SkELL: Easy to use for teachers and students


In a previous post I said that presentation and design factors were barriers to corpus use by teachers. I’ll add the sense that reading concordance lines is not intuitive for most people and, although central to corpus methods, adds to a discouraging visual aspect of many concordancers. Teachers don’t want to deal with this and they especially don’t want to expose their students to it. Aren’t there some tools that don’t have such a steep learning curve, have simple menus, and won’t scare our students? Thankfully, yes there are.

One of the best tools for non-specialists (teachers and students) is the Sketch Engine for Language Learning (SkELL). Among its user friendly features are a simple search mechanism (just input a word or phrase), a limited number of numbered output lines (40 max), lines in sentence format (not cut-off at a certain number of tokens before/after the node word), and plenty of white space which makes the appearance easier to read and process on screen. I’ll just go over a few straightforward ways to use SkELL.

Screenshot: SkELL’s simple menu and search

At a basic (and basic is good) level concordance lines can be used as illustrative examples of target features, lexical and grammatical. SkELL is an excellent resource for finding authentic sentences for the target word(s). One thing to keep in mind when selecting lines to use as examples is to consider what exactly you want the example for. Is it to help students understand the meaning of a word/phrase? Is it to help them understand the usage? Both? Some other skill or aspect you’re teaching? For a deeper discussion of this topic: a series of articles that discuss example sentences (particularly in dictionaries) that help learners with decoding (meaning) or encoding (usage) is included at the bottom of this post. The same principles apply to teachers wanting to use example sentences in class.

As an example, here is a screenshot showing some of the lines generated by searching for “aware”. I have outlined a sentence useful for decoding in red, and a couple sentences useful for encoding in blue.

Screenshot: some concordance lines for ‘aware’

The line “They are well informed and politically aware” is useful for decoding because of contextual clues, like ‘well informed’, which can help someone understand what ‘aware’ means. The lines “Ensure students are aware of their responsibility” and “You are probably already aware of this” are useful for encoding because they illustrate certain collocational and colligational features, such as ‘aware + of’, the high frequency use of be-verbs preceding ‘aware’, and in the latter case the use of verb + adverb preceding ‘aware’.

SkELL is also a great resource for discovering and exploring collocates. By clicking on the Word Sketch button in the top menu, a table of collocates is displayed, with the collocates separated into groups according to kinds of collocates.

Screenshot: word sketch for ‘aware’

Each collocate can be clicked, which will result in a new list of example sentences featuring the original search term and the selected collocate. This is useful for teachers, and for students to get some direct experience using a relatively straightforward, easy-to-use corpus resource.

Screenshot: several lines for ‘aware’ and its collocate ‘grow’

A few other ideas for using SkELL, though I won’t go into detail here, are creating gap-fill exercises, having students find and investigate examples/collocates (maybe each student/group of students could find and present examples of different kinds of collocates for a target word), using the sentences for translation exercises, etc.

My final point about SkELL’s usefulness is that it is a mobile friendly site, so even if students don’t have access to a PC in class, if they have smartphones or some other mobile device, they can use it just as well.

Have any other tips or good ideas for using SkELL? Please write a comment.


A second post of teaching-with-SkELL ideas is available.

Frankenberg-Garcia (2012) “Learners’ use of corpus examples”. International Journal of Lexicography, vol 25/3, 273-296.

Frankenberg-Garcia (2014) “The use of corpus examples for language comprehension and production”. Special Issue on Researching Uses of Corpora for Language Teaching and Learning, ReCALL, 26, 128-146.

Frankenberg-Garcia, A. (2015) “Dictionaries and encoding examples to support language production”. International Journal of Lexicography, 24/4, 490-512.

Each of the above articles is available through the author’s personal site.

BAISA, Vít a Vít SUCHOMEL. SkELL: Web Interface for English Language Learning. In Eighth Workshop on Recent Advances in Slavonic Natural Language Processing. Brno: Tribun EU, 2014, pp. 63-70, 8 p. ISSN 2336-4289. (online)



6 thoughts on “SkELL: Easy to use for teachers and students

  1. Thanks Mura – that tip came from Tim Johns actually, when I attended a workshop in a bout 1998. We need to temper that advice with Hoey’s priming hypotheses concerning the position of words in sentences.

    Liked by 1 person

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