While identifying common and proper nouns may be easily mastered by some students, others struggle with the concepts behind them. Teaching students to properly identify and use these types of nouns can be accomplished through several effective activities. These activities do not require expensive materials or extensive preparation and can go a long way in helping students develop this basic skill.

Quick Thinking

Prepare and provide a list of common nouns for the students. As quickly as possible, have the students verbally give as many common nouns as they can think of that are associated with the listed items. For example, if the listed common noun is jewelry store, students might provide necklaces, broaches, lights, cash register and clerk as common nouns.

Prepare and provide another list of proper nouns and have the students do the same activity. Make sure the students understand that proper nouns are always capitalized.

Flash Cards

To help students grasp the principles behind common and proper nouns, help each student construct a flash card for each type of noun. Using a 3-by-5 index card or a paper cutout, have the student write "common noun" on one side and the common noun's principle and examples on the other side, emphasizing that common nouns are never capitalized. Do the same for a proper-name flash card, emphasizing that proper nouns are always capitalized.

Fill-in List

Prepare and provide each student with a list of common nouns with enough space for five examples to be written under each item. Have students provide five examples of proper nouns associated with the listed common noun. Provide examples directly under the listed common noun or proper nouns that might be listed, but encourage students to come up with their own examples. For instance, if the common noun provided is "man," list a proper noun example (e.g., George W. Bush) and have the student fill in the other five lines. This activity can be modified for use on a white or blackboard.


If teaching in a classroom setting, this activity will provide students a competitive activity that teaches them the difference between common and proper nouns at the same time. Provide each student with a pencil, divide them into two teams and have each team sit in a circle. Place a sheet of paper in front of one student on each team, then call out a common noun. Each student will then write one proper noun on the sheet of paper before passing it to the next student. Give the teams one minute to come up with as many examples as possible and reward the winning team with an appropriate bonus (points, stickers, etc.). Alternate between common and proper nouns for better effectiveness.