Determiners is a grammar point that it is fairly easy to explain the fundamentals. However, even Advanced learners can make quite basic mistakes with “a”, “the”, etc, and almost no one can learn all the special little rules. As just correction of spoken errors seems to have little effect on the accuracy of this grammar point for most people, the best approach is probably to:
- Tackle this grammar point early, but in a light way
- Come back to it quite often, adding a little more information to the rules each time (e.g. adding “lots of” after teaching “much” and “many”)
- Repeat at least twice a year for many many years, with occasional correction in between to remind the students of what they have learnt.
If you want to follow that process, you will need loads of game ideas to keep this grammar point fun and motivating, and you will also need games that are useable at all ages from 4 (introducing “a”, and maybe “an”) to 104. This makes articles (and the larger group of determiners) an especially good grammar point to look at in a “fun for all the family” way.
The philosophy of this article, as with others in the “Fun for all the Family” series, is that giving ages for games is an arbitrary division that a good teacher will be able to ignore when choosing games depending on the characters, language levels, energy levels, preferred learning styles and previous activities of the particular mix of students they have in their own individual classes. The activities below are therefore suitable for various age ranges from pre-school kids to retirees.
Students listen to the teacher and touch something that represents the correct determiner for what they hear, e.g. they touch the left wall for “an” when the teacher says “Apple” and the right wall for “a” when they hear “Pineapple”, or touch the floor for “the” when you say “Teacher” (to represent there only being one in the class) and the tops of their desks for “a” when you say “Window” (to represent one of several). They can also do the same when they see flashcards with gapped sentences, pictures, etc.
This game is also suitable for practising “some”/ “any”, “much”/ “many” etc. To make the game purpose clearer, you can write the determiners that you wish to practice on A4 pieces of paper and stick them to the things the students have to touch, e.g. the walls.
For less physical classes, they could also just race to slap cards on their desks with the relevant words written on them.
Guess the true determiner
Students make true sentences about themselves and see if the other students can guess the right missing determiner. For example, “My bedroom is __________room on the second floor” would have the word “the” missing if there is only one room there and the word “a” missing if there are two or more rooms on that floor, and the correct way to complete “There are ________ books on floor of my bedroom” would depend on how untidy and how much of a bookworm their partner is. This game also works for “some”, “lots of”, “hardly any”, “no”, etc. Students will probably need quite a lot of help and perhaps a worksheet to be able to do this activity in pairs, and you might want to prepare your own sentences in advance.
Guess from the determiner
This is similar to the Guess the True Determiner game above, but this time the person speaking gives the determiner and others guess the object(s), e.g. “In my house the ________ is on the piano”.
Guess the number of determiners
After students have read or listened to a text, get them to guess the number of times a particular word was used in it, e.g. how many examples of “the” it included. They then listen or read again and check. This works very well with pop songs.
Listen only for the determiners
This is a fun way of mixing up the order of how teachers usually do things with a listening text in class. Get students to listen the first time only for how many times a particular word in used, e.g. how many examples of “a” there are. After they have had a couple of chances to listen for this simple task, the comprehension questions should be easier than if they had had to do them when listening the first time. If you also do another different language point with the same text after the comprehension questions, this is also a good way of revising one grammar point with a text and also doing something new.
Find the determiners race
Students race to circle as many of one kind of article or determiner (e.g. “few”) as they can in a text or whole magazine in two minutes. You can also kind of combine this game with the Guess the Number of Determiners prediction game above by allowing different teams to choose different determiners that they want to look for (e.g. one team chooses to search for “some” and the other team chooses to search for “any” at the same time). When the game is finished, you can then talk about which determiner there were more of in the text and why, possibly then leading on to a grammar explanation.
Determiners run and touch
When the teacher says “Touch the” and stops speaking, students run and touch anything which that determiner is suitable for, e.g. touching the whiteboard or the floor is okay, but touching a desk is not (because there are many in the class). This game is also good for “lots of”, “some”, and “a” and “an” (both contrast to “the” and to contrast “a” and “an”). For a less active version with older students or in a more restrictive classroom, you can get them to point at the object or pretend to shoot it instead.
Determiners memory game
Students close their eyes and listen to a sentence about the classroom or a picture they have been looking at with the determiner taken out, e.g. “____ long ruler is on the teacher’s desk.” Students have to guess the right determiner from memory of the scene and grammatical knowledge.
Determiners memory game correct the sentence
The same as Determiners Memory Game, students close their eyes and listen to sentences about the room, but this time the person speaking sometimes deliberately makes a mistake with the determiners (either a grammatical mistake or saying something that isn’t true in the classroom or picture being described) and they have to correct the mistakes.
Determiners word by word hangman
This game is a good way of making students predict when a determiner is coming up in the sentence, and so good practice of being able to hear and notice the determiner when it is used. Give students the first word of a sentence and ask them to guess the next word. If they are correct, write the word up. If they are wrong, still write the correct next word up, but draw one part of the hangman on the board. The students then try to guess the next word. Continue until the whole sentence or text is complete and the man is safe, or until the hangman is complete and the students lose. To make the task easier, you can use a sentence that describes something that they can see, or a sentence they have used recently in class. Most sentences in the textbook will contain a determiner, and even if the one you have chosen does not (e.g. “The man went to prison”), you can discuss why it does not.
Determiners letter by letter hangman
This is similar to Word by Word Hangman, but this time students guess what the next letter is each time. Unlike normal hangman, the letters are guessed in order through the sentence and students only get one guess at each letter before the answer to that letter is given.
Shout out the determiner
This is an anticipation game similar to the two variations of hangman above, but with a bit more excitement and pressure to think in real time. Students listen to you slowly reading out a text and shout out “A!” etc. when they think one of the determiners that you are studying will be the next word. You can play the game with just one kind of determiner, with many kinds of determiner, or with each team shouting out a different determiner. If they are too competitive, you may need to take away points for students shouting out at the wrong point.
Pairwork determiners gapfill challenge
After finishing comprehension questions with a reading or listening text, get students to read each other sentences from it after taking one word out, e.g. “Jane Saunders always feels tired by ____ end of the week”. People in the same group or a different team then have to try and guess the missing word with help of their memories and grammatical knowledge. The fact that students are challenging each other means they get much more involved in this task than if it was a textbook gap fill. You can tell them which kinds of words they can take out, but students usually choose quite a few determiners anyway, probably because they know it is difficult for the other students to guess.