Parts of Speech - Inductively


These two exercises on the parts of speech show students that they have unconscious knowledge of parts of speech categories. The first exercise Be a Sentence shows that that knowledge is based partially on meaning and context. The second exercise Jabberwocky shows that the knowledge is based on word order (syntax) and word parts (morphology).


Lesson Plan

Introduction to Parts of Speech

1. Be a Sentence
o Goals: To get at the difference between content words and function words
o To introduce parts of speech
o To discover how parts of speech have to do with meaning, can describe content words by their meaning and function in the sentence

Hand out individual words on pieces of paper that will result in a simple sentence. Here's one:

The rabbit hopped in the tall grass

Then ask those students with the words to put themselves in order to make a good sentence. Then each person is to act out their word. 

In this example sentence, the students with rabbit, hopped, tall, and grass all will be able to act out their words fairly easily (though 'grass' might be kind of tough); the and in will be harder, if not impossible.

Here's another set of words. 

A cat is eating a bird

Here cat, eating, and bird will be easy to act out, but not a and is. 

Then discuss which words were harder to act out. You could put them into groups on the board:

rabbit the
hopped in
tall a
grass is

Ask them what makes the words in the first column easier to act out. Student responses: They mean something. They're things and actions. They also describe.

What about the other ones? Student responses: They don't mean anything. You need them, but they're hard to act out because they don't mean anything.

What can we call the kind of words in the first column? Student responses: Nouns. Verbs. Adjectives. Are nouns, verbs, and adjectives more meaningful than the other words? Yes. 

So one way we can identify nouns, verbs, and adjectives-parts of speech-is by their meaning. 

How can we describe nouns? Student responses: things, people, places, stuff you can touch
How can we describe verbs? Student responses: actions, doing-words
How can we describe adjectives? Student responses: they describe

2. Jabberwocky
o To see that meaning is not the only way we understand parts of speech-we also use our syntactic knowledge.
o To see that we use our knowledge of other pieces of the sentence to figure out categories (parts of speech).
o To understand that we already have all of this knowledge simply be being speakers of the language.

I wrote on the board this sentence from Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky:

The froobling greebies snarfed the granflons with great libidity.

We circled the words that are English words: the, the, with, great.

I then asked if there were pieces of the other words that they recognized from other English words: -ing, -(e)s, -ed, -s, -ity. (They were fast on this. I thought they might not pick them out so fast. So we talked a little about what these suffixes mean.)

I asked them what part of speech greebies is. Noun. 

How do you know it's a noun? Because it has an -s. How else? What other word nearby gives you a clue that it's a noun? The word the.
So you know that if you have a the that there will be noun nearby? Yes.

So what part of speech is froobling? Verb. Adjective. Yes, you're both right. Do verbs sometimes have -ing? Yes. Is this a verb here? No, it's describing greebies. Can you think of other words that describe nouns that have -ing? The running horse, the drinking cat, the spitting boy. So sometimes -ing words are verbs and sometimes they are adjectives? Yes, it depends on where they are in the sentence.

We did this for the other nonsense words in the sentence. !-ity was interesting since most of the suffixed !-ity words we thought of were big words-probability, fluidity-that some of the kids didn't know the meanings of. We put them in sentences to see their part of speech, though:
The probability of rain is low.

Oh, it occurs with the so it's a noun!

They also mentioned city and kitty and said that these are nouns too. They are, but how are they different? They don't mean anything when you take the -ity off. Exactly. So we have two -itys. One can attach to an adjective and make a noun, the other can't be separated from the noun.

So we go back to the Lewis Carroll sentence. How do we know the parts of speech of these words when we don't even know what the words mean? We have the other words and suffixes as clues. 

They did ask what the names for the other words are (the, in, is). We returned to the labels for these and more discussion of them in a later lesson.


Class Time Needed

1 hour


General linguistics
Language arts

Grade Level

Grades 3-5
Grades 6-8