Strategies For Teaching The Articles A, An, The

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Strategies for Teaching the Articlesa, an, theAmelia Leong Chiew Har(Universiti Putra Malaysia, It is undeniable that learning the articles a, an, and the presents serious difficulties to thelearners and teachers alike in the English Language classrooms, but previous studies done onthe teaching of articles have shown that there are many techniques of teaching the articles thatcan be employed in the English Language classrooms. Besides the techniques suggested bythe linguists and researchers, the paper also presents strategies on teaching the articles fromvarious sources like grammar books and research journals in the area. Examples of theteaching strategies are given in relation to the strategies suggested.IntroductionThe English grammar articlesa, an and the is categorized as the determiners in the Englishgrammar. The English articles system is one of the most commonly used aspects of grammarin the English Language. According to Thornbury (2004, p.8), the articles a and the are thetwo out of the ten most frequent words in the English Language. The articles system is usedwidely and frequently; intentionally or unintentionally in all the four skillsspeaking,listening, writing and reading. It plays a crucial role in learning the language as it helps toachieve accuracy and fluency in English language and to achieve communication skills.for the non1990, p.461). Hence, it is important to teach the usage of the articles to the learners.In Malaysia, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has listed all the three articlesa, an, the inthe Form 1 to Form 5 English Language Kurikulum Bersepadu Sekolah Menengah (KBSM)syllabus. This shows that all the three articles will be taught to the learners from Form 1 to129

Form 5 English Language classrooms. Table 1 shows the list of articles listed in theMalaysian Secondary School English Language syllabus.Table 1: Curriculum specification for English language (articles) in Forms 1-5Form 1A, An, The, Zero ArticleForm 2A, An, The, Zero ArticleForm 3A, An, The, Zero ArticleForm 4A, An, The, Zero ArticleForm 5A, An, The, Zero ArticleSource: Curriculum Specification for English Language (MOE, 2003)Hence, the articles are expected to be taught to the learners in the English Languageclassrooms. In Malaysia, the articles are taught to the learners mainly by using the EnglishEducation.Thornbury (2004, p.41) in How To Teach Grammar shows us how the articles can bepossibly taught in the English language classrooms using the deductive approach byinvolving the learners in the jigsaw activities and group work, utilizing the cloze texts. It isbelieved that jigsaw activity and group work help to provide more opportunities to thelearners to be involved in the real-world communication and training the learners to be moreresponsible to their own learning. Thornbury (2004, p.43) also reported that this approach ofteaching articles is economical as teaching articles can be easily done by directing thelearners to the rules of grammar in the handouts prepared by the teachers or referring thelearners to the grammar sections of a reference book. Teaching the grammar articles solely bythe teachers is not an easy attempt, hencTeaching grammarPrevious studies on the teaching of grammar have shown that there have been debates on theprocess of teaching and learning the English grammar. Some argue that grammar should notbe taught but it must be acquired by the learners through their daily communication and useof the English Language (Webbe, 1622 in Thornburry, 2004, p.19). This approach is called130

Inductive Approach and is supported by the Communicative Language Teaching (Richardsand Rogers, 1986). The proponents of this approach contend that grammar can be acquired(picked up) by the learners naturally without studying the rules of grammar. Hence, theinductive approach supports the Direct Method and Audiolingualism as the grammar teachingand learning methodology in the English Language classrooms. The Direct Method claimedto be supporting the Natural Approach by Krashen (1974) while the Audiolingualism strictlyrejected the idea of grammar teaching, based on the idea of behaviorism (Skinner, 1974).On the other hand, others have argued that in order to learn grammar effectively, one has tofirst study the rules of the grammar (deductive approach). There is a need for the learning ofthe rules to take place first as the learning of rules enables the production of new sentences inthe language. Reportedly the teaching and learning of the grammar rules can preventfossilization of errors to take place in Second Language Learning (Selinker, 1972) as learnersare aware of the grammar rules and prevent them from using the grammar inaccurately. Thisdeductive approach in the learning of grammar leads to the emergence of a grammar teachingmethod that can be applied and employed in the teaching of the grammar in the EnglishLanguage classrooms. The teaching method that puts forward the teaching of the rules ofgrammar is the Grammar-Translation Method which teaches the rules of grammar in thebeginning of the lessons and grammar is taught explicitly rather than implicitly in the EnglishLanguage classrooms.Therefore, both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. Whether one should teachgrammar inductively or deductively highly depends on the learning-teaching context. Itdepends highly on the teachers, the learners and the grammar teaching methods used by theteachers to make the teaching and learning of grammar effective (Thornbury, 2004).The teaching of articlesPrevious studies done on the English grammar articles have highlighted several teachingtechniques and approaches that can be employed in the teaching of the articles a, an and the.As the learning and acquisition of the English grammar articles has always posed problems tothe learners; hence, linguists have came out with several teaching techniques and approachesin teaching the articles so that the teaching and learning process of the articles will be moreeffective.131

Whitman (1974, p.253) has suggested six consecutive steps for teaching the articles as hethan a choice between specified and unspec1. (singular/plural distinction)- eg. John has a book vs. John has four books.Generic plural- eg. All apples are red vs. Apples are red.Non-count nouns (Non-count vs. count and a lot of vs. much and many)- eg. John drank a lot of water vs. John bought a lot of books.- eg. Do we have much water? vs. Do we have many books?Determiners (which NP questions and first /subsequent mention)- eg. Which books are red? The red books are on the table.- eg. I read a book. The book was called Dracula.Quantity and determiner- eg. One of the books on the table is blue.Generic articles- eg. Elephants never forget.- eg. An elephant never forgets.- eg. The elephant never forgets.(Examples are taken from Whitman, 1974, p.253)p.258). He placed the generic article a and the the last among the six as the generic a and theare the least found.On the other hand, Grannis (1972) has posited that the best way for the learners to learn theEnglish grammar articles and for the teachers to teach the articles is to employ the traditionalapproach. Grannis (1972) opposed to the ideas of teaching the articles based on the theory orconcept in explaining the use of the articles as the formal instructions. He (ibid.) also reportsthat the theory in the grammar books might lack the real ideas and information on the usageof the articles. Thus, he urged the teachersOn the contrary, Lindstromberg (1986), Berry (1991) and Master (1997) have argued thatformal instruction of articles is needed and contributes to the effectiveness in the learningprocess. They (ibid.) believe that the formal instruction is needed to aid the non-nativelearners to acquire the positive results in the learning of the articles. Lindstromberg (1986)posits that the formal instruction of articles helps to explain and simplify the complex systemof the English grammar articles.132

Although Berry (1991) supported the use of formal instruction and the learning of grammarrules in the teaching and learning of the English grammar articles, he found out that whatwere written in the grammar books with regards to the articles were not yet well in the(p. 255). Berry (1991) reported that there are weaknesses in thegrammar books on the explanations on the articles as there are incorrect or misleadinginformation on the articles a, an, the, unwarranted emphasis on certain types of article usageand a lack of variety in the techniques of teaching the articles. According to Berry (1991),articles. Based on these three weaknesses, Berry (1991, p.256) has come up with sevenprinciples in designing activities for the teaching and learning of articles, a principled descriptive account as a basis;Concentrate on the, particularly its specific uses;Emphasize, wherever possible, the value of articles, using contrastive information if appropriate;Make exercises/activities varied and interesting; involve and challenge the learner; use differentformats and different stimuli, for example sound, pictures; include open-ended exercises whichallow learners to discover the bounds of usage;Do not rely on rules; use them as a back-up to other activities and make sure the formulations aresimple but accurate;Grade the focus on particular aspects, but do not try to control the introduction of uses; articlesare far too numerous for this;Have exercises which, in addition to production, involve comprehension and perception (e.g. atext with gaps for articles which learners fill in according to a passage they hear)) four stagesof teaching approach,Stage 1: Classificationa N (any one) vs. the N (the special one)Choose a bag vs. Take a red bag.N s (plural classification)These are bags.Stage 2 : Pluralitysome N s (any ones)Choose some bags from the collection.the N s (the special ones)Take the red bags.Stage 3 : Mass or substanceN (the substance in general)Mud is found at the bottom of rivers.Some N (any substance)Some mud is grey; some mud is black.the N (the special substance)Point to the black mud.Stage 4 : Numbered specific; genericnumeral N s (any numbered ones)Choose six pens from the collection.133

a N/ the N (ones in general)/ the N sAn elephant never forgets.The elephant never forgets.The elephants never forget.(Taken from McEldowney, 1977, p.110)McEldowney (1977) suggested the four-stage teaching approach based on her experience asimplify theEnglish grammar articles which are (1) choice marked by a in the sense of any; (2)specification coded through special the; and (3) generalization through general s and a andthe. The four-stage teaching approach is basically formed based on these three code markersby McEldowney (1991) herself.From all the previous studies that have been mentioned, all of the suggestions by thepractitioners are on developing a simplified framework for the teaching of the articles to thelearners. There are a lot of emphases on the ways the teaching of articles can be made simpleas to provide clearer explanations and input on their and to better help the learners to achievemastery in the learning of the article usage.Teaching strategies on articlesAs English grammar articles pose great difficulties for both the teachers and learners ofEnglish as a Second/Foreign Language (ESL/EFL), this paper suggests a few teachingstrategies for teaching them, aiming to help both teachers and learners to teach and learn theEnglish grammar articles effectively and to achieve a successful teaching and learningprocess of the articles in the classrooms. The following teaching strategies suggested areous grammar booksand journals on the teaching of English grammar articles.First and foremost, teachers are encouraged to tap on the concept of noun countability beforestart to teach the English grammar articles to the ESL/EFL learners. It is crucial to educate thelearners on the distinction between count nouns and non-count nouns in order to help thelearners to distinguish between count nouns and non-count nouns. According to Celce-Murciaand Larsen-f English common nouns intocount and non-134

count nouns. Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999, p.290) have also suggested onteaching the count and non-count nouns prior to the teaching of the articles to the learners.Hence, teachers should provide exercises and activities on count and non-count nouns to thelearners as to provide the opporcount and non--Murcia and Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p.290). This can bedone by creating exercise/activity with table or grid with two columns separating the countnoun from the non-count nouns and ask the learners to sort the given nouns into theappropriate columns whether the noun should be in the count noun column of the non-countnoun column. For example,Count NounsNon-Count Nounsmoney, an egg, dresses, furniture, a table,coins, clothing, food, a chair, a pencil,information(adapted from Badalamenti and Henner-Stanchina, 1997in Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p.290)It is believed that this type of activity aids the learners to gain a clearer idea on the distinctionof count noun and non-count noun that will helps the learners in using the accurate articlewith the noun.Next, when the learners are equipped with the appropriate and sufficient knowledge on countand non-count nouns, then, it would be the right time for the teachers to introduce the articlesto the learners. Teachers can introduce the articles based on the definiteness of the articlesthe definite article and the indefinite articles. In line with what suggested by other linguistssuch as Whitman (1974) and Berry (1991), the teaching of articles have to be done 1 step atone time, therefore, it would be best that teachers start teaching on the indefinite articles(a,an) first and followed by the indefinite article (the). Exercises that can be given to thelearners to work on the indefinite and definite articles would be fill in the blanks wherelearners are ask to fill in the blanks in the sentences given with the appropriate article. Forinstance,135

Indefinite articleThis is pen. (a/an)This is eraser. (a/an)This is bird. (a/an)This is eagle. (a/an)(adapted from Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p.290)This exercise is aimed to provide the opportunity to the learners to be able to identify and usethe appropriate indefinite article with the noun given.As for definite article, the exercise would be similar to the exercise for the indefinite articlebut more information would be given to aid the learners to identify the use of the definitearticle.Definite articleThat is my pencil. Can you please pass pencil to me?water in this cup is filthy.Please submit form to me.(adapted from Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p.290)The above exercise on the definite article above highlighted on the use of definite article thewith the nouns that are mention for the second time and with the non-count noun.Once the learners have the knowledge on the use of the definite and indefinite articles,teachers can slowly introduce the exercises that are of higher cognitive level, for instance, thecloze text. The cloze text is the most used exercise / activity in the teaching of articles andcloze text which is well constructed is capable to test language skills, and even the mastery ofgrammatical items ranging from the most basic to the most advanced (Gan, 2001, p.2) Hence,cloze text is also used for testing purposes. An example of an easier cloze test is as follows:Instruction: Listen as your teacher reads the following passage, fill in the articles you hear theteacher say.Before going out of town, I asked friend to keep my car in his garage forcouple of days. He agreed. When emergency arose, he used my car andaccident occurred in which car suffered damages. Is friendresponsible for damages? Yes. Without clear permission to use car,he has no right to use it for his personal benefit.(taken from Rinnert and Hansen, 1986, p.17)The cloze text above is the most basic and the easiest cloze test as learners do not have todecide for themselves on which articles that they should use but fill in the blanks in the clozetest with the articles that their teachers dictate in the lesson.136

Apart from this cloze test, there are also some other cloze texts which are more difficult andadvanced that cater for the advanced learners. Using the most basic cloze text to the moreadvanced cloze textmastery of the use of the articles.Instruction : Fill in the blanks with a, an or the.During Watergate scandal of early seventies, everyone from Joseph Alsop to PresidentGerald Ford was pleading that country should forget about Watergate so Presidentcould devote his time and efforts to such important matters as energy crisis. Dr Siegfreed,opposite view. He says it would have been more advantageous if country could forget aboutenergy crisis so President could devote his full time to Watergate. truth is, heclaims, that everyone in country got fiendish delight in reading about Watergate, whilevery few people got any fun out of reading about oil crisis. Watergate was pureentertainment. It had comedy, mystery and melodrama. He would have preferredthat iidentified with Watergate characters. Without Watergate you would have had massabout energy crisis.Produce one soul who gets pleasure put of seeing long lines of cars at gasstations. Find me person who gets any pleasure out of watching Administration officials givedaily conflicting stories on(taken from Rinnert and Hansen, 1986, p.23)The cloze text given above is one of the cloze texts used in the teaching of articles in the ESLclassrooms. This type of cloze text caters best for the advanced learners or for the learnerswho have excellent mastery on the article usage.If learners are capable and face no difficulties in completing the above cloze text, then,teachers can proceed to a higher level of the teaching of articles which will involve agrammar-checking activity where learners are required to act as the teacher to line out themissing articles that are supposed to be in the passage given. All the articles are omitted onpurpose for this activity.Instruction : Rewrite the passage below using a, an and the where appropriate.Today, our class visited home for disabled children. Some of children were in wheelchairs. SomeWe had party with people there. We also put up show for them. It was enjoyable day for bothchildren and us.The example given is a short passage which is suitable to be attempted by the MalaysiansForm 3 learners. Teachers can develop or adapt the passages with the appropriate length andlevel of difficulty which are suitable to cater the learners of different ages and level ofproficiency.137

Finally, teachingge of articles intheir writings.esused in them. Each articles used in the writing will be judged by the teachers on theirappropriateness and accuracy. Every inaccurate articles used will be kept in records andemphasized to the learners in order to prevent the learners from committing the same errors inusing the articles. According to Master (1995 in Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman, 1999,articles, be aware ofthe article errors that they often commit and improve the article usage of the learners.ConclusionThe teaching and learning of the article usage has never been easy to both the teachers andlearners of the English Language. Hence, strategies for teaching the articles a, an, and the aresuggested to ease the teaching process of the articles in the classrooms, besides, helping thelearners to achieve excellent mastery in the use of articles. These strategies are also outlinedas a

The English grammar articles a, an and the is categorized as the determiners in the English grammar. The English articles system is one of the most commonly used aspects of grammar in the English Language. According to Thornbury (2004, p.8), the articles a and the are the two out of the ten most