Is a noun countable or uncountable? Students still have doubts even after a number of explanations. I find a balance between explanations and practice helps build comfort with this topic. Students need to develop awareness of the meaning differences in order to use nouns accurately. Success with subject-verb agreement depends heavily on whether students understand the nature of the nouns they’re using.
Here’s one possible approach:
- Have students understand the categories of noncount (mass) nouns. A grammar reference and practice book like Next Generation Grammar 3, offers useful charts. (See appendix E, p. A5.) Give students groups of nouns and challenge them to identify the category. This allows students to learn patterns and prompts them to consider other nouns that fit those patterns. For example, many mass nouns are sports, activities, occupations, events, liquids, and solids.
- Have students identify count and noncount nouns in their own speech. What nouns are they using? What nouns are their peers using? Can they recognize those nouns as having a countable or uncountable meaning? An identifying task that requires sorting or underlining will force them to choose.
- After some focused practice, students will have heightened awareness of the meaning differences. They can then engage in short conversations that pull in some of the nouns they just practiced.
If you think this approach has merit, then check out my conversations about noncount nouns_handout. Enjoy!