Focus Question: What are singular indefinite pronouns?
Tell students this unit focuses on one of the trickier parts of grammar: indefinite pronouns. Let them know they will be doing a variety of whole-group activities in preparation for writing the conclusion to a short story by using many of the indefinite pronouns they will learn about in the next three lessons.
This activity will take place in the gathering area of the classroom. Tell students that the story you are going to read is about pronouns, but that the lesson will be about one specific type of pronoun called the indefinite pronoun. Read the picture book Mine, All Mine: A Book About Pronouns by Ruth Heller. (The information in this book should be a review for students.) After reading the book, ask students to define and give examples of some of the pronouns that were in the story. Ask if they know what an indefinite pronoun is; if they are unsure, go back and reread the pages about indefinite pronouns.
“An indefinite pronoun takes the place of a noun, just like other pronouns, but these pronouns are not specific in the way that I, me, him, or her are. These pronouns do not exactly identify who or what we are talking about; for instance, when I say, ‘Somebody put it on my desk last night,’ I don’t know exactly who did it, just that someone did it. We read and use these types of pronouns all the time, but they can often be tricky to use correctly in our writing.”
Review the rule for subject-verb agreement: Subjects and verbs must agree with one another in number (singular or plural). If a subject is singular, its verb must also be singular, and if a subject is plural, its verb must also be plural. Ask students to give some examples of sentences with a singular subject and verb. Then ask for examples of sentences with plural subjects and verbs. Record the examples for the class. Ask students to identify the subject and the verb in each sentence, and then point out that they agree in number.
Write “The boy sleep,” and “The girls sleeps,” for the class to view. Ask students if the sentences make sense. (no) “Why don’t they make sense? What would fix them?” Allow students to suggest changes that result in subject-verb agreement. Rewrite the corrected versions for the class. “These corrected sentences make sense because they have subject-verb agreement. This means that the subject and verb agree in number. Number is whether a subject or verb is singular or plural.” In the corrected sentences, point out the subject-verb number agreement. (Note: Some students may be confused by the “s” on singular forms (i.e., he, she, it). If confusion arises, address it and prove to students that these are the correct forms by conjugating a verb through its forms with all of the noun types.)
Next, write the sentence, “Dad runs every morning before work.” “Is this sentence still correct when I replace Dad with he?” Cross out Dad and replace it with he or rewrite the sentence and underline the verb runs. “Does the verb runs agree in number with the subject of the sentence?” (yes) If students are confused, walk them through the sentence by asking, “Is the subject singular or plural?” (singular) and “Is the verb singular or plural?” (singular) Watch for a common mistake: students who simply look for an “s” on the verb to determine its form.
Write the sentence, “The students give their homework to the teacher.” “What happens to the sentence if I replace The students with She?” (Students should respond that the verb needs to be changed to gives, and the pronoun their needs to be changed to her.) Write the correct sentence for the class: “She gives her homework to the teacher.” Check for understanding of this concept of number agreement prior to moving forward in the lesson.
“Wow, that’s a lot of changes to make when we change a plural subject to a singular subject. Remember when I said that indefinite pronouns can be tricky? That’s because it is not always easy to know if the pronoun is singular or plural, and some can even be both! Can you tell me if the word each is talking about one person or many?” Let students respond and explain their thinking. “How about the word everybody?” Ask students what they think. “Both of these pronouns are singular. Today we are going to learn a strategy to help you with indefinite pronouns so you will never be tricked again.”
Display the Indefinite Pronouns List for the class (LW-4-1-1_Indefinite Pronouns List and Key.doc). Read the directions to students and demonstrate how to complete the list using the words each and everybody, which you talked about earlier in the lesson. Have students make their best guess about each pronoun’s number—singular or plural—and explain their reasoning. Record their responses for the class. This activity should help students begin thinking about pronoun number and making reasonable guesses, so do not correct students about their guesses yet—that will happen in the next activity.
Have students determine how many pronouns they think are plural, and then say, “There are only five pronouns on the list that are always plural: both, few, many, others, and several.” This may be an eye opener for many students, which is why indefinite pronouns are tricky. “Now that you know which pronouns are always plural, let’s try to figure out a way to remember which indefinite pronouns are always singular, because it doesn’t really make sense that everybody or anything is singular. Is there a way to put them into smaller groups or categories?”
Have students generate ideas for grouping methods. If they don’t suggest finding similarities and differences, then tell them that one way to group the words might be by their similarities, or what is alike about some of the words. Other words might not have any similarities; these words could be in their own group.
You may also use the handout Indefinite Pronouns by Type and Number here or later in the lesson (LW-4-1-1_Indefinite Pronouns by Type and Number.doc). You may also want to make it poster sized for class reference.
Have students look at the list of words and find similarities. Record their responses; they should find four words: body, thing, other, and one. “Does body mean one body or many bodies?” (one body) “What about thing? Does it mean one thing or many things?” (one thing) “How do you know?” Responses may vary, but they should indicate that none of the words are plural. “Right, these four words (body, thing, other, and one) are always singular, and any indefinite pronoun that ends with one of these words will also always be singular. Who can give me an example of an indefinite pronoun that ends with one of these words?” Have students volunteer a few examples, and then discuss which of these examples are words from their “guessing” list that they thought were plural. In this way, you are uncovering common misconceptions.
Next, go over the Singular Indefinite Pronouns handout with students (LW-4-1-1_Singular Indefinite Pronouns.doc). This would also be helpful if you made it poster sized for the class to refer to after this lesson. Ask students to tell you some of the possible combinations they can come up with using one word from each of the columns. Once students have demonstrated understanding of how to use this chart, hand out the Singular Indefinite Pronoun Chart (LW-4-1-1_Singular Indefinite Pronoun Chart.doc). Have students pair up to complete the Singular Indefinite Pronoun Chart by making combinations of words from the two columns of words on the Singular Indefinite Pronouns handout (LW-4-1-1_Singular Indefinite Pronouns.doc). Tell them that the words neither, either, and each have been added to complete the list of commonly used singular indefinite pronouns.
When students are done, ask them to list the singular indefinite pronouns they made as you record them for the class. See the key if needed (LW-4-1-1_Singular Indefinite Pronoun Chart KEY.doc). This is not a complete list, but it is a great start and includes the most commonly used singular indefinite pronouns. Students can add to the chart throughout the year as they encounter more singular indefinite pronouns in their classroom readings.
Next, in a shared-writing activity, create sentences that use each of the indefinite pronouns listed on the chart. Make sure to note the subject-verb agreement with the singular indefinite pronoun. Pay particular attention to those pronouns that students originally thought were plural.
- Has anybody noticed the unusual colors of the tropical fish in the tank? (Not “Have anybody noticed the unusual colors of the tropical fish in the tank?”)
- Everybody is coming to the class picnic. (Not “Everybody are coming to the class picnic.”)
Have students work in pairs to generate sentences that use each of the singular indefinite pronouns. When they are finished, have students share some of their sentences with the class. Although they are working in pairs, students should write out the sentences individually to turn in for your review. Provide specific feedback on this writing activity prior to beginning Lesson 2.
- Have students read newspaper or magazine articles and highlight the indefinite pronouns and their verbs. Ask students to share their sentences, tell whether the pronouns and verbs are singular or plural, and explain how they know.