Focus Question: What are the difficulties with indefinite subject-verb agreement?
Tell students that today they will learn about subject-verb agreement using indefinite pronouns, which is why it is important to know which pronouns are singular and which are plural.
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.
Singular: The dog runs outside.
The fish swims around in its tank.
Plural: The children sing in the choir.
The horses run freely across the meadow.
“Why is it important to know whether a pronoun is singular or plural? How will this help you become more effective writers?” (When students write a sentence using an indefinite pronoun as the subject, they need to know whether it is singular or plural in order to use the correct verb for agreement.)
Remind students of the strategy that they learned in Lesson 1 for determining singular indefinite pronouns: pronouns that end in the words body, thing, one, or other, as well as either, neither, and each are always singular. As a check for understanding, hand out copies of the Indefinite Pronouns List from Lesson 1 (LW-4-1-1_Indefinite Pronouns List and Key.doc). Have students complete it, and then check their work against your previously completed version. Students should see significant improvement. Leave your completed list posted, so students know which indefinite pronouns are singular and which are plural.
Using your completed Indefinite Pronouns List as a guide, have students complete the Indefinite Pronouns: Singular and Plural Worksheet (LW-4-1-2_Indefinite Pronoun Worksheet and KEY.doc). Ask students to compare and discuss their answers with a partner. Then have students share their answers, as you record them for the class. Ask students if there were any questions they found to be particularly tricky, and answer any remaining questions.
Note that each is often followed by a prepositional phrase ending in a plural word (e.g., each of the students), which makes it seem as if the verb should be plural, but remember that each is always singular and needs a singular verb.
Explain that some indefinite pronouns can be either singular or plural, depending on what they refer to in the sentence. “These pronouns are all, any, more, most, none, some, and such. For these indefinite pronouns, ask yourself if the thing the pronoun is referring to is countable or not. If it is countable, then treat the pronoun as plural. If it is not countable, then treat the pronoun as singular. For example, ‘All of the players are here.’ Because you can count the number of players, the pronoun should be considered plural and needs the plural verb are. However, for the sentence, ‘All of the sugar is gone,’ you really can’t count each grain of sugar, so you should consider the pronoun singular, which needs the singular verb is. If you’re not sure, imagine drawing the noun. How would you draw players? How would you draw sugar?” Draw or ask a student to draw sketches of players (these could be as simple as stick figures) and a mound, bag, or spoonful of sugar for the class. List these indefinite pronouns for the class and pair students to do the following activity.
“With your partner, come up with six nouns: three that are countable and three that are not. Then write six sentences using these six nouns and six of the indefinite pronouns from the class list. Circle the noun that the indefinite pronoun is referring to and underline the verb. Then illustrate the noun next to the sentence. Your drawings do not need to be elaborate; stick figures or sketches that show whether the noun is countable are all you need. When you are done, share your sentences with another group.” Once students have completed this task, ask each pair to share one of their sentences as you record it for the class. You may also want students to post their papers with their drawings around the room for everyone to see.
Ask the class to help you create a list of seven nouns that are countable (e.g., students, teachers, swings, books, shirts, siblings, friends) and seven that are not (e.g., homework, corn, mail, smoke, gravity, history, noise). Post these nouns in two columns under the headings: Countable/Plural and Uncountable/Singular. Also post the seven pronouns that can be either singular or plural depending on their subject: all, any, more, most, none, some, and such.
Have students write and illustrate 14 sentences: two sentences for each of the seven pronouns, one using a countable noun and one using an uncountable noun. In the interest of time, you may have students complete this as partners or preassemble the pronoun and noun pieces into envelopes and hand out assignments. As students work on the activity, move about the room helping students who need assistance to determine the correct form of the verb for each pronoun. Collect, evaluate, and provide feedback for this activity prior to moving to Lesson 3.
- Have students make flash cards. On one side they should write an indefinite pronoun, and on the other side write whether it is singular, plural, or can be both. Students should also write an example of the pronoun used in a sentence.
- Play a Jeopardy!-style game using flashcards for each indefinite pronoun. Divide the class into two teams. Show a card with an indefinite pronoun and have students respond by forming the question “What is plural?” or “What is singular?”