Stories have proved to be an important didactic resource in language teaching; therefore, teacher trainees are often encouraged to design story-based tasks. However, they may find difficulties in identifying the language typically found in children's stories. For this reason, the present paper aims at exploring a relevant feature of this genre, descriptive modifiers, in order to raise student teachers’ genre awareness and prompt them to use high-frequency words and phrases. In this corpus-based study, a number of key elements were first identified, then classified, and finally, their occurrences were analyzed to obtain patterns in their grammatical behavior and an inventory of their most common collocates. SketchEngine was used both to compile the corpus and to retrieve word sketches of each modifier. Gaining more insight into the language of stories can contribute to helping teacher trainees to perceive characteristic language in children-oriented text types and to develop their own storytelling abilities.
The importance of genre awareness, genre competence, and its application to the language learning classroom by means of genre-based approaches to language syllabi has been greatly advocated over the last few years (Dirgeyasa, 2016; Hyland, 2004; Paltridge, 2001; Yasuda, 2011). Genre competence has been defined as “the ability to identify, construct, interpret, and successfully exploit a specific repertoire of professional disciplinary or workplace genres to participate in the daily activities and to achieve the goals of a specific academic/professional community” (Bhatia, 2004: 145). However, in a broader sense, including non-professional or academic settings, a large number of text types used in everyday life can constitute genres. What all texts belonging to one particular genre have in common is the same communicative goals, a similar rhetorical structure, and highly conventionalized language. Although it is usually quite intuitive to recognize texts as members of a particular genre, it can be harder, especially for non-native speakers, to pinpoint the specific features that characterize them as members of a genre and still more difficult to recreate them in new instances of texts. Consequently, it makes sense to use genres in foreign language teaching, in order to guide students in the writing process of different text types.
This paper has presented the results of a corpus-based study on one of the main pragmatic functions of stories: description, and the way it is expressed through adjectival and adverbial modifiers within certain grammatical patterns and in combination with their most frequent collocates. Although there are limitations to the method presented, and a study of a larger corpus would provide further information, the analysis has yielded the following main results:
• an inventory of the 100 most frequent adjectives and the 100 most frequent adverbs in children's short stories, their classification and a selection of 27 descriptive adjectives that refer to physical appearances like size, height, color, age, complexion, and texture and 17 adverbs of manner expressing company or the lack of it, pace, quality, dedication or ease of achievement, feelings, and modification of verbs of speech or movement.