A post by Natasha Rust, an English Language Teaching Fellow at the Language Centre.
I am constantly being asked to give students advice on the use of articles in their writing. The recurring themes are that they seem to be corrected a lot on the use of articles even though they have proofread their work thoroughly. They also find that they cannot apply the rules of articles so easily while they are writing.
Having had several conversations on this matter, I found that showing students the grammatical rules seemed to have no effect on their use of articles in writing. Students were perfectly able to reformulate the rules and choose articles in traditional grammar exercises. However, while formulating the content by themselves, there seems to be a processing error with this grammatical rule. By this, I mean that I have come to the conclusion that the rule for articles has been learned but maybe not acquired. Therefore, while writing students cannot rely on their grammatical knowledge of this grammar.
The two solutions I have come up with to support students with article usage are:
1. Spend 30 minutes of independent study time, at least once a week, exploring one page of an academic text. Underline the nouns and explore the environment around the noun. Is there an article? Which one? Why? or Why is there not an article? Then start to notice patterns of the language and record the nouns with their articles and the sentences from which they came in your vocabulary record book/ document/ space. By doing this, you are training your brain to notice the articles more which can help with any processing problems.
2. Proofread articles separately to other areas of grammar. A lot of the time students read their work from start to finish and think they can correct all language errors at the same time. This can be done for errors you know you make and can spot easily. However, if the error is recurring and you are often unable to correct this error yourself, you should isolate this error in a separate proofreading session. Spend at least 30 minutes finding all of your nouns in your work by underlining them. Explore the environment around the nouns. Consult your notebook with the patterns you have discovered from your reading and check each noun in turn. This is time-consuming, but it is a great way to enhance the accuracy of your work.
These are my solutions. I’d love to know if they work for you? Or if you have any other solutions to the use of articles in writing?