Understanding the parts of speech is a vital foundation skill for more advanced grammar concepts. Nouns, because of their role as subject or object, are particularly important. Identifying common and proper nouns comes naturally to some students, but for others it is more of a struggle. Remind your students regularly that common nouns are general and proper nouns are specific. Young students may understand the concept most easily if you describe proper nouns as names.
Write a list of nouns on the board, including common nouns and people's names. Remind your students that a noun is a person, place or thing and explain that some nouns begin with a capital letter and others with a lower-case letter. Tell them that the lower-case nouns are called common nouns and the capitalized nouns are called proper nouns.
Ask your students if they notice anything that the proper nouns on the board have in common. Guide them to the response that they are all names. Tell your students that proper nouns are names of people, places or things.
Begin adding proper nouns to the board, this time using place names, the name of your school, holiday names and so forth. Ask students whether these are names as well. If they say no, explain that they are not people's names, but they are still names of specific things.
Demonstrate the difference between a specific, proper noun and a general, common noun by writing the word "country" on one side of the board and "France" opposite it. Point out that "country" could be any country, while "France" is a specific name. Add more examples, such as comparing "day" with "Monday," "holiday" with "Thanksgiving," "river" with "Mississippi River," and "teacher" with your own name.
Hand out a list of common and proper nouns, none of them capitalized. Have students capitalize the proper nouns. Discuss the difficult ones as a class when students have finished.
- Make a board display with a list of confusing common and proper nouns, so students can refer to it for in-class writing until they memorize the rules. Include the seasons as common nouns and the distinction between a job description and a title. For example, include the word "principal" as a common noun and the name of your school's principal as a proper noun.
- Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images