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

Posts tagged ‘articles’

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.


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…

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