Fun with a and an

Overview: 

This problem-solving activity allows student to see that the use of a vs. an is determined by sound rather than spelling.

Grade Level: 
Grades 3-5
Class Time Needed: 
Under 30 minutes
Lesson Plan: 

when do we use a and when do we use an?

a way
a video
a huge house
a one-time event
a unit
a U-turn

an idea
an architect
an hour
an honorary member
an MBA
an x-ray

Come up with other nouns that are written with both vowels and consonants to see if they follow the rule you have come up with. There is some variation among speakers and writers with words that are begin with h, such as a/an historical. Why do you think this is?

More on h: Why do we not pronounce some s? There are many words that are spelled with that have no /h/ in the pronunciation for any English speaker: hour, honor, honest. Though the letter comes from the Roman alphabet, the /h/ sound was eventually lost in Latin and in the Romance languages that came from Latin. However, it is retained in the spelling of some words that English has borrowed from those languages, primarily French, so honor, honest, hour, and heir, borrowed from French, do not have the initial /h/, just as French does not. However, in Old English, at the beginning of words and before vowels was pronounced as /h/. In Middle English, the /h/ in those positions seems to have weakened and was often not pronounced, but in Present Day English, perhaps due to the influence of spelling, the /h/ is usually pronounced not only in Anglo Saxon words like happy and hot, but in some French borrowings: hostel, hotel, haste. In some other French borrowings, there is dialectal variation; so in some dialects the /h/ is pronounced in the words herb, human, humor, humble, and in others it is not.