Lesson ideas: Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) at secondary school

11 Learning words and collocations independently: Rising temperatures and climate science

Lisa Hörnschemeyer and Lena Janzen

1 Introduction and rationale

Not only do English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners need to develop communicative competence, they should also learn how to expand their knowledge independently. The English curriculum for higher level secondary schools in Lower-Saxony, Germany, states that students should add topic-specific vocabulary to their basic knowledge (Niedersächsisches Kultusministerium 2017: 18). Further, students should develop language learning awareness, hence the ability to learn and access new vocabulary using different methods and materials (Niedersächsisches Kultusministerium 2017: 23). Even younger students at lower secondary schools are expected to learn to work with dictionaries and similar resources and then organise new words to expand existing language structures and patterns (Niedersächsisches Kultusministerium 2015: 27). There is a huge variety of resources to look up new words and expressions, but especially non-native speakers may end up using vocabulary in inappropriate contexts. Such problems can be avoided by using authentic language data, which can be found in representative language corpora. Practicing using different resources is often neglected at school or considered “boring” and students frequently only learn vocabulary from their textbook or rely on bilingual dictionaries. By providing learners with rich input and allowing them to discover specific terms and phrases about topics that directly affect and influence them, a teacher can improve individual learning outcomes.

Recently, young people have become more interested and politically active, particularly with regard to the issue of climate change. After Swedish activist Greta Thunberg started protesting in August 2018, millions of students around the world joined her to raise awareness of the climate crisis and set off an avalanche of grassroot organisations demanding political action (Gill 2019). Students should be supported and given the abilities to communicate their opinions and ideas on this topic and the ability to consult corpora can support them in this endeavour by providing them with real-life, relevant language input. The corpus-based lesson presented in this chapter aims at connecting methodological skills and vocabulary training with an affectively and cognitively engaging topic. Teachers can easily adjust the lesson plan to any topic of choice that they consider to be suitable and appealing to their students.

The proposed lesson targets learners at higher secondary school aged 14-15 or older (9th grade). As the students will work online with a corpus, it is assumed that they can use a computer and that they have access to the COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English) via english-corpora.org. It is best for you to acquire an academic premium license to be able to work with texts longer than 400 words. However, this is not obligatory for this lesson, either. Each student will need to create a free account before the lesson. A handout will guide them through the tasks including step-by-step instructions for the website (cf. Appendix). However, students still have the freedom to search for vocabulary and collocations they consider relevant. Finally, each student will create their own collection of new words and collocations for future use.

Outline and objectives

Teacher preparation time: 30 minutes

Lesson time: 90 minute

Learning objectives: By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • access new vocabulary on their own.
  • use the COCA to find out about new words and phrases related to a specific topic.
  • use phrases in appropriate co- and contexts.
  • use methods (e.g., mind-mapping) to structure and store linguistic resources.
  • use known and new words and phrases on the topic of climate change.

2 Corpus, tools and methods

In this lesson, students will work with the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), which currently contains texts from 1990 to 2019 and is regularly updated. The COCA can be accessed via english-corpora.org.

3 Step-by-step guide

In this chapter, step-by-step instructions are provided for both the teacher and the students. The teacher will have to provide the students with an appropriate source, e.g., an online article, and adjust the worksheet and handout for the students to match the chosen topic. With the help of a handout with step-by-step instructions, students will work with the corpus themselves.

3.1 Teacher preparation

First of all, as a teacher, skim the lesson plan (Table 7) to have an overview of the planned lesson. Be aware that this lesson should be preceded by an introductory lesson on climate change. For this chapter’s lesson, choose an appropriate text or article for the learners that serves as a starting point. This text then needs to be shared with the students either digitally or as a print version. To prepare the text, follow the instructions below:

3.1.1 Text preparation

1. Choose a text on the topic you want your students to focus on and derive new vocabulary from. We recommend using Ecosia (https://www.ecosia.org/) for this, the search engine that plants trees. We chose the article “What is climate change? A really simple guide” (https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-24021772 (BBC News 2020).

2. Instead of – or in addition to – providing your students with a digital/print version of the article, you could also make use of the text analysis function of the COCA, which lets you find out more about the words and phrases in your text (e.g., frequencies, collocational behaviour, etc.). If you wish to do so, you need to upload your text onto the website. First, remove any possibly distracting content. To do so, go to “jusText demo” (Pomikalek 2021, URL: https://nlp.fi.muni.cz/projects/justext/), copy and paste the link that belongs to the article (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Paste URL of source text

3. Press ENTER on your keyboard and select “Hide boilerplate” on your screen (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Boilerplate removal with jusText

4. Your text will now appear without any photos, images or other annotations (Fig. 3) and you can provide it to your students by copying it into a new document.

Fig. 3: Cleaned text

5. Share the text digitally with your students (e.g., via e-mail, Google Docs or the open source tool Cryptpad). You can also hand out a printed version.

6. In order to prepare the beginning of the lesson, go to www.english-corpora.org/ and select the COCA from the list of available corpora (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: List of corpora

If you want to work with a text longer than 400 words, make sure your account icon is not red but green (Fig. 5). Red would mean you are not logged in with your institution’s academic or premium account.

Fig. 5: Log-in icon on english-corpora.org

7. Choose the function “Analyze text” (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6: Icon for the function “Analyze text”

The following interface will appear (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7: “Analyze text” – interface

8. Copy the text you chose for this exercise. Check the beginning and end of the text and make sure that all unnecessary information like advertisements have been deleted. Then paste it into the blank field on the left and press “SEARCH” (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8: Using the “Analyze text” function

You should now see the following page (Fig. 9).

Fig. 9: “Analyze text” – output

9. Save the text to be able to access it immediately in class without having to copy and paste it again. To do so, press “SAVE TEXT” (Fig. 10). In class, you can reuse it by simply clicking on “MY TEXTS” and the green tick (Fig. 11).

Fig. 10: Saving the analysed text
Fig. 11: Accessing saved texts

10. You will then be taken back to the page shown in Fig. 9, which will serve as the starting point for the first task of the lesson (see section 3.2.2).

3.1.2 Worksheet creation

Besides choosing and sharing an appropriate text, the teacher has to prepare a worksheet and an accompanying handout for the learners. Therefore, decide which specific vocabulary you want to focus on in advance.

In the Appendix, you will find a template for a worksheet and handout that guides the students through the exercises. They are tailored to the specific text mentioned above. However, feel free to use any other text you prefer. These worksheets may be used as a template to design your own. Both can be adapted to your own text and topic of choice. You will find the suggested solutions to the worksheet in the Appendix as well.

3.2 Lesson plan

3.2.1 Overview

Previous lesson: Introduction to new topic: climate change
Today’s lesson: Learning words and collocations independently: Rising temperatures and climate science
Subsequent lessons: Presentations on climate change or writing a newspaper report
Table 1: Lesson plan




Interaction form



(5 min)

Recapitulation of the last lesson on climate change.

“Getting started” with english-corpora.org.

Class recapitulates the topic and its relevance.

Teacher accesses english-corpora.org and goes to the “Analyze text” function.


News article, images

Task 1

(10 min)

“Discovering new words”.

Students learn how to look up unfamiliar words using the “Analyze Text” funtion; screenshare of teacher’s COCA interface.


News article, worksheet, computers, projector


(5 min)

“Getting started”: starting computers, logging in on english-corpora.org

Preparation for following tasks


Worksheet, computer

Task 2

(20 min)

“Let’s talk about temperature”: finding out about collocations.

Learning vocabulary in chunks; students learn to use words in appropriate contexts.

Individually, partner work

Worksheet, handout, computers

Task 3 (optional)

( 20 min)

“Either… or” and “What can I say instead?”

Advanced students conduct more specific queries to acquire more detailed vocabulary knowledge.


Worksheet, handout, computers


(15 min)

Comparison and correction of the students’ results.

Students present their solutions in class and reflect on the learned content and method.


Projector/ Smart Board

Post-task/ homework

(15 min)

“Word map”: Organising new words and chunks.

Students integrate new vocabulary into already known structures.


Worksheet, handout, computer

3.2.2 Tasks

Task 1

Go to the “Analyse text” function of the COCA and access your saved text by as explained in section 3.1.2 above (steps 9 and 10).

From this point onwards, share your screen with the class and explain the following to your students:

The words in the text are highlighted in different colours. Each colour stands for a specific frequency range. Blue words are very frequent in English, green words occur less frequently. Yellow words are relatively rare. The latter are often very topic-specific and are therefore likely to be unfamiliar to students. Now, let the students begin their tasks. Ask them to read the text individually and to highlight unfamiliar words (task 1a). Let the students decide on three words they want to learn more about. On your shared screen, take the students through the following steps for each word and explain what can be seen so that they can solve task 1b on their worksheets afterwards:

1. Make sure you are on the “WORD” interface (Fig. 12).

Fig. 12: The “WORD” interface

2. One by one, click on the three unfamiliar words in the text. A page with more information on the specific word will appear (see example in Fig. 13).

Fig. 13: Information page of the word climate

The main form of the word is highlighted and presented at the top of the page. It is followed by its word class in brackets. Below, the bar chart indicates the frequency distribution of the word across the eight text registers included in the COCA: blogs, websites, TV and movies, spoken language, fiction, magazines, news and academic publications. For example, the noun climate is least common in TV/movie language and fiction, and most common in blogs and academic language. The section “Topics” in the top-right corner shows words associated with climate and can help you find related words and concepts.

3. In order to fill in Table 1 on your worksheet, find the word’s definitions below the bar chart. Also, look at the section below that shows synonyms and marks the most appropriate ones, as well as the section “Collocates”, listed on the right.

4. To find out more about the word’s collocates, click on “more” right next to it (Fig. 13). You will then be taken to the following page (Fig. 14).

Fig. 14: “Collocates” page of the word climate

There, you will see four tables grouped by part of speech and frequency, one each for noun, adjective, verb and adverb collocates. Open the “Advanced Options” menu, enter the number 1 into the blank field and press GO (Fig. 15). Now, only collocates appearing to the immediate left or right of the noun climate will be displayed in the tables.

Fig. 15: “Advanced options” menu on the “Collocates” page

5. Pay attention to the grey blocks in the columns next to each collocate (Fig. 14). They indicate the most frequent position of the collocate relative to the search word climate, i.e., either before or after the word. The darker the colour, the more frequentliy does the search word’s collocate appear in this position. For example:

CLIMATE + noun: climate change
CLIMATE + adjective: global climate change
CLIMATE + verb: (to) change the climate
CLIMATE + adverb: (to affect) the climate negatively

In some cases, the blocks to the left and right of the collocate are white, which means that these collocates can appear both before and after the noun climate.

6. To go back to the search word’s information page, either click on the little arrow in the top-left corner or on “ANALYZE TEXT” (Fig. 16).

Fig. 16: Going back to the information page

Task 2 and 3

After guiding the students through the first task, ask them to start their computers and to solve tasks 2 and 3 independently with the help of the handout (cf. Appendix).

4 Follow-up activities and further ideas

As shown in the worksheet and the lesson plan above, this lesson can be adapted to different levels of language proficiency and the amount of experience students have had with using digital media in the classroom. Task 3 could be given as homework or as an additional task for more advanced students, for example.

Further, this lesson can serve as a basis for different follow-up activities. Apart from finishing and expanding the word map on the worksheet, further activities may include:

  • gathering new words relating to the “Fridays for Future” movement,
  • preparing presentations about climate-related topics,
  • working in groups and designing posters to inform others about climate-related issues or movements.

5 Conclusion

This lesson allows EFL learners to expand their vocabulary while working independently. With the help of a corpus, students develop a deeper understanding of topic-specific vocabulary. The worksheet aims to show students how to learn new vocabulary in chunks, which then enables them to use new words in appropriate contexts. Organising new vocabulary in a word map makes learning more sustainable, as visualisations can help learners memorise new words and collocations more easily.

Students are provided with a detailed handout that guides them through the individual steps of the lesson so that an introductory lesson on how to use a corpus is not needed.

Crucially, the methods used in this lesson can easily be applied to other topics. To do so, you would only need to change the basic text and adapt the worksheet and handout.

6 Resources and references


Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). https://www.english-corpora.org/coca/.

Pomikalek, Jan. (2021). JusText demo. https://nlp.fi.muni.cz/projects/justext/.


BBC News (18 November 2020). “What is climate change? A really simple guide”. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-24021772. (25 March, 2021).

Conrad, Susan. 2016. Using corpus linguistics to improve the teaching of grammar. In Eli Hinkel (ed.), Teaching English grammar to speakers of other languages, 38-62. Florence: Taylor and Francis.

Friginal, Eric. 2018. Corpus linguistics for English teachers: new tools, online resources, and classroom activities. New York, NY: Routledge.

Gill, Mehr. (20 September, 2019). Explained: What is the Global Climate Strike movement? The Indian EXPRESS. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-what-is-the-global-climate-strike-movement-6013302/ (24 March, 2021).

Niedersächsisches Kultusministerium. 2015. Kerncurriculum für das Gymnasium, Schuljahrgänge 5-10: Englisch. https://cuvo.nibis.de/cuvo.php?skey_lev0_0=Schulbereich&svalue_lev0_0=Sek+I&skey_lev0_1=Fach&svalue_lev0_1=Englisch&skey_lev0_2=Dokumentenart&svalue_lev0_2=Kerncurriculum&docid=1197&p=detail_view (25 March, 2021).

Niedersächsisches Kultusministerium. 2017. Kerncurriculum für das Gymnasium – gymnasiale Oberstufe, die Gesamtschule – gymnasiale Oberstufe, das Berufliche Gymnasium, das Abendgymnasium, das Kolleg: Englisch. https://cuvo.nibis.de/cuvo.php?skey_lev0_0=Dokumentenart&svalue_lev0_0=Kerncurriculum&skey_lev0_1=Fach&svalue_lev0_1=Englisch&docid=1132&p=detail_view (25 March, 2021).

7 Appendix

Download the full worksheet and the handout by clicking on the images.

Fig. 17: Student worksheet
Fig. 18: Student handout


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Creating Corpus-Informed Materials for the English as a Foreign Language Classroom Copyright © 2021 by Lisa Hörnschemeyer and Lena Janzen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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