Using corpora to investigate the linguistic challenges of the transition from primary to secondary school

Duygu Candarli & Robbie Love

University of Leeds

This talk introduces an ESRC-funded project which aims to build understanding of the language challenges of the transition from Key Stage (KS) 2 to KS3 in the UK school context. We focus on academic registers, that is, instructional and regulative registers (Christie, 2002) rather than, say, the language of the playground.

The KS2/3 transition is known to be difficult for many children, and there is a well-documented dip in attainment and motivation at the beginning of KS3 (DfE, 2011; Howe & Richards, 2011). Academic language issues are probably exacerbated at this point. Braund and Driver, writing about science learning, note that '[t]eaching environments [...] and teachers' language are very different in secondary schools from primary schools' (2005, p. 78). Students' writing has been extensively researched in the UK education contexts (e.g. Durrant & Brenchley, 2018; Nesi & Gardner, 2012); however, little is known about the educational registers that students encounter at school, and how they differ from the everyday language they use outside of school. Our project addresses the following research questions:

● How does the academic language of KS3 differ from that of KS2?

● How does the language of both KS2 and KS3 differ from everyday language?

Our data consist of two bespoke corpora, and various pre-existing reference corpora. The bespoke corpora represent (1) KS2 (years 5 and 6) and (2) KS3 (years 7 and 8). Both include audio recordings of lessons, students' textbooks, teacher-designed worksheets, information sheets, vocabulary and glossary booklets, PowerPoint presentations, exams, marking rubrics and other formative assessments in the subjects of English, history, maths, geography and the sciences. We are gathering these data from primary and secondary schools in England, mainly from the Yorkshire region.

This project aims to advance our understanding of the potential language challenges of students at the transition stage in the UK education system, by using methods from corpus linguistics to gain a 'bird's eye' view on a pressing educational issue. Methodologically, we hope to further bridge the disciplines of corpus linguistics and education, and in doing so help to improve the accessibility of curricula for all students.

This is an ESRC-funded research project based at the School of Education at the University of Leeds, working in partnership with Lancaster University's Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science and affiliated with Cambridge University Press.


Braund, M. & Driver, M. (2005). Pupils' perceptions of practical science in primary and secondary school: implications for improving progression and continuity of learning. Educational Research, 47, 77-91

Christie, F. (2002). Classroom discourse analysis: A functional perspective. London: Continuum.

Department for Education. (2011). How do pupils progress between Key Stages 3 and Research Report.

Durrant, P., & Brenchley, M. (2018). Development of vocabulary sophistication across genres in English children's writing. Reading and Writing.

Nesi, H., & Gardner, S. (2012). Genres across the disciplines: Student writing in higher education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Week 12 2018/2019

Thursday 24th January 2019

Management School LT 11