One of the first structures English learners are taught is there is/there are. At first glance, these structures seem like necessary but boring forms that enable students to describe items in a picture. Students often practice singular plural forms such as, There is a chair in the room or There are apples on the table. After a perfunctory practice, there is and there are are checked off the list and largely forgotten about.

Abandoning these grammatical devices may be a mistake, however. It turns out that they are prevalent in both writing and speaking, and that native speakers use them far more frequently than English learners, and this is particularly true in academic writing (Hinkel, 2004)[1].


Revisiting There is/There are

So how do we support English learners in using there is/there are with the same effectiveness? One of the most basic (but useful) ways for beginning writers to use the structure is in framing writing. There are in particular gives beginning writers an all-purpose device for introducing the words points, ideas, kinds of, ways, differences, similarities, and the ubiquitous reasons. After introducing this controlling noun, the writer can merely follow through on the promise made.

The structure has another subtle and positive effect: It keeps the introductory sentence under control. It minimizes the tendency to continue writing long stringy introductions that blur into support. Compare (1) There are three interesting tourist places in Bogota with (2) When tourists visit Bogota, they need to see three tourist places so that they can understand the history and culture of the city, and have a good experience…. In the latter, the writer did not stop after the introduction but went straight into the support, while in the former, the sentence is clear and controlled. While it is not the most creative way to start a paragraph, There are + words such as reasons, ways, or kinds can be a useful pattern for a beginning writer trying to manage multiple writing aims.


There is/There Are Lesson Plan

The following downloadable lesson can be used in a grammar or writing class, or it can easily be adapted for speaking. In the first exercise, students learn a set of practical words that follow there is/there are in introducing supporting details. Then they use topic sentences in practice, and finally they extend the grammar to a new context.


Downloadable for Exercises A and B


Exercise A

Activity aim

To use there is/there are to introduce the main ideas in a paragraph about transportation in their city.


High beginner to intermediate. They are familiar with there is/there are but only in a basic way.


Make copies of the downloadable activity for individuals or pairs of students. Have them complete the task. Circulate and note any difficulties with comprehension.


Exercise B


1. Elicit answers to the board/computer as sentences. (Consider designating students to write them on the board, or type them on a projector.) Clarify the meaning of the words or sentences as needed.

2. Underline the phrases with there is/there are and discuss how they make the sentence grammatical by contributing a verb. Note that in this way, they are useful for introducing a topic in writing.

3. Have individuals or pairs choose a topic sentence. Have them use the selected sentence as a topic sentence by writing three or four supporting detail sentences. It is not necessary for them to use there is/there are unless it works for the paragraph.

4. Have students/pairs exchange papers and peer edit one another’s work to make sure the support matches the topic sentence.


Extension Exercise

1. Have students write topic sentences for other topics using there is/ there are with one, several, a few, many types, or several kinds of.

2. For a variation, have them use the sentence to introduce a short talk to a partner, group or the class.



Exercise / Managers / Students / Restaurants / Sports / Weather

[1] Hinkel, E. (2004) Teaching academic ESL writing:  Practical techniques in vocabulary and grammar.  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.