How to Teach Apostrophes
Teaching apostrophes can be difficult. How about a little story to help you better explain them to your children? (Apostrophes and contractions are two of the most boring teaching topics I can think of). Again, our rules of thumb are to:
My students always had a really hard time understanding the use of apostrophes, both in making contractions and in possessive tense. I had to use little drawings and stories to drive the learning home in a way the children would remember.
I earnestly told my children that contractions began in Wordville, a small town in the Himalayan Mountains. In that small town was a cranky woman who wore black and very pointy boots. We are not certain why she was cranky, but we suspect that she was lonely and really didn’t understand that being cranky and scary did not make her less lonely.
One day she was lurking around the town square and saw two citizens of Wordville chatting happily in the market. Here they are:
The cranky woman who wore black and really pointy boots just couldn’t stand it. She flew into a rage, gave a mighty kick, and this is what happened:
Now, in spite of the fact that Mr. He was a bit nervous at this point, he felt very sorry for Mr. Is, who was now only half there, so he called, “Come here and stand by me!”
And so the half of Mr. Is that was left, gladly came to stand by Mr. He, but the friends never forgot the boot that brought them together!
As for the cranky woman who wore black and super pointy boots? She was still lonely and still kicked her black pointy boots, sometimes so hard that several letters were lost!
And this is precisely how contractions came to be. Really.
Possessive tense can be very confusing for young children. My students had a terrible time distinguishing between possessive and the plural form of a word. "Boys vs. boy’s," "houses vs. house’s," "Moms vs. Mom’s" proved to be too much for their tender brains. Just telling the kids to use an apostrophe for possession didn’t cut it either, for some reason. Oh, that’s right. Just telling a child a rule to remember doesn’t work a lot of the time. A child would think, “I remember you are supposed to use the apostrophe for one of them, but I can’t remember which!”
That’s when we refer back to our little list of rules.
…More than one. Show the children a visual that shows the plural of a word. In our example, we are showing what “boys” and “Moms” mean (more than one of them). Our visual shows four boys and three moms.
…Belonging. In our visual, we see a boy and a dog. The word is “boy’s” and the boy’s arm reaching toward the dog is the visual for the apostrophe. In the second instance, Mom’s arm represents the visual for the apostrophe as well.
Act It Out
Have each child find something to “possess.” If Rosanna picks up a doll, she will say, “This is Rosanna’s doll.” Her arm would be around the doll showing she possesses the doll. If you have three children, you could put the doll on the rug and have one child pick it up as though finding it laying there lost. He would ask, “Whose doll is this?” One of the other children would answer, “It’s Rosanna’s doll.” Then the child who found the doll would give it to Rosanna who would wrap her arm around it, showing it belonged to her.
One Sticking Point
It gets a bit tricky when it comes to “its” and “it’s.” In this case, “its” shows possession, while “it’s” is a contraction of “it” and “is.” A clue to share with the kids is that when reading the sentence, if it makes sense to change “it’s” to “it is,” then they are dealing with a contraction.
Example: “Look, it’s Tom!” or “The dog hurt its foot.” It makes perfect sense to say, “It is Tom,” but it doesn’t make sense to say, “The dog hurt it is foot.”
Play a Game
To let children practice writing the possessive, write the names of the children in the class on the board, or if the names are displayed on the word wall, instruct the class to choose the name of a classmate, and then choose an object that will belong to that person. They can write “Jane’s bear” and illustrate it. Next they will choose another name and another object to write and illustrate. Depending on the amount of time you have, children could cut pictures of objects out of old magazines and use them in their illustrations.