Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hints or is it Hint's?


I recently had a student stop reading and in absolute confusion ask, "Why do they have that s there?" It took me a second to understand what she was talking about, until I realized she was looking at a possessive noun. I pointed out the apostrophe and she said, "Oh, I didn't look up there."  Apostrophes can be confusing for some children, especially children with dyslexia. So although children are taught when to use an apostrophe in school here are some rules for reinforcement at home.

Apostrophes are used in possessives and contractions. They are not used when making a word plural. 
Possessives refer to possessions or what you own.  I use to do the first lesson on possessives asking children what they owned and putting their name with their possessions: i.e. Kim's bike, or Mike's dog.  Later on, I would remind a child with the question,"What do you own?"  and they would quickly add an apostrophe saying "Oh possessive."  

A child must be able to identify singular and plural nouns before they can apply the apostrophe rules for possessives.

To make a singular noun possessive you add  's  regardless of the last letter of the noun. 
  •  Examples: cat - cat's toy
    • bus - bus's wheels
    • Jess - Jess's dog
To make a plural noun possessive you add an 's  if the noun does NOT end in s
  • Example: Children - Children's playground
    • mice - mice's home
If the plural ends with the letter  s  you just add an apostrophe
  • Example:  dogs' park
Remind a child this is only for nouns - not possessive pronouns.  There is not an apostrophe used in the words his, hers, ours, or its.  This is important because many people confuse the possessive its with the contraction it's (it is)! Two other words that get often get confused are who's (Who is) and whose (Whose sweater is this?)


Contractions are often on spelling word lists and we all know spelling words aren't always carried over to composition skills.  The problem with contractions is that many children aren't sure where to put the apostrophe. 

I use to teach the definition of contraction by having children stand up and expand - stretching arms out as far as possible and then contract - making themselves as small as possible while standing.  Then we would do  Simon Says expand, contract, expand, contract, giving the children a fun physical reinforcement of the vocabulary. I would then explain and show that a contraction combines two words making a smaller word. This is done by having the apostrophe replace the letter you take out.  Examples:

  •  Do not - don't  (replaces the o)
  • Is not - isn't
Many children learn contractions before they are developmentally ready to consistently apply the rules, so give them gentle reminders and time. There are a few exceptions to the rule. The contraction  'would not' (won't) doesn't follow the rule of putting the apostrophe where you have left out the letters. Fortunately won't rhymes with don't which makes it easy to learn. 

I introduced this post with a problem a child had reading a contraction. Some children have difficulty with interpreting an apostrophe. One example is could've, would've and should've. These are contractions in which the second word is have. Unfortunately, because of the way they are pronounced many children end up interpreting it as could of.  Another common problem is when a contraction includes a noun, such as the woman's angry. We know it means the woman is angry, but we teach that a noun with an apostrophe is possessive.  Most children understand that the woman was angry, but if your child asks, just say that you have to read the entire sentence to understand some contractions. 

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