Using Antconc & the COCA for student projects

Tomorrow my 406 (Modern English Grammar) students submit an analysis assignment in which they’ve been asked to build and analyze their own small corpus using Antconc. Previously in the term, they’ve completed two corpus reports and one analysis assignment using the COCA, COHA, Glowbe, or BNC, although they mostly choose the COCA. I want to detail the corpus projects in hopes they’ll give you some ideas for how you may implement corpus study into your classroom. I’d love to hear your comments.

1) The corpus report: The corpus reports are intended to be informal, somewhat casual investigations of language phenomena the students encounter in their daily lives. I urge them to note interesting phrases or words overheard from friends, classmates, people at Starbucks, etc. I’m mainly trying to scaffold them into a corpus approach and help them see the value of an evidence-based approach to language study. I’m continually urging them to move from prescriptive judgments to more context-sensitive descriptive explanations.  Students are generally inventive, and although the course has a grammar focus, I allow more lexically-oriented studies as well. Students this term have investigated uses of feminism/feminist, tested traditional comparative & superlative rules between the BNC and the COCA, investigated the informal pronoun y’all, found the most common pre-modifiers for man & woman, etc.

For the report, I ask students to produce a 1.0-1.5 write-up of their findings that has the following parts: 1) Brief intro to your topic and explanation of why you chose this item 2) clear explanation of the search syntax used 3)  findings 4) interpretations, i.e. tell us what it means. And then on the day the assignments are due, we have what I call a “corpus report roundtable” where all the students share their investigation.

2) The Analysis Assignments: The analysis assignments are similar in structure to the corpus reports but ask the students to ask multiple research questions and probe deeper into their topic. For these papers, students must provide a more detailed introduction of the grammar item being investigated and are encouraged to use grammar texts and articles from class as references. In the first assignment, they extend a corpus report to 3-5 pages following the same template (intro, methods, findings, discussion). For the next assignment, I provide a tutorial on Antconc and encourage them to build their own small, specialized corpus. For this assignment they analyze a spoken discourse event, and for the final project, they study written discourse.   I’ve had some great projects, e.g. adjectives of evaluation across Amazon reviews, investigations of adjective & genitive patterns for female characters in Bronte novels, and studies of nominalization is academic writing.

If you’d like to see the assignment sheets for these activities or have any questions, post here or email me at


4 thoughts on “Using Antconc & the COCA for student projects

  1. Hello, Thanks for the post about how you use corpus in class. I’m an Applied Linguistics grad student in Taiwan. I took a Corpus class but unfortunately it was bogus. I’m currently in the Corpus MOOC at Future Learn. Its great. I’m trying to write my thesis but I’m sort of lost as to how to frame then develop a corpus study for a thesis. Your activities above were useful. I just got a copy of Stubbs “Words and Phrases” which I intend to read. Are there any materials you would suggest? Background: I’ve been teaching EFL here for many years. One of my ideas is to take 54 MBA EFL learner letters and compare them to a Business English Corpus I have from the 90’s using Antconc. But I’m hesitant because the BEC is from the 90’s. TIA


    • Thanks for your comment, Chris. I’m glad my post was helpful. First, I think it is great that you are taking the Corpus MOOC; it is a quality course and you’ll learn a lot. For your question about MBA learner letters, I immediately thought of Upton & Cohen’s (2009) “An approach to corpus based discourse analysis: the move analysis example” as well as Upton and Connor’s 2001 article in English for Specific Purposes. I think these two readings could be useful resources for you. But yes, it does seem like you need to choose a frame to guide your investigation. The two I just listed investigate moves structures, Hyland (2009,2010) looks at engagement and proximity features, Flowerdew and Wan (2003) is informed by SFL but later Flowerdew and Wan (2006,2010) model an applied genre analysis while using some corpus techniques. Another which may interest in Henry & Roseberry (2001) and their look at the letter of application. So, I suppose you have to determine what exactly you want to investigate.

      As for a reference corpus, you may explore this list here:
      It has several corpora (some free, some not) that include business letters. Also, if you’re investigating particular lexical features, you might be able to do some comparisons to sub-corpora on the COCA, e.g. compare a usage to the financial news sub corpora.

      I hope I answered your questions. If you have any more, please send them to me.



  2. Reblogged this on Perfecting English and commented:
    I’m glad I found this. The project sounds interesting and seems to have similarities to a project called the Language Study, a compulsory research project for Stage 2 English Pathways students in the South Australian Certificate of Education (albeit on a much larger scale). Thanks for sharing.


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