Hands-on English current events activity for June, 1998
Note: You are welcome to print, copy and use this activity with your students. However, this material is copyrighted, so please don't re-publish it anywhere without permission.
To the instructor:
Here is a story about the transportation strike in Philadelphia, with a grammar lesson about using articles. Many students have trouble with articles in English--when to use a, the, or no article.
The grammar rules for articles are quite complex. They can be hard to teach, and almost impossible to learn! For beginning or intermediate students you can't go into all the rules, but they do need to get some sense of how to use articles. This activity should help illustrate the principle of general use of a noun versus specific use. The students will discover this rule themselves.
How to do it:
Read (or tell) the full text of the story to your students first, so they can focus on the meaning of the story. Discuss the events in Philadelphia.
Next, hand out copies of the second version of the story, the one with blanks. Have the students read along while you read the story aloud, then read again while they write the missing words (if there is no missing word, they should put an "x" in the blank).
This task will seem ridiculously easy to your students, because the missing words are all "a" or "the"! When you are finished, ask the students if they can explain why the articles are different in the first paragraph. That is, why "a train" in the first paragraph and "the train" in the second? They may already know the rule, or they may be able to figure it out. If necessary, you can point out the difference to them.
Answer: In the first paragraph, all the nouns are general, so the singular ones use "a" or "an" and the plural ones use no article. In the second paragraph, all the nouns are specific (they refer to the events in Philadelphia) so both the singular and plural nouns use "the". This can be summed up with the following examples:
train is expensive to build. (about any, in general)
Trains can be very noisy. (about all of them, in general)
The train I usually take to work isn't running today. (about a specific one)
The trains in Philadelphia are not running. (about specific ones)
If your students understand this, have them try the exercise below. Again, they should decide if each example is general or specific, then write "a", "an", "the" or "x" (for no article).
For more details about the transportation strike in Philadelphia, see the web site for the newspaper there, "The Philadelphia Inquirer." Here's their page about the strike: http://www3.phillynews.com/packages/septa/ There are some great human interest stories there!
To review this grammar, choose a story the students are familiar with (perhaps a story from a previous lesson). Have them underline the nouns and articles in the story, then see if they can explain why "a", "the" or no article was used in each case.
What kind of transportation do you have in your city? Trains, buses, trolleys, elevated trains and subways are some different kinds of public transportation. A train can carry a lot of people. A trolley is a small train. An elevated train is a train that goes over the street. A subway is a train that goes under the street. A bus can go anywhere a car can go.
Many people in Philadelphia usually take the train to work. Lots of people take the bus or the subway. Some people take the trolley. The transportation in Philadelphia is usually very good. Forty percent of the people there don't have a car, because they don't need one.
Now the transportation workers are on strike. During the strike, some of the trains are still running. But the buses, the elevated trains, the trolleys and the subways there are not running. Thousands of people are walking to work, riding bicycles or sharing a car ride. They are probably hoping this strike will end soon.
(Listen and fill in the blanks)
What kind of transportation do you have in your city? X trains, _____ buses, ____trolleys, ______elevated trains and _____ subways are some different kinds of public transportation. _____ train can carry a lot of people. _____trolley is a small train. _____ elevated train is ______ train that goes over the street. ______ subway is _____ train that goes under the street. ______ bus can go anywhere a car can go.
Many people in Philadelphia usually take ______ train to work. Lots of people take _____ bus or ______ subway. Some people take _____ trolley. _____ transportation in Philadelphia is usually very good. Forty percent of the people there don't have a car, because they don't need one.
Now the transportation workers are on strike. During the strike, some of _____ trains are still running. But ____ buses, _____ elevated trains, _____ trolleys and _____ subways there are not running. Thousands of people are walking to work, riding bicycles or sharing a car ride. They are probably hoping this strike will end soon.
Decide whether each example is general or about something specific. Choose a, an, the, or "x" (no article) for each example below.
1. ______ transportation strike can be a big problem for any city.
_______ transportation strike in Philadelphia is causing problems for thousands of people.
2. ______ subway near my house is closed.
______ subway is expensive to build.
3. I waited for ______ bus for four hours!
______ bus is more comfortable than a train.
4. _______ workers usually go on strike because they want higher pay.
_______ workers in Philadelphia are striking because they want better pension benefits.
5. _______ students have to go to school every day.
_______ students in Philadelphia sometimes take the subway to school.
6. ______ trains in Philadelphia usually carry thousands of people every day.
______ trains can carry thousands of people every day.
7. _______ strike can last a long time if the workers and managers don't agree.
People in Philadelphia are hoping ______ strike will be over soon.
Editor's note: I'd be very interested to hear what you and your students thought of this activity! Thank you! We welcome teaching suggestions.--Anna Silliman.
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