A common place where students can slip is plurals in common phrases like "I like bananas." or "I have 2 dogs." You'll often hear them missing the "s" at the end. Here's a few tips to teach plurals in elementary school.

Teaching plurals in the phrase "I like apples."

I recently had success with a grade 2 class where the students very quickly picked up the difference between the name of a thing not having the plural "s" sound at the end (eg. apple) and how you say it differently when using it in a phrase like "I like apples.

What I was doing wrong

I'd been taught to very carefully plan how your lesson would progress using the technique of working backwards. So, when the goal was for students to learn how to say "I like dogs.", it was important to teach the word right from the start as "dogs".

This meant you had to teach things the right way, from the start which wasn't too difficult but did require a little thought. Apples. Bananas. Watermelon. (I don't say "I like watermelons." so I taught watermelon.) But it made things easy for the students. They just had to repeat and remember. Wonderful, mindless learning.

The problem was, they didn't seem to get it. Often, they already knew the word apple, so by the end of the lesson (let alone when reviewing the next week), it was back to "I like apple."

What worked

Younger students

What really makes it click for students is when you get them to think about it. Here's what happened with a elementary grade 2 class recently.

I showed them a picture. "What's this?" I asked. A reply in chorus - "Apple!"

I praised them and said the word again. I asked if they liked apples - a show of hands. Next, the key I pointed to the picture and said "Apple." I pointed to myself and said "I like apples."

With clear enunciation of the pluralization, I asked what the difference was. (I did this in Japanese. It was on the fly but it would have been better if in the pre-lesson meeting I had explained what I wanted to do and let the home room teacher ask the students if they could hear a difference.)

It took a few tries but eventually we got there. I did it with two more examples then it wasn't necessary. The students were now guessing how to pluralize each word.

Older young student

With 5th and 6th graders, writing is becoming a part of their English education. Writing has previously been left until junior high but now there is a stronger push for students to be comfortable writing the English alphabet by the time they leave elementary school.

This really helps teaching plurals. Here's how I do it in the video below:

The end of the class

Unlike before, at the end of the class, students were still saying what they liked with that extra "s". It's a small victory but worth sharing, I thought.

We all do it differently. What are your secret weapons? Leave a comment.


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