Teaching nouns? Here are noun lessons you can personalize. I’ve even included how to teach nouns online!
A noun lesson is typically the first grammar assignment of the school year. Establishing a foundation with grammar is great! With older students, I don’t spend many days on noun activities. We define nouns, recognize them, and talk about them, but! They key is never to stop a lesson on nouns. Use that domain-specific vocabulary throughout the school year.
With noun lessons with older students, I spend time explaining the reasons to learn nouns. 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 then can apply knowledge to dictionary use.
- understand possessive words.
- work with noun clauses.
- 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 both require an understanding of nouns. As students create more complex sentences, they will create noun clauses (a language standard for high school students). Basically, teaching nouns never ends; ELA teachers only change the type of nouns we teach.
We teachers understand the purpose of nouns! When I plan noun lessons, I am sure to incorporate a discussion about the purpose of nouns.
Additionally, 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. With middle school grammar lessons, I teach nouns with direct instruction. With high school grammar lessons, I most often teach nouns with more complex concepts like commas or clauses.
For instance, 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. Basically, I know older students have studied nouns, and I share that fact with students.
Teenagers always ask why they are learning something, especially before we dive into nouns activities. When they question noun lessons, I provide them with these explanations.
When I prepare noun lessons, I follow a general format. My goal with any grammar lesson is to make the content apply to students. When I teach nouns, I work to include fun noun activities and to connect concepts to students’ writing. My specific process for how to teach nouns changes yearly, but noun activities normally include:
Give a pretest.
Whenever I teach a new grammar concept, I give a pretest! If you’ve followed my blog at all, you know I believe in the power of data. When my students understand a concept, I don’t want to bore them with repeated direct instruction.
I don’t thoroughly teach the specifics of nouns every year (common, proper). Sometimes, my students understand nouns and have very few problems manipulating them. After the pretest, I judge if I need to include specific activities to teach 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. Finally, we sometimes have a discussion about nouns. I include the details of “why” we learn nouns.
As an important note: sometimes, students have poor experiences with grammar lessons. Since a noun lesson is normally my first grammar activity with a new class, I don’t bore them—my noun activities are hands-on and engaging. When students understand that you are establishing the foundation for their future writing, they are more likely to engage.
After I see the data, I might complete one noun lesson and move to the next concept. However, if teaching nouns is necessary, here are noun activities for older students.
How to teach nouns online: I use Google Forms since they are self-grading. The pretest is quick and gives me immediate data!
Try an interactive activity.
Fun noun activities exist, even with older students! A simple interactive activity involves sticky notes. 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 to that noun.
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.
How to teach nouns online: Use infographics. You can make your own in Google Slides! Students can take pictures of nouns or find pictures on the web.
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.
How to teach nouns online: Grab an online text! Search for a story by putting the name in quotation marks, then the plus sign (+), and “PDF.” You’ll find tons of mentor texts that are in the public domain.
If you need a pacing guide for your nouns lesson plan, you can download my planning sheet for free. I try to incorporate fun noun activities into my lessons, and I need help tracking them all.
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. With digital or print task cards, I can organize some student to their iPads and others to the projector.
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. If I need to expand my lesson on nouns, I normally see that during stations.
How to teach nouns online: Make digital task cards! You can arrange the cards and export them as a .jpg. Typically, screenshots are high enough resolution for small squares (like task cards) if that process is easier! Then, insert the images into a Google Slides presentation.
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. You can carry your noun lesson to other parts of class. Here’s an example:
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. Another fun story is “The Monkey’s Paw.” The wishes are nouns, and students can each wish a slide of a Google presentation to review what happened with each one.
Reviewing literature with nouns is a quick way to emphasize nouns. If you want to connect grammar to other ideas, you can quickly add nouns to short stories.
How to teach nouns online: Whatever story students have read, ask them to list four or five nouns from that story in a spreadsheet. Then, use those nouns to create a graffiti activity. Your students made a new nouns lesson for you while reviewing a story.
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. Like I mentioned, my nouns lesson plan changes every year. I use the data from the pretest to start my noun activities, and then I continually assess where students are in their understanding. That grammar unit has an editable noun lesson plan along with noun activities.