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Lesson: Articles, Active Voice and Passive Voice

Pronoun lesson plan

In this lesson plan, you’ll be getting a 2-for-1 deal as we will examine and provide resources for two different grammar topics. This lesson will discuss both the use of articles within the English language, as well as the differences between active and passive voice, and the cases for which each voice should be used.

Webpage to Discuss in Class

Purdue Online Writing Lab: Using Articles

Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) is a very handy resource for anyone hoping to either teach or learn grammar skills. It contains instruction regarding spelling, written number usage, adjectives, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, verb tenses, irregular verbs, prepositions, and many other topics. The page we’ll be presenting is their guide to using articles in English.

As the reader will learn, “the” is used in situations where a noun or plural noun is something specific. This is why "the" is referred to as a definite article. Meanwhile, "a/an" are known as indefinite articles, as they describe nouns that are more general. We’ll show you a couple of examples below:

  • I would like a new car.
  • Did you see the new car I bought?

In the above examples, “a” could mean any new car, while “the” refers only to the specific new car the speaker of the sentence has purchased.

"The" and "a/an" can also be used when either discussing a specific member, of a group or a non-specific member of the group. We’ll show this to you here:

  • Tom is the tall student standing by the door.
  • Hand the paper to a tall student standing by the door.

In the first sentence, we know the speaker is talking about a specific tall student by the name of Tom. In the second sentence, the speaker wants the paper handed to any tall student who might be standing by the door.

"A" and "an" cannot be used interchangeably. The general rule is that if the noun following the indefinite article starts with a consonant, "a" should be used. If it starts with a vowel, "an" should be used. For example, you’d say “a toaster”, “a zebra”, “an uncle”, and “an ice skate”. An exception occurs with words starting with a silent h. “An hour” would be one example of this, as OWL points out. The website mentions that another exception can occur with acronyms. This can happen with acronyms that begin with the letter m, as it is pronounced as “em”. For example, “An MCAT test can be stressful.”

Another exception to the rule can occur when the noun in question is immediately preceded by an adjective. “A large eggplant” and “an ugly boat” are examples of when a noun starting with a consonant may receive an “an” due to the vowel preceding it or where a noun starting with a vowel may receive an “a”. One last exception concerns words beginning with "u" or "eu" that have a "y" consonant sound. Some examples would be “a utopian society”, “a union”, and “a European vacation”.

The definite article “the” can be used with what are known as “count nouns”, or nouns that refer to a specific quantity. Examples would be “the five windows” and “the spinach in the can”. "The" can also be used when referring to geographic items, but this isn’t always appropriate. One can put “the” before a river, areas (the East), deserts, gulfs, seas, oceans, peninsulas, and straits. It should not be used before specific mountain names, towns, countries, streets, continents, and islands.

Webpage to Discuss in Class Active Voice versus Passive Voice

Quick and Dirty Tips is a website that provides advice concerning pets, relationships, money management, technology, health and fitness, education and more. On the grammar section of the education page, we find Mignon Fogarty, the resident “grammar girl”, who guides a discussion regarding active voice vs passive voice.

To put it simply, active voice is used when the subject of a sentence is performing an action. For example:

  • Russ hates pasta.
  • Russ = subject, hates = action/verb

When passive voice is employed, the object upon which the action is performed becomes the sentence’s subject.

  • Pasta is hated by Russ.
  • Pasta = subject, hated = action/verb

When active voice is used, the subject of the sentence will appear before the action performed. Writing in the active voice is preferred in most situations, as it makes for a more succinct and powerful sentence. Relying too heavily on the passive voice can create sentences that are grammatically correct, but may sound awkward and be difficult to understand for ESL learners and native English speakers with very basic reading skills.

Mignon Fogarty points out that a common misconception regarding active and passive voice comes in the form of people thinking that “to be” verbs (is, are, am), necessitate use of the passive voice. This isn’t always the case, as we will illustrate below.

  • Sue is watering the plants.

Here, the active voice is clearly used. Sue is the subject of the sentence and she takes the action of watering the plants.

While active voice is generally preferred, passive voice does have its time and place. Quick and Dirty Tips mentions that passive voice can be used when information is lacking. For example:

  • “The waffle was eaten” or “The mailbox was vandalized”.

In this case, the passive voice is used. If, however, you know that Arthur ate the waffle and Lou vandalized the mailbox, you would use the active voice in conveying this information.

  • “Arthur ate the waffle.”  “Lou vandalized the mailbox.” – How Definite is Indefinite

This infographic, courtesy of, displays when definite and indefinite articles should be used. It displays a flowchart to show the process by which a writer would determine whether to use the or a/an.

[Infographic provided by]


1. Articles – How to use A, AN, THE


Run Time: 9:32

Grade Level: 9-12

Description: While designed for ESL students, this video is also appropriate for native English speaking students. It gives instructions on when to use "the" vs "a/an". It also explains how articles help to operate basic vocabulary functions and to keep sentences grammatically correct.

2. Active vs Passive Voice

Source: Howcast

Run Time: 2:48

Grade Level: 9-12

Description: This video teaches how to improve your writing quality by knowing the difference between active voice and passive voice. It explains these differences by way of sentence diagramming.

Reinforcement Exercises

Worksheet: Create a worksheet containing 25 fill-in-the-blank sentences. Every sentence should need an article to be made complete. Students should fill in each blank with either "the", "a", or "an". Be sure to include examples where some of the rule exceptions we discussed earlier are present.

Class Exercise: Write 10 sentences on a blackboard/dry erase board. These 10 sentences should include 5 pairs of two similar sentences in which one uses active voice and the other uses passive voice. Ask your students which sentence in each pair is correct and sounds better. Lead a discussion on why each superior sentence within a pair is the better option.