I've been shocked by the lack of grammar skill shown by my 5th grade students when they reach me...and conversely...feel dismayed when I hear from 6th grade teachers the kids don't seem to have adequate grammar skills the following year. Effort and carelessness certainly have a role in students' "forgetfulness," but that fact notwithstanding, refreshing the skills each year is necessary. Nouns are a staple of a child's educational career since before kindergarten, but as stated previously, they still need more. As I begin a mini-unit on nouns, a great kick-off activity is this, "So Many Nouns, So Little Time" lesson.
In our grammar books, the first lesson about nouns is as basic as you get...no frills here.What is a Noun? The kids have to read sentences and underline all of the nouns they find. They also must classify the nouns into person/place/thing/idea categories. I like to start the class in just this way, although we do each of the sections orally rather than taking a large amount of time to write it all out. I randomly pull their name sticks, and each child answers at least one question. We can get through this exercise in about ten minutes, which is enough to get everyone back on the same noun page.
Here is where the fun begins. I tell the kids to take out a piece of notebook paper and make a T-Chart labeled Common Nouns on the left and Proper Nouns on the right. Independently, they must sit in their seat and looking around the room to jot down nounsand putting it into the correct category. There will be questions, ie: "Do I write down EVERYTHING I see like desk 1, desk 2, desk 3...?" or "Every person in here is a Proper Noun so do I write everyone's name down?" and "All of the posters have different topics so how do I write them all down?" I tell them that if they mention one desk- then all of the desks count. NO one's name should be written down except mine (for reasons that will be obvious in part two,) and that unless you make a poster specific by using its title, then one poster covers them all. Other equally intense questions may be posed, but all are easily answered.
The process is very quiet as they look around the room from their personal vantage point. Additionally, I mention that they should try to discover nouns that no one else will think of, so this also keeps them focused and competitive. When enough time has passed, I tell them to put down pencils and pick up a marker. Here is a student example.
The kids have taken out a thick marker and I'm armed with a few rolls of tape and a bunch of 3x5 index cards. Their next task is to sit and label all of the things on their lists, one item per card written clearly in large letters. I asked students to cross the nouns off their list as each is labeled. I then tell them that after all of their cards are completed they will tape their cards directly onto the items written.
This may not sound too exciting, but 5th graders love it. They tape things around the room that I didn't even think about. It was interesting when the same item was categorized differently depending on how the student viewed it. As mentioned in the first application section, I don't want the kids to write each others' names because it will lead to lots of cards taped all over the kids. This takes away from the activity and possibly causes unnecessary off-task behavior. I ended up with about ten cards on various parts of me which solidified the reasoning behind not using kids' names. Having said that, I'd still allow them to label me next time out because it was fun. I was labeled: teacher/Mrs. Robinson/mother/Mr. Robinson's wife!, and others labeled my microphone, hair, hood. Although not labeling by their proper names, some of the kids were labeled with the cards naming: student, shirt, color blue, etc.
I wanted to leave about five minutes for closure, so cut the kids off earlier than they'd have liked. With so many nouns, and so little time, however, it's a bit hard to please everyone. They went back to their seats in the newly labeled classroom and waited for the wrap-up.
As a closure to the activity, I ask volunteers to determine from memory, and while in their seats, which nouns seemed to be the most popular (desks, floor, markers, and maps...) Next, I ask what some of the various labels for the same item turned out to be (globe/Earth, foam/snow cone, teacher/Mrs. Robinson, poster/picture, etc.) The kids easily remembered what they'd seen as they moved around the room labeling items, and mentioned some nouns I didn't even know they'd tagged (my purse, spilled cheetos, and scrap paper.)
A fun activity for all, and a fun one to practice L.5.6 using grade appropriate knowledge and words. Although nouns are the basic foundation of grammar, kids benefit from interactive activities to reinforce their knowledge. Distinguishing between common and proper nouns can be more problematic for some students than expected, but an activity like this is a non-threatening way to define and refine.
I was actually sad to take down the 3x5 cards. That being said, all of the cards labeled "floor" and taped to the carpet, truly did look like a mess so it made cleaning up and moving on an easier task.