Five and six year olds rarely use adjectives directly qualifying a noun. For example, they will tell you “The cat is black. It is running,” but not, “The black cat is running.” However, using frequently occurring adjectives is Language Standard L.1.1; and the use of adjectives is implied in SL. 1.4. Using complex language, including rich descriptors, is necessary for mastery of the CCSS Writing Standards as well. Indeed, the note on range and content of student language use for CCR Anchor Standard 1 clearly indicates that language standards, though in a separate strand, are intimately linked to the contexts of speaking, reading and writing. With this in mind, I set to do some explicit teaching on adjectives.
To introduce the concept, I present 5 objects to the class. The selection depends on your mood, the time of the year, the story you are reading, etc. It also works with pictures, but I find realia engages them more; stuffed animals and food are always a hit. Then I tell them that they will have to describe each of the objects. I pick one and ask different students to tell me something about it. With very little guidance, they will usually come up with an adjective. I pounce on the word and explain that that is an adjective and model how to use it. Since I have many Spanish speakers, I briefly explain the difference between adjective placements in the two languages; this is something that needs to be revisited, since it is a common mistake.
The dialogue can go something like this:
(I show them a dragon puppet, one of my favorite props for this)
Can you tell me something about my dragon?
It’s a dragon.
Can you tell me something else?
It can fly.
It is green.
Excellent. Green is an adjective and tells us something special about the dragon. Let’s practice using the adjective green in a sentence about the dragon. Listen: The green dragon can fly. Repeat: The green dragon can fly. Who wants to try by themselves?
Then I go on to get two more adjectives for the dragon.
The students get the idea and it goes faster with the other objects.
My middle school English teacher used grammar lessons as a punishment. I try to make them short, fun and memorable. I enjoyed making a game of the guided part of this one. I had them stand up behind their chairs. I would point to myself and say: "I say (noun), you say … " and point to them. They would have to respond with (adjective noun). For example: "I say dragon, you say … green dragon."
Sometimes it helps to say “whisper” instead of "say," because this can get raucous. It’s fun, and if you are in the mood you can add a bit of body movement. You can see an example in the resource section.
The resource section shows an example of an easy to create worksheet. You can also just give them a piece of paper, have them fold it in half and then have them copy five pictures that you draw on the board. You write the noun, they have to add an adjective before it. For early finishers give them extra credit for writing one or two sentences with an adjective. This is a good differentiation for your advanced students.
Having the students work independently on this skill gives you an opportunity for assessment and for grouping for reteaching. If you have any English Learners, you should review this skill as soon as possible during the lesson. It will help if you can explicitly talk about the difference in use of adjectives between their primary language and English.
I close with a simple partner share. I ask students to join me on the carpet and to turn to their carpet partner to respond to the following:
"Use an adjective to describe one object in the classroom. Remember to use a complete sentence."
I have students take 30 seconds to think of what they want to describe, and then I have them share for about a minute. I walk around to listen in and gather more informal data.