Teaching Preschoolers About Nouns as People, Places, and Things
Preschoolers and Nouns
All students must learn the grammatical forms, or parts of speech, of their language before studying grammar at a deeper level. Although explicit grammatical instruction usually does not start before elementary school, preschoolers can begin to learn about the most basic parts of speech such as nouns, adjectives, and verbs.
Discussion and Prior Knowledge
The teacher can introduce the topic of nouns to the preschool class by asking the students the following questions:
- Do you know what a noun is?
- Do you know what a person is?
- Do you know what a place is?
- Do you know what a thing is?
Most preschoolers will probably answer no to the first question but will most likely have a general idea of what people, places, and things are. The students must have prior knowledge about the concepts of person, place, and thing before continuing with the rest of the noun lesson. If the students answer no to the last three questions, then the teacher should review the categories of person, place, and thing with the preschoolers.
After the initial discussion, the teacher can read a book about nouns to the class. Two excellent titles for younger children include:
- Merry-Go-Round: A Book about Nouns by Ruth Heller
- A Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink: What Is a Noun? by Brian P. Cleary
Although both of these books are recommended for children ages kindergarten through second grade, preschoolers will love listening to all the fun words and phrases. Even most adults cannot help smiling while reading "A cat, a bat, your grandma's hat—Nouns are a little of this and that."
While reading the books aloud to the class, the teacher should hold the books so that the students can see the pictures. The illustrations will help clarify some of the words for the preschoolers. For example, the page about gowns, crowns, and hometowns from A Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink includes some very colorful and fun illustrations of a odd-looking woman wearing a gown and a plump little cat carrying her crown.
"Is It a Person, Place, or Thing?" Activity
The "Is It a Person, Place, or Thing?" activity helps preschool school students learn to categorize nouns as people, places, and things. The students will learn to place known nouns into the three categories. The materials needed for this preschool activity are:
- Noun photo flashcards
- Three baskets
The noun flashcards should have both images and writing of preschool vocabulary words. Some printable sample flashcards are available for download at Preschool Noun Photo Flashcards: Back to School and Preschool Noun Photo Flashcards: At Home. The teacher can also have the students help make the flashcards by cutting photos out of magazines and gluing the cutouts onto large index cards. The teacher can then write the vocabulary word under the picture. The teacher should also label each of the three baskets: one as person, one as place, and one as thing (include picture support).
To play the "Is It a Person, Place, or Thing?" activity, the teacher will first arrange the three baskets in the front of the class and then read the label on each basket to the students. The teacher will then hold up a noun photo flashcard and ask, "Is it a person, place, or thing?" For example, the teacher might select the books flashcard and ask, "Is a book a person, place, or thing?" The students should then answer, "A book is a thing." After the students correctly categorize the noun, the teacher will place the card in the correct basket.
Silly Sentences Activity
The Silly Sentence activity is another fun noun activity that also helps preschool school students learn to categorize nouns as people, places, and things. The students will learn to think up nouns to place into the three categories of person, place, and thing. The materials needed for this preschool activity are:
- Chalkboard or dry erase board
- Chalk or dry erase markers
To play the Silly Sentences activity, the teacher will first write a sentence with three blanks (one for a person, one for a place, and one for a thing) on the board. Some sample sentences are:
- The person brought the thing to the place.
- The person and the thing are at the place.
- The person sells the thing at the place.
The teacher will then ask individual students to provide a noun for the person, the place, or the thing blank to create silly sentences. Preschoolers will love making and hearing silly sentences like "The farmer brought the floor to the airport" and "The grandmother sells the butter at the playground."
At the end of the lesson, the teacher should review what the students learned by asking the following questions:
- What is a noun?
- Is a person a noun? Name a person.
- Is a place a noun? Name a place.
- Is a thing a noun? Name a thing.
The preschool students should be able to answer all four questions after reading the noun books Merry-Go-Round: A Book about Nouns by Ruth Heller and A Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink: What Is a Noun? by Brian P. Cleary and after playing the "Is It a Person, Place, or Thing?" and Silly Sentences activities. By learning about nouns as people, places, and things in preschool, students will be well prepared for more explicit grammar education in elementary school.
- All ideas courtesy of the author, Heather Marie Kosur