The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

10 ways to tackle coronavocab: #7 The Stats

Much of the coronavirus news has revolved around the numbers. We've got used to statistics and graphs being a regular feature of daily news updates. We started off by trying to flatten the curve, we've learnt to look at the rolling average rather than the daily numbers because of fluctuations and reporting delays and now we're all worried about a second peak …. or is it a wave or a spike?

Looking at recent corpus data, 'wave' seems to be very much in the lead.

This might be an angle that especially appeals to students with more of a STEM-inclination, EAP students, IELTS candidates and some Business English students too. These are all groups who need to be able to talk about numbers, trends and statistics and for whom much of this vocab could be usefully transferrable. As before, tackling all of these in one go would probably be overload, so pick one or two graphs to discuss and describe, and mix these trending items with revision of some of the more standard stats vocab that students may already be familiar with (rise, increase, fall, drop, trend, etc.).

Some examples in context:
The community is making an extraordinary effort to flatten the curve of infections.
We're two or three weeks behind the curve here as far as the spread of the virus is concerned.
Experts now believe the country has passed the peak of virus deaths.
Without such measures being continued, a second wave of infections is likely.
Overall the 7-day rolling average, which smooths out daily variation, is showing that the number of deaths is beginning to trend downwards.
The epidemic curve suggested a period of exponential growth from March 10 until March 24, with a 2.2-day doubling time.
Scientists believe the current R rate is between 0.6 and 0.9 in Britain.
The models predict 7,200 COVID-19 cases by beginning of June.
The man who tested positive may have been France's patient zero.
The number of daily new coronavirus cases has plateaued at around 900 to 1,000 over the last week or so.
We know the virus can have a long tail and other cases can pop up.

  • Again there are plenty of good explainers out there, as texts, videos and infographics, that you could utilise in class for vocabulary and discussion:
  • More or less : Behind the Stats: personally, I'm a big fan of this BBC Radio 4 programme that takes a look at the statistics in the news and which has provided a wealth of information throughout the pandemic. You can download it as a podcast from the BBC website here . Some of the downloads are full 30-min episodes covering a number of topics each and there are some 10-minute slots just on a single topic. With higher level classes, taking one section on a particular topic would make an excellent listening activity. The presenters not only explain the statistics, but also question the way they've been presented in the media and what particular statistics can and can't tell us. Great for critical thinking, especially with EAP students.
  • Get IELTS candidates to practise their part two writing task using some of the many real graphs, charts and diagrams around in the media.
  • With Business English learners, taking a graph relating to the progress of the pandemic to describe could be a starting point that then leads onto a discussion about how it's affected the learner's own work or industry at different points. Could they build their own graph to describe? Mine below is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but theirs could be as serious or as fun as they choose. There'll be more about the language around work and business in my next post.
Create-your-own graph

 If your students are really interested in the statistics, there's a more detailed, academic glossary here. There's another useful general coronavirus glossary by the BBC here. And a reminder that there are lots more tips and activities around teaching vocabulary generally, including sections on EAP, ESP and exam prep, in ETpedia Vocabulary.

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