I learned something cool today!

I was on WordPress looking for something to inspire a post this afternoon, and I found a really interesting article at ELT  Stories, Practicing the top priority lexis – a quick and dirty tip.  The author, Olya Sergeeva, shared her thoughts about the book Corpus Linguistics for ELT: Research and Practice by Ivor Timmis.  Then she shared her quick and dirty tip for creating cloze exercises.

First, the book.  She says:

I’m currently reading the chapter calledCorpus research and grammar, and one of the main topics of the chapter is to what extent the frequency of a linguistic feature should influence the amount of time devoted to teaching that feature. The author gives a lot of very interesting examples of frequent features that tend to be underrepresented, over-represented or misrepresented in coursebooks (examples include ‘though’, which is often used in speaking to signal soft disagreement, and conditionals, which more often than not do not fall under ‘the zero, first, second and third’ two-part conditional structures, which most coursebooks almost exclusively focus on).

This takes me back to a post the other day where I talked about the time we spend teaching things that aren’t all that important.  But I was only thinking of communication at the time.  It never really occurred to me that we were teaching structures that are not all that commonly used.  But apparently we are.

Sergeeva goes on to say:

One striking fact mentioned in this chapter comes from an article by Biber and Reppern. Apparently, just 12 lexical verbs (say, get, go, know, think, see, make, come, take, want, give, and mean) account for 45% of lexical verbs used in conversation. Biber and Reppern suggest that, since they are so frequently used in speech, these verbs require more attention in class than they currently do, judging by the coursebooks that they reviewed, and that these verbs should be used more to exemplify various grammar structures.

So now I have a take-away that I can use in class on Monday; I can attempt to use these verbs more heavily in the explanations and additional practice I give students.  It is easy and it makes sense to give them more practice with the verbs they are most likely to use regularly.

But then she shared her tip for creating cloze exercises.  It is a really simple one, but I had never thought of it before, so I was pretty excited to learn it.  She puts the text into Notepad ++, a text editor, and then replaces the words she wants students to work on with a blank.  With one click of the mouse she can replace all occurrences of the words.  In the case of verbs, you can replace all occurrences of all tenses with one click.  Pretty cool!

But I use Linux, not Windows.  And there is no installer for Notepad++ for Linux.  So I tried the text editor on my machine, Pluma.  It doesn’t seem to have the option of “regular expressions” like Notepad++ has, and I couldn’t find a way to replace more than one word at a time.  Even so, that was cool.  But I wanted to try Notepad++ because it sounded way cooler.

And it was.  I installed it using WINE, and then I tried it.  I pasted a text from VOA news in the editor.  Then I copied the command she gives in the post:

\b(say|said|get|got|go(e)?|went|gone|know|knew|known|think|thought|see|saw|seen|mak(e)?|made|com(e)?|came|tak(e)?|took|taken|want|giv(e)?|gave|given|mean|meant)(ed|ing|s)?\b

When I did that and followed all her other instructions, I had a cloze activity in which students have to insert the correct form of those 12 verbs.  It took longer to read her post than to do all the rest of it — including downloading Notepad++!

Sergeeva plans to use this cloze as part of a listening activity with students who are mush more advanced than my current students, but I can adapt it: choose fewer verbs and only focus on present tense. Not tricky at all.

So actually, I learned a lot today.  I learned about the importance of those 12 verbs (say, get, go, know, think, see, make, come, take, want, give, and mean) and I learned how to make a cloze activity with little more than the click of a button.  Or maybe a few buttons.  But it is easy, anyway.  That’s all that really matters!

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