Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Clearing Up Pronoun Confusion

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you get a funny look when you are reading a book with pronouns in it? Often children have difficulty identifying these types of anaphoric relationships. By helping our young children understand these types of references, we can develop thinking about how sentences in a text relate to one another. This helps children to follow the sequence of a story. Understanding pronoun relationships also develops a strong foundation for later reading comprehension skills.

As you will see, when we highlight pronouns, we are providing support for our English Language Learners (ELLs). Often dual language learners are confused, especially if they are past the Silent Phase and are striving to learn how noun phrases relate to names. Let's take a look.

The most common and easily understood pronoun substitution is when a gender-related pronoun replaces a name a shown in this example:

Maggie ran to the store. She wanted to buy an apple.

For some children, you may need to be explicit that Maggie and she refer to the same person.

You can play a receptive language game with this by asking children to give a signal to the question, "Who is she?" You can say, "If she is another word for Dude, raise your hand. If she is another word for Maggie, wiggle your nose." You can scaffold direction like this. As you likely notice, this also helps with following directions and developing vocabulary (key objectives for ELLs). 

The more difficult anaphoric relationship occurs when a noun phrase replaces something other than people. Take a look at this example:

Maggie and Jenny walked to the store on the corner. Jenny walked there, too.

This can be confusing as the substitution is not a simple gender pronoun. Children, especially ELLs, benefit from direct instruction and verbal practice with examples such as this one. You might play a verbal game like the one above to support children as they learn to connect words such as there with the noun phrase that comes before.

You may add this simple "game" to your opening calendar time. You can practice this at snack time or while lining up at the door. A few minutes a day will have positive impacts on children's language skills. 

You may also include authentic reading to help children understand these key relationships. When reading a book where this type of relationship is apparent, stop and ask questions such as, "Who is he in this book?"

Let's look at an example using this topical book about Groundhog Day.

In the following page, you will see that we have circled four instances of the pronoun he or him

In the first two instances, the word he refers to the character Godfrey. The word him also refers to Godfrey. But, the word he in the last sentence (the last he circled), refers to Roland. You can see that with the abundance of pronouns on this page, it may be difficult for both ELLs and native English speakers to follow the sequence of events. This is why practice with pronouns is helpful. 

Standards Alignment:
NAEYC - 2.D.01 & 2.D.02
Head Start - VIII.A. & B.
TESOL - Standard 1: English language learners communicate for social, intercultural, and instructional purposes within the school setting.

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