Little kids need to learn pronoun-antecedent agreement

Pronoun-antecedent agreement is a reading skill we expect young readers to understand until we encounter some kids who don’t.

In the sentences, “The dog barked at me.  I was scared,” we take for granted that the child understands that “I” in the second sentence refers to “me” in the first sentence and not to “dog.”

But some kids don’t understand this, especially students learning English as a second language.  Relationships which some students implicitly understand need to be explicitly taught to these students.

In particular, younger students need to practice examples of

  • Singular pronouns which refer back to singular nouns.
  • Plural pronouns which refer back to plural nouns.
  • Masculine pronouns which refer back to masculine nouns.
  • Feminine pronouns which refer back to feminine nouns.
  • Neutral pronouns which refer back to neutral nouns.
  • Pronouns which refer back to words two sentences back.

One way you can test if a particular student understands pronoun-antecedent agreement is to provide the student with a reading passage containing several pronouns.  You circle the pronouns and ask the student to draw an arrow from each circled pronoun to its antecedent.  Or your color-code the pronouns with their antecedents.

Another way is to tape over the pronouns and ask the student to supply them.  Supplying words is always harder than finding words already provided.

A third way is to ask the student to write about a particular subject which involves singular and plural pronouns, such as first grade girls jumping rope at recess.

Some schools teach types of pronouns (subject, object, possessive), but delay teaching pronoun-antecedent agreement.  This is a mistake.  We use pronouns to take the place of nouns we have previously stated.  Students need to hear the relationship between pronouns and nouns in order to understand why we use pronouns at all.


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