Teaching “the,” part one

Once students have learned that “a” or “an” must precede a singular count word, and that no article precedes a singular noncount word, it is time to teach how to use the article “the” with proper nouns.


Cut out pictures of one-of-a-kind monuments or natural landmarks, such as the Grand Canyon, White House, Niagara Falls, and Statue of Liberty.  Also cut out pictures of a few famous people like Abraham Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama, and pictures of places that the student knows or visits like the church, school and library he attends.  Cut out pictures of a few cities or towns, rivers and mountains.  Under each, write its name without any article.

Explain to students that the article “the” is used in front of one-of-a-kind nouns.  So even though “a” would be used in front of “statue,” because the Statue of Liberty is the only one like it, we use “the,” not “a,” in front of that name.  Let the students mimic you saying “the White House” and “the Eiffel Tower.”

Explain that “the” is not used in front of people’s names.  So we do not say “the George Washington.”  We do not use articles of any kind in front of people’s names.  Show pictures of people whose names the student would know.  Under the picture, write the name without any article.  Ask the student whether an article should be said, and if so, which one.

If we use a title without a name, we do use “the.”  So we say “The President boarded the helicopter.”  “The teacher called on me.”

We do not use “the” in front of the names of most businesses or institutions.  We say, “I attend Simpson Elementary School,” not “I attend the Simpson Elementary School.”  Or “My mother works at St. Peter’s Hospital,” not “My mother works at the St. Peter’s Hospital.”

Remembering these distinctions is hard and takes time.  Take the first five minutes of every lesson to review.  Each time you teach a new concept, add it to the “deck” of cards the student has already learned.  Don’t move on until the student can figure out when to use or not use an article, and which article to use.

Next:  Using “the” for a second reference


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