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

Articles chart (again!)

18 months on from the previous version, and here’s another ‘final’ version of the articles chart I’ve been working on for a number of years:

Articles chart

Here’s the PowerPoint version for you to download.

I use the articles chart with students instead of the long lists of explanations and rules that normally appear in coursebooks. We look at a few examples of nouns in sentences, and follow the chart to work out the explanation for why that article (or lack thereof) was chosen. For example, in the first sentence of this paragraph:

  • Noun = chart. It’s normal, countable, singular, and specific – it’s important that I’m talking about this particular chart, not just any chart.
  • Noun = students. They’re normal, countable, plural, and general – I’m talking about any of my students – it doesn’t matter which ones.
  • Noun = lists. They’re normal, countable, plural and specific – I’m talking about the ones which appear in coursebooks, not just any lists.
  • Noun = explanations/rules. They’re normal, countable, plural and general – it doesn’t matter which explanations and rules – it covers all of the ones in coursebooks.
  • Noun = coursebooks. They’re normal, countable, plural and general – it covers all coursebooks, not just specific ones.

As I’ve said before, the 90% rule mentioned in the box is entirely made up, has no scientific basis, and is only because sometimes I can’t get it to match up, though in reality I find it works about 99% of the time if you think around the sentence a bit. If anybody would like to give me a more scientific number, I’ll be very grateful 🙂

I don’t expect students to memorise the chart, but instead use it as a point of reference. I introduce it by going through a few sentences, as above, then give them a paragraph of a text, probably something we’ve just read or listened to, and ask them to figure out why articles were(n’t) chosen in each case. They can ask me about any which don’t seem to fit the rules. I get them to staple the chart in their books (less likely to lose it!) and we refer to it whenever relevant in future lessons. I find that after using it in a few lessons for analysis and correction, they tend to get much better at selecting appropriate articles, and are more able to self-correct.

If you use it, I’d be interested to know if you find examples which really don’t fit, as well as how well your students manage with this way of representing this grammar.

Comments on: "Articles chart (again!)" (6)

  1. It’s great! But then I would say that wouldn’t I because I came up with a chart that’s practically identical. They may not be scientifically based but it also can’t be just chance that two classroom teachers have come up with such similar analyses. I wonder if a couple of teachers would be willing to have a video discussion comparing the two presentations and also comparing them with “the long lists of explanations and rules” in coursebooks and grammar books.
    Here’s a fairly recent blog post of mine “Using the determiners a/an or the: going naked” which includes an interactive version of my diagram.

    Having students staple the chart in their notebooks so they can refer is a great idea – wish I’d thought of it.


    • Thanks for sharing your version of this – I like the interactive nature of it, and find it very interesting that we’ve both approached it through a flowchart. I don’t think there are enough charts in published materials, as I often think they help more than long paragraphs of explanations. Do you have any others you use? (I know the silent way uses them a lot with the rods)


  2. I think this is the only flow chart I ever made but I do have a lot of charts and diagrams of different types. Some of them I “stole” and modified from Leech’s “An A-Z of English Grammar and Usage” which presents many points of grammar in the form of charts.

    For me it was important to first get students, with a few hints from me & working in groups, to themselves create a chart of a given structure in class. That way they really integrated what they had produced. Then I’d give them a “clean” handout of my version and sometimes put a big one on the wall to refer to. In recent years I gave students extra practice with online interactive exercises.

    I’ve never thought of charts as specific to the Silent Way. In fact I don’t know any other English Silent Way teacher who makes them. Of course, there’s Maurice Laurent who’s created an absolutely brilliant chart for the whole of French grammar. But we can’t steal it from him because French is a different type of language from English.


  3. Hi Sandy,
    Here’s my take on articles.
    I always start with helping the students to learn to define the noun as known or unknown. I feel it’s logical, as it’s natural for native speakers to think this way. When my students start to ask ‘why’ then I feel it’s time to introduce defined vs undefined. I’ve used this chart for strong pre-int (late in the year) and up, as well as TT sessions.


  4. […] then checked the answers, using Sandy Millin’s articles chart to clarify […]


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