Teaching delimiters

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Delimiters is an alternative term for articles, as in definite and indefinite articles. Below are some ideas for teaching delimiters. I have just begin the process of analyzing and publishing my research, but for now, this work can be referenced by citing the following paper (which is available by request).

Lee, Kent. (2017). Korea TESOL Journal 13(2), 25-48.[1]


1 Pedagogical principles

It is recommended that delimiters be taught by breaking them up into separate lessons for each semantic pattern or function, by focusing on one function at a time, or by comparing and contrasting two functions. Examples can be presented inductively for students to work on in groups, followed by teacher-led explanation of the patterns, and then followed by communicative, interactive, or group exercises. It is also recommended that lessons proceed from basic patterns for physical nouns, to quasi-abstract patterns, and then more abstract and specialized patterns.

  1. Inductive exercises - Group discussion
  2. Basic patterns for physical nouns
  3. Specialized patterns

Isolated, context-free sentences, like those found in many grammar textbooks, should not be used, as delimiters depend crucially on context. Rather, texts should be longer, providing some context, and should be texts that highlight a function or that compare two or maybe three patterns at a time. Materials for inductive exercises can include:

  1. Texts / pictures highlighting one specific pattern or function
  2. Texts / pictures to contrast / comparison of patterns for group discussion
  3. Error examples (L2 texts, pictures)
  4. Cloze / fill-in-the-blank (with whole texts, not isolated sentences)
  5. Longer texts that are more specialized, e.g., artificial, modified, or authentic texts


2 Basic patterns for physical nouns

The basic patterns to begin with are:

  1. Bare singular = Material nouns
  2. Marked singular = Object nouns
  3. Bare singular cf. marked singular
  4. Bare plural = Set, group of objects


2.1 Teaching & activity ideas

Simple activities

  • TPR activities
  • Picture comparisons
  • L2 error examples
  • Map tasks / directions


Text comparisons
Text examples can highlight a particular delimiter function, which students discuss in groups to try to infer the meaning pattern / function. Parallel texts can highlight two different delimiter functions (e.g., material vs. object nouns). Texts should be at least short paragraphs (not isolated sentences like in traditional grammar books), and should be interesting (e.g., narratives).


Cloze / fill-in-the-blank tasks
Passages with blanks before certain nouns can be used for practice and group discussion. The passages should be interesting (e.g., narratives, short paragraphs, not isolated sentences), and blanks should appear before nouns that highlight one particular delimiter function, or a contrast of two comparable delimiter functions (e.g., material vs. object nouns)


Lists
Students create lists with different noun types
  • Shopping lists (grocery items)
  • Shopping lists (for clothing, office supplies, furniture, or equipment)
  • Budget proposals (itemized lists)


Descriptions
  • Identifying common objects in the classroom / in one’s home / in a picture
  • Describing material composition of X / materials needed to build X
  • Describing parts / components / material composition


Explaining a process
  • How an object or material is made
  • Assembly instructions
  • Recipes
  • How something is made from a material
  • Describing how special effects might have been done in a film, or how a video was made (e.g., OK Go videos)


3 Extensions of physical noun patterns

More specialized patterns include:

Bare singular nouns = Material / mass / substance → General activities


→ Conditions, states, properties
→ Generalized object nouns (e.g., in orbit)
→ Abstract nouns

Marked singular nouns = Object, item, thing, entity → Specific event, instance (of an activity)


→ Specific batch, quantity, set (of material)

Bare plurals = Sets, groups → Category descriptions, Generic nouns


→ Encyclopedic definitions/descriptions


3.1 Teaching / activity ideas

General activities

  • Definitions of terms/concepts from your field
  • Your favorite activity (and how you came to like it or become good at it)


4 Indefinite vs. definite patterns

Definite cf. indefinite contrast

  • Indefinite: New/unknown/unfamiliar to listener
  • Definite: Familiar / known to listener


4.1 Teaching / activity ideas

  • Writing narratives, stories
  • Describe yourself as a person
  • Write an encyclopedia-style description of your favorite animal or plant (including how it is similar to, related to, or different from other species).


4.2 Extensions of indefinite & definite patterns

Indefinite nouns = Unknown / unfamiliar to listener / reader → Hypothetical noun usage


→ Definitions

Definite nouns = Known / familiar to listener / reader → Part-whole relationship


→ Background scene
→ Background knowledge
→ Pre-specifiers: comparatives, superlatives, etc.
→ Post-modifiers: Instantiation of state, condition, property; Instantiation of abstract noun
→ Exemplar / typical example
→ Habitual / frequentive


4.3 Teaching / activity ideas

  • Describe an ideal partner / spouse / boyfriend / girlfriend
  • Define a key work / concept in your field
  • Definition paragraph
  • Explain the parts of a computer, structure, machine, etc.
  • Describe a typical office, including types of people and things
  • Describe your typical day
  • Where will you be in ten years, and what will you be doing?
  • What kind of career would you like, and why?
  • What is the most important factor for you in deciding on a job or career?


5 Compound nouns

These include the following forms which can be taught as compound nouns with consistent delimiter patterns. For compounds, the delimiter depends on the intended meaning or nuance of the head noun.

  1. Noun+noun compounds (e.g., a glue gun)
  2. Adj.+ noun cpd. (e.g., the White House)
  3. Abbreviations (e.g., FBI)
  4. Geographic terms
  5. Geographic terms with missing toponyms (e.g., the Amazon = the Amazon region / river)

Generally, the determiner of a compound noun phrase depends on the semantic function / pattern of the head noun in a particular context. However, some nouns are common enough that they are treated as proper nouns, which do not take delimiters. The head noun is usually the last noun (excluding prepositional phrases. E.g.:

  • a/the glue gun
  • a/the printer manual
  • the White House
  • the CIA = the Central Intelligence Agency
  • the FBI = the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • NASA = the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (but this abbreviation is usually used like a proper noun, so just “NASA")


5.1 Activities

  • Definite and explain a technical or scientific term.
  • Describe / explain a technical procedure.
  • Describe the geography of a particular region
  • Describe / explain the functions and/or organization of a government and government agencies


6 Various / general ideas (for any/all patterns)

These ideas are for practicing or comparing different functions, especially more advanced ones, or integrating different functions together in a text or oral production activity.


Paragraph / text comparisons
Passages that highlight two different delimiter functions


Cloze / fill-in-the-blank text activities
Passages with blanks before some nouns (fill in the blank), which highlight two different delimiter functions


Paragraph writing or oral tasks
These are based on traditional writing paragraph genres. These can be adapted to tasks and topics for particular delimiter functions, e.g.:
  • Lists
  • Descriptions
  • Narratives
  • Definitions, exemplification
  • Process
  • Contrast / comparison


Descriptions and definition tasks
Here are some more complex tasks for oral or written work.
  1. Film budget (for a proposal for an independent film; pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution phases)
  2. Write an encyclopedia entry describing an animal, regions, historical person, etc.
  3. Describe and explain the typical features of X. Then discuss one example of X, how it is typical, and how it differs from typical X’s.

Here, X can be anything, depending on the desired difficulty level and students’ interests: insects, birds, penguins, sports, sci-fi films, anime, superheroes, video games, romantic poems, mystery novels, stars, jazz music, etc.

  1. Describe a particular artistic genre or subgenre (of film, music, novels, etc.); then discuss a specific example, and explain how it fulfills and differs from the standards of the genre.
  2. Describe a particular theory, movement, framework, belief system, or ideology in your field of study, and particular phases or varieties of this system.
  3. Present a proposal for your own independent film project, as if you were pitching the idea to a group of investors in order to gain funding for the project.


Processes
Here are some more complex tasks for oral or written work.
  1. How something is made from a material.
  2. Describing how special effects might have been done in a film, or how a music video was made (e.g., OK Go videos).
  3. Process: a scientific experiment, a research methodology
  4. A manufacturing processes, or the industrial processing of a material.



7 See also

Significantly more material will be added to this page later, along with related pages for teachers and learners.



7.1 References

  1. Lee, Kent. (2017). A “the” or the “a”? L2 learner problems and patterns. Korea TESOL Journal 13(2), 25-48.