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Step by Step: Using your Dictionary to Expand Topic Vocabulary

by | Nov 17, 2021 | Dictionaries, Resources

These days, there might only be one topic of conversation in the news, on social media, and in our own chats to friends and family. Along with new ways of working, teaching and learning, we are even adopting a new lexicon to help us talk about it. My own personal “Health” topic vocabulary has grown to include such words and phrases as self-isolation, social distancing and herd immunity

Using topic vocabulary to enhance learning

Collecting words together in topics has long been seen as a good way to help students learn vocabulary. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to access word lists where vocabulary is collected together in this way, with words levelled according to CEFR levels, and linked up to dictionary entries showing pronunciation, meanings and examples all at the click of a mouse or a single tap? On the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries website we have done just that, and we hope that you and your students will find our new Topics pages useful. They are all completely free to access at www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com

Using Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries Topics pages

Large topic areas are subdivided into smaller ones, and once you open a word list you can filter on CEFR level.

For example, here are the words in our Health > Health and Fitness > Good health topic at B1 and B2 level:Topic vocabulary: Health and fitness topics

Here are a few activities that you might like to try:

  1. A topic a week

Choose your topic vocabulary and allocate words to learn each day by using the click-through feature to check meaning, pronunciation and usage in the dictionary. At the end of the week, review and quiz!

Here is an example topic, with three words to learn per day, and a few activities for reviewing:

Food and drink > Cooking and eating > Taste and texture of food

Example Words to learn

Monday: bitter, bland, chewy

Tuesday: creamy, crusty, delicious

Wednesday: greasy, juicy, mild

Thursday: moreish, salty, sour

Friday: spicy, stale, tender


Divide the words into “positive”, “negative”, and “neutral” columns. Complete the sentences with a suitable adjective, using a different one each time:

Oranges are… (e.g. juicy)

Lemons are… (e.g. bitter)

Chili sauce is… (e.g. spicy)

Chocolate is… (e.g. moreish)

Fresh bread can be… (e.g. crusty)

Old bread is… (e.g. stale)

Food that is cooked in too much oil is… (e.g. greasy)

Meat that is overcooked can be… (e.g. chewy)

2. DIY quiz

Allocate a topic and get students to create quiz questions for each other using the dictionary definitions and example sentences.

Definitions: one student gives the dictionary definition and their partner guesses the word.

Example sentences: one student picks an example sentence from the dictionary entry and replaces the topic vocabulary with a gap.

Appearance > Appearance > Facial expressions

(Definition) Which word means to become red in the face because you are embarrassed or ashamed?

(= blush)

(Example sentence) They ________ with delight when they heard our news.

(= grinned)

Sports > Sports: other sports > Cycling

(Definition) What do you call a bicycle for two riders, one behind the other?

(= tandem)

(Example sentence) You’ll have to ________ hard up this hill.

(= pedal)

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