Resources and techniques for teaching Linguistics

Date: 20 June, 2003
Location: CILT, London
Event type: Workshop

Programme | Event report

Past event summary

This event showcased a variety of materials and methods for teaching Linguistics. These included using VLEs to teach postgraduates, use of concordancing software, Analytic listening techniques for Phonetics ear-training, data analysis tools (such as CHILDES) and use of authoring tools to create online Linguistic quizzes. The day also demonstrated a number of materials submitted to the Subject Centre’s online Materials Bank such as a book designed to teach phonetics to students of Modern Languages, a Linguistics multiple-choice question bank and materials from a course in Linguistic description.


10.00 – 10.30 Coffee Registration
10.30 – 11.10 Using Wordsmith and ICE in teaching
Keith Brown, Cambridge
11.10 – 11.50 Creating Linguistics Quizzes with Hot Potatoes authorware
Carmen Arnaiz, UWE
11.50 – 12.30 Parallel Automated Feedback in Phonetics Ear-training 
Patricia Ashby, Westminster
12.30 – 13.30 Lunch
13.30 – 14.00 Introducing your students to The CHILDES Database
Cathy Lonnegren
14.00 – 14.40 Adopt-a-word: teaching introductory Linguistics using just one word!
Lynne Murphy, Sussex
14.40 – 15.20 Subject Centre Materials Bank: materials donated for Linguistics
Alison Dickens, Subject Centre for LLAS
15.20 – 15.30 Tea
15.30 – 16.10 Using a VLE to support a core MA unit in Linguistics
Zoe Toft, SOAS

Event report: Resources and methods for teaching linguistics

by Ali Dickens

Session 1: Using Wordsmith and the International Corpus of English in teaching

Keith Brown (Cambridge)

Language corpora and concordancing tools are well-known tools for Linguistics research but have an equally valuable application in the teaching of a wide variety of Linguistics fields. Keith gave a demonstration of a concordancing tool, Wordsmith, which is both simple to use and inexpensive and of the International Corpus of English.

Wordsmith Tools, authored by Mike Scott and distributed by OUP, can be used with any corpus that is in a plain text (.txt) format. Large corpora, tagged or untagged, can be searched and small corpora can be compiled by both tutor and student from a wide range of electronically available written language and thus provides an ideal introduction to concordancing for students. This site Bookmarks for Corpus-based Linguists ( has numerous helpful links.

Keith gave an overview of the main feature of the tool, namely WORDLIST (which creates a wordlist), KEYWORDS (which compares two texts or two wordlists) and CONCORD (which creates a concordance). The Wordsmith Help files give clear instructions on the use of the various tools and some hints on the kinds of task they are useful for.

Some examples of tasks that students could engage in using these tools might be (and for further examples see Paul Scholfield: Corpora An Intro for the Applied Linguist at Essex

Exploring different kinds of language ( contemporary native speaker adults (spoken, written, standard, non-standard, newspapers, poetry etc), from foreign language learners, from normal native speaker children, from speakers with language disabilities (e.g. aphasics)

Exploring the Characteristics of varieties and individual authors

Grammatical, lexical and stylistic investigations - Lexical grammar (cf Biber et al; eg verbs used with that clauses etc); Distribution and use of prepositions (eg of, with, on etc); Phrasal verbs (eg Verb + up; away etc); Lexical phrases (You know what I mean) and bundles (kind of); hypothesis testing (eg the distribution of non-progressive verb); creating or evaluating syllabuses or teaching materials, a dictionary, grammar or text book; distinguishing synonymns (big vs large ) etc. Changes in the frequency of progressive or the expression of Future time, Collocations etc etc.

Keith also gave a brief overview of the ICE project which is a one million word corpus of British English, tagged and grammatically annotated. ICE also has corpora of New Zealand, East African, Hong Kong, Phillippino and Singaporean varieties of English.


More on Wordsmith

Mike Scott's homepage

More on ICE

More on corpora and their use

Good Pratice Guide: Tony McEnery: Corpus Linguistics

Directory of English Language Corpora and Corpus Resources

Good Practice Gudie: Raphael Salkie Using parallel corpora in translation

The Translational English Corpus

Session 2: Creating Linguistics Quizzes with Hot Potatoes authorware

Irene Wilkie (University of the West of England in Bristol)

In this talk Irene demonstrated some materials that have been developed at UWE for students who are largely non-specialists in Linguistics. They are intended to be for fun, for checking grasp of concepts and terminology and for helping to support classroom activities. The quizzes were developed by tutors and then created as web-based exercises by technical staff using a freely available authoring package called Hot Potatoes.This very easy-to-use package can cope with text, sound and images and can be used to produce 6 types of exercise:

  • Cloze
  • Multiple-choice questions
  • Mix (unjumbling)
  • Match
  • Crosswords
  • Quiz (free text answers)

Irene showed examples of all of these types of exercise and emphasised how easy it is for non-technical staff to use the software. It is possible to provide feedback on wrong answers, have scores sent to the tutor and to link the quizzes to other materials. At UWE they have put the materials into Blackboard which works well. One of the conditions of use of Hot Potatoes is that the results must be shared across the education community so the exercises demonstrated will be made available via the Subject Centre's Materials Bank

So far, Irene reports, the quizzes have been very popular with students and have helped create a collaborative attitude to materials development among staff.


Hot Potatoes (download the authoring program and see examples of its use)

Subject Centre Materials Bank

Session 3: Parallel Automated Feedback in Phonetics Ear-training

Patricia Ashby (Westminster)

In her talk Patricia demonstrated some of the materials that have been developed for practical phonetics and her model for developing parallel automated feedback. She gave an overview of the birth (in the 1960s) and the rebirth (in the 1990s) of analytic listening tasks which help students to improve their ability to recognise voice, place, manner in consonants and openness, backness and rounding in vowels. This method does not rely on students learning the IPA alphabet at an early (a task akin, in itself to learning a new language) as this can act as a distraction from the sound recognition itself.

Another useful tool that can help students to develop their confidence with sound recognition is the London Agreed Protocol for Teaching (LAPT). This system asks students to rate their confidence in their answers on a scale of 1-3 which helps them to recognise where they are misjudging their knowledge or skills and where they are not. Patricia went on to describe her current project which is to develop a tool that will evaluate students answers to analytic listening exercises providing feedback that identifies the precise areas where problems (and strengths occur). This Parallel Automated Feedback system will help students to remedy their own errors and to make decisions about areas of strength and weakness.


Analytic Listening Tasks

Analytic Listening Exercises

Session 4: Introducing your students to The CHILDES (Child Language Data Exchange System) Database

Cathy Lonnegren

This session looked at another corpus project, this time of child spoken language. This resource which contains a variety of corpora in English and in other languages that are donated by researchers who have made use of the CHILDES transcription system which this project has developed. Cathy gave some examples from her own research of the ways in which the transcription system is used and of the results that it can yield using the language analysis (concordance type) tool also provided via CHILDES. The site is currently building up a set of topics for teaching which might include sets of data illustrating a particular feature of language acquisition and/or commentaries on a data set. Looking at the site it can be seen that there is much scope exploiting the site for teaching purposes either in using the corpora provided or in training students in transcription techniques using their CHAT transcription system.


CHILDES homepage

Tips for teaching with CHILDES

Session 5: Adopt-a-word: teaching Linguistics one word at a time

Lynne Murphy (Sussex)

In her talk Lynne described her course in introductory Linguistics Approaches to Meaning' - which focuses on words and meaning. At the beginning of the course each student is invited to choose a word from a defined list, or they can make a free choice subject to tutor approval, which they then adopt' for the duration of the 10 week course. Their adopted word then becomes their vehicle for application of the theory to which they are introduced in the weekly lecture. To prepare for the seminar follow-up each student undertakes a relevant research task in relation to their adopted word. Each mini research project then contributes to three essays, again based on the word, which contribute to their final assessment Portfolio.

Of course not all words are equal and Lynne has had to impose rules on the selection of words. The F' word is out not because of its meaning but because too much has been written about it. Ideally the words chosen must have 3-7 senses in a dictionary (new words without dictionary entries are therefore also excluded) and should be relevant to most of the aspects covered in the course. Some examples of good' words are comprise, cunning, jet, nauseous, nice, punk, queen, say, sniff. The course starts with some basic research (for words) skills and an exploration of what a word' is. The course then takes students and their words through polysemy, meaning, semantics, language change, social and cultural aspects of meaning.

Lynne offered some examples of the tasks set which include a dictionary critique, tracing the word's history, exploring the range of senses of the word, looking at the word in translation and spoken vs written use of the word.


Download PowerPoint presentation: A portfolio-based assessment system for introductory linguistics (97Kb)

University of Sussex: information for courses

Session 6: Subject Centre Materials Bank: materials donated for Linguistics

Alison Dickens (Subject Centre LLAS, Southampton)

Alison gave a brief overview of some of the resources on offer for Linguistics on the Subject Centre website:

The Subject Centre Materials Bank

The Materials Bank is the product of a year-long project funded by the LTSN (Learning and Teaching Support Network). It aimed to collect and disseminate in-house teaching materials developed by HE teachers for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies. It also funded a small number of materials development projects and offered a polishing off' service to refine the design and format of materials.

Materials for Linguistics include:

Linguistics Item Bank
Paul Meara, University of Swansea
A bank of multiple choice questions that can be used to examine first year linguistics students.

Phonetics for Students of Modern Languages
Rodney Ball, University of Southampton
An introductory phonetics course for students of French, German and Spanish.

Linguistic Description 2: Above the sentence: Weekly task sheets
Szilvia Papp, University of Portsmouth

Corpus of Spoken French
Kate Beeching, University of the West of England, Bristol

To submit a resource please contact Alison Dickens

The Subject Centre Good Practice Guide

This project which complements the Materials Bank and was also funded by the LTSN aimed to commission a series of articles by key practitioners in the teaching of Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies. These articles cover general pedagogical themes relevant to all three subject areas as well as subject specific issues. There are currently over 100 articles in the Guide and more will be added. Here are a few of the Linguistics titles on offer:

How to be the centre of the universe
Author: Neil Smith

Linguistics in first year single honours courses
Author: Kersti Borjars

English language and linguistics: undergraduate study
Author: Ronald Carter

Education and linguistics
Author: Christopher Brumfit

Using parallel corpora in translation
Author: Raphael Salkie

Pragmatics for undergraduates
Author: Billy Clark

Why theory is essential: the relationship between theory, analysis and data
Author: David Adger

Clinical Linguistics for students of linguistics
Author: Sara Howard


The Subject Centre Materials Bank

The Subject Centre Good Practice Guide

Session 7: Using a VLE to support a core MA unit in Linguistics

Zoe Toft (SOAS)

Zoe's session demonstrated how a beginner can quickly and effectively acquire the skills necessary to exploit a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) in this case Blackboard, with students. Zoe explained that she chose to use a VLE with her MA students on her Morphology and Phonology course because she wanted to give them an alternative to a traditional course and provide extra learning opportunities outside the classroom. She also felt that the discussion facility that the system offered might help those of her students who were non-native speakers of English who might feel inhibited in face-to-face discussions. She started out by locating some key resources (on the web) that could help get students started with the VLE, e.g. The British Academy Portal and the Linguistics Society of America's Video Archive which contains a good selection of video material on Linguistics topics.

She distributed a questionnaire to her students through the VLE to both help assess her students' IT skills and to help them familiarise themselves with the medium. She also made the key decision not to use the VLE as a repository for her lecture notes as she felt that this may undervalue the lectures and that the system was probably better exploited for delivery of other, additional resources.

The VLE that she used consisted of the following facilities:


Zoe used this to post up items of Linguistics related news that were gleaned from online news sources, e.g. Google News, Nature Journal, New Scientist. The students really appreciated and used this resource.

Discussion Board

This was used to deal with course issues and questions that were of interest to the whole group and enabled students to answer each others' questions, thus reducing their reliance on Zoe. It could also be used privately to discuss issues in smaller groups and without the tutor present and provided a very useful correction facility so that students could actually amend their postings.

Assessment Tests

This simple authoring facility enabled her to create small self-assessment tests that she used to help students monitor their understanding of the key texts for the course. They were optional, not assessed and provided instant feedback.


In collaboration with the learning resources staff Zoe was able to compile a manual on how to exploit electronic resources help by the library and on the web.

Zoe's overwhelming enthusiasm for the VLE (and that of her students) was very inspiring. She concluded that using the VLE made her reflect more closely on her teaching and, by observing students using the technology, she gained insight into the ways in which students learn. In response to a question on the amount of time this mode of teaching takes she concluded that she spent 95% of her time on the content and only 5% on the technology which she thought likely to be the ratio she would find for any other mode of teaching.


Download handout: Zoe has compiled a list of resources that she exploited with Blackboard (rtf 68Kb)