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Semantic Fields in TEFL

Supermarket

photo credit: Supermarket (license)

A semantic field (sometimes known as a lexical field) is a group of words related by meaning. In teaching a semantic field could be:

  • animals
  • verbs of perception‏‎
  • foodstuffs

In practical terms the definition is quite loose and general.

Sometimes a word will belong to just one semantic field but more usually it will belong to several. For example the word, apple could belong to the following fields:

  • fruits
  • foodstuffs
  • green objects
  • ….

And likewise, some words change their fields over time as their definition changes. In the past, for example, the word gay would belong to the semantic field of being happy or perhaps emotions. Nowadays it will belong to the semantic field related to sexual orientation.

Semantic Fields In Teaching

It is often useful to teach vocabulary in groups of related words, i.e. teaching words of a specific semantic field. For example, you might have an intermediate class of adults who are all attending college studying journalism. You could have a lesson based around elections and feature words such as:

  • election
  • ballot
  • vote
  • poll

By teaching these words together your students will understand they are related and this will help them remember.

Useful Links

Semantic Fields Game

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