C H I L D E S Teaching Tips

Teaching Resources

  1. The CHILDES database.
  2. A guide to CHAT and CLAN by Ursula Stephany and Conny Bast.
  3. The CLAN manual, Brian MacWhinney, The CHILDES Project, 3rd ed. Volume I. There is an introductory Tutorial at the beginning of Part 2: The Programs, and a set of Exercises at the end.
  4. The chapter by Judith Becker Bryant in Jean Berko Gleason (ed.), The Development of Language, which is followed by several suggestions for projects using CHILDES.
  5. A codes development guide for using RELY to develop and improve coding systems such as the INCA Speech Act system.
  6. A list of non-documentary films on language and language learning. This list is derived from messages posted to info-childes in Fall of 2002.
  7. "Fun things children say" collected from info-childes postings in 2013 by Bruno Estigarribia.
  8. Questions on "The Wild Child" by François Truffaut from Isabelle Barriere.
  9. Online materials illustrating concepts in language acquisition through actual sound files.
  10. The language acquisition bibliography.
  11. Links to web resources on dialects.

Teaching Approaches

CHILDES data and programs have been widely used to provide materials for teaching undergraduate courses in language development. The teaching options that have been used include:

1. Basic handouts. Some courses focus on the use of handouts containing sample transcripts. A variant of this approach distributes the data in computer format, rather than through handouts.

For example, Erica Hoff says, Erika Hoff says, "I have used CHILDES to get the original Adam, Eve, and Sarah transcripts. I hand them out to the class and use them as examples of various phenomena and the students get to see the real words of famous subjects. I have also used those transcripts as the basis of take home exams with a question something like, 'what does Eve know and what about language does she not know at this point in her development?' Students have thought that was interesting and valuable."

2. Extensive and selected handouts. Some courses make more extensive use of handouts, selecting across particular types of materials.

For example, Lynn Santelmann reports, "I use the transcripts in two ways: First, I have created a packet of transcripts for the students to analyze, one set for child-directed speech, one for phonology, one for morphosyntax, and one for discourse/conversation. (I also have a set for narratives, but they did not come from CHILDES). Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get a good data set for word learning yet. I clean up these transcripts a bit to remove some of the analysis tiers, and I give them transcripts of different ages so they can see change over time. I give the students very specific questions or features to analyze, and then they work either in small groups or at home. We discuss the results in class. This gives them not only a chance to see some of the features that we've talked or read about first hand, but gives them a chance to see how hard it is to analyze things sometimes (e.g., is a morpheme missing because the child doesn't produce it or because the context does not provide an opportunity for the child to use it?).

3. Teaching CHAT transcription.

Some people use classroom sessions to teach students about CHILDES transcription. Catherine Snow says, "I use the projection system to display transcripts linked to videos so that students get a sense of how one translates interaction into analyzable text."

Margaret Friend has had students carry out their own transcriptions. "My approach was to have students practice using the transcription system and complete two transcripts: one standard transcript which could be corrected for errors and on which they could obtain assistance from other students and one transcript that they had collected and recorded themselves. Students were assigned to groups of four and each group recorded narrative data from children of different ages. At the end of the semester they compared their transcriptions, did a count of open and closed-class words and presented an in-class developmental analysis based on the data. I was impressed with studentsí insights at the end of the course."

4. CLAN analyses on CHILDES data. Some courses teach students how to use the CLAN programs to analyze CHILDES data.

For example, Catherine Snow reports, "I have used CHILDES quite extensively in my course on child language to the extent of teaching the class while logged on to CHILDES so we could pursue particular issues (when does past tense first show up? what gets added when MLU goes from 1 to 2? what are the first words that kids say and to what extent are they the same across kids?). The students download the relevant files preparatory to doing the analysis right there and displaying the results. I also give analysis exercises as homework that students can do pretty efficiently using CLAN, or less efficiently without it (since some don't want to learn to use the system). I also provide CHAT formatted files as a basis for the longer analyses I assign for take-home essays. Again, the students can analyse the files using a word processor, or they can analyze with CLAN. I also strongly encourage students to used archived data for their research projects, because they can then do something much bigger and more sophisticated."

Michelle Barton systematically helps students develop skill using CLAN. Her experience has been that they like using the CHILDES system and "in several cases, having the skills has been a real plus for grad school applications and research assistant positions."

5. CLAN analyses on student data. In some classes, students are encouraged to collect their own data.

For example, Lynne Santelmann prefers that students analyze their own data but "a few students can't do this, or want to analyze a language other than English, so I let them use CHILDES data. They're able to do some nice analyses because they have had some practice in class."

6. Having students build web pages. This method focuses on using sonic CHAT to build examples that can be downloaded over the web.

Brian MacWhinney has begun to use sonic CHAT in his class on Language and Thought to teach students how to collect new data, transcribe it using sonic CHAT, link the transcript to audio and prepare the whole project as a web page. Three examples of projects from the first class using this method are now on the web. Instead of writing term papers, students now build these web pages.

Warnings

Michelle Barton cautioned about glitches in CHILDES manual exercises: "Be sure to run them yourself and find the errors, before assigning them to the students. It's frustrating for all if it doesn't work right."

Lynne Santelmann says, "It's sometimes difficult to find a set of transcripts that illustrate a particular phenomenon, so students may need some direction in where to look. (That's particularly true for phonology.) The less computer savvy of my students have had trouble down-loading transcripts."

Catherine Snow suggested that, "It is slightly more efficient to have likely corpora pre-downloaded, if you plan to utilize them online in class discussion." She notes that encouraging sophisticated projects using archived data "only works, I find, if the class activities have demonstrated how to get into CHILDES, what data are available, and how to use CLAN."

Margaret Friend advises that the data transcription projects she assigned "turned out to be a considerable amount of work for the students so you will need to think carefully about how you grade them." The CLAN Programs are downloaded, installed, and used as a single application. Functionally, however, CLAN has two parts -- analysis and editing.