Debates, Diagrams & Maps: Three Activities to Practice Article Usage with Places

As I slowly put my computer woes behind me (hard drive crashed, files were lost, etc.), I will concentrate on publishing my next YouTube lesson on articles. I’ve decided to focus on places and geographical names. Here are some fun and meaningful activities to practice a few of the guidelines I’ll be presenting.


  • Guideline: Use the definite article before the type of area a person can live in or visit, for example, the city, the suburbs, the mountains, the countryside, the sea/ the beach, etc.

Debate. Place students in small groups and assign them an area (see list above). Tell them they reside in that area and love it very much. Each group must prepare an argument why their place of residence is ideal. Encourage them to note their reasons along with specific examples that illustrate a fortunate lifestyle. When the groups are ready, explain the format of the debate. Each group can make a brief 1-minute presentation, after which they must begin to find and argue disadvantages of other groups’ places of residence.

  • Guideline: Use the definite article before a possessive noun to refer to an individual’s business or a family’s home, for example, the dentist’s and the Smiths’.

Compare and Contrast. Print out blank templates of Venn Diagrams. Have the class compare and contrast places and/ or experiences in those places (see suggestions listed below). Students can work in twos or threes to generate ideas. The final product and form of sharing can be either a paragraph or short oral presentation to the class. Suggested topics:

–          The Dentist’s vs. The Hairdresser’s

–          The Florist’s vs. The Butcher’s

–          A Party at Your Place vs. The Neighbors’

  • Guideline: Use the definite article before oceans (the Atlantic Ocean), mountain ranges (the Rockies), rivers (the Mississippi), seas (the Black Sea), deserts (the Sahara), and groups of lakes (the Great Lakes). Use the zero article before most names of countries, states, and cities.

Geography Quiz. Prepare slips of paper with geographical names (oceans, mountain ranges, rivers, seas, deserts, countries, and cities). Only names and no articles should be written. Place the slips of paper in a bag or box. Divide students into two teams. Teams take turns sending members to the board, on which you can tape or project a world map. The student draws a slip of paper and has 5 seconds to point to the map to show the location. If the student is correct, he or she must state: “____ is right here.” (The Mississippi River is right here.) If the student is unable to locate the correct place, he or she must state: “I don’t know where ____ is.” Then the other team can send a member to try to find the right location.  Two points are earned for finding something on the map. One point is earned for correctly using either the definite or zero article with the place.

Variation: Have students work solo. Hand out blank outlines of the world map. Call out 10 geographical names. Students should write numbers to indicate locations. Have students volunteer to recall their guesses: “Who remembers what number 1 is?” – “I do. It’s the Indian Ocean.” The teacher should confirm the correct location, and students get points for correctly numbering their map. Whoever has the most points wins.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. nliakos says:

    Very good suggestions all! I hope to implement some of these ideas next year. I am so sorry about your computer disaster. I am the same as you: insufficiently backed up.

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      So please learn from my disaster! It’s like brushing and flossing. Now I’m making sure I back-up files more than once a day on my external hard drive. The next step is to register on the storage site Carbonite, as one colleague suggested.

  2. rena says:

    What do you mean by “Use the definite article before the type of area a person
    can live in or visit, for example,
    the city, the suburbs, the
    mountains, the countryside, the
    sea/ the beach, etc?

    Ex. I’ve just buyed a new house in the countryside. Can I say “a countryside”? If yes, what’s the difference?

    1. Hello Rena. We can live in any of the following places: in the city, in the suburbs, in the country(side), in the mountains, by the sea, on the beach.
      We are speaking of a general type of land, but usually the speaker and listener know which specific land is being mentioned. If you know I’m based in Boston, for example, and I say that I live in the suburbs, you know that I’m referring to the suburbs of Boston.

      We couldn’t say, “I live in a countryside.” Only the definite article works in that statement. Hope that helps. Regards!

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