When Do I Use “A” and When Do I Use “The”?

One of the more difficult aspects of English are the articles, and not just the ones found in newspapers. Using “a” and “the” take years for most English natives to fully grasp, and much longer for those attempting to gain English abilities. The differences are striking, and there are many instances where “the” and “a” are not interchangable.
The word “The” is used to refer to something known by both the speaker and the listener. In the previous sentence as well as the sentence you are reading, there are 6 instances of “the”, each referencing something that we both clearly know to avoid confusion. “The word” refers to the word in question, which is “The”. “The speaker” is the person speaking, and “the listener” is the person listening, both known to both people. The “the” in quotes refers to the word “the”.
To clearly teach the word (“the”), have the student write the following sentence on paper, and identify all instances of “the” and what they reference;
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

a clipart

Image of the letter and word “a” in uppercase

To contrast, “a” refers to any instance of the object in question. If the teacher were to mention that they were going to “The Family Mart”, it would be assumed that the student is in some way familiar with that location, whereas “A Family Mart” could be any location located in Japan. If the teacher asked the student to write “The word”, the student should write “the”, whereas “A word” could be “pencil”, “hotcakes”, “button”, or any other word allowed in the classroom.
After explaining usage to the student, have them write the following sentence;
A quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.

Have the student compare and contrast the two sentences to demonstrate understanding. This activity should take between 3 to 5 minutes. When the student successfully is able to show strong knowledge of “the” and “a”, reward them with a smile or a sticker in their reward booklet.

How Do I Explain the Difference Between Green Tea and Japanese Tea?

Oftentimes, vocabulary used for foods can be confusing, using different words to refer to the same thing i.e. soda and pop, EZ-Cheez and Easy-Cheese, Quesadillas and tortilla melts
This is confusing for non-native speakers who assume that everything only has a single word, which is the case for the Japanese word o-cha, which refers to both Japanese tea and green tea. So, how can you teach a student when each word is appropriate?
Drill the student on their nationality by using the grammar pattern of “Which nationality are you?”, to encourage the student to say “I am Japanese”. Expand on the grammar practice by asking “Which nationality is your tea?”, to which they should respond “It is Japanese” or “My tea is Japanese”. With both the student and the tea’s nationality established, the student will understand that they drink Japanese tea.

Japanese green tea drink

Japanese green tea drink

Next, ask the student “What color are you?”. If the student appears confused, use a piece of paper or a whiteboard to write “Y _ L L _ W” and encourage the student to fill in the blanks to choose “yellow” or whatever shade is most appropriate. Next, ask the student “What color is your tea?”, and write down all responses.
The student will quickly understand that green tea and Japanese tea are one in the same, and will have no problem using either term to describe the bitter deliciousness of Japanese お茶 (o-cha).

How Do I Convince a Student to Stop Taking Lessons?

As any seasoned veteran teacher can attest, some students reach a point where they are no longer capable of learning. Specialized compartments in their brains, for whatever reason, fill up and do not accept any new knowledge. In these cases, what can teachers do?
Teachers must be insistent that the student has mastered everything there is to know, and any future learning must come through self study and speaking in front of a mirror. The student may protest, but you can point out that they have stopped listening to the teacher and have now become their own teacher. Be firm, yet kind with the student when you tell them not to return.
This is a particularly big problem in Japan, where you can talk to the student for an hour at a time and they do not retain anything that you have given them. Having spent the past hour reading a list of important words to a student, and having them leave the class with a bewildered expression does not result in good feelings.
For students that are insistent that you continue teaching them, convince them of their expertise by artificially dropping your own English ability. Remove prepositions from your conversation, avoid plurals, and interspace your sentences with hoots and whoops. It truly is a confidence booster for the student.

student reaction

student reaction

How Do I Build Student Willpower?

Learning English is often a matter of willpower, with the weak-willed failing quickly and the strong-willed eventually failing much later.
To build willpower in the classroom, the teacher must take on the role of leader by establishing themselves as the “alpha” unit. Loud noises, whether in quick succession or all at once is a great way to gain the attention of the student, assert yourself as the “alpha”, and build their willpower.

Applying this in the classroom is simple; mix the loud noises into your lesson plan. This can be done a variety of ways, such as turning the radio up to full volume before playing a practice CD, dropping books on and around the student, or simply yelling on occasion. You will literally see an immediate response from the student in terms of their attentiveness.

The castle of willpower

Some students respond negatively towards loud noises and exhibit a range of responses ranging from simple cowering to full on confrontation. In these situations it is important that the student not be allowed to view you from eye level or above, and so it is important that you keep them in their seat. Standing in front of them and pinning their hands to the side of the chair while asking “are you here to learn or are you here to quit?” is very effective at garnering a positive response from the student and getting them ready to learn English.

How Do I Teach Causative Form?

English has several words associated with causative form;

  • Make
  • Have
  • Let

Whereas Japanese only has one. The intricacies of English are like a Faberge egg, whereas Japanese is devoid of these like an ordinary ostrich egg. Teaching causative form is not easy, but it is quite possible.

For teaching “make“, the student must be removed from their comfort zone and put into a position where they will force you to do something, thus satisfying the requirement of “making” you do something.
At the beginning of class, write the word “make” on the board. Underline it once with red or black ink. Next, stand about 5 cm away from the seated student and slowly move towards them. They may try to move away, but the classrooms are only so big that they will eventually be cornered. Encourage them to use English to express their will. Once they ask you to move away from them, say “make me” and playfully take a fighting stance to let the student know that touching is acceptable. After they force you away from them, go to the board and introduce the past tense of “make” along with the sentence “You made me move away”.
This activity can be repeated by keeping the window on a cold day and the student making you close it, or by turning off the lights to the classroom and the student making you turn them on.

butlerFor teaching “have“, tell the student that you are a maid/butler, and you will clean their house. Ask them “what will you have me do, master?” Have the student respond with “I will have you _______”. Proper responses would be “cook a meal”, “chlorinate the pool”, “clean the bathroom”, “wash the sheets”, “mow the lawn”, etc.
If the student is having a difficult time coming up with ideas, suggest sentences to them in the form of “Will you have me ____?”
When finished, write the words “have” and “had” on the board next to “make” and “made”, and have the student create sentences for each.

For teaching “let“, ask the student about their childhood. Did they eat candy everyday for dinner? No? Their parents didn’t let them. Tell the student that their parents didn’t let them eat candy, and write “let” on the board and underline it with a soothing blue. The differences in the words “make”, “have”, and “let” will begin to form in the student’s mind.
Ask the student if their parents let them stay awake 24 hours, drink alcohol, enjoy the company of opposite sex friends, and choose their own clothing. Be clear about ages, otherwise the student may become confused.
Have the student practice “let” by asking questions about your boss. For a little fun, answer “no” to all of the students questions to earn some of their pity, which will make subsequent classes easier to teach.

If the student is still unclear on the differences between “make”, “have”, and “let”. Have them write 10 sentences for each to be checked at the next class. Make them type the homework, and let them submit it in an envelope.

Have a nice day.