Having some fun with articles

Grammar quirk
1. How do articles and water mix?

Articles, as any English language learner will tell you, are a bit of a nightmare. In this first video I'll point out some interesting oddities in the language when we use them to refer to bodies of water...

Classroom activity
2. Around the world with articles

... and in this second video I’ll give you a great communication activity for you to teach and practice articles with geographical names. All you need is a world map and a zest for travel.

Transcript 1 - How do articles and water mix?

Do you ever come across those little quirks of English grammar that make you interested in the language all over again? I'm Jo Gakonga from ELT training and this series of videos addresses just some of those things. This is episode two and it's entitled, How do articles and water mix?

So, do water and articles mix. Well clearly the article we're talking about is the definite article 'the'. And if we look at most bodies of water, it's there. Rivers - doesn't matter how big they are, doesn't matter how interesting looking they are - it's all 'the'. We've got the Nile, the Amazon, the Avon, the Severn.

Oceans are the same. So we've got the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean. And note we can usually omit 'Ocean' too.

Seas are the same. We've got the Dead Sea, we've got the Red Sea, we've got the Med (Sea), or not - just the Med maybe.

We've also got other kinds of bodies of water like the Straits of Gibraltar or the English Channel. Even in French, it's La Manche. It's got an article there, too. The Great Australian Bight. So almost all kinds of water take the definite article ('the').

But, of course, there's an exception, and the big exception is lakes. We've got Lake Titicaca - no 'the'. Lake Como - no 'the'. Lake Tanganyika, no 'the'. Why is this? I really don't know. Just an odd quirk of the language. If the lakes are plural, then we do have an article with them. So the Great Lakes of course.

So is that the only exception? I'd like to tell you that it is, but I think there are one or two others. Sydney Harbour, for example. Hong Kong Harbor so, harbors. Or waterfalls? Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls. No articles with those either.

So what can I say? It's a bit of a tricky area. You can probably see from all of these pictures that I'm suffering a bit from wanderlust at the moment being stuck inside so much. But I hope that watching this video has given you a bit of a smile and a bit of interest. And I look forward to seeing you in the next episode. Thanks very much for watching. Bye bye

Transcript 2 - Around the world with articles

Articles, as any English language learner will tell you, are a bit of a nightmare. I’m Jo Gakonga from ELT-Training.com and in this video I’ll give you a great communicative idea to practise articles associated with place names.

All you need for this is a world map. You can find these really easily on Google, or you could use Google Earth to make things more interesting.

It’s worth looking at some of the rules for articles with place names before you start – give them a list of places and ask them to work in pairs to decide whether an article is needed or not:
  • Botswana, Africa
  • United States of America
  • London
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Nile
  • Lake Geneva
  • Andes
  • Mount Fuji

From this, you can elicit the rules – that country names (and continents) don’t usually take an article except in the pattern The ___ of ___ (The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The People’s Republic of China). Cities and towns almost never take an article. Seas and oceans do, so do rivers, but lakes don’t. Ranges of mountains do, but single mountains don’t.

Right, now tell them that they are going on a trip around the world – money no object, Covid no object. They have to include countries, place names, rivers, oceans, mountains etc. as many different things as they can.

Start with a model – I’d like to start in Europe, in Paris, then I’ll travel by train to the Alps and climb Mt Blanc and go down through Italy, stopping for a while in Tuscany. Then I’ll go across the Med to North Africa….

You might also want to provide some useful phrases:
  • I’d like to start…
  • I’ll travel by…
  • I’ll go across the (sea)
  • I’ll stay for a while in….

Give them a bit of time to prepare and tell them to make a list of 10 places to include. Now put them in pairs (in breakout rooms if you are online) and give them time to tell each other about their trip. Encourage their partner to ask ‘Why do you want to go there?’

As a teacher, monitor and note errors – you can do some delayed error correction with the whole class after the exercise. It’s also a really good idea to get them to do the exercise again with a new partner. If they have the chance to repeat what they said, they’ll be able to try to improve it and it won’t be boring for the listener, because they won’t have heard it before.

As a follow up exercise, or for homework, why not ask them to write a description of a place they’d like to go to, or a place they know well, including information about its location - La Paz is the capital city of Bolivia. It is high in the Andes, southeast of Lake Titicaca and it’s built in the valley of the Choqueyapu River.

Created with