The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

10 ways to tackle coronavocab: #3 The Science

Lots of scientific and medical terms that you’d probably never come across before are suddenly being bandied about on the news. We’ve all learnt the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic and have got used to hearing about PPE, the R rate and co-morbidities.

Again, if you want to tackle this angle in class, choose words to look at that are appropriate for the level of your students. Many of these will be most relevant to more advanced levels, CLIL or EAP. Also think about whether the specific items are useful for your students to actively learn and revise … probably not unless they're medical students! These terms will more likely be most useful for prompting discussion or for exploring transferrable language points (such as prefixes).

  • Because many of these terms are new to fluent English speakers too, there are plenty of good explainers around in text, audio and video form that could be used with students as reading and listening input to prompt discussion. Try some of these:
  • This is another great vocab set for exploring prefixes: epidemic v pandemic, co-morbidities, antibody, etc. These types of prefixes are especially useful for EAP or CLIL students who are likely to come across similar formations across disciplines. Suggest words that use the same prefixes from other academic disciplines (or challenge students to find them from their own subject areas) to create prefix posters or mindmaps.

  • a- is an especially interesting prefix in English (meaning 'without') – start off with asymptomatic and maybe anosmia or asynchronous (which will come up in a later post about teaching and learning) and broaden out to other common uses of the prefix (asymmetrical, atypical, etc.) Either give students the words to work out the meanings or get them to find words with the prefix for themselves in the dictionary. Elicit contexts for the pairs of opposites - describe a situation that's typical and one that's atypical, an object that's symmetrical and one that's asymmetrical.
  • With many of these long, multi-syllable words, it's worth spending a bit of time on pronunciation, of individual sounds (like the a- prefix always /eɪ/ and never a weak form) and of stressed syllables.

Hint: Most learner’s dictionaries have entries for prefixes which give both the meaning and a few examples, look at a- here or co- here.
Many learner's dictionaries are keeping up with pandemic-related vocabulary by adding new entries to their online dictionaries, including many of the items featured in this series. Take a look at Oxford Learner's Dictionaries list of new additions for May 2020, for example. And for more ideas for vocab activities generally take a look at ETpedia Vocabulary.

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