Thursday, May 2, 2013

How __________ (Much/Many) Practice do Students Need to Learn Quantifiers?

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels

Even though many grammar series, including grammar guru Betty Azar’s, cover quantifiers from the beginning (Basic English Grammar) to the end (Understanding and Using English Grammar), my students seem to continuously struggle with using them correctly. They moan when we review them and moan when they get them wrong in their writing. Even my most advanced students appear to be mystified by the idiosyncrasies of English quantifiers.

Students Face Several __________ (Challenge/Challenges)

The problem, in my mind, seems to be twofold. First, students have to think about count and non-count nouns. At first glance, this distinction appears totally arbitrary when you consider that money is non-count, though clearly it is something we count all the time. Throw in irregular plurals (Seriously, person/people but fish/fish? How is that at all logical?) and you can have a frustrated class on your hands.

In addition to the perils of the count and non-count divide, students also have to choose from a confusing list of quantifiers full of linguistic booby traps. For example, consider the difference in meaning between “a little” and “little”. That tiny letter can mean the difference between being able to afford to buy a coffee and going thirsty. Another hidden quantifier trap lies in what Azar calls the “singular expressions of quantity”. There is almost nothing satisfactory a teacher can say to a student who asks why we say “each student” but “each of the students” when the meaning is essentially the same. It’s enough to turn a lovely group of students into a mob of pitchfork waving villagers!

Several __________ (Idea/Ideas) for Practice

There are many great grammar exercises which help students to master the rules and peculiarities associated with quantifiers. Gap fills, error correction, and sentence prompts are just several of the activities presented in Azar’s texts. In addition to grammar texts, though, I also wanted to supply my students with some other opportunities for practice.

One activity that I thought worked really well tested their knowledge of quantifiers and their visual memory. I created a PowerPoint containing several pictures from Google images of crowded or messy situations. I included a picture of a crowded refrigerator, a messy desk and a messy kitchen. Students had one minute to look at the picture before I clicked through to the next slide which displayed a list of quantifiers. They then had four minutes to work in pairs and write as many “There is / are …” sentences as they could. After the timer went off, the groups shared their sentences. They got one point for every unique, accurate sentence. For instance, if two groups both wrote “There are a few apples.” neither got a point. Or, if a group wrote “Every chair is blue.” but the chairs were green, they didn’t get a point. Or, if they wrote “Every one of the chair is green.”, they also didn’t get the point because the sentence was grammatically incorrect. In the end, the pair with the most points was the winner. The students were all engaged and really enjoyed this twist on a fairly frustrating lesson.

Another activity that is always a bit hit when we practice identifying count singular, count plural and non-count nouns is the flyswatter warm up game. I divide the class into three groups and give each a different colored flyswatter. I have the CS (count singular), CP (count plural) and NC (non-count) written on the whiteboard. All the students come to the front of the room, to make the changeover of the flyswatters quicker. (This is a very fast-paced game!) I call out a noun and the students with the flyswatters race to hit the correct letters. For example, if I say “water” the students try to be the first to hit NC. But, the students only get one shot at a correct answer. If they jump the gun and start wildly hitting, they may hit the wrong one and the person who is slower and more careful might get the point. Then, the student hands the flyswatter to the next in line and I call out another noun. The team with the most correct hits is the winner at the end. This is a guaranteed way to wake up a class and get their brains working!

But, aside from these two activities and a few board games I have found in teacher’s resources, I have struggled to come up with more fun practice for my students who STILL need more exposure to this tricky target language. Do you have any tried and true activities you can share?


Editor’s Note: There are also a variety of activities on count/non-count nouns in the Classroom Materials section of, including these:

Fun with Grammar section 6.4:




Comment from Ligia
May 2, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Thanks for this excellent information.

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October 10, 2014 at 6:34 pm

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September 20, 2019 at 12:45 am

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