Nouns Modifying Nouns
Writing skill: sentence fluency
ESL students learning to write English sometimes produce wordy sentences. Wordiness is not good. It makes the text hard to read. Plus, it’s not stylish. Learning how to use the fewest number of words to express an idea is an important writing skill.
The purpose of this lesson is to teach ESL students one writing skill: rewrite sentences so that a noun modifies another noun. In the back pages of a dusty grammar book, this might be called noun adjuncts. I prefer to call it a noun modifying a noun.
Step 1. Describe Lesson Purpose
Wordiness is a problem in student writing. Students can fix this problem when they learn a few sentence writing and editing skills. This lesson teaches students to cut the number of words in a sentence by using a noun to modify a noun.
Step 2. Examples
Show some examples of wordy sentences. After rewriting, they are clear and short.
- There is a spoon made from metal on the coffee cup.
- There is a metal spoon on the coffee cup.
The second sentence is better. It tells us about the spoon, but uses fewer words.
- Here is a book about history.
- Here is a history book.
BOOK is the main noun. The noun HISTORY tells us something about the book.
Step 3. Explain Modify
Use adjectives as an example.
- There is a red book on the big table.
In this sentence, there are two modifiers: RED and BIG.
Step 4. Build a List
Give students a few base words and ask them to make a list of phrases that have a noun modifying a noun. Some students might suggest adjectives; remind them we are looking for noun modifiers.
Write these base nouns on the board (suggested modifiers below).
soup bag bowl watch
book lamp milk can
Step 5. Details
Provide two details about noun modifiers.
1. Plural forms of noun modifiers are usually (but not always) changed to the single form. For example:
- It’s really hard to buy soup made from tomatoes in this country.
- It’s really hard to buy tomato soup in this country.
2. When the noun modifier has a number, we usually write it with a hyphen.
- I have a contract at the bank for seven months.
- I have a seven-month contract at the bank.
Step 6. More Examples
If required, here are a few more examples to show the class.
- I’m taking an online class about science.
- I’m taking an online science class.
- She works in a small shop that sells coffee.
- She works in a small coffee shop.
- I just bought a bag for sleeping when I go camping.
- I just bought a sleeping bag.
- She has not picked a dress for her wedding yet.
- She has not picked a wedding dress yet.
Step 7. Practice Questions
Print or display the practice questions on one of the attached pdf files (suggested answers at the end of each file). There are two sets of questions.
Level 1. 10 questions; comparatively simple vocabulary.
Level 2. 12 different questions; comparatively advanced vocabulary.
Both sets of practice questions focus on high frequency words from the New General Service List.
Teaching Follow Up
This writing lesson is a good pre-teach activity for a longer writing assignment, like the one outlined in the Narrative Challenge.
Suggested noun modifiers (from Step 4 above)
soup: chicken soup, tomato soup
bag: paper bag, plastic bag
bowl: soup bowl, rice bowl
watch: pocket watch, wrist watch
book: grammar book, science book
lamp: desk lamp, table lamp
milk: chocolate milk, rice milk
can: coffee can, garbage can
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