A singular count noun can’t be alone in a sentence – it needs a determiner to accompany it. These determiners – the articles (a, an, the) in particular – often slip under the radar when students are reading and, consequently, writing. I do an awareness-raising activity with my students that focuses on the determiners used with singular count nouns.
- I start with a paragraph from a text that students have previously read. They are already familiar with the vocabulary, ideas, and context, so we can focus on analyzing the determiners. I select a paragraph that has 8 – 12 mostly concrete nouns, with a good mix of singular, plural, and noncount nouns.
- Students work in pairs and circle all of the nouns.
- Next, they divide the nouns into three categories on a chart: singular, plural and noncount nouns, leaving space to the left of each word.
- Then I ask them to look to the left of the noun (in the paragraph). If they see an article, another kind of determiner, or an adjective (or some combination), they write that in the chart, too. We usually do a few of these together, and then the students finish the chart in pairs.
- 5. The final step is for them to notice that all of the singular nouns have something in front of them, whereas the plurals and noncount nouns may or may not.
I often repeat this activity with a text that has more abstract nouns in it, to ensure students have practice with noncount nouns that often “look” like singular count nouns.
Finally, I have students complete this same exercise with their own writing: circling the nouns, looking to the left of their singular count nouns, and adding an article (or other determiner) as needed.
As I said above, you should use a text that your students are already familiar with, but to make your job easier I am providing the worksheet that I use in class with my students as a downloadable. Enjoy!