The Art of Teaching Articles (Part 2)

In a previous posting, I offered a couple of ideas for presentation and practice in the classroom. I can’t imagine being able to cover this topic in one day at any level, so I feel it’s worth sharing additional activities. Do you have a favorite to share? Here are my suggestions.

  • News Writer

I originally presented this activity (December 2008 posting) as a way to help students master punctuation. It can easily be modified for practice with articles.

Choose either a very short news article or a brief excerpt from a news source. (My all-time:The Week.) Be sure to select a topic that is appropriate for your students in terms of age, interests, and language goals. Hand out copies of the text in which most articles have been omitted. Be careful to omit only those uses of articles which students have studied in class. Have students work solo to fill in the missing articles and then compare work with a partner. Finally, hand out copies of the article in its original format. As a class, discuss differences between students’ choices and the choices made by the writer.

  • Total Recall

Choose an excerpt from a film. One possibility is the wonderful tango scene from Scent of a Woman. Use [this clip] and watch from about 2:00 to 7:00. Have students take a few minutes to write down all that they can remember/ all that they understood. Pair them up and let them compare notes. Together they should decide on a final summary of the scene paying particular attention to the use of articles. As time allows, ask the pairs to share their short texts and comment on the use of articles.

Model:  The two men went to the young woman’s table. They talked, and then the older man asked if she would dance the tango. She was scared, but said yes. The two went to the dance floor. They danced. The woman had fun. It was special because the older man is blind.

  • Deep Pockets

STEP 1 – Warm up by asking students about items they have with them – in their pockets, wallets, purses, backpacks, etc. Each question can use the format Who has a(n)___ ? They don’t have to respond verbally to this first question. They can simply raise their hands. Immediately follow-up with a specific question directed to a student who indicated s/he had the object.


Who has a cell phone?

Tony, you have a cell phone, right? Is the cell phone turned on or off right now?

Repeat this Q & A pattern a few times. Then call attention to the fact that each time you asked the first question, an indefinite article was used. Then the definite article was needed to refer to the known item in the second question. Review, if necessary, the rules for making a general reference for countable and uncountable nouns. Then tell students that it’s now their turn to ask one another questions.


STEP 2 – Have students work in small groups. Taking turns, one student reveals 3 personal items in his/ her pockets, wallet, purse, etc. The student must identify all three by name.


These are car keys.  [zero article + plural noun]

This is a business card. [a + singular noun]

This is a pen. [a + singular noun]


STEP 3 – The group must ask at least one question about each item.


Where did you get the key chain?

Does the business card have an e-mail address?

Does the pen work?


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