Fun activities for practising A, An and The

1. Disappearing text Put a text on the board including examples of the meanings of articles that you have presented or are going to present, and have one student or team of students read it out loud. They then choose one word and that is covered or erased. The next person or team must then […]

1. Disappearing text
Put a text on the board including examples of the meanings of articles that you have presented or are going to present, and have one student or team of students read it out loud. They then choose one word and that is covered or erased. The next person or team must then read out the whole text, including the words that have disappeared. They then choose the next word to disappear. This continues round the class until the whole text has disappeared or they give up.

The same game can also be played in groups by having a grid that covers one A4 page with one word of the text in each box. The students then cover a word with a small scrap of paper after they have read out the text, continuing until the whole text (and therefore the whole grid) is covered with scraps of paper. As an extension that involves production, they can then go onto write similar sentences with lots of articles on a blank grid to challenge other students with.

2. Revealing text (= Word hangman)
This is the opposite of the game above. Students are shown a completely blanked out text, for example by just showing them numbered blanks or words covered by something that can be erased to reveal what is underneath (if you are using an interactive whiteboard or OHP). They then shout out words that they think will be in the text and if they are correct those words are written in or revealed. This continues until the whole text is up on the board, maybe with hints like first letters being given if needed. The easiest way of playing the game for students is if the words can be called out and revealed in any order, whilst the students having to guess the next word each time is easier for the teacher to organise and more focused on the grammar but much more challenging for the students.

3. Letter by letter revealing text
This is similar to the game above and played with the same kind of text, but with students having to guess the next letter each time instead of the next word.

4. Sentence Scrabble
Students are given words and have to arrange them into grammatically correct sentences. For each new sentence they come up with they are given one more word and so have the chance to make more sentences for even more points. They can win the original words they start with by guessing the word from the definition by the teacher or can just choose them randomly from a pack of cards. The team with the most words when the game is stopped win.

5. Word combinations Scrabble
This is a less challenging version of the game above. Rather than having to make a whole sentence, students win more words by putting words next to each other that naturally go together, e.g. “an” with “apple” and “the” with “teacher”, along with combinations not connected to articles like “have” with “been” and “make” with “breakfast”.

6. Simon Says “Listen carefully to the articles”
Simon Says is a well known children’s game where students only do an action if the instructions are preceded by the words “Simon says…” and otherwise stay still. There is a fairly well known TEFL variation on this where students only do the action if the instructions are grammatically and logically correct, and this can easily be adapted to practice articles with instructions they should copy like “Look at the teacher”, “Point at the tallest student” and “Wink at a student”, and ones they shouldn’t like “Touch the student” (because they don’t know which one).

7. Picture dictation
This is another fairly well known game, where one student describes a picture they have drawn or have been given by the teacher to another student, who tries to draw what they hear. When the picture is finished, it can then be compared with the original. This activity is a very natural place for the use of articles, especially the generalisation that we use “a” the first time we talk about something and “the” the next time. It is possible to elicit even more use of these forms with pictures where “An ape is on the table” (making sure there is more than one ape in the picture) and “The ape (who is on the table) is smiling”.

8. Pairwork picture differences
Students being given two pictures that are similar but not the same and being asked to find the differences without looking at each others’ pictures is also an activity that prompts lots of articles, and this can be reinforced by having one picture where “The cat is under the table” and the other where “A cat is under the table” (there being more than one cat in the picture in the second case).

9. Stations
Students listen to a word or sentence and react one way if “an” is needed and a different way if “a” is needed. Possibilities include running and slapping opposite walls of the room, jumping either side of a line, slapping two pieces of paper on their table, and pretending to shoot pieces of paper on different walls. The same game can also be played with “a” and “the”, but it is quite difficult to choose sentences that are only possible with one of the two.

10. Right wrong stations
Another way of using Stations, and one that it is easier to bring “the” into, is to have students do the two reactions depending on whether what you said was right or wrong (grammatically, factually or logically).

11. Video true or false
Another way of using false statements is to prepare a list of things that are seen or happen in a video and write them as sentences that have articles in them. Change some of the sentences to make them different to what is seen in the film (e.g. “The cat bites the man” when there are several cats on screen and so it should be “A cat bites the man”), and maybe mix the sentences up. Students then watch the movie and shout out any sentences they think they have seen happen, winning or losing points depending on whether they are right or not.

12. Video cloze
Cloze is a fancy name for gapfill, meaning filling in one missing word- possibly the most boring activity in language study! Luckily, students take ten times more interest in this activity when they have to fill the gaps and then watch a film to check. In order to practice articles, either take out the articles or the words straight after them- especially in sentences like “My father is a ____________” where the article gives some clue on which word is coming next (here probably a job).

13. Song cloze
What I said about using films above is at least as true for songs, and there is the added benefit that songs take up much less class time.

14. Finger over words in text
Cloze can also be used as a fun pairwork game. After the students have used a text for a grammar exercise or reading comprehension, one student slams their finger down on the page and their partner has to guess which word is under it. Even without prompting, students usually quickly work out that covering articles makes for the most challenging task for their partners.

15. Definitions game/ Back to the board
This is another well known TEFL game that is easily adaptable to bring more articles into it. One or more students try to explain which word, phrase or sentence they have been given without using the words on the card until someone guesses it. Articles can be brought into this game by using full sentences (e.g. “My uncle is a teacher”, or true ones about the classroom like “The teacher is wearing a tie”), country and other geographical names (“The United States of America”), names of films and songs, quotes, proverbs, other idioms, etc.

Written by Alex Case for April 2009
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.


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