How to Teach Pronouns to ESL Students

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Teaching pronouns is an important part of any beginning level English curriculum. It's important to teach pronoun usage during the early stages when students are learning basic sentence construction. The opportune moment for this comes after teaching basic sentences with "be" and some simple sentences with the present simple. At that point, students should be able to identify various parts of speech—at least basic verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. Take this as a starting point to explore the role of subjects, objects, and possession as you introduce pronouns and possessive adjectives.

Subject Pronouns: Start by Using What Students Already Know

Before you begin introducing pronouns, review what students have already learned. To measure students' understanding, it is helpful to start by asking them to give some examples of nouns and verbs. Pronouns should only be introduced after students have a basic understanding of the verb "to be" and some other simple sentences have been acquired. 

Here is an exercise to help students begin to learn subject pronouns: 

  • Write a few basic sentences on the board making sure to use full names or objects.

Mary is an excellent teacher.
The computer is expensive.
Peter and Tom are students at this school.
The apples are very good.

  • Next, Write both singular and plural subjects with proper names and with objects.

She is an excellent teacher.
It is expensive.
They are students at this school.
They are very good.

  • Ask students which words have been replaced by new words.
  • Explain that pronouns replace proper names and nouns such as "David," "Anna and Susan," "the book," etc.
  • Ask students which pronouns would replace different names and objects. Make sure to switch between singular and plural subject pronouns.

At this point, students will be able to produce subject pronouns quite easily and unconsciously. Instead of worrying them about grammar names, it is a good moment to move on to object pronouns.

Object Pronouns: Point to Sentence Position

One of the easiest ways to introduce object pronouns is by looking at the placement of verbs within basic sentences. The following exercise should be useful in teaching object pronouns:

  • Put up columns for subject pronouns and object pronouns. Write basic sentences up on the board within the chart.
  • Knowing that object pronouns generally follow verbs, discuss which pronouns come before and after the verbs within the sentences you've written on the board.
  • Once students recognize the differences, explain that object pronouns generally follow verbs. Also, point out that subject pronouns begin sentences.
  • Once again, write examples on the board with proper names and full nouns to show the difference between singular and plural object pronouns, as well as the difference between objects and people.

I bought a book yesterday.
Mary gave Peter a present.
The parents drove the children to school.
Tim picked up the soccer balls.

  • Ask students to identify which words have been replaced and which pronouns replace them.

I bought it yesterday.
Mary gave him a present.
The parents drove them to school.
Tim picked them up.

  • Ask students to help you with further replacements, just as you have done with subject pronouns.
  • Put up two columns: One with subject pronouns and the other with object pronouns. Leave one type blank.
  • Ask students to copy the chart filling in the blanks with the missing subject or object pronouns.
  • Correct as a class.

Possessive Pronouns and Adjectives: Rounding out the Chart

Possessive pronouns and adjectives can be introduced in a similar manner. Write a few examples on the board, and then ask students to help you fill in an expanded chart including subject and object pronouns, as well as adding possessive pronouns and possessive adjectives.

Pronoun Chart

Subject Pronoun Object Pronoun Possessive Adjective Possessive Pronoun
I me
you your yours
him
her hers
it its
their

My book is on the table. It is mine.
Their bags are in the hall. They are theirs.

  • Ask students to complete similar sentences with you while you fill in the chart.

Completed Pronoun Chart

Subject Pronoun Object Pronoun Possessive Adjective Possessive Pronoun
I me my mine
you you your yours
he him his his
her her her hers
it it its ours
they them their theirs

It's important to introduce these two forms together to help students understand the use of the possessive adjective WITH nouns and possessive pronoun WITHOUT nouns. Comparing the two in two sentences does the job well.

At this point, students will have been introduced to pronouns and possessive adjectives as well as gained insight into sentence structure.

Exercises and Activities

Use a learning pronouns lesson plan to follow along with the details outlined in this guide on how to teach pronouns and print a pronoun types page for reference in your classroom.