What is a corpus?

The following comments were made by teachers attending a corpus workshop. Do any of them sound like you?

1. I have a collection of really useful newspaper articles that I've cut out and stuck on to paper and which I photocopy for reading classes. I usually take them into class and get students to read them and pick out interesting vocabulary. I've had them for years, but I'm always adding to them. And I keep meaning to do something 'more organized' with them, but I've never quite gotten around to it.

2. I have a folder full of old student essays that I take into my writing class to get my students to comment on. I find they are useful because students can identify the parts they think are well-written and those that need improvement. The pages are getting a bit tatty, but they are still useful. I think I ought to type them out, and maybe do some kind of proper 'lesson' with them.

3. I have recorded songs onto cassette and used the lyrics (with some words taken out) to practice vocabulary and grammar. My students like using songs as having music in the class makes a change, and I like teaching that doesn't feel so much like teaching! Now I've used them lots of times I realize that the exercises that I designed in the first place don't really seem to practice the most useful words, but I really don't want to rewrite them as I typed out most of them before I got a computer and I don't want to do it all again.

4. I have a video of 'Friends' episodes that I like to show in class. The dubbing isn't bad and the students engage with the characters. I do feel, though, that the way I 'pick out' interesting bits of language to use for my lessons is a bit random and I feel a little bit worried that my head of department may consider this a 'last day of term' lesson. However, I feel that there is some useful stuff in these videos and that if the students enjoy what they're doing, that is half the battle.

5. I have a folder on my computer which contains some good web pages that I've downloaded over the past year because they're interesting, although I'm not sure quite what to do with them. I've tried using the 'find on this page' tool to search for vocabulary that I think might occur quite a lot, but it's a bit time-consuming. I feel that when I'm in the computer lab the students could use them, but I'm not sure how.

6. My students have 'electronic pen friends' in other countries, who they email regularly as part of their classes. I've kept copies of all the emails on my computer, but and I don't want to print them out. I'm sure, though, that there must be some way to use them.

If you thought 'Yes, that sounds like me,' in response to even one of these comments, you are already using, or on the point of creating, a corpus to inform your teaching. This tutorial is designed to help you develop your own corpus. If you don't have texts that can be converted into a corpus, it can guide you through the process of creating one.

In this tutorial, we are defining a corpus as a principled collection of texts in electronic format.

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