I happened across a website called WordSift the other day, which offers teachers and learners the assistance to visualise vocabulary (and connected language) in a memorable and pleasing manner, and thought that this would be a useful tool for assisting students with their academic vocabulary development as well as offering teachers an additional resource. In this post, I shall share a few initial ideas that I have had about incorporating WordSift into possible future EAP and preparatory courses.
Analysing Academic Articles
The first thought that I had was for students to analyse the language within selected academic articles (related to potential student readings) that they have discovered from their initial research. In this example, I decided on an academic article, ‘Assessing academic writing on a pre-sessional EAP course: Designing assessment which supports learning’ written by Seviour (2015).
I selected all text from the article, and then pasted this into WordSift, which provides an immediate review of all language in the form of a WordCloud. This WordCloud provides an instant visualisation of the most commonly used language within a given text. Each word can then be clicked upon to in the WordCloud and below connected lexis is given. For example, I clicked on the word ‘assessment’, which was used 47 times in the article, and a visualised thesaurus was offered.
As well as a visualised thesaurus, or what the website calls ‘WordNet Visualization’, related language is available to view with an ‘in context’ view. Such language includes ‘appraisal’, ‘judgement’, or ‘classification’. However, what I am more interested in are the chunks of language that allow teachers (and students) to analyse such lexis. Patterns are recognised promptly, with so much potential being offered. From a brief minute of analysing the word ‘assessment’, I discovered the following language chunks:
- assessment activities
- formative assessment
- summative assessment
- a particular assessment task
- feedback on assessment
- various assessment criteria
So how could this help learners? Well my thought is that EAP students could import particular reading related to a provided essay title which would allow them to discover the most common academic language by marking vocabulary from the Academic Word List, with such language being highlighted in blue.
Students could then analyse the most common academic language within context and build up their awareness of lexical chunks. This in turn would aid the academic writing process with students now using the most common lexical chunks that would be most natural within an academic essay.
Using Essay Titles
The final thought about WordSift is that students could use this to analyse essay titles to help them develop synonyms and other lexical connections to key words. Such language could then be used to search for suitable and related academic articles. I chose an essay title from a previous EAP course to see how this would fit with this process, this being related to national education and the aid of international agencies.
I copied and pasted the essay title/question into WordSift. This very brief analysis (of only 21 words), provided some insight into even the most common Academic Language, with 4 words being picked up from the Academic Word List. Such language highlighted from the visualised thesaurus provided potential synonyms which could then be used within an academic article search by students. It was an interesting exercise and I would very much like to incorporate WordSift into future EAP courses, and to see how student uptake is regarding this tool.
It would be interesting to see what other EAP practitioners think about WordSift and whether it has any potential in an EAP context. Share your thoughts and practical ideas of using this tool in the classroom in the comments – it would be good to hear what others would have to say.