Exciting ESL Activities for Practicing Pronouns

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For ESL students, pronouns provide a great way to liven up speech or make written text flow more naturally, because they can substitute for nouns and help avoid repetition. Therefore, it’s important to enrich the vocabulary of your students by teaching pronouns in a fun, engaging way. This important for all English teachers, but especially for those Teaching English as a Second Language

ESL games and activities can go a long way when you’re teaching English to kids. The same goes for more specific lessons, like learning pronouns.

There are six types of pronouns in English: personal, demonstrative, indefinite, emphatic, reflexive, and relative. In this article you will get familiar with various pronoun activities for your next ESL pronoun lesson.

Teaching Personal Pronouns To ESL Students

pronoun activities

Personal pronouns are the most widely used pronouns. As the name suggests, they represent a person – first person (I, we), second person (you), and third person (he, she, it, they). Third person pronouns are most useful, because they can replace common nouns. Therefore, a great ESL personal pronoun activity would be to give the students some simple sentences that introduce some nouns.

You can then ask the students to describe nouns and use the third person pronouns to replace them, instead of repeating the same noun. For example, “This is my book. It is very interesting.” instead of “This is my book. The book is very interesting.”

Teaching Demonstrative Pronouns To ESL Students

Demonstrative pronouns are used to replace specific nouns. There are only four of them in English – this, that, these, and those. They sound pretty similar and thus can be confusing for some ESL students, so your task is to explain the differences between demonstrative pronouns in a clear and transparent manner.

Actually, it is quite easy to do with an ESL pronoun activity using some real-life objects, such as books and chairs:

  1. Put a book near the students and place a chair away from them in the classroom.
  2. Point to the book and say “This is a book.”
  3. Point to the chair and say “That is a chair.”
  4. Swap the book and the chair and ask the students to define these objects by using demonstrative pronouns, so they can understand that the difference is related to the distance.
  5. Add another book and another chair to practice the plurals.
  6. Point to the books and say “These are books.”
  7. Point to the chairs and say “Those are chairs.”
  8. Again, swap the books and the chairs, or other objects that you may be using, and ask the students to define the objects by using the plural form of demonstrative pronouns. 

Teaching Indefinite Pronouns To ESL Students

teaching pronouns

Indefinite pronouns can also replace nouns, but only those nouns that do not refer to something specific. Sound confusing? It is. But examples can help remove this confusion.

Some examples of indefinite pronouns are: everybody/anybody, everyone/anyone, everything, anything, nothing, nobody, someone/somebody. One of pronoun activities that can help you remember some indefinite pronouns and distinguish between them is “The Story of Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody,” which can be easily found on the internet. There are even various YouTube cartoons that illustrate this story, so you can watch them in the classroom as well. Such stories “humanize” the pronouns, making them easier to member. Later, when the students understand the difference, you can ask them to come up with their own indefinite pronoun stories.

Teaching Emphatic and Reflexive Pronouns To ESL Students

Both emphatic and reflexive pronoun types are identified by the following words: myself, ourselves, himself, herself, itself, and themselves. However, emphatic and reflexive pronouns have slightly different functions. Emphatic pronouns add emphasis to the sentence subject, whereas reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and object of the verb refer to the same noun. Let’s compare these two examples to see the difference:

Martha bought a new car herself, because no one else had time to do that.

Martha won the lottery and bought herself a new car.

In the first sentence, herself identifies that Martha bought a car on her own, without any help. However, it does not identify that Martha owns this car – it could be a family car, a corporate car, etc. In the second sentence, however, herself identifies that Martha now owns the car that she bought.

One of emphatic and reflexive pronoun ESL activities can be asking the students to find the differences between emphatic and reflexive pronouns. To spice up this ESL pronoun activity, you can ask the students to extend the sentences with explanations that point out the nature of the pronoun. If we return to our previous example, you can give the students only the short version of the sentences:

Martha bought a new car herself.

Martha bought herself a new car.

And then the students can come up with explanations about the lottery, etc.

Teaching Relative Pronouns To ESL Students

Relative pronouns such as that, who, whom, which, and whose introduce a relative clause in a sentence and connect the clause to a noun. Relative pronouns are subdivided into subjective (who), objective (whom), and possessive (whose) types. To memorize relative pronouns, your students can work in pairs and fill in the missing pronouns in an ESL pronoun worksheet. You can also tweak some of the ESL pronoun activities above and apply them to relative pronouns.

Now you know how to teach pronouns in a fun way and are armed with ESL pronoun activities that will liven up the speech of your students.


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