articles in English

This morning I was watching the recorded plenary talk that Paul Seligson gave at IATEFL Chile 2016 whose title was Hooking English: using song lines to build on existing knowledge. There are many ideas in his talk that resonate with my vision and use of songs in the classroom. The novelty factor of playing a full song towards the end of the lesson as a kind of reward or relief from having tackled some more rigorous kind of work has worn off now that our learners have the means to go on the Internet and in practice listen to anything of their choice. We need to get a little more creative and move with the times. There is still room for fill in gaps but:  a) we can  be more specific about the kind of missing language we would like the students to identify or understand. b) just a few lines of the song may serve the purpose.

And here is my favorite activity from Paul’s talk: Choose a few lines from a song and create a fill in gaps exercise by replacing “a”, “an”, “the” with dotted lines. You may also include dotted lines preceding nouns where no article is used. Display or write on the board. I tried this teaching idea with a gapped first verse of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You.

……….(1) club isn’t ………(2) best place to find ……….(3) lover
So ……….(4) bar is where I go
Me and my friends at ……….(5) table doing ………. (6) shots
Drinking fast and then we talk slow
Come over and start up ……….(7) conversation with just me
And trust me I’ll give it ……….(8) chance now
Take my hand, stop, put Van ……….(9) Man on ……….(10) jukebox
And then we start to dance, and now I’m singing like


1.the   2. the   3. a   4. the   5. the   6. —   7. a   8. a   9. the   10. the

Have the students write the answers on a piece of paper and compare with their classmates. Then play the verse of the song and have them check. Go over the answers with them and play the verse a second time.

And here is my personal extension of the activity. If the students are allowed to use mobile phones in the classroom, ask them to look for the lyrics of a song that they know and like on their phones. Otherwise, this will be set as homework. Then tell them to create a fill in gaps on a piece of paper by writing down a few lines from the song (4 to 8 lines is a good number) and replacing the articles as you just did. They can write the answers on the back of the paper.

Get the students into groups and have them look at the pieces of papers and figure out what the missing articles are. I can’t think of a more productive, sensible, authentic and fun way to work with articles in English in the language classroom.

Here is Paul Seligson’s talk.

And here’s Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You.



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