Classroom Practice Of A/An

Activities for intensive practice of the two indefinite articles and the difference between them.

These activities are likely to be more popular with classes that don’t need or want actual games, for example older adults and some teenagers.

It’s a video

Students watch a film and shout out true sentences with “It’s a…” and “It’s an…” whenever they see something that matches that on screen. Each sentence can only be used once, and they can’t say it when there is more than one of that object on the screen (because “There are two…s” etc would be more accurate). The video will need to be chosen carefully so that there are plenty of “an” examples and so that there are few if any uncountable things (for which neither would be correct). If there are few “an” words, you could give extra points for correct sentences with that word in or tell them that they have to make alternate “a” and “an” sentences to get points.

A/An brainstorming races

Give students a category such as “fruit with a” or “toys with an” and get them brainstorm as many words as they can in that category, e.g. in groups on pieces of A3 paper. You could also allow realistic use of adjectives, e.g. points for “a green apple” and “a red apple” but not for “a blue apple”.

Personalisation activities for A/An

A good general tip for communication games is that students should use the language to make true sentences about themselves and their classmates, but this is quite difficult to do with something as basic as “a” and “an” since even a native speaker might find their mind going blank if they were asked to “make a true sentence about a classmate using the word ‘a’”. This means that for the activity to work students should be given more detailed sentence stems like “_______ wants to have a _______ for dinner tonight” and “_______ has an _______ in his/her bedroom”. Students can also be asked to write similar sentences about the whole class such as “_______ people had a _______ for breakfast” and “Nobody has an _______ in their bag now”, checking before or after writing if those things are true.

They can also write similar sentences about themselves, e.g. “I bought a _______ last weekend”. To make this into a communication game, students can then read out just the part they wrote in the gaps for their partners to guess which sentence that is in. Alternatively, they can also read out some untrue sentences and their classmates can try to guess which ones are not fact.

A/An gapfills

There are few things more pointless and boring than a text where just “a” or “an” needs to be put into the gaps, especially if all the gaps can be filled from the (written) first letter without even needing to understand the text. What would be better would be a gapfill that also includes gaps that should be filled by other simple words that students already know like “she” and “but”, especially if they can listen to something fun like a song or story to check their answers.

Another possibility is to take out all numbers and examples of “a”/“an”, for example from a recipe, also changing all nouns to have “(s)” after them. Students both guess the numbers and think about the grammar whenever they think the answer is just one, then read or listen and check. The same thing can be done with song titles and movie titles, something that can help make the language memorable if they are titles that students will come across again outside class.

Another way of making gapfill practice more fun and communicative is for students to do something with the sentences that they create by filling in those gaps. For example, if there are discussion questions with gaps for “a” and “an” (plus maybe other simple words), they can go on to discuss their answers to the questions.

Written by Alex Case for April 2013
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

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