Thematic vocabulary – Birthday


In the issue 105 of English Teaching Professional there is a wonderful article by Chris Payne. It is called Plan V and it deals with vocabulary teaching. Chris explains that teachers should teach vocabulary every lesson, they should teach high frequency words and they should not teach semantic sets. He supports his arguments with research and the whole text is really worth reading.

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For me, the most important idea to teach thematic sets instead of semantic sets. Research shows that it takes much longer to learn words in semantic sets than it takes to learn unrelated vocabulary items. However, “it was found that grouping words according to a theme, so long as they belong to a different class, can aid retention and enhance learning…” (Chris Payne, English teaching professional issue 105). Therefore, teachers should teach thematic sets instead of semantic sets.
[showmyads] What is the difference between a semantic and thematic set? An example of a semantic set is for example the category clothes. Words like jumper, skirt, shirt, trousers, gloves, T-shirt etc. create a semantic set. A thematic set are the words used for a given theme. Thus a thematic set for a frog, consists of words swim, green, hop, pond, croak and slippery. And these thematic sets are much easier to learn.

However, if you start to search the internet, you will find that these thematic sets are very difficult to find. That is why I would like to create and publish several such sets here.


All the words in the Birthday set were chosen in the following way. There can be only two words which are the same part of speech. Therefore, there are only two nouns, two verbs and two adjectives. These words are then organised into a mind map and their meaning is illustrated.

Under the mind map you can find example sentences. It might be a good idea to read the sentences with your students aloud to practise the pronunciation.

Birthday presentation web

On the second page, there are two exercises for the students to practise the vocabulary. In the first task, students read the sentences and complete them with the words from the mind map.

In the second exercise, students should read the sentences aloud, replacing the pictures with the appropriate words.

Birthday worksheet web

You can download the pdf file with the worksheets here:
Pdf worksheet

Do you think these thematic sets are useful? Vote here:

Do you think these thematic sets are useful?

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One Comment

  1. Mrs.Price
    I use this for one of my students however I think I may use it for all of them. I try to cater to the learning needs of my children but different lesson plans can be a bit difficult.
    29/08/2016 at 8:31 pm

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