Pronouns and plurals

Two of the most commonly misused grammatical markers for preschool children are pronouns and plurals. There are ways that parents, teachers and carers can help children learn to use these correctly.

Pronouns stand in place of a noun, but they also give us information about the thing they represent, such as its gender (he/she/it) or its number (I/we/you/us). Possessive pronouns tell us about who an item belongs to (his/hers/its). The issue of gender can be confusing to children with language problems and they may use “he” for “she”, “him” for “her”, or play it safe and use “it” for everyone. Pronouns also change in relation to where they occur in a sentence such as “she gave it to her” or “I want it, give it to me”. This too can be confusing for children with language difficulties.

When helping children to learn to use pronouns work though the following steps:

  1. Modelling: Here is a boy. He is running.
  2. Comprehension: Look at these pictures and show me ‘He is running’.
  3. Imitation: You tell me the sentence – ‘He is running’.
  4. Forced Choice: Is it he or she?
  5. Sentence closure/expression: Who is running….
  6. Practice/ generalisation: Tell me about what your friend is doing.

Try these activities to practice pronouns with your child:

Face sort: Collect lots of pictures of male and female faces from magazines, catalogues and clip art. Spread the pictures face down on the table. Turn the pictures over one by one and sort them into a pile of males and a pile of females. As you sort work through each of the above steps, starting with modeling “he is a boy/man” or “she is a girl/woman” for each picture. Remember to give lots of practice at each step before moving on to the next step.

Tea party: Collect some toys which are clearly male or female, such as dolls and action figures. Place them around in a circle and put a plate in front of each of them. Use plastic food, real food or cut out pictures of food and serve it to the toys. Work though the steps above as you hand out the food. “He wants an apple. She wants a strawberry.”

Simon says “action”: Using your male and female toys from the above activity sit them down and tell your child the toys will play “Simon says”. They must listen very carefully and only do something when they are told. Give instructions using pronouns “Simon says he can jump”. Help your child to make the correct toy do the action. Work through the steps until your child can give the instructions themselves using the correct pronoun.

He/she guess who: Use your pictures from the sorting activity and place them face up on the table. Hide a coin, counter or sticker under one of the pictures. Give your child some clues such as “he has brown hair” or “she has a red hat”. See if your child can find the person you have chosen, then let your child have a turn for you to guess.

You can modify these activities to work on him/her, his/hers, himself/herself and they/them. Also refer to the previous blog on grammar for extra ideas.

Developing use of “I”: Working on “I” is difficult. Most parents have had the frustrating conversation with a preschooler that goes “Me did it” “No I did it” “No not you, me did it”. One way to work on “I” is to model it, while talking about yourself. Look at some pictures of people doing different things and say “I can run, can you?” Encourage your child to respond “I can too”. Repeat this lots of times with different action pictures.

Plurals tell us about the number of items. In English regular plurals are shown by adding an “s” to the ends of words, such as frogs, dogs, cats. Children with hearing loss or middle ear problems may find these soft sounds at the ends of words hard to hear, and children with speech problems may find them hard to say. This can affect their ability to use these structures later on.Irregular plurals include words such as “lots of sheep, feet, children, women etc” Because these do not follow the “s” rule described above children take longer to learn them and they can be particularly difficult for children with language difficulties.

When helping children to learn to use plurals work though the following steps:

  1. Modelling: Here is a frog. Here are two frogs.
  2. Comprehension: Look at these pictures and show me the frogs.
  3. Imitation: You tell me the sentence – ‘Here are two frogs’.
  4. Forced Choice: Is it frog or frogs?
  5. Sentence closure/expression: I see two ….
  6. Practice/ generalisation: Tell me about what you see here.

Try these activities to develop plurals with your child.

Memory match: Use a set of cards with two pictures of each item. Play a memory matching game naming each picture as you turn it over “one car” and when you make a match “two cars”.

Simon says one or two: This activity needs no materials and helps your child to listen very carefully and understand plurals. Ask your child to listen very carefully and give your child instructions including one or two body parts such as “Simon says touch your ear” or “touch your ears” “wiggle your finger” “tap your knees” etc. Children are “out” if they do not listen carefully to what Simon says. Let your child be Simon and see if they can trick you.

Feely bag pairs: Put a number of pairs of items into a bag or pillowcase. Help your child to put their hand into the bag and feel around to find two matching items then say “I found two..”.

Printing and stamping: Use stamps, stickers or printing activities to practice plurals, count and say the names of the shapes as you stamp or print; “one circle, two circles, three circles…”

Irregular plurals: by choosing appropriate pictures or objects you can use the above activities to practice irregular plurals. Some words to include are:mice, sheep, children, feet, teeth, fish, men, women, policemen, thieves, elves, people, deer, leaves, knives, shelves, wolves, geese, halves, loaves, die (plural of dice), calves.

Have fun developing pronouns and plurals and check back next week for ideas to develop verb tenses and conjunctions.

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