Conversation Starter: NGram Viewer and Curiosity

Conversation Starter: NGram Viewer and Curiosity

When I was teaching, I recall seeing a tweet about Ngram Viewer. It works by the user entering phrases into the Google Books Ngram Viewer, and then “…it displays a graph showing how those phrases have occurred in a corpus of books (e.g., “British English”, “English Fiction”, “French”) over the selected years.” I often shared what I saw on Twitter with my students, and, of course, I shared this within the category of “something neat.” At the time, I did not think much about use or purpose of Ngram Viewer, however, recently, as I shared the various ways to use Google with Angie Vanderhoff’s high school English class, my curiosity was sparked.

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I have framed many of the literature courses I have taught with the prompt: How has society influenced what has been written? How has what has been written influenced society? The relationship between rhetoric and the world is worthy of examination. Through this lens, the power of the word is uncovered. Surely, using NGram Viewer could have added to our conversation.

There are so many conversations that can stem from data. A few questions I asked when I shared this with Mrs. Vanderhoff’s students: Why? What do you wonder? What do you know? What happened that caused the words searched to appear when they appeared in text? What does this imply? Is the implication reflective of truth?

Through conversation and examination, curiosity drives questioning. The want to know moves us to seek answers. Perhaps this could serve as an entry point into research, into history, and/or into literature? Or perhaps this is something you pass along like I did when I first saw it years ago…

For more information about NGram Viewer, how it works, and all it does: NGram Viewer