Teacher Tip – Helping Students See Patterns

As teachers, we often find ourselves wanting to bang our head against something hard when students “just don’t get it!” The challenge is remembering that we probably haven’t taught the topic in a way that works for our students.

Even though we often chalk up linguistic confusions as “that’s just English”, the truth is that the English language actually follows many grammatical rules… we probably just don’t know them!

One strategy that often works is thinking about how to help students find patterns. This can work for just about any grammatical concept, but the example illustrated in this post is for knowing when to use articles (a, an, the) with singular and plural nouns.

The rule is that singular count nouns must use articles: a box of cupcakes, the big tree, an apple. So, how do we help students learn that for themselves? Try this activity:

  • Start with a paragraph from a text that students have previously read. The paragraph should have 8-12 nouns (singular, plural and noncount).
  • Work with your student to circle all of the nouns.
  • Next, make a chart with three categories: singular, plural, noncount.
  • Have the student add the nouns to the chart in the correct category.
  • Ask your student 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.
  • 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.

Try this same outline with topics such as /ed/ endings in regular past tense verbs, the “s” ending in third person singular present tense verbs.

(Adapted from Cambridge Grammar and Beyond April Newsletter)

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