One of the difficult grammar constructions for English learners is the third person singular verb. We can all admit that it’s a little confusing that we make nouns plural by adding an s at the end of the word but that we make verbs singular by adding an s at the end. Since native English speakers grow up hearing this in oral language, most students don’t give it much thought. Nevertheless, English learners struggle with this concept and need explicit instruction in subject-verb agreement.
In this lesson, however, I’m going to reinforce the idea that complete sentences have both a Who/What and a Do and that sentences begin with a capital letter and end with a period. Since article use is also difficult for English learners, I will be sure to stress The in each sentence then use A and An when students are ready. Teachers can create this lesson with colored word cards or on an interactive white board. [Cards that accompany this lesson can be found at https://literacyleader.com/node/793.]
First, I use colors to call attention to the components of the sentence. Articles, nouns, verbs and periods are each printed on different colors, but none of the nouns or verbs have an s at the end. Instead, I print an s in a fifth color. I arrange the word cards in order then demonstrate how the Who/What and the Do must share one s. If I place the s after the noun, I have more than one of that noun, but if I place the s after the verb, I now have only one of the noun. Model this several times, each time asking “how many?” after the s has been placed and the sentence read.
Next, provide a picture of the noun that is either singular or plural. Ask the student to identify how many are in the picture then complete the sentence by placing the s card with either the noun or the verb to match the picture. Have the student read the sentence and tell how many of the noun the sentence identifies. Change the picture then have the student move the s, read the sentence and identify how many of the noun.
Once students have mastered sharing the s, it’s time to move on to irregular verbs:
This is when you need to admit that you lied just a little bit because not all Who-Do pairs share an s. Demonstrate to students that these noun-verb pairs don’t share an s, but that the verb changes based on whether or not the noun is singular or plural.
The final lesson in this series deals with irregular nouns. Tell students that this is another wonky thing about English grammar. Some nouns are plural even though they don’t end with s. Prioritize men, women and children for English learners since these are the most frequently used. You may also want to point out that some nouns (non-count nouns) don’t have a plural form, so you never add an s to these words: milk, sand, rice, water, fruit.
In conclusion, the goal of these lessons is to make subject-verb agreement as visible as possible for English learners and give them multiple opportunities to practice this construction. Using pictures with grammar activities also helps develop vocabulary knowledge in the second language, so this helps teachers use their time more efficiently.