Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Simplified articles chart

Once upon a time, I created many different versions of charts to help students work out whether they needed articles or not. Some of them were very complicated because I tried to include way too much information in them. Then I went to the other extreme. Now I think I’ve found a happy medium:

Articles chart

Here’s the Powerpoint version for you to download.

The 90% figure in the box is obviously a complete guess. I’ve found that most article choices can be covered by the chart, though occasionally you have to be a bit creative about it! The box gives students a set of fixed phrases which they can learn to start them off with the exceptions that aren’t covered.

‘Normal noun’ is something like ‘republic’ or ‘kingdom’. This covers the use of phrases like ‘the Czech Republic’, ‘the United Kingdom’, and also ‘the University of Durham’, but not ‘Durham University’. By the way, does anyone know why the latter two uses operate differently when it comes to articles?

Countable > plural > specific covers ‘plural’ countries like ‘the United States’, but also groups of islands like ‘the Maldives’ or ‘the Canary Islands’.

Uncountable > specific covers deserts like ‘the Sahara’ and bodies of water which aren’t lakes, like ‘the Atlantic’, ‘the Sargasso Sea’. Lakes are an exception as they don’t normally take an article: ‘Lake Tahoe’, ‘Windermere’.

Hopefully this will be my final version of this, although I know I’ve definitely said that before…


Comments on: "Simplified articles chart" (12)

  1. hi Sandy, in addition to count nouns and mass nouns, getting students to think about definiteness and specificity maybe one option, i talk about that here (with a useful preview of Scott Thornbury’s take in a new edition of one of his books in the comments) – A, an, the, definiteness and specificity


    • I remember that post Mura. It was interesting to read about how you divided it up. I think I read it around the time I was coming up with this version of the chart, and I had the same problems as I do with my method – both of them work up to a point, but some things can’t seem to be squeezed in to the method! Interesting reading though, and I’d definitely recommend people take a look if they haven’t already.


  2. Chad Langford said:

    I like it. And (more important), I think learners like this sort of thing, too. Thanks for posting it. If it were mine, I would add an ‘illnesses’ box (or incorporate them into your existing box?): cancer; a cold; (the) flu. They’re best learned as chunks anyway, right? Two questions, though: what about cases with singular/general ‘the’ (rather than ‘a’): ‘The way *the* computer has changed *the* modern classroom is amazing.’ Or where singular /specific takes ‘a’ (rather than ‘the’): ‘She’s going to marry *a* millionnaire — his name is John.’ These aren’t really exceptional. Another way of asking this question: is there, at the level you have in mind, a way to distinguish between GENERAL (or ‘generic’) on the one hand, and SPECIFIC vs. NON-SPECIFIC on the other hand. Again, not for A1-A2 or even B1s, but starting with B2s, maybe? Again, I realize that the idea is to simplify simplify simplify. How would you do that sort of chart? Thanks again.


    • Hi Chad,
      Thanks for the comment. With the millionaire example, I’d say it’s general because it’s the first time you’ve mentioned him – it becomes specific later, so I think that’s covered. With the computer example…hmmm… that one takes a bit more thinking. I’m not really sure how I’d fit that one in.
      Some of the categorising is covered by using the phrases at the end e.g. ‘not important which one’ or ‘not mentioned before’.
      I have a much more complicated version of the chart on my blog, linked from the post above, although even that didn’t have illnesses in. I agree that they’re better learnt as chunks. They didn’t come up in the lesson(s) I created/used this version of the chart in, so they’re not on here, but there’s now a PowerPoint version of the chart in the post, so feel free to download and edit it, as long as you continue to credit me (and can add your name!) I think there are probably quite a few things which could be added to the box, hence the etc. 😉
      Thanks for making me think about how to improve this!


      • hi all
        this seems a good explanation of Chad’s question re the computer, the modern classroom []

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Phil Longwell said:

    Hi Sandy. I realise this post is about articles, but I have a related question regarding creating flowcharts. Do you use Word? It’s just that I’ve been experimenting with simple mind mapping tools recently (e.g. Popplet) for a possible future blog post and wondered if you had tried any…


    • Hi Phil,
      I’ve tried Popplet, and it looks good, but don’t you have to pay for it after a while? Can’t remember. I used a few times too, which is good for giant mindmaps, and I think can be used collaboratively.
      I find I can do most of what I want to within Word or PowerPoint using SmartArt graphics (I have Office for Mac 2008 – not sure if the function’s still available) I made this one on PowerPoint.
      Hope you’re well,


  4. Great stuff!

    I sense a game could be made out of this somehow, similar to ‘Guess Who’. Students have 8 phrases/words/sentences each (one for each final ‘rule’), student A chooses something, and student B needs to ask questions to narrow down the selection.

    If you ban the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’, student A will be forced to read out the rule after every question, while keeping the phrase in mind.


  5. What is a „Normal noun“? I still do not understand. Can someone give me more examples of them?


    • I used it to cover anything that isn’t a proper noun. I know you can call them common nouns, but students tend to find ‘normal noun’ easier.


  6. […] months on from the previous version, and here’s another ‘final’ version of the articles chart I’ve been working […]


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