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An awareness-raising task for the use of articles

Shun Morimoto, Chigakukan Secondary School

Quick guide

  • Key words:Awareness-raising, articles, nouns
  • Learner English level: Beginning and above
  • Learner maturity:All levels
  • Preparation time:10 minutes
  • Activity time:10 to 15 minutes
  • Materials:Dialogue script, an apple and slices of apple (if available), pictures depicting nouns with an indefinite article and no article

This is a simple task for raising learners’ awareness of the use of articles. The dialogue to be performed intentionally makes a clear contrast between a noun with an indefinite article a/an (e.g., an apple) and one without an article (e.g., apple).
Step 1:Prepare an apple and slices of apple. If not available, pictures of these can be used.
Step 2:Prepare a set of picture cards and a set of sentences showing the different uses of nouns occurring with and without an indefinite article. For example, nouns such as an egg vs. egg and a grey hair vs. grey hair are well-suited for the task. Examples of the sentences that could be presented include I watch TV every night. vs. I want to buy a TV. and I found a stone in my shoe. vs. This house is made of stone.
Step 1:Perform the following dialogue. Encourage learners to guess what the dialogue is about. Emphasize the underlined words.
A:  Hi, James. What are you making now?
B:  Hi, Ken. I’m making a salad.
A: I tell you what, put an apple in the salad. It’s delicious.
B:  Put AN APPLE in the salad!?
A: Sorry, put APPLE in the salad.
Step 2:Ask a few learners what the dialogue was about. Focus especially on the reason why Speaker B was surprised.
Step 3:Explain the difference between an apple and apple. Indefinite articles a/an are used when one can individuate the noun in question while no article is used when one cannot imagine the wholeness of the noun. In the latter case, some is often used with the noun. It is important to have learners understand that there are different ways of viewing APPLE and they are reflected in the use of articles. Then go back to the dialogue and point out that Speaker B was surprised because one usually does not put a whole apple in a salad.
Step 4:Present a set of pictures depicting nouns in two different forms. Ask the learners how to describe each noun. For example, An egg refers to a whole egg while egg refers to beaten egg. It is also a good idea to present these nouns in a sentence such as Please pass me an egg. vs. Please pour egg evenly into the pan.
Follow-up activity
A follow-up dialogue can be performed to reinforce what learners have just been taught. This time, I expect that most learners can identify the difference between a lemon and lemon.
A:  Can I take your order?
B: Tea with a lemon, please.
A:  Tea with A LEMON?
B:  Sorry, tea with LEMON, please.
The use of articles is a notoriously troublesome area for many Japanese learners of English. It is due to the fact that Japanese lacks the article system. In order to have learners understand its mechanism, it should be borne in mind by teachers that there is no a priori distinction between countable and uncountable nouns. In other words, nouns can be either countable or uncountable depending on how a speaker conceptualizes them. The author has been using this task with less-experienced seventh graders for two years, and it has turned out to be very helpful for beginner learners to get the idea of how articles work in English. I expect that it would also be useful for learners who have had some experience learning English. I hope this task can serve as an eye-opener for learners and help them grasp of the use of articles.

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