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Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives and Adverbs

My kids groan when they see the English books come out. All those nouns and verbs, and anyway, as they are quick to remind me, most schools don't even teach that stuff any more. I'm so outdated I even teach diagraming! Here's why we should teach grammar even if the schools don't: Some day your kids may go to college. At the very least, you will soon find yourself editing their papers or giving them instruction on improving their writing skills. One of the current rules of good writing is to minimize the adjectives and eliminate most of the adverbs. Instead, you're supposed to use strong verbs to get across your point. There is no way to explain that unless you have taught those words. Every student needs the vocabulary of the subject he is studying. No doctor should refer to a thermometer as a temperature thing, and no writer should refer to nouns as "stuff."

You can teach the basic terms - noun, verb, adjective and adverb- as young as kindergarten or pre-school if you make it a hands-on activity. Start with nouns. They are easy, because you can see them. If you're teaching pre-readers, do it with them. Readers can be asked to put a paper star on real items representing every noun on the list. Writers can be asked to make lists. Here's what you tell them: A noun is a person, place, thing or idea. Start with things. Walk around your house and find nouns. Everything in your house is a noun: the bed, the table, the books, and so on. Write the word noun on a wipe-off board- my favorite piece of homeschool equipment. Make lists of different kinds of nouns-soft nouns, scary nouns, little nouns.... Writers can be given a questionnaire. What is your favorite noun to eat? What is the prettiest noun you know? What noun has the prettiest name?

Next move to the places. What is your favorite noun to visit on vacation? Name a cold place noun. What noun does Aunt Mary live in? Use similar questions to teach person nouns.

The idea nouns are trickier. These are ideas like peace, love and freedom. Littler children can be told about these kinds of nouns, but you might want to save the real work on them until they are older. Those ideas fit well into an American history class, or perhaps a religion class.

Once they have the concept, they need to learn to recognize the form in a sentence. Keep the sentences short at first. Susan runs. Susan is the noun. The dog eats. Dog is the noun. With older children, you can buy workbooks, find old English books in thrift stores, or make your own worksheets. My children liked sheets that had sentences about them or that had silly sentences. "Jennifer has red hair." "The elephant read his book in the swimming pool." They can even make up their own sentences. Let your children make their own worksheets and if you have a copier or scanner, try letting them do each other's sheets as well. Make a firm rule though: No sentences that put down others, especially siblings. Keep the sentences short at first, and gradually make them more complex.

If you are still using-or still have-the flash cards from the reading lessons, you can use them to help non-writers practice. Let them find all the nouns and put them in a pile. They can make sentences and find the nouns in them. On the worksheets, children can color the noun, underline it, circle it or cross it out. Change the directions regularly so they learn to read directions.

Verbs are even more fun than nouns because you can act them out. Verbs are action words. Write the word on your board and ask for a list of action words-things you can do. Then have the children act them out. Be sure to use the word verb over and over so they learn it. "Let's act out the verb jump." Even if you need a worksheet to keep someone busy, it can contain those instructions in written form. "Underline the verb in this sentence and then act it out." After they've done some worksheets where they mark the verbs, add some complexity to the sheets of older children by having them mark the nouns and verbs in different ways. "Circle the verbs, and color over the nouns." This is tricky, so stand by the first few times.

To review, start each English class with a review assignment. Write your favorite noun in big letters. Trace around the letters in a different color. Trace it again in another color." (This is called rainbow writing and is a popular way to teach spelling. When they finish, the letters are encircled in lots of different colors.) "Unscramble the following verbs." "Write the three silliest verbs you can think of."

Adjectives and adverbs are a little trickier. It can be easy for beginners to mix them up. Remember that adjectives modify nouns and adverbs modify verbs. For example, if you say, "I saw a girl," your listener doesn't know much about her. If you say, "I saw a green girl," that definitely narrows the choices. "I ran," tells you something. "I ran slowly," tells you more. Most adverbs end in "ly", but not all of them. So the sentence about the girl has an adjective. The sentence about running has an adverb. Teach one at a time to avoid confusion.

Start by asking your children to tell you about an object you put before them. Write down the adjectives they use. (Accept the other words, but don't write them down. If they ask why you didn't write it, tell them you're looking for special kinds of words, and you'll tell them about it in a minute.) Tell them they used some of these words to describe the item, and words that describe are called adjectives. Think up some more adjectives.

After a while, you might want to give them a feeling for the ways adjectives can be used. Try sorting adjectives into categories, using homemade flash cards or a wipe-off board. What are some scary adjectives? What are some happy adjectives? What adjectives can be used to say nice things about a person? What adjectives would you use to describe a summer day? Try attaching nouns to some of the adjectives on your list. (You might want to add to your list every day to make an adjective bank, putting the words on flash cards or a sheet of large paper.) Scary monster, rainy day... Now you're ready to try the worksheets, first identifying just adjectives in short sentences that gradually become longer, and then marking several word forms. You should also have them draw arrows connecting the adjective to the noun it modifies. Have them add adjectives to sentences. Have them add too many adjectives and see how stupid the sentence sounds. Then let them decide which adjectives are the most important to keep, and have them cross out the rest.

Finally, it's time for adverbs. Adverbs modify verbs. There can be a big difference between just talking, and talking excitedly, loudly or nervously. As I mentioned before, adverbs are rather out of style, but you will use some of them. Just don't let the kids get carried away when they use adverbs. Use them only when they are absolutely necessary.

Acting can be a part of your adverb lessons. Write a generic word like said, walked or sat. Think of all the ways a girl could walk. Write them in sentences: The girl walked slowly. The girl walked nervously. The girl walked sadly. Underline the adverb in each sentence and tell the kids that these words are adverbs, which tell us how people did things. (Be sure to write the word adverb on your board. Reading should be a part of every word you learn.) Ask the kids to demonstrate each sentence. A person walking sadly looks very different from a person walking happily. the usual worksheets can be used as well.

If your children are older, you can use the teaching of adverbs to help them learn to write better. Take the girl who is walking. What are some other words that mean walk? How would someone move if they were sad? Maybe they would trudge. Someone who was happy might skip. Instead of saying the girl walked, or the girl walked happily, say, "The girl skipped down the street, eager to tell her mother what had happened." In other words, choose strong verbs that tell you more about what is happening. If your verbs are strong, you don't need very many adverbs. You can practice this in individual sentences, and then encourage the children to practice in their own writing. Older writers should be encouraged to think about every adverb they use.

There is a lot more to learn about grammar, but these are the most important terms to start off with. I'll get more written on grammar eventually. In the meantime, have fun!


Terrie Bittner

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