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Topic- 11 – Lexical and semantic fields in English. Lexicon need for socialization, information and expression of attitudes. Typology linked to teaching and learning vocabulary in the foreign language classroom activities.


In this essay we will deal with how vocabulary can be classified into lexical and semantic fields, and we will also analyse the vocabulary needed to express some of the most common communicative functions as regards socializing, expressing information and attitude, as well as the different ways in which vocabulary can be acquired.

The prominent role of vocabulary knowledge in EFL learning has been increasingly recognized. Acquisition of vocabulary is essential in foreign language learning as, in order to communicate in an effective way, knowledge of structures and functions is not enough in itself. We can see the importance of vocabulary when we don’t find the words we need to express what we want to say.

We will first of all consider the way in which children learn their mother tongue. The first thing children do, once they are able to speak, is to say individual words, and then gradually they learn to utter simple sentences. The words they use first are those related to their immediate environment, and as they grow more aware of the world around them they learn and use more and more words and more complex structures. As regards the four skills in their native language, the order is LISTENING, SPEAKING, READING and WRITING. Therefore it seems quite logical to learn a foreign language in a similar way.

Traditionally, the teaching of vocabulary was mostly incidental, limited to presenting new items as they appeared in reading or listening texts. This indirect teaching of vocabulary assumed that vocabulary expansion will happen through the practice of other language skills.  But nowadays, it is widely accepted that vocabulary teaching should be part of the syllabus, and taught in a well-planned and regular basis.


The first part of the present topic is “lexical and semantic fields”. Let’s see what these two terms mean. They both relate to the way vocabulary can be organised or classified.

The term lexical field refers to vocabulary that is related by topic. For example the words rain, windy, fog, cold, clouds, umbrella, rain, sunshine, storm and stormy can be grouped in the lexical field the weather.

Classification or grouping into semantic fields, on the other hand, takes into account meaning rather than topic, and they are typically synonyms and antonyms, although other types of relationship are also possible. The words big-large-huge-enormous-tiny-small are all part of the semantic field of “size”.

There is a great deal of overlap and confusion in the use of these two terms because the term “semantic field” is somewhat elastic. Thus we could say that ANIMALS and PLANTS are two different semantic fields, or we could group them together into a single larger field called LIVING THINGS. Semantic fields can be divided into smaller groupings called lexical sets or sub-fields.

There have been many attempts to classify the concepts or words in a language. The most influential and popular work is the Thesaurus of Peter Mark Roget, first published by Longman in 1852. Roget divided the vocabulary into six main areas: abstract relations, space, matter, intellect, volition and affections. Each area was given a detailed and exhaustive sub-classification, producing 1.000 semantic categories in all.

Words can also be analysed in terms of their syntagmatic and paradigmatic relationships. This distinction was first made by the Swiss linguist Saussure. According to Saussure’s analysis , the use of language has two dimensions which are activated simultaneously. When forming a sentence we make choices from existing paradigms (lists of alternatives, such as which word we use out a list of synonymous words: paradigmatic relationships) and we arrange them in syntagmatic relationships : The relationship between a noun and its complement, for instance, is a syntagmatic relationship.

As far as the present topic is concerned, we need to examine paradigmatic relationships. The most important of these are synonymy, antonymy and hyponymy:

Synonymy is a relationship of “sameness” or “similarity” of meaning. For example, kingly, royal, regal; or large, big, enormous, huge. The term antonymy refers to oppositeness of meaning. Antonyms often occur in pairs, such as big/small, good/bad, male/female, buy/sell. Hyponymy refers to the notion of inclusion. For example, the words fruit and apple, flower and daisy are in a hyponymic relationship since one is included in the other. We might add a fourth relationship: Incompatibility, which refers to groups of lexemes that are mutually exclusive members of the same category. For example red and green are incompatible lexemes within the category colour.

Another type of semantic analysis of words is componential analysis, which takes into account the different nuances

(matices) of words that have a related or similar meaning. For example, if we compare the verbs injure and damage:

To injure refers to physical damage to a person, whereas to damage refers to material damage (to things).

clip_image001clip_image002clip_image003clip_image004clip_image005clip_image006clip_image007The second point of this topic refers to the lexicon for socialization, information and expressing attitudes.

Vocabulary for socialising. Understanding and controlling interactions in discourse are important for a child because they enable him/her to enter communicative spaces, to understand acceptable presentation procedures, to understand the rights of others in communication, to interpret the message of a public advertisement, to use the telephone properly, or to be able to ask for information at public entities, etc. Now we will see some of the main structures and lexicon necessary for social relations. Examples:

a) Greetings and farewells: Hello / Hi / How are you (I am fine, thanks!) Good morning / good afternoon / Good evening / good bye / good night / nice to have met you / See you later, etc.

b) Introductions: Hello, I am Jim. Hello, Jim./ Nice to meet you.

How do you do? My name is James How do you do, James?

c) ) Complimenting and congratulating: What a marvellous meal! / I’m glad you liked it.

Well done! / Thanks a lot ; May we congratulate you on… It’s very kind of you.

d) Offering and thanking: Would you like another helping? Yes, please /No, thank you.

Thanks a lot! / you’re welcome

e) ) Apologising and regretting: Oh , forgive me, I’m terribly sorry /That’s quite all right,

I apologize / It doesn’t matter.

Sorry about that/ Don’t worry.

f) ) Expressing condolences: Please accept my deepest sympathy on the death of your ….

g) Expressing good wishes, seasonal greetings and toasts: Good luck! Best wishes for..! Have a good time…! Enjoy yourself! Merry Christmas! Happy birthday! Cheers!

h) ) speaking on the phone:

receiving the call: Hello,456788 / Making a call: Can I speak to Jim, please?

Probably one of the most important reasons we use language for is to give and as ask for information. Questions and statements are the structures we typically use for this purpose. They do not need, however, the use of a specific vocabulary, with the exception, perhaps of interrogative pronouns. Where we do need to teach our pupils specific vocabulary is when we consider people’s reactions to information, for instance opinion, agreement, interruption and so on.

a) Opinion:

* asking for an opinion: What do you think about/ What are your feelings about , What your attitude is to..

* giving an opinion: in my opinion, as I see it…, My own view of the matter is that…

* asking without giving your opinion: I don’t know what to think about…, I have no particular views on.., I have no strong feelings about…

b) Expressing agreement and disagreement:

* Agreement: I agree, I couldn’t agree more, That’s just what I think, So do I . I share your opinion.

* Disagreement: I can’t agree with you, I disagree, I don’t think that is true, it is awful.

* Partial agreement: it’s true that…, but/ If I accept this you must accept..

c) Interrupting: Excuse me, sorry, just a moment.

d) corroboration: I agree, and what is more,/ Yes, in fact,

d) Clarification: * Clarifying: , I mean…/…, in other words…

* asking for clarification: sorry?, Pardon?, Could you repeat that?, What do you mean by..?

Finally, we will see the vocabulary needed to express attitudes. We can distinguish the following ones:

a) Volition:

* willingness: I am ready to paint your home/I will do anything for you

* wish: I wish you every happiness in your wedding dayWould you like?

*Intention: I intent to see you tomorrow/ I am going to see her tomorrow.

* Insistence: I insist on overcome the issue.

b) Liking and disliking:

*Likes: I like, I love, I enjoy, I am fond of, I am keen on

* Diskikes: I don’t like, I dislike, I hate, I detest , I can’t stand, I am fed up with

* Indifference: I don’t mind

* Preference: I prefer reading

c) Hope: I hope she arrives on time.

d) Anticipation of pleasure: I am looking forward to hearing from you,

e) Regret: I wish I were tall, I am sorry to hear that,

f) Approval and disapproval: * approval: you are quite right to, I am in favour of,

* disapproval: I must object to, I am opposed,

g) Surprise: It’s rather surprising that, What a surprise !

h) Concern: I am worried that, It’s disturbing that…

i) Emotive emphasis: * Interjections: Whoops, mm, gosh, whoah

* Exclamations: What a man!, How extraordinary!

*repetition: He is very very silly.

* Emphasizers: She’s an absolute beginner.

To finish we will see the third point in the topic, the techniques used in learning and teaching vocabulary. We will go through the most common ones:

a) Visual techniques: We can use flashcards, photographs, blackboard drawings, wall charts and small realia that we can carry to our class easily.

b) Verbal techniques: We can give a definition in simple English with words that they know. We may also use synonyms or antonyms.

c) The use of recordings with sounds that they can associate with the object before they listen to the word in English for instance the transports like a car, train, motorbike, etc.

d) The use of mime, action and gesture: With gestures the teacher can explain a lot of words, action verbs such as drink, eat, walk as well as adjectives like happy, sad, etc.

e) Translation: when other techniques are not useful to explain any difficult word, the teacher can use the translation into the mother tongue. However, translation should be avoided whenever possible.

If we want our pupils to remember the vocabulary we will have to practice it. There are several ways to practice vocabulary:

1. Labelling: our pupils are given a picture and have to write the names of the objects in the picture.

2. Playing I Spy with my little Eye.

3. Playing Spot the Difference: our pupils are put into pairs. Each member has a slightly different picture and they have to discover the differences.

4. Describe and draw: one member of the pair has a drawing and the other one a blank piece of paper. The pupil with the picture must tell his partner what to draw.

5. Picture dominoes: this game is based on the associations our pupils may establish between the objects appearing in cards.

Revision through word families: In this activity we revise vocabulary in relation to other words in the same lexical field. Some examples of these activities are the following:

1. Word thermometers: these are useful for indicating degree. For example place these words in the correct place on the thermometer: always, sometimes, usually, never, rarely.

2. Series: this game uses lexical fields. Our pupils must write as many words as they know in one field. We can use these words in Word Bingo. Our pupils write ten words relating to one lexical field. We call out words connected with this lexical field. The firs pupil who crosses out all the words on his page is the winner.

3. Spiders: we draw a spider on the blackboard with a topic or a word and they have to write in the legs all the words they can think of connected with this word.

4. Odd man out: the teacher says four or five words but one of them isn’t related to the rest and they have to guess it.

5. Categories: we use jumbled words which must be categorised into lexical fields.

Revision through explanations. Examples: 1. Crosswords: These can be divided round topic ideas.

2. Vocabulary quizzes: In groups they prepare questions that elicit the correct answer. Then, they ask the questions in turns.

Students should also get used to using a dictionary to look up words they don’t know.

Whenever we elaborate an activity with the aim of acquiring vocabulary, we have to bear in mind that lexicon must be presented in real situational or linguistic context that facilitate deduction of meaning. On the other hand, it must be presented orally for the student to internalise pronunciation prior to orthography.

Consolidation of the vocabulary learnt in class is also important. This can be done, for example, by making posters. The students themselves can collect photos of animals, clothing, sports, fruits , etc., stick them onto a cardboard with their names in English. We can hang it on the walls as a vocabulary reminder


As I conclusion, I would like to point out that vocabulary acquisition plays a key role in FL language. As teachers, we should favour the learning of vocabulary in a way that is meaningful to our students: For instance by teaching vocabulary that is relevant to their age group and interests.

(esto es por si quereis ampliar un poquito…..


Understanding how our memory works might help us create more effective ways to teach vocabulary. Research in the area, cited by Gairns (1986) offers us some insights into this process.  It seems that learning new items involve storing them first in our short-term memory, and afterwards in long-term memory. We do not control this process consciously but there seems to be some important clues to consider. First, retention in short-term memory is not effective if the number of chunks of information exceeds seven. Therefore, this suggests that in a given class we should not aim at teaching more than this number. However, our long-term memory can hold any amount of information. 

Research also suggests that our ‘mental lexicon’ is highly organised and efficient, and that semantic related items are stored together. Word frequency is another factor that affects storage, as the most frequently used items are easier to retrieve. We can use this information to attempt to facilitate the learning process, by grouping items of vocabulary in semantic fields, such as topics (e.g. types of fruit). 

Oxford (1990) suggests memory strategies to aid learning, and these can be divided into:

·      creating mental linkages: grouping, associating, placing new words into a context;

·      applying images and sounds: using imagery, semantic mapping, using keywords and representing sounds in memory;

·      reviewing well, in a structured way;

·      employing action: physical response or sensation, using mechanical techniques.

The techniques just mentioned can be used to greater advantage if we can diagnose learning style preferences (visual, aural, tactile) and make students aware of different memory strategies. 

Meaningful tasks however seem to offer the best answer to vocabulary learning, as they rely on students’ experiences and reality to facilitate learning. More meaningful tasks also require learners to analyse and process language more deeply, which should help them retain information in long-term memory.  

Forgetting seems to be an inevitable process, unless learners regularly use items they have learnt. Therefore, recycling is vital, and ideally it should happen one or two days after the initial input. After that, weekly or monthly tests can check on previously taught items. 

Teachers can encourage learners to use other methods, using topics and categories to organise a notebook, binder or index cards. Meaning should be stored using English as much as possible, and also giving indication for pronunciation. Diagrams and word trees can also be used within this topic/categories organisation. The class as a whole can keep a vocabulary box with cards, which can be used for revision/recycling regularly.  


Alburquerque. R et al. En el aula de Ingles. Longman. London, 1990

Gairns R& Redman S Working with words. CUP. 1986.

Wallance M Teaching Vocabulary Heinemann 1982

Propuesta de Secuencia. Lenguas Extranjersa. Mec. Escuela Española. Madrid. 1992.

Picture dictionaries.

Abbs B Picture Workbook Longman 1986

Oxford Children’s Picture Dictionary OUP. 1981

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