Written by Xavier Munoz, Faculty Support Manager, LCNV
Grammar has to do with rules. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
To explore that opening statement, let’s take a partial look at the English articles – a/an, the, and the zero or no article.
Now, those of you who teach might be thinking that English articles are incredibly difficult for students. “I taught them the rules for when to use a/an vs. the, and they can answer grammar exercises correctly. But, unless I tell them to, they don’t apply the rules in their speaking or writing.” Sound familiar? Even advanced learners may make errors when using the articles. And, in truth, research in second language acquisition has found that language learning is not linear, not sequential. Language learners continue to build accuracy, meaningfulness, and appropriateness to their grammar and vocabulary as their proficiency develops.
But how would you explain or teach the English articles? Chances are that you might be thinking of descriptors like nonspecific or general for the indefinite article – a/an. Or you might be thinking to pair articles with count and noncount nouns in a unit on, say, food, clothing, or furniture. (Side note: the word some is often considered the plural form of the indefinite article.) If we take our cue from textbooks, we might see a leveled approach like the following. The low-beginning text All-Star 1 explicitly presents it as such: Articles: a and an
We use a before a singular noun that starts with a consonant or consonant sound. We use an before a singular noun that starts with a vowel or vowel sound.
The high-beginning text All-Star 2 explicitly presents it like this: Count and Noncount Nouns
Singular count nouns: We use a and an before singular count nouns.
Plural count nouns: We use no article before plural count nouns.
Noncount nouns: We use no article before non-count nouns.
The low-intermediate text Downtown 3 explicitly presents it like this: Indefinite vs. definite articles
We use indefinite articles (a, an) for singular count nouns. We use them to talk about a general category of something. Example: Give me a book. (any book, not a special book)
We use the definite article (the) for a special or specific thing or things. We use the when there is only one of something (the White House), when the speaker and listener both know which thing they are talking about (the beach was wonderful today), or when they talk about a noun for the second time. Example: I saw a movie last night. The movie was really boring.
There’s more to articles than is mentioned above – generic sentences, abstract nouns, geographical places, illnesses, etc. But we don’t want to overload our students (or ourselves, for that matter!) with all of the nuances. Can we make it easier though? Yes! Larsen-Freeman (2000) suggests that learners can better understand and use grammar if they learn the reasons behind seemingly arbitrary rules. And the core reason is listed in the Downtown 3 description: a/an is for introducing new information, the first mention; the is for information known by both the speaker/writer AND the listener/reader, the second mention. We can see this discourse-level use especially in jokes and stories. Just as I might do in class, I will try to draw your attention to the target grammar by using bolding and underlining.
A reporter meets a man carrying an eight-foot-long metal stick and asks, “Are you a pole vaulter?” “No,” says the man, “I’m German. But how did you know my name is Walter?
See if you can fill in the appropriate article in the following excerpt, from an Indian folktale.
Once upon a time, __ fox and __ squirrel were friends. Farming was their livelihood. __ squirrel was jealous of __ fox because his crop always turned out so much better. This time __ fox was cultivating pumpkins.
Source: Excerpt from “The Dexterity of a Squirrel” in Folktales of India by Brenda Beck, Peter Claus, Praphulladatta Goswami, Jawaharlal Handoo
In both of the examples above, the difference between a/an and the is revealed through the discourse-level context (i.e., above the level of the single sentence). Even at a beginning-level, I think it is to our learners’ benefit that we not shy away from exploring language above the single sentence. We needn’t necessarily expect them to produce that much language, but we can draw their attention to meaningful and appropriate use of grammar to prime them for future learning explorations. Check it out for yourself. Look through a textbook you’re currently or recently have used with a student. Or look through something you read recently. Do you notice instances of first mention, second mention?
In summary, Grammar has to do with rules AND reasons. Reasons can help learners see the logic woven into the grammar, rather than just seeing it as random or arbitrary rules. At the discourse level, we can see that there is a shift from the indefinite article a/an to the definite article the based on what the speaker/writer assumes that their audience knows. We use the indefinite article for new information or first mention of a particular thing. We shift to the definite article for familiar information or second mention of that same thing. The definite article is also used when referring to unique objects.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Grammar: Rules and Reasons Working Together. ESL Magazine, 3(1), 10-12.
Late registration for beginning-level adult English classes will be held on Saturday, February 6 from 3-6pm at James Lee Community Center. Please see the Schedule section for more information on registering for our classes.
As 2015 comes to a close, all of us here at the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV) would like to take a few moments to reflect on the last year, and to thank you for being a part of our wonderful community of learners, volunteers, donors, community partners, and supporters. Some of our notable accomplishments this year include:
- Added three new sites to our Family Learning Program
- Served over 1,500 learners
- LCNV volunteers provided over 30,000 hours of service
- Completed the pilot program for the Destination Workforce™ initiative, which delivers career-specific language and literacy training
- Awarded the Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Grant, which recognizes strong nonprofit organizations that provide essential services to their communities
- Featured in the 2015-2016 Catalogue of Philanthropy: Greater Washington as one of the region’s best community-based charities
- Board President Kitty Porterfield recognized by Volunteer Alexandria as Board Leader of the Year
We would also like to take this time to remind you that tax deductible donations are due by December 31st, so there is still time to make your year-end gift! Twenty-six percent of LCNV learners receive scholarships to pay their $60 class fee. Your donation can help cover their fees as well as offset the additional costs of providing teachers and books. You can also still take advantage of our matching gift challenge* and see your donation dollars go further.
We hope that you are enjoying the holidays, and thank you once again for all that you do.
* During LCNV’s matching gift challenge any new gifts or increase from your last donation will be matched by an anonymous donor up to $20,000, so your gift will have an even greater impact on LCNV learners. The maximum individual match is $2,500.
Thanks to everyone who participated in Giving Tuesday last week, showing their support to the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia (LCNV) and the charitable giving movement. Along with continuing to raise awareness about the importance of adult literacy, we received over $4,400 in donations! As the holidays approach, if you haven’t made your end of the year gift yet please consider a donation to LCNV.
We’d also like to remind you about two exciting events coming up this week – our annual Holiday Potluck Party on Tuesday December 8 from 6-8pm at the James Lee Community Center and a Conversation and Book Signing with Tom Gjelten on Thursday December 10 from 7-8:30pm at the Arlington Central Library. All are welcome and we hope to see you at one or both free events!
LCNV’s Holiday Potluck Party on Tuesday evening is a chance for students to take part in a holiday tradition from this country, with fun for the whole family. There will be pictures with Santa, arts and crafts, and new this year – the opportunity to win Target gift cards as door prizes. There will also be a video game station with games like FIFA! The party is a nice continuation of class and further educational experience, as we are providing conversation starters to help students practice their English.
Then on Thursday, hear author and NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten discuss his latest book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story. The book describes the dramatic and compelling story of the transformation of America during the last fifty years, told through a handful of families in Fairfax County. With special guest, Delegate Mark Keam, whose story is featured in the book. One More Page Books will be there selling copies of A Nation of Nations, with 10% of all sales benefiting LCNV.
p.s. Holiday shopping on Amazon? Support LCNV by making purchases through AmazonSmile. Go to smile.amazon.com and use your same Amazon.com login. Select the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia to ensure that 0.5% of all eligible purchases that you make goes to LCNV. Thank you!
Tags: student stories
Do you know what struck me on the first day of arrival in America? The willingness of people to help, good will, openness. These qualities do not cease to surprise me still.
The second discovery for me is the volunteer movement. In Ukraine, it has just begun, and I hope it becomes large like in America.
For you, the concept of freedom and democracy are not empty words. You have fought decades for them. The same thing is happening in my country which is struggling for its freedom and independence.
My dream is a strong, independent and democratic Ukraine – the same as America.
– Olga, LCNV learner
We invite you to join LCNV in the Giving Tuesday movement and help learners like Olga! We couldn’t do what we do without the help and generosity of so many others, and during this season of thanks we are especially grateful for our all of our volunteers, supporters and community. On December 1, 2015, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate and encourage giving.
We are pleased to announce the following new volunteer opportunities for instructors and non-instructors alike!
LCNV has recently launched a Classroom Tutoring Program! We are looking for tutors to provide the additional support and instruction to students enrolled in an LCNV class to help them succeed. At this time, we are offering this program to students attending classes at the James Lee Community Center. Details on needs for the remainder of the Fall 2015 semester are below.
Location: James Lee Community Center 2855 Annandale Road, Falls Church, VA 22042
Dates: November 24, 2015 – December 17, 2015
5:30pm – 6:30 pm – Tuesdays and Thursdays
This is an ongoing program targeting the classroom curriculum, and more opportunities will arise throughout the year. For an update on these activities next semester, look out for a posting on our website or email Tutoring@lcnv.org.
- Student Retention Assistants
Are you interested in communicating with LCNV students to help them stay on track to achieve their English language and literacy goals? Student Retention Assistants will call students who have missed a couple of classes to find out why they missed class and to encourage attendance at future sessions. Through these informal phone calls, we anticipate Student Retention Assistants will be able to provide encouragement students may need as well as deliver student feedback to LCNV’s program. To serve in this capacity, volunteers will need to have verbal fluency in one of LCNV’s major languages (Spanish, Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese) and the ability to come to the office for 2-3 hours per week throughout the course of a semester. For more information or to express your interest, contact Ashley King, Student Admissions Manager.
LCNV would like to create student recruitment materials in our learners’ key languages. This would include translating LCNV flyers, class schedules, and other outreach materials into the Arabic, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The ability to write at near-native or advanced fluency in one of these languages is essential. For more information or to express your interest, contact Ruba Marshood Afzal, Associate Director of Community Engagement.
Lastly, LCNV has just a few Holiday Gift Wrapping shifts remaining! If you would like to support LCNV by wrapping customer purchases for donations at nearby Barnes & Noble locations, visit this website to find out more and to sign up!
In September LCNV held its first integrated LCNV Instructor Training, designed to prepare teachers, tutors, and aides to work with LCNV learners in various capacities. LCNV is grateful to its dedicated training team volunteers who collaborated with staff to develop and deliver the new training modules under a tight timeframe. Now an LCNV-trained instructor can move seamlessly between roles and in the process offer our students more learning opportunities than ever before.
Historically the classroom, ESOL tutoring and BAL tutoring programs operated in three separate silos, each with its own unique training program. Volunteers prepared within one division were only qualified to deliver instruction in that division. Fewer volunteer opportunities resulted in waiting lists of students and volunteers. Unifying all academic programs under one umbrella around one core training program has opened up opportunities, and is expected to shorten the time that volunteers wait to work with students as well as reduce how long students wait for much needed services.
As a class aide, a volunteer can help individualize instruction by working with small groups under the teacher’s supervision or enable a struggling student to succeed by offering assistance during class. An aide can also provide continuity in the classroom by substituting for the teacher during an absence.
As a tutor, a volunteer can work with a classroom student before or after class to offer an academic boost or help a student who is unable to enroll in a class attain a personal learning goal such as passing the citizenship exam.
As an LCNV teacher, a volunteer with previous teaching experience can apply to teach or co-teach a beginning English class or work on English with either parents or children during a Family Learning class. More teaching opportunities will open up as we begin to expand our offerings in skills-based classes such as pronunciation and writing, and workforce-based language and literacy classes through our new track Destination Workforce™.
Merging training exposes all instructors to the same pedagogical concepts based on best practices in teaching English language learners. This new training program is research-driven while retaining the best elements from the past. Volunteers trained under the old program are encouraged to complete the new face-to-face program to refresh their skills.
Most important, the new reorganization of academic programs around an integrated, unified training allows a student to receive more intensive instruction through multiple avenues (classroom and tutorial); increases our instructor–to–student ratio; and results in greater academic gains over a shorter time period.
LCNV continues to expand our broad-based professional development program that begins at orientation and includes face-to-face and 24/7 online learning opportunities. More to come in future newsletters about this program as it develops.
It was great to see everyone who came out for the Martina Boone Book Launch and Benefit celebration at Barnes and Noble last week! We appreciate your support. LCNV has some more exciting events coming up that we want to make sure you get on your calendar.
On Tuesday, December 8, you’re all invited to LCNV’s annual Holiday Potluck Party here at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church from 6-8pm. As in years past it will include a delicious potluck dinner, photo opportunities with Santa, and a chance for students, volunteers, supporters and staff to get together at the end of a busy semester. More details to come.
Then on Thursday, December 10, LCNV presents a conversation and book signing with author and NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten. Gjelten will be discussing his new book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story, which describes the dramatic and compelling story of the transformation of America during the last fifty years, told through a handful of families in Fairfax County. One More Page Books will be selling copies of A Nation of Nations, with 10% of all sales benefiting LCNV. The event will take place from 7-8:30pm at the Arlington Central Library, and we hope to see you there!
p.s. After the Thanksgiving Holiday, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday comes Giving Tuesday! On December 1 please consider giving back to your community through #GivingTuesday.
This Tuesday is the official release of the second book in new LCNV board member Martina Boone’s trilogy, Persuasion. We are looking forward to celebrating with her this Friday, October 30, and hope you can join us at this free event!
An accomplished author and literacy advocate, you may also remember Martina as the keynote speaker for our Annual Recognition Event in June. Born in Prague, she spoke several languages before learning English and experienced firsthand many of the issues facing our community. Her family moved to the United States when she was a child, so she saw the sacrifices her parents made in learning a second language as an adult.
Come out and meet Martina and support LCNV at the Tyson’s Corner Barnes and Noble on Friday from 5-9pm. She will be signing copies of her new book and leading story writing activities. There will be fun for the whole family, including costume contests, arts and crafts, storytelling, and more.
This event will also help benefit LCNV, as a percentage of all purchases made on October 30 at the Tyson’s store or online at http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ will be donated to LCNV (as long as customers mention our name or the event ID number – #11709870).
Martina’s first book in the trilogy, Compulsion, was SIBA Book Award nominated, an Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Bookstores Alliance, a Kansas State Reading Circle selection, a Goodreads Best Book of the Month and YA Best Book of the Month, and an RT Magazine Best of 2014 Editor’s Pick. Many of LCNV’s staff have read her first book and are eagerly awaiting the release of her second!
We could still use some help from volunteers at this event, so please contact Tony Hopkins if interested.
We can’t wait to kick off the festivities on Friday at 5pm and hope to see you there!
Late registration for our adult English classes will be held this Saturday, October 3 from 3-6pm at the James Lee Community Center. We still have openings for the Fall semester at Korean Community Service Center, James Lee, Woodrow Wilson Library, and Lorton Senior Center. Classes are full at Crestwood, Herndon, and Mental Health America. See the full class schedule.
Please share with anyone who might be interested in taking adult English classes!