For me, a TESOL convention wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Electronic Village. Sometimes you have to search for the EV down a long hallway or two, but once I found the EV folk in Portland, I also discovered new ideas for vocabulary instruction.
Jill Ballard, Laurie Frazier, and Shalle Leeming of Academy of Art University, San Francisco shared recommendations for developing learner independence. Two familiar online resources, the University of Hong Kong’s Vocabulary Profiler and Brigham Young University’s Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) were presented for student use. Teachers and materials writers have, of course, turned to these and similar resources often, but this team of teachers explained how students can be guided to use knowledge of high frequency words and collocations.
Using an academic text on visual literacy, Ballard, Frazier, and Leeming demonstrated how the Vocabulary Profiler identifies and sorts high frequency words, AWL words, UWL words, and off-list words. The highly visual separation of the words can help students determine which vocabulary in a text is worth learning when reading independently. Taking one of the color-coded AWL words, “approaches,” the presenters then moved into COCA and explained how the listed collocations could be scanned to determine which part of speech is more frequent and which collocation(s), e.g., approach to, is common. COCA does offer quite a lot of information, and the many search features could overwhelm new users; however, by limiting student use (at least initially) to finding, scanning, and studying the collocations for a given word, COCA becomes an effective learning tool.
Students could record their findings and study the new vocabulary with the help of Quizlet. From flashcards to drag-and-drop exercises, Quizlet can help learners review and interact with the information they pull together, making vocabulary learning engaging and meaningful. The presenters suggested that example sentences could be pulled from COCA or a learner’s dictionary.
Moving over to another computer station, I found Rosario Giraldez of Alianza Cultural Uruguay Estados Unidos offering her ideas on the uses of another vocabulary profiler, Lextutor. A similar demonstration with a text was given, but Rosario focused on uses for both teachers and learners. The two I liked best were for reading and writing. First, the suggestion was made that if a text was determined to be too difficult for a given group of students in terms of vocabulary, Lextutor could quickly identify for the teacher those words that needed to be substituted with higher frequency words. Second, students could be taught limited uses of this vocabulary profiler to help them see their own word variety and progress in vocabulary learning. Rosario suggested that a student could submit a composition at the beginning of the term and then submit another at the end of the term. By comparing the range and density of vocabulary, the student could self-assess his or her own writing.
Luckily, there was time to sit in at one more mini-session at the Technology Fair. I joined Anne Hernandez of Arkansas State University, who summarized the workshop she co-moderated for the Electronic Village Online (EVO) earlier this year. Anne worked with fellow EV folk Brenda Brinkley and Jennie Farnell and led teachers through an exploration and discussion of online vocabulary resources over the course of five weeks. (Click here for session info.) Anne noted how much sharing took place among teachers and stated that it was so successful that they just might run a similar session again for the EVO in 2015 (so look out for that annual event that offers free professional development!). Anne shared a list of websites and kindly indicated some of the favorites: Quizlet (no surprise there), Glogster, and Learning Chocolate. That last site was particularly fun for me to check out. It’s appropriate for beginners and sets up exercises to practice meaning, pronunciation, and spelling.