The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, July 10, 2020

10 ways to tackle coronavocab: #10 My Corona

Over the past nine posts, I've been exploring some of the ways the coronavirus pandemic has changed not just our lives, but our language. I've looked at new coinages, new uses of existing words and phrases, and words that have suddenly spiked in use.  If you've missed any of the posts, click on the links below to see what we've covered:

#1 Coronacoinages: coronacoaster, isolife, infodemic 
#2 Trending terms: isolation, hand sanitizer, face masks 
#3 The Science: pandemic, PPE, herd immunity 
#4 New compounds and contexts: social distancing, lockdown, shielding 
#5 Learning and teaching: homeschooling, remote learning, asynchronous
 #6 Metaphors: the unseen enemy, perfect storm, spread like wildfire 
#7 The Stats: flatten the curve, pass the peak, second wave 
#8 Phrasal verbs: lock down, ramp up, ease off 
#9 Work:  WFH, remote working, furlough

As I said at the outset, not all students will want to spend their ELT classes talking about the pandemic. Some may want to switch off from it completely, others may be happy to dip into coronavocab for 10 minutes here and there but not get too bogged down in it. Hopefully, the tips and angles I've suggested have provided ideas for those occasional dips. I've tried to deal with the new vocab along with general language points too where possible so that it isn't just a throwaway activity focused on a bunch of potentially transient buzzwords, but it helps reinforce more generally transferrable knowledge.

Many of the activities I've suggested involve students talking about their own experiences of the times we've been living through, whether that's studying or working from home, or the practicalities of day-to-day life in lockdown. So I wanted to finish off with a set of vocabulary that isn't new and isn't unique to the current situation, but is, nonetheless, really important. To digress for a moment, a couple of years ago, I wrote a unit for a vocab book about health. It was B2 level and some of the target vocab went a bit beyond trivial coughs and colds, with items like cancer and mental health. As I started putting the material together, I realized that if learners were going to talk about these things, it was important that they had not just the key words, but the language to talk about the way those things affect people too. And after some discussion with my editor, I included words like experience and support as equally important target vocab. Which is a slightly long-winded way of introducing some vocabulary to wrap around the other topics to help students express the way everything that's happened and is still going on has affected them, to talk about their own experiences, feelings, hopes and expectations for the future.

ELT publishers are always keen to emphasize the positives, to avoid topics (and language) with negative connotations and to make their materials 'aspirational' … but life isn't all about the positive stuff and I think learners need to be equipped with the linguistic tools to deal with the downs as well as the ups. That's not to say you want a lesson that's all doom and gloom or that you feel equipped with the skills to deal with a topic that turns into a counselling session! With that in mind, the suggestions below are a mix of language to acknowledge the challenges but also express the positives. Which language you choose to focus on will, of course, come down to a judgement call about your individual students, their age, context, etc., but I think some of these could provide a springboard from some great language work and mixing some of them in with the previous vocab sets will give learners the tools to really express the realities of their own coronaverse.

Examples in context:
I do really miss going out and being with lots of people.
Many of us have found lockdown frustrating.
Even though everyone's experiencing things in different ways, there is so much overlap.
Some people are still wary of returning to campus
Customers who are struggling with the impacts of COVID-19 will be allowed to defer loan payments.
Teachers reported working long hours to support these students during remote learning.
I can't wait to get back to playing football.
If anything, being without baseball has made us appreciate it more.
One local fitness instructor decided to make the most of the outdoors to help her neighbours keep fit.
We have a deeper appreciation for social activities that may have been taken for granted in a pre-lockdown world.
The pandemic has changed the way we work almost overnight.
We're all adapting and adjusting to the new normals.

  • There are lots of possible quickie activities here: 5 things you miss(ed), hate(d), find/found frustrating during lockdown, 5 things you're looking forward to when things get back to normal, 5 things you've appreciated more, etc.
  • Many of these verbs and phrases are followed by particular colligational patterns (look forward to + ing, can't wait + to do, be bored of + ing, help sb do), so start off with an activity matching sentence halves where students have to think about both meaning and grammar. Then get them to take the first parts of the sentences and add their own personalized endings.
1 I do really miss … 
2 Some people are still wary … 
3 I can't wait …
a of returning to campus. 
b to get back to playing football.
c going out and being with lots of people.
  • If you want to deal with some of the negatives without getting bogged down, get students to use the vocab to create pairs of things they've found difficult or missed and things they've appreciated more or are looking forward to doing again. They could just be simple sentences or you could get creative and get students to make them into social media posts.

  • The new normal is a term that you hear a lot at the moment, but what will it be like? If you've been dealing with the language of future predictions (will, modal verbs and adverbs), then there's plenty of scope here for students to make their own predictions about how we'll probably all have to adapt and adjust and change the ways we do things.
This series of posts was prompted, in part, by the work I did on ETpedia Vocabulary which is also grouped into sets of 10 tips about different areas of vocabulary teaching. So if you're looking for more ideas …

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