Teaching nouns? Here are noun lessons you can personalize.
Why are we learning nouns? Dependent upon the age you teach, students need to be aware of nouns so that:
- They can identify subjects (and other “noun jobs”).
- They understand possessive words.
- They can create parallel structure.
A longer explanation is that nouns can become adjectives and understanding proper and common nouns helps with capitalization (Italian bread). Using apostrophes and making words plural also require an understanding of nouns.
Older students benefit from understanding nouns because their vocabulary increasingly becomes more difficult. Knowing how words work and change can be daunting, so grasping a word’s function helps with vocabulary lessons.
Nouns and noun clauses must also be parallel. With sentence structure studies, parallel elements are increasingly important. Student writing becomes muddled when clauses and phrases are not parallel.
Teenagers always ask why they are learning something. When they question noun lessons, I provide them with these explanations.
Give a pretest.
I don’t thoroughly teach nouns every year. Sometimes, my students understand nouns and have very few problems manipulating them. After the pretest, I judge if I need to cover nouns. When I don’t, we discuss nouns and might complete a few of the activities below quickly (five minutes). Sometimes I let students choose how they study.
If teaching nouns is necessary, here are activities for older students.
Try an interactive activity.
I meet students at the door and I hand them a sticky note. Sometimes I hand them more than one sticky note, dependent on how big the class is. I ask them to write a noun that they see in the classroom and adhere the note.
You can be specific with it, or you can be very general with it: write two proper nouns, two common nouns, four nouns. It’s however you need to scaffold it for your class.
Everybody has the right number of sticky notes, they write their nouns, and then they stick them everywhere! My classroom is covered in nouns, and we love it. I end up with lots of Mrs. Moss sticky notes all over me; they like to label me because I’m a noun. Students come up with some creative nouns: the floor, the door, a random piece of chalk, a thumbtack. My room is just covered in sticky notes, and it’s really a good reminder to emphasize: they do indeed understand nouns.
I leave those sticky notes because we do something similar with different colored sticky notes with adjectives. (Students can describe the nouns.)
As we review the sticky notes, I generally mention collective nouns, proper nouns, common nouns, concrete nouns, and abstract nouns. Older students have heard that domain-specific vocabulary and only need a quick reminder.
Use a fun mentor text.
Bring in mentor sentences with a picture book. My favorite one to use for nouns is I Love You, Stinky Face. Older students normally get a kick out of it. (If you haven’t read I Love You, Stinky Face, it’s a Scholastic book, and a lot of times you can get it on Scholastic pretty inexpensively or borrow it from libraries.) Some key lines I highlight:
“Mama said, ‘I love you my wonderful child, but I had a question.” Right away, we have concrete and abstract nouns.
“‘Mama, what if I were a big scary ape? Would you still love me then?’” I take the opportunity not only to point out nouns, but also to mention the verb mood. Doing so helps me identify if students understand more complex portions of verbs.
“‘If you were a big scary ape, I would make your birthday cake out of bananas, and I would tell you, ‘I love you, my big scary ape.” With birthday cake, we have a compound noun. Using this picture books triggers those discussions in just a low stress, non-confrontational way.
Students find this story amusing, but most picture books will precipitate discussions about nouns.
Use task cards/stations.
Since teaching nouns is typically done at the start of the year, I take this opportunity to establish rules and procedures. When students work with task cards (normally with stations), students rotate around the room, and they each have their own sheet to complete for me.
Working in stations allows me to circulate the room, build relationships, and clarify misconceptions. I also have insight into our next lessons based on understanding.
Connect to literature.
Grammar can’t just be this thing we do for ten minutes a day! Mention and work with the concepts, terms, and ideas by carrying nouns into the rest of your class.
Review literature by using the domain specific vocabulary nouns. I will put on butcher paper or on big poster boards key pieces to review from a story. If I’m doing “The Most Dangerous Game,” I’ll do proper nouns. I’ll label Zaroff, Rainsford, Ship Trap Island. Students will travel to noun stations, and they will review what each character did that way. You could make common nouns like jaguar or the bedroom and talk about what happens at different stations throughout.
Reviewing literature with nouns is a quick way to emphasize nouns.
So often, older students hear grammar lessons and immediately believe something is wrong with their writing. Grammar and understanding language is much more than correcting sentences. Part of my job is to show students that I want to teach them about their language and to share domain-specific vocabulary with them. After teaching nouns, I have established the tone I want for grammar lessons, and I can easily move into pronoun and adjective lessons.
Teaching nouns is normally a pretty fun, quick unit.