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Understanding and recording spoken definitions

What words did Professor Gardner define?

You should have heard:

  • linguist
  • genre
  • disciplines
  • literature
  • source
  • scholarship

How did you know these words were being defined?

Lecturers will often introduce new terms in lectures and they will define these new terms for you. It is important that you are able to recognise these definitions and record them in a way that will help you use them correctly in the future.

Being able to define key ideas in your subject area is an important part of university study. This is something you will need to do in your written and spoken assignments but it is also something you will need to do whilst taking notes to make sure that you fully understand the content of your lectures, seminars and reading.

How to record a spoken definition

Professor Gardner defined the word genre:

The word genre is an interesting word because it comes from the French, so it doesn’t sound very English. It’s got a French /ʒ/ sound in /ˈʒɒnrə/ and it means “type”. So, a genre that I’m interested in are text types. They could be lectures, they could be seminars, they could be textbooks, but I’m particularly interested in genres of assessed student writing; so the genres that students have to write as part of their assessment. Obviously, very important for students studying at universities in Britain.

While this definition tells us what we need to know, it is quite a long definition and it would be very difficult to write all of that down when listening to a lecture.

An effective way to record difficult new vocabulary when you’re taking notes is to make a quick diagram, linking terms and ideas.

Professor Gardner says:

‘it means’ This usually tells us that we are being given a short definition or a synonym.
‘so’ This can be used before giving an explanation, an example, or introducing important information.
‘they could be’ This tells us that this is an example but that there are lots more examples and that this is not a definitive list.

So, your diagram for the information from Professor Gardner could look like this:

Genre leads to text types which leads to lectures, seminars, textbooks and assessed student writing

We should then look the word up in a dictionary to see if we can add to our understanding:

Dictionary definition of 'genre' with arrow pointing to text types, with arrow pointing to text types with certain features

Later in the video, Professor Gardner mentions the word genre again. It is important that we go back to our original diagram and add to our understanding of the word every time we hear new information about it. This way we will have a more complete definition of the word. In engineering, she says:

Almost every assignment is a different genre, is a different text type, so they might have to do design specifications, they might have to do lab reports, they might have to do an essay, but most of their assignments will not be essays, they’ll be reports and proposals and exercises and explanations and all kinds of different text types.

If we add the new information to our diagram it will look like this:

'Genre' with arrow pointing to 'lectures', seminars', textbooks' and 'assessed student writing'. 'Assessed student writing' has arrows pointing to 'design specification', lab reports', 'essays', 'reports'. 'proposals', 'exercises' and 'explanations'.

After we have finished listening to a lecture, we can use our diagram to make a short definition or example to help us clearly remember the new word.

For example:

A genre is a type of text such as assessed student writing, eg an essay, that has certain features.

or:

An essay is a genre of assessed student writing that has certain typical features.

It is helpful for you to think even further about your definition to help you remember.

Think, what are some of the typical features of the essay genre?

Let’s try and add some to our definition of an essay from above:

An essay is a genre of assessed student writing that has certain typical features such as an introduction, a thesis statement and a conclusion.

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This article is from the free online course:

English for Academic Study

Coventry University