with the opportunity to explain what PD means to me and how I plan to continue my education after my TESOL unit is over (which happens after I turn in the papers that I’m not typing while I’m typing this). I wrote about my TEFL certification (three years ago) which led me to starting my MA and also to KOTESOL which led me to Reflective Practice which led me to Twitter which led me to #KELTchat and how all of those things led me to the community I am now part of. I took time to explain how Twitter can be used for PD and where to find the people and the chats. And to answer a question on action research as a form or professional development I dug up a paper I’d written for the TEFL certificate course and, on reading it, briefly reflected on how very different my thinking is now from where it was three years ago. And that’s what this post was supposed to be about but isn’t anymore. Another time.

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