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How to Teach This That These Those

Demonstrative determiners (or demonstrative adjectives) refer to the words this, that, these and those. As determiners they modify a noun and are therefore different to demonstrative pronouns which stand in place of a noun. Despite this difference, demonstrative determiners and pronouns are often taught together as the difference rarely causes problems.

When to Teach

Demonstratives are often introduced at a beginner or elementary level. The use of demonstrative pronouns may be further clarified at pre-intermediate and even intermediate level where they refer to ideas rather than concrete nouns.

Meaning

Demonstrative determiners help to clarify what noun we are talking about, i.e.

This = single object, in close vicinity/in reach

That = single object, not in close vicinity/not in reach

These = multiple objects, in close vicinity/in reach

Those = multiple objects, not in close vicinity/not in reach

Demonstrative pronouns work in the same way for real objects except that they stand in for a noun e.g. that’s my house, or this is where I live.

When this or that stand in for ideas, they are usually interchangeable, although we prefer:

  • this for new information e.g. this is what I really want to achieve;
  • this to more closely associate with information e.g. this is all I can suggest;
  • that to disassociate with information e.g. that’s terrible.

Form

A demonstrative determiner or adjective fills the determiner slot in a noun phrase, therefore going before any modifiers. They may combine with other determiners, in particular quantifiers or numbers. For example:

  • That load of old rubbish;
  • These 5 books.

They do not however combine with articles or possessive adjectives. Instead a possessive pronoun can be used after the noun to indicate ownership:

  • This sweet little dog of yours.

Demonstrative pronouns take the place of a noun, for example:

  • This is a cup;
  • I wouldn’t stand for that.

Pronunciation

The /ð/ sound at the beginning of these words is a problematic sound for speakers of many languages who may substitute it for /z/, /v/ or /d/. The /ɪ/ and /i:/ vowels in this and these also cause problems for some students, though context generally prevents students from being misunderstood.

Problems for Students

Most students manage to select the correct demonstrative most of the time. However, this is often more difficult with abstract ideas.

Contexts

Shopping

Perhaps the most obvious context for the use of demonstratives is shopping. This is particularly true in shops that have some of their wares out of reach of the customer such as a market stall. Classroom based activities based on this theme do not need to be confined to the initial purchase of items, but could also include finding problems with items purchased (that one’s too small), and subsequently returning them (I’d like to return this).

Clothes

Naturally clothes fit well with the shopping theme discussed above. However, discussions over pictures of what other people are wearing are also likely to require the use of demonstratives.

Family and Friends

Another context in which we use demonstratives is to explain who people are to us (e.g. this is my brother, these are my friends). 

Presenting

The easiest way to present demonstratives is using realia. I have usually used board markers as several are normally available in the classroom but any item of which you have 2 or more of will work.

Start with one item in one hand and ask “what’s this?” while holding it up for students to see. You can write the question on the whiteboard to highlight the word this. Provide students with the phrase “this pen”.

Now set the pen down somewhere in the classroom where students can see it. Ask the questions “what’s that?” again writing the question on the board. Elicit or provide “that pen”. Drill these two phrases a few times.

To add these and those, just repeat as above but with multiple pens. If your students’ first language has an unusual treatment of numbers (e.g. in Russian nouns take different forms for 1, 2-4 and 5 or more), you may find it useful to demonstrate that these and those are the only possibilities with more than 2 items.

Alternatively, if you prefer, you could deal with the words in the order of this and these first, followed by that and those.

Practising

Shopping Mill Drill

For this activity, you need sets of pictures showing two items, for example two different pairs of jeans. You also need pieces of paper with the name of each item on. Give each student an item and a different set of pictures.

Students approach each other with one telling the other that they would like to buy the item named on their paper. If the other student has the pictures of this item, they offer the student a choice “this one or that one?” The other student picks which one they like more.

After both students have spoken, the students swap their images and items and find a new student to ask.

Spot the Difference

Spot the difference can be an effective way to practise this language. To use this activity, all you need are two pictures that have several differences. Display one picture and let students look at it for up to 2 minutes, telling them to memorise as much detail as they can. At the end of the time, stop displaying this picture and give them the other. In pairs have them tell each other what is different. Encourage them to point to the picture and either say this/these.

When students have found the differences, display the original picture again while eliciting feedback. You can now encourage them to use that/those about the original picture.

Songs

Songs are a great source of language. Because listening is enjoyable (subject to taste), students often don’t mind listening to songs repeatedly. Therefore they come to know the lyrics, which if containing clear examples of a language point, provide memorable examples for students. The following songs contain several examples:

Lesson Plans

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