This is a standard topic to teach in ESL/EFL classes. Beginner teachers do not do a good job of it and I have seen students get mixed up or confused in Korea and Kuwait. In essence, a teacher’s job is to classify and explain two lists of words…

COUNTABLES

apples

cookies

bananas

loaves

people

cubes

cups

packets

boxes

bags

cans

cartons

steaks/chops

slices

spoons

bowls

kg/km/g

NON-COUNTABLES

rice

sugar

salt

sand

flour/powder/dust

jelly

oil

water

juice

chopped vegies

stew

spaghetti

meat

milk

gas

soup

butter

soil

After teacher reviews the two lists with the class the students get the hang of it. Then ask the the class to classify the words into groups by circling them in coloured pen. They will need help. Basically, non-countable nouns are very small things like grains and flour and dust, as well as liquids/fluids and wet or messy or finely chopped foods. Countable nouns are big enough to be seen and counted easily and individually or things in containers like packets, boxes, bags,cans or standard units like kilograms. Note that sugar and ice can be be cubed and made countable.

Ask students to provide more examples of nouns and add them to the board.

The next step is to introduce the following English words which are generally used with countables OR non-countables.

*Some rice (non-countable)

*A spoon or plate of rice (countable container)

*Some soup (general non-countable)

*A cup or bowl of soup (more specific amount and in a countable container)

*A few apples, bananas, steaks, people etc. (countable)

*Many oranges/children (countable)

*Several mangos (general countable)

*A bit of flour/sugar/oil/dust (non-countable)

Note that we can say SOME people and also SOME dust. This special word, SOME, is not definite and can be used with both countables and non-countables.

After introducing this subject to a grade 11 Kuwait class I thought the students had a pretty good understanding. But then I gave homework asking students to use:

A few…, Some…. , A little… , A bit…., Several…, Many…. each with three examples of food. Some students made zero mistakes and others botched it badly. It was necessary to go over examples again and show that these words have to be used carefully and sometimes exclusively together with countables/non-coutables.

Finally I told a little canibalistic joke they liked. I said we can use the expressions “a bit and a little people” only if we chop them finely.

I hope somebody finds this useful.

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation