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

10 “Black Lives Matter”: Collecting vocabulary to improve intercultural communicative competence

Tilza Maria Meise-Reckefuß

1 Introduction and rationale

The death of George Floyd in the USA. has rekindled debates about racism and trigged protests around the world. George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe”, became a slogan to highlight the reality that non-white people have been facing in their everyday life, oppressed by racism and prejudice. Another slogan used around the world in the protests was “Black Lives Matter”. The hashtag and movement Black Lives Matter was created in 2013 as a reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, who killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.

The local secondary school curriculum states that students should be able to recognize, question, and when necessary, relativize and revise their perceptions, judgments, and prejudices (Niedersächsisches Kultusministerium 2017:20).

To cover this aspect stated by the school curriculum, this chapter provides teachers/students with the necessary instructions to use corpus linguistic research for collecting vocabulary and collocations related to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Students will therefore have the opportunity to learn vocabulary and collocations through contact with authentic written language on a topical issue.

The chapter gives the students some tools to talk about racism using respectful language. In this sense, the collected vocabulary is also an effective way of developing intercultural communicative competence and promoting anti-racism education. Sommier and Roiha (2017: 8) suggest that anti-racism education is best “conveyed through small steps and practices”. They argue that the examination of language issues and of “what is said” can contribute to developing intercultural communication competence.


Outline and objectives

Target Learners: 10th-grade students

Duration: approx. 90 min

This chapter presents two options to use the corpus material in the lesson:

Option 1: Only the teacher engages with the corpus and designs teaching materials from the findings in the corpus using screenshots, extracted sentences, collocations, and patterns. You can find ready-made corpus-based teaching material in this chapter as well as instructions and ideas on how to create your own material on “Black Lives Matter” or any other topic of your choice. In the lesson, students engage with the material to learn relevant language patterns and to develop a greater understanding of the topic.

Option 2: In this alternative version, the teacher shows students how to work with the corpus themselves. Students look for patterns and collocations in the corpus and discuss the results. They may also work with additional teaching materials prepared beforehand using the corpus. This approach is more hands-on and may provide students with a better insight into the topic and language patterns, but it is also more time consuming and requires students to have access to internet-enabled devices.

Learning Objectives:

  • Students learn vocabulary and collocations related to the “Black Lives Matter” movement and to racism in our modern society more broadly.
  • Students improve their ability to speak and write about the “Black Lives Matter” movement and to understand texts related to this topic.
  • Students develop greater intercultural competence and increase their awareness of racism in our society.
  • If you choose option 2: Students know how to query a corpus in order to find collocations on specialized, topical topic.

2 Corpus, tools and methods

According to Friginal (2018: 5), besides providing a contextualized use of language, the application of corpus linguistics in English language teaching allows students to perceive the variety of vocabulary and grammar found in authentic samples of written and spoken language: “Students will have to incrementally learn what linguistic variation in everyday language means, together with its sociocultural values”. Considering the topicality of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, it can be assumed that it will be almost impossible to find pedagogical materials on this topic. For that reason, the NOW Corpus was selected for this lesson. The NOW Corpus (News on the Web) contains 10.7 billion words from online news publications and new data is added on a daily basis.

This chapter will demonstrate how to create a virtual corpus from the data of the NOW corpus that consist of texts related to the “Black Lives Matter” movement and how teachers can exploit it to create their own materials on the basis of authentic texts and language patterns, and/or to conduct lessons in which students interact with the corpus themselves to find relevant language patterns.

3 Step-by-step guide: Teacher Preparation

3.1 Creating a virtual corpus

To collect vocabulary related to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, create a specialized virtual corpus for the “Black Lives Matter” movement using one of the two options explained below, or create two virtual corpora using both methods and then combining them (see end of section 3.1). Note that if you wish to let your students engage with the specialized corpus to search for patterns, they will have to follow the same steps to create a virtual corpus on their own, as you cannot share corpora on english-corpora.org.

Note that the english-corpora.org interface regularly displays a notice encouraging you to upgrade your account if you are a non-paying user. But do not worry, the message will disappear after a few seconds and you can continue your search. A premium account is not necessary for this lesson.

Option 1:

  1. Open your browser and go to https://www.english-corpora.org/.
  2. Log in to your account or register by clicking on my account.
  3. Click on News on the Web (NOW).
    Fig. 1: Accessing the NOW corpus
  4. Click on Texts/Virtual and then on Create corpus.
    Fig. 2: Creating a virtual corpus
  5. Now type the surname “Floyd” into the box next to Article title.
  6. Select the United States as Country.
  7. Select the date 05/25/2020 (which is the day of George Floyd’s death) as the start date and today’s date as the end date (in the screenshot: 07/08/2020). Note the use of the American date format: MM/DD/YYYY.
  8. Now click on Submit.
Fig. 3: Creating a corpus of articles about George Floyd
  1. Deselect the texts that are not related to George Floyd’s death (in my sample, I only found three: 1, 5, 14).
  2. Save as “Black Lives Matter Floyd”.
  3. Click on Submit.
Fig. 4: Submitting a search
  1. Now you can see your corpus in My Virtual Corpora.
  2. Refresh your browser to view your corpus in Texts/Virtual.

Option 2:

  1. Go back to the search page.
  2. Click on Texts/Virtual.
  3. Type in “black lives matter”.
  4. Click on Find texts.
  5. Submit your search by clicking on Find matching strings.
Fig. 5: Finding texts
  1. On the next page, click on Save List and write “Black Lives Matter” into the box next to SAVE AS.
  2. Click on Submit.
Fig. 6: Saving the results as a list
  1. Now you can see your two corpora: one with articles about George Floyd and one with texts in which “Black Lives Matter” is mentioned.
Fig. 7: Your newly created corpora

Merging the two virtual corpora

  1. In the NOW corpus, click on Texts/Virtual in the search form and then click on Edit Corpora to get to the list of your virtual corpora shown in Fig. 7.
Fig. 8: Edit corpora
  1. Now click on the name of the corpus that you want to take the texts from, in this case the “Black Lives Matter” corpus.
  2. Tick the box before 100 in the light blue bar to select all of the 100 texts in the “Black Lives Matter” corpus. You can also select or deselect individual texts that you wish or do not wish to add to the other corpus.
  3. Click on the white box that says —SELECT— and select the corpus to which you want to add the selected texts, in this case the “Black Lives Matter Floyd” corpus.
  4. Finally, click on ADD TO.
  5. You can check if your query has been successful by clicking on (SEE ALL VIRTUAL CORPORA) in the blue bar at the top to get back to the overview of your virtual corpora. The number of texts listed in the column #TEXTS should have changed now, relative to the number of texts you have added to the corpus.
Fig. 9: Adding texts to a corpus

3.2 Collecting vocabulary

This section will demonstrate two ways of searching for collocations and patterns using your virtual corpus/corpora. The searches and collocations mentioned here serve as examples and are by no means exhaustive. The instructions should encourage you to look for more potentially relevant language patterns for your lesson, and/or to guide your students through the search for more patterns in their virtual corpus/corpora themselves.

3.2.1 Searching for collocations using the “List”-function

  1. In the NOW corpus, click on List and type in “white NOUN”.
  2. Click on Options and group by LEMMAS. This way, different forms of the same word will not be counted twice, e.g., supremacist and supremacists.
  3. Click on Texts/Virtual and select your virtual corpus.
  4. Click on Find matching strings to submit your search.
Fig. 10: Searching for noun collocates of the adjective “white”
Fig. 11: Selecting the virtual corpus
  1. Select collocations that you think are most relevant to the “Black Lives Matter” movement and that you would like to introduce to your students, e.g., white supremacy, white privilege, white silence. Teachers and students are encouraged to highlight the collocations they find most relevant.
Fig. 12: Search results for “white NOUN”
  1. Click on the words in the list to see the collocations in context. To get a more balanced overview, generate a random sample by clicking on 100 next to FIND SAMPLE. You can use the concordance lines to extract useful example sentences for your students, create a worksheet, or show them a screenshot of the concordance lines to look for authentic contexts and patterns.
Fig. 13: Concordance lines for “white NOUN”
  1. You can follow the same steps as above to search for adjectives that collocate with racism.
Fig. 14: Searching for adjective collocates of “racism”
Fig. 15: Results for “ADJ racism”
Fig. 16: Concordance lines for “systemic racism”

Note that some of these words are different types of racism, e.g.:

    • systemic racism
    • institutional racism
    • structural racism
    • covert racism

You can use these types and also terms like white supremacy as topics for further lessons on racism and the “Black Lives Matter” movement and use the corpus to find more language patterns relevant to these topics. To get a better understanding of these forms of racism, you may consult these and other sources:

    1. As a final example, these are the results of the query “VERB racism”:
Fig. 17: Results for “VERB racism”

Here, students could be asked to classify these collocations according to their meaning. Depending on the students’ proficiency level and previous experience with the topic, they may create their own semantic categories or you can provide them with ready-made categories. For weaker students, an example can be included for each category. In the hands-on alternative to this lesson plan, students can be encouraged to click on these individual collocations to look for example sentences and to take note of the most frequent syntactic patterns in which these collocations occur, e.g., protest against racism, to dismantle the systems that perpetuate racism, we do not condone racism.

3.2.2 Searching for patterns in the concordance lines

This method allows you (and your students) to look at both lexical and grammatical patterns in context.

  1. In the “List”-function, type “police” into the white box.
  2. Click on Texts/Virtual and select your virtual corpus.
  3. Click on Find matching strings.
Fig. 18: Search for the word “police”
    1. On the next page, click on “POLICE” to get to the concordance lines.
    2. Click on 100 next to Find Sample to get a random sample.
    3. Look through the concordance lines to search for recurrent patterns and/or let your students pick out relevant patterns.
Fig. 19: Concordance lines for “police”
  1. In this example, students may be encouraged to pick out compound nouns like police brutality, police officer, collocations like to protest against police brutality or to investigate claims against police. You can also point out that police appears sometimes with and sometimes without an article, as you can see in the two examples killed at the hands of police and the police in his city have arrested (Fig. 20).
Fig. 20: Concordance lines for “police”

3.3 Creating Materials

You can create crossword puzzles based on your findings from the corpus. An easy way to do this is by using the website linked below. Its use is very easy and self-explanatory. https://printablecreative.com/crossword-generator

Word clouds are a very good method to visualize the results drawn from corpora. You can create them very easily using PowerPoint. Click on the link below and follow the instructions:


Additional Advice: It is better to convert your whole text to lowercase letters because sometimes the program differentiates between words that begin with a capital and ones beginning with a lowercase letter. So that it may create two entries for the same word in your word cloud.

4 Lesson plan

Note that this lesson deals with very sensitive issues (e.g., murder, violence, racism and other forms of discrimination) and may therefore require a trigger warning.

Warmup: (10 min)

  1. Write the name “George Floyd” on the blackboard and/or show a picture.
  2. Ask the students if they have heard of this person.
  3. Ask about the way he died and why they think he died.
  4. Write out the name of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
  5. Ask the students if/what they know about it.

Pre-task: (20 min)

  1. In pairs or groups of three, tell the students to open their web browser and connect to https://www.dictionary.com/.
  2. Ask students to type “Black Lives Matter” into the search box (you could also provide the definition on a worksheet).

A political and social movement originating among African Americans, emphasizing basic human rights and racial equality for Black people and campaigning against various forms of racism. BLM, B.L.M.

  1. Tell students to read the definition and discuss it in their groups. Ensure that the students understand the main meaning of the definition. You can also ask them to explain it in their mother tongue.
  2. Introduce the lesson’s aim, which is to learn language patterns related to the “Black Liver Matter” movement and racism in order to be able to speak and write about the topic.

After this point, the progression of the lesson depends on whether you choose to let the students work with the corpus themselves or not.

Option 1 (teacher-corpus interaction only):

Task 2 (30 min.)

  1. Tell the students that you will show them lists of words, patterns and sentences collected from different texts on the internet on the topic of “Black Lives Matter”.
  2. Share the worksheet(s) you created on the basis of your corpus or the screenshots that you made from your collected data.
  3. Let your students work with and discuss the materials in pairs or groups.

Task 3 (30 min.)

In this lesson version, you will probably have more time to discuss the results and take a closer look at the various aspects that occur in the material, e.g., the types of racism, the meaning of expressions like white supremacy and white privilege, etc. You might want to bring in more information on (one of) these aspects and work on them in more detail, using the language patterns introduced in the previous task.

Option 2 (with hands-on student-corpus interaction):

Task 2: (45 min)

  1. Guide your students through the creation of a virtual corpus, following the steps described in section 3.1.
  2. Show your students how to search for collocations and language patterns in their virtual corpus.
  3. Encourage students to search for a number of collocations themselves and discuss the results first in pairs and then in plenum. Collect language patterns that you and your class deem most relevant to talk about the “Black Lives Matter” movement and racism more generally in English.

Task 3: (15 min)

For the last part of your lesson, you can select some exercises of the worksheet below to focus on individual aspects in more detail. Alternatively, you can also use the worksheet activities as homework.

5 Worksheet

The language patterns and sentences used in this worksheet are taken from the virtual corpus. The activities aim to ensure the understanding of the different terms and their uses. It is up to you to decide if your students need an additional glossary to understand the topics on the worksheet (see links above for suitable resources).

A) Complete the crossword below with the help of the two screenshots and the definitions below. You can find the answers to the crossword either in the list of white + NOUN or in the list of ADJECTIVE + racism collocations.


Fig. 21: Most common noun collocates of “white”
Fig. 22: Most frequent adjective collocates of “racism”
Fig. 23: Crossword puzzle created with https://printablecreative.com/crossword-generator

Crossword clues.

  1. The idea that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. While it is often associated with extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, it is in fact ever present in our institutional and cultural assumptions.
  2. A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in different ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. Different aspects of our history and culture have allowed privileges associated with “whiteness” and disadvantages associated with “color” to continue and adapt over time. It is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Instead, it is a feature of the social, economic, and political systems in which we all exist.
  3. It refers to the unquestioned and unjustified advantages, benefits and choices that some people enjoy only because they are white. Generally, white people who experience this are unaware of it.
  4. A form of racial discrimination that is subtler and often difficult to observe. It is often hidden in the fabric of society, where racist actions are either passive or ambiguous. These subtle actions are often justified with explanations that society is more willing to believe.


B) Complete the sentences below with the help of the list of verbs that collocate with racism below:


Fig. 24: Most frequent verb collocates of racism”

Fill in the gaps.

a) Demonstrations across the US to ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­___________________ racism and police abuses remained large but mostly without the violence of previous nights.

b) This generation’s challenge is to ________ racism, which in some ways is even harder. Right? But it can be done.

c) Thousands of people in Philadelphia continue to _______________ racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd.

d) “In my life, I have _______________________ racism,” Frahm, 17, said. “It’s a terrible feeling.”

e) Europe identified with the cause of US protests and urged their own governments to ______________ racism and police violence.


C) Below, you see a word cloud, which shows words commonly related to the word racism. The larger the word, the more often it co-occurs with racism.

Fig. 25: Word cloud of words associated with racism” in the BLM corpus (created with PowerPoint)

Words associated with racism

a) Look at the word cloud. Write down three of the largest words.

  1. ____________________
  2. ____________________
  3. ____________________

b) Write down the meaning of these words in German. You may consult a dictionary for help.

  1. _________________________________________
  2. _________________________________________
  3. _________________________________________

c) Choose three verbs from the word cloud and write three sentences related to our topic.





D) Now look at the word clouds below.

Which topic belongs to which word cloud?

  1. George Floyd’s death
  2. Types of racism
  3. Verbs often associated with racism
  4. The “Black Lives Matter” movement











Your turn!

Choose one of the topics in the word clouds above and write a couple of sentences about it. Make sure that you use some words from the word clouds.

Solutions to the crossword puzzle:

1 = whitesupremacy; 2 = systemicracism; 3 = whiteprivilege; 4 = covertracism

Solutions to the cloze exercise: a = denounce; b = end; c = protest/denounce; d = experienced; e = address/condemn

Solutions to the word cloud activity: 1b; 2d; 3a; 4c

6 Options and further ideas

If you would like to include a listening activity to this lesson, I recommend this link: https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/the-death-of-george-floyd-in-context. The article describes Floyd’s death and its context in a very detailed way. The site also provides an audio file of this article, which you can use as a listening activity.

If you wish to add some videos to your lesson to highlight individual aspects and concepts like white silence or use them for a follow-up lesson on this topic, here are some links to suggested videos:

White silence on social media:


How white silence fuels racism:


“Black Lives Matter” vocabulary:


7 Conclusion

Race and racism are relevant topics that ought to be discussed in school. Teachers should be aware that students have their own beliefs and stereotypes, as we all have. At the same time, it is important to show that we live in a biased world and are all susceptible to false beliefs. Maybe some parents or even staff members will find that the topic should not be brought into the classroom. Even if a class mostly consists of white students, this topic is very much justified as part of a public discussion and concerns every citizen in the global, multicultural community that is our world.

The main advantage of planning a lesson using a corpus is that it allows teachers and students to examine language in authentic contexts. Although collecting data can be time consuming, the material collected can serve different purposes in your students’ learning process. By following the instructions in the step-by-step guide in section 3, you can create a virtual corpus on a topic of your choice with only a few clicks. Since the NOW corpus is updated on a daily basis, it allows teachers and students to explore issues of topical interest and current affairs from across the world that cannot be found in textbooks.

8 Resources and references

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

Niedersächsisches Kultusministerium. 2017. Kerncurriculum für das Gymnasium, gymnasiale Oberstufe: Englisch. https://cuvo.nibis.de/cuvo.php?k0_0=Schulbereich&v0_0=Sek+II&k0_1=Fach&v0_1=Englisch&docid=1132&p=detail_view (28 June, 2021).

NOW Corpus (News on the Web). https://www.english-corpora.org/now/.

Sommier, Mélodine & Roiha, Anssi. 2018. Dealing with Culture in Schools: A small-step approach towards anti-racism in Finland. In Aminkeng A. Alemanji (ed.), Antiracism education in and out of schools. Helsinki: Palvagre Macmillan.












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Creating Corpus-Informed Materials for the English as a Foreign Language Classroom Copyright © 2021 by Tilza Maria Meise-Reckefuß is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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