The phrase ‘grammar fun’, for some of us, may seem like an oxymoron at best. The explicit approach to learning how to structure sentences may bring with it memories of tedious drills and the rote learning of rules. However, for many of us, grammar will have been absorbed, through experimentation and correction, rather than through the digestion of endless rules. Whichever way we do it, we learn how to put words together in English so that they are meaningful. For children who struggle to do this, understanding others can be confusing and participating in conversations, a challenge. Many of these children will fall under a speech a language therapist’s radar and some will need some extra support internalising parts of the English grammar rule book.
Helping children use pronouns
Pronouns are important little words! We use pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’ to refer to people and objects without having to name them. In this article we will explore how to help your child use them correctly and take a look up a speech and language therapist’s sleeve for some fun activity ideas.
Before we can be expected to use something, we need to understand it. The activities below are therefore split in to two parts: games to aid understanding and games to help with production.
Learning to use new rules
When your child is first learning to sort out new rules, they will find it easier to focus on one rule at a time e.g. if working on ‘he’ and ‘she’ don’t worry if they make other errors e.g. ‘mixing up her/him’. It is likely that they will also find it easier to focus on shorter sentences when they start to say the words. You can model longer sentences for them but at the beginning, do not worry about them being able to copy you. As they become confident, they will start using the new rule in longer phrases, sentences and stories!
GAME 1 > ‘Me wants it’
Saying ‘me’ instead of ‘I’ can be quite cute when your child is very young, but if this continues past around the age of 2 years old, your child may benefit from some gentle guidance. Children generally learn to say ‘I’ correctly (around 1 – 2 years) before they master using ‘me’ correctly (around 2-2.5 years)
Using real or pretend food, plates, make a food order e.g. ‘I want the apple’. You can play with another adult or child and pretend you are in a cafe. Your child role plays the waiter/waitress or chef and must serve the food to the correct person. This will ensure that they receive lots of listening practice first.
Take turns to say what you would like to eat and see who can fill their plate first.
If your child says, ‘Me want the pear’, you can gently model the correct way e.g. ‘I want the pear’ and grab the pear and put it on your plate, emphasizing ‘I want it’.
Which hand is doing the good talking? You can also give your child a chance to correct themselves by showing them both your hands closed in to fists. The first hand says, ‘I want’ and the second hand says, ‘me want’. Model the hands talking and then ask your child to hit the fist that is doing the ‘good talking’. If they tap the correct hand, spring it open and say repeat it back to them again ‘I want the…’ and then reward them with the food.
Game alternative – find silly ingredients for soup and collect as many silly things as you can. Who can make the silliest soup?
GAME 2 > HE OR SHE? Most children will correctly use ‘he’ and ‘she’ by the time they reach 2.5 years of age.
*To work on your child’s understanding of ‘he’ and ‘she’, you can adapt the above game using a girl and boy doll or picture cut outs. Pretend the dolls are whispering to you what they want and then tell your child e.g. ‘he said he wants a pizza, do you have any pizza for him?’. See if your child can correctly place the food on the right plate. Offer feedback as your play e.g. ‘that is right, it is for the boy because I said ‘he’.
*Work on listening for the correct pronoun by telling a short story. The first time you tell the story, make no mistakes. The second time, make a few silly mistakes.
1). ‘Susie and Tom were playing catch. Susie ran to get the ball and she fell over and hurt her knee. Tom tried to help but he slipped up and hurt his elbow’
With Errors e.g.
2). ‘Susie ran to get the ball and he fell over’/ ‘Tom tried to help but she fell over!’
Tell your child that when they hear a mistake, they must shout ‘STOP!” and then tell you what the mistake is. If they can, ask them to repeat back the correct sentence: ‘Tom tried to help but he fell over’.
Remember the focus is on using ‘he’ and ‘she’ so don’t worry if your child makes mistakes with other parts of the sentence for now.
Act out the story -Using teddies, dolls or action figures, try acting out the story and practicing ‘he’ and ‘she’ using the characters. If it is not clear which one is a girl or boy, you could put an identifying item of clothing on them e.g. blue hat
Make the story visual – laminate a picture of a boy and a girl and as you tell the story, colour in red the part of the body they hurt when they fall over. You could even repeat the story again but this time put plasters on the characters!.
*When your child is ready to practice saying ‘he and she’, you can make the dolls do things e.g. jump, run, sleep and say, ‘Who is jumping?’. Model the answer ‘she is’ or ‘he is’ then ask your child to continue by shouting out. You can practice longer phrases this way to by asking ‘what is the doll doing?’ and modelling ‘she is running/he is eating’.
*Additionally, your child could give you the food orders for the boy and girl, like in the game above. ‘he wants chips, she wants ice cream’
*Try supporting story making skills using the story structure above. If you are using laminated cut outs, simply wipe the laminated pictures clean or use two new fresh ones. The level of support here will depend on how confident your child is at this stage, but you can support them as needed throughout the story and prompt them using the pictures, pointing out the blood/ plasters on the boy and girl. For more ideas offering feedback to support language, see our blog on speech and language blog one
GAME 3 > HER/HIS
Pronouns can be tricky to learn and using ‘his’ and ‘her’ is no different. Children will often have mastered this by around 3.5, but if extra support is needed you could try some of the following ideas.
*Tell a story like the one above, focusing on the words her and his. This will provide lots of focused listening. Again, you can ask your child to shout STOP! When they hear a mistake (you mix up ‘her’ and the ‘his’). Remember, at the listening stage they do not have to provide the correction but can if they wish! Once they have identified the mistake, you can simply model the correct way e.g. ‘Silly me, Susie is a girl, so it is her knee, not his knee!’
*colour, draw or put cut out clothing on pictures of a girl and boy. Your child must listen to you e.g. colour her shoes blue, draw a hat on his head,
*You can get even more listening practice by putting different objects in baskets belonging to the girl and boy doll or the cut-out pictures e.g. ‘put the ball in his basket, put the dress in her basket’
*The activities above will be familiar to your child and therefore provide a good starting point for them to practice using the correct production of ‘her’ and ‘his.
They can start by sorting out objects for the boy and girl and telling you what they have done, ‘I put the ball in her basket’.
*Prompt them to describe pictures to you e.g. You ‘Whose shoes are blue?’ Child: ‘her shoes’
If they are feeling confident, they may even wish to tell you a story like the one used above!
The ideas above provide a starting point for working on some areas that your child might find tricky. Feel free to adapt and expand on these as much as you wish, remembering that listening and understanding come before accurate production. For more information on grammar in general and supporting word order, check out colourful semantics blog. If you would like even more specific guidance on how to support the development of pronouns, see our higher language course.
Have lots of grammar fun!
Our top 4 apps for grammar fun
There are some excellent apps to support working on pronouns. Take a look:
TOP PICKS Price range from around 2 – 5 pounds.
Pronouns with splingo
Pronouns by Teach Speech Apps
Using I and Me Fundeck
Story builder for iPad – This app supports many aspects of your child’s language. Can help reinforce pronouns once your child is has mastered them at the phrase and sentence level.
Written by Carolyn Fox, Children's Speech and Language Therapist