Online Shopping: Using Online Ads to Teach Articles

The topic of articles has become a beast I’m determined to tame through a video series. The beast sometimes frightens me and forces me to retreat a few steps, but then I regain my determination to move forward. I’ve created my introduction to articles, and I’m just about ready to publish my next video on generic nouns, specifically the use of the with musical instruments, inventions, and animals.

I had assumed that my video on generic nouns would require only a simple and brief explanation: We can use the structure (the + singular noun) to create a generic noun for musical instruments, inventions, and animals. A few examples, such as I play the piano, and it’s a wrap, I thought. Wrong. I began to anticipate the questions viewers would have: What about your first lesson on articles, Jennifer? You said (a + singular noun) is also used to make a general reference. And I hear people use plural nouns with no article at all to make general statements, like dogs make good pets.

So my simple, short video became another lengthy, thorough one, in which I try to explain levels of formality, as in The Black Molly is a sensitive fish (more formal and academic) vs. Mollies are sensitive fish (everyday speech). I also attempted to clarify when there is only one choice of article, for example, I play the piano and I would love to have a piano.

Watching a video, of course, will not lead to complete mastery of the topic. Students need additional practice. What activities could be created to give students practice making choices among articles (definite, indefinite, “zero”) for musical instruments, inventions, and animals? I’d like to suggest online shopping, or browsing, to be more exact.

STEP 1 – Choose a category: musical instruments, inventions (appliances, for example), or animals. Then choose a subcategory: animals >> cats. Tell the class they must do some comparison shopping before making a purchase. To illustrate, we’ll shop for a cat.

STEP 2 – Students can work in pairs at computers, or you can work together as a class if you have a projector for your computer. You’ll need to identify appropriate sites (1-2) in advance. I found these:

Allow time for browsing. Students will need to view enough ads/ postings to compose a text. Their writing will be guided by a set of questions. The questions should prompt different uses of articles. Model:

  1. What kind of cat are you shopping for?
  2. Which cats do you not prefer?
  3. What breed is the most attractive?
  4. If you could buy a cat today, which cat would you buy? (Tell the color, sex, age, and/ or any other information available.)


We’re shopping for a free cat. We don’t want to pay any money. We also think free cats really need a home because the owner doesn’t want them. We prefer not to get a hairless cat. They’re strange.  Persians are cute, but they have too much fur. We think the British Shorthair is the most attractive breed. We found a British Shorthair kitten for free. She’s a blue and silver cat with yellow eyes. She’s in California. (Link)

Step 3 –
Have students share their texts either with the whole class or in small groups. Encourage them to give feedback to one another. Collect their texts at the end for correction.


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