Chunk clouds – spotting & catching language chunks from texts

Low threat, classroom-based, mobile as learning capture tool.

Lexical chunking may be unfamiliar to teachers used to seeing lists of ‘vocabulary’ in their learning materials, so the task educates language teachers as well. Although linguists are still debating the precise definition of a lexical ‘chunk’, in many languages a ‘chunk’ is a group of 2, 3, 4 or even up to 7 words that are used together and have a specific meaning. The individual words have meaning alone, but when they are placed together in a particular order they mean something else.

Examples of chunks from the British academic written corpus are: a large number of, can be seen as, is due to, in the same way as. Examples of chunks from the British national corpus are: at the moment, once upon a time, hang on, talking about, catch you later, there once was.

Teaching learners to spot and ‘notice’ chunks will improve language learning and the acquisition of vocabulary. This can be achieved with any in-class text-based activity (audio, video or written) in the first place, and thereafter become an established learning practice for in and out of class home learning contexts.

  1. Ask your learners to interact with texts they are working on, i.e. circling, or highlighting and writing down the chunks they find in a text that they have already worked on and broadly understand its content. The example here is taken from a lesson including a text about why some countries struggle to develop.
  2. Individually or in pairs, guide learners to specific paragraphs to scan and write down the summary arguments and counter arguments in chunks – see Table 4.1.
  3. Then guide the learners to find examples of the argument chunks signaling the introduction of an argument, or countering one, as shown in the first and third columns of the table. Do this together if necessary; this table could be completed as a class, group or pair work task. Learners should have some opportunities to work together, compare and share ideas with others.

Table 4.1

Task adapted from one designed by Dr Diana Hicks for a CPD workshop

Argument introduction argument counter argument marker counter argument
It is sometimes said harsh environment yet some countries wealthy despite this
It is claimed by some rich resources however corporations control these
Yet another argument is overpopulation whereas in fact cheap labour
lack of skills development nonetheless willingness to work

Extension of Activity 2 – Capturing and recording chunks

The noting down of chunks can be done with paper and pen, or on movable sticky notes as well as electronically using AnswerGarden This is a free, web-based tool which requires no learner log ins and displays a growing cloud of chunks in real time, and which you can display using a digital projector or interactive whiteboard.

  1. Ask learners to create word chunk clouds in pairs or individually on their mobiles using Wordle, a free tool that allows you to keep words making up a chunk together by using the tilde character ~.
  2. Cleverly, if you are working with a whole text that you can import, rather than chunks, Wordle gives greater prominence to the lexis that has appeared the most – it is larger in size. Tagul is an alternative tool, but the size of the lexis is not related to its frequency in the text. Each provides opportunities for learners to choose and create the shape, colours and lay-outs so customizable cloud chunks can be shared digitally, remixed, printed & used in any number of ways, including as the basis for recycling in writing and presentations, or as reminders while speaking in class.
  3. Learners might also like to collaborate to create their own chunk flashcards out of class, using free tools like Cram or Quizlet, or paid apps like GoConqr. There are options to include your own images, or a translation, or example sentence on the flipside of these digital flashcard makers. Or you can record the pronunciation on the premium version of Quizlet. As chunks of language like these are not easy to illustrate, the option to translate into L1 is a useful way for learners sharing the same mother tongue to work together on sharing their understanding and writing a sentence in L2 containing the chunk.

This collaborative process of making and creating a cloud chunk or a digital set of flashcards to share, review and study with other class members or alone, anywhere, is a powerful one, and can help you remember new language chunks.

By collaborating to jointly decide how their chunks and chunk clouds might be categorized, learners are able to share their workload, increase their autonomy and continue to chunk spot out of class. They can make a shared cloud multimedia chunk book for members of the same class or project team using Evernote or Microsoft 360. These have the option to add photos, links to their flashcards, text and voice records, as well as other online resources. These tools work offline, and synch between devices. ‘The Company Words Keep’ by Paul Davis & Hanna Kryszewska (Delta Publishing, 2012) focuses on an depth look at the role of lexical chunks in language teaching, with many useful activities for language teaching.


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IAmLearning: Mobilizing and Supporting Educator Practice Copyright © 2017 by International Association for Mobile Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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