Introducing Lesson Topics and Content Specific Lexis

James Bury and Anthony Sellick, Shumei University

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Vocabulary, guessing topic-specific vocabulary from context, lesson warmer, comparatives/superlatives, brainstorming
  • Learner English level: Any
  • Learner maturity: Any
  • Preparation time: 10 – 20 minutes
  • Activity time: 15 minutes – 1 hour
  • Materials: Whiteboard or blackboard

This activity is a flexible, fun, and interesting way to introduce or review a lesson topic, and it can be extended to provide practice for all the major language skills. The example extension activities allow students that have already encountered the target vocabulary to develop further whilst remaining engaged with the material. The activity can be used in lesson types ranging from exam preparation to general English conversation, and students often enjoy the deductive side of the first stage. 


Step 1: Select a list of vocabulary related to the topic of the lesson. For example, if teaching a reading lesson on water pollution, the teacher could use the names of the five oceans. 

Step 2: Find one fact for each of the words. This activity works best if the facts can be presented using comparative or superlative forms, for example, the largest ocean, the smallest ocean, etc.


Step 1: Write the first letter of each word on the board, in this case PAISA for Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern, and Arctic. Encourage students to guess what the words are and the topic they relate to. This is often very difficult, so give extra letters as clues as necessary and/or write blank spaces for each of the missing letters, for example P _ _ _ _ _ _, A _ _ _ _ _ _ _, etc. 

Step 2: After the words have been elicited and the topic of the lesson identified, dictate facts about the words for the students to write down. 

Step 3: Elicit and explain the facts that you dictated in Step 2 and write them on the board in a different color and different order from the original list of words. Then, get the students to match the facts to the words in pairs or groups. Elicit and write the answers on the board.

Step 4: Get students to brainstorm or draw a mind-map about the lesson topic. This can be done individually, in pairs, or as a group. After a set amount of time (five minutes is usually sufficient), elicit words and draw a class mind-map on the board (Note: alternatively, this could be done directly on the board as a whole-class activity). This gives a good opportunity to establish the lesson topic and introduce or review related vocabulary, as each word item generated can become the genesis of a new mind-map. An example mind-map is provided in Appendix A and possible extension activities in Appendix B.


When starting a lesson it is important to establish the lesson topic, evaluate the students’ retrievable language relating to that topic, and to try and create a motivating, interesting, and engaging atmosphere. Introductory ‘warmer’ activities help to do this and can also reduce students’ affective filters (Krashen, 1981) and help activate existing schemata, allowing students to access the lesson more effectively (Fuscoe, 2013). 

The above activity is beneficial for all students as, even if they have encountered the vocabulary before, they are being given the chance to review and engage with a word, making it more likely that the word will be remembered later (Schmitt, 2000). Also, if the words are being used successfully by the students in the extension activities, the retrieval routes to those items are being strengthened (Baddeley, 1997) and the increased exposure is helping the students to consolidate the vocabulary (Schmitt and Carter, 2000).


Baddeley, A. (1997). Human Memory: Theory and Practice (Revised edition), Hove: Psychology Press.

Fuscoe, K. (2013). Methodology: Using warmers, Retrieved on December 15, 2013, from

Krashen, S. (1981). Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Pergamon.

Schmitt, N. (2000). Vocabulary in Language Teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schmitt, N. & Carter; R. (2000). The lexical advantages of narrow reading for second language learners. TESOL Journal, 9/1, 4-9.


The appendices are available below.