Sometimes, a little lesson on a scratch piece of paper can go a long way. This sort of thing doesn’t have to be a big deal, and yet it really gives a child some insight into how the English language actually works.
Some children will fly right through the ‘s without thinking–skipping the apostrophe, essentially, and tacking that s sound on the end without a problem. This a sign that you are working with an intuitive reader. But some children notice these little details and they stop or stutter when they appear unexpectedly. This is the sort of child that wants–no needs–to be given some warning.
When you know your student is about to read words with the ‘s for the first time, you can talk with them first. I usually write down a short list of nouns, such as:
You can add more if you find your student still needs some practice, but three worked well for this particular student.
Here is essentially a script of what I said:
Okay, so let’s pretend I have a ball. It’s my ball. I own it. But let’s say this little boy I know doesn’t have a ball. I feel badly for him. I want to give him the ball as a gift. So I do. I give the ball to the boy, and now it’s his ball. If we describe it in a sentence, then, we can say that this ball is the–whose ball is it?
Nine times out of ten the student will say something like “the boy’s.” This is, of course, what we want. If the child acts mystified, you can fill in the blank for him.
The boy’s ball. This ball is the boy’s ball.
The important thing to do here is to add an apostrophe s (‘s) onto the end of the word as you say it the first time, and point at it each time after. I usually write it in a different color from the rest of the word. So maybe I wrote my list in blue ink, but I add the ‘s in red.
Do something similar with the next word. Maybe you have a doll and you give it to Jane. And then the next one–maybe you have a bone that you bought and when you get home from the store you give it to the dog.
Some children will invent a situation for the third word because they get it. Others need more practice. It’s not a race; just teach them as they require it.
End the lesson by saying something like:
So we add ‘s at the end to show that the thing we are talking about belongs to that person. The ball belongs to the boy–we add ‘s and this tells us it’s the boy’s ball. Same with Jane and same with the dog. The ‘s tells us to whom the object belongs.
Make sure you understand the concept well before you teach it, and you’ll be able to lead the child in a natural, brief, but helpful conversation.
And no, I didn’t bother to address the plural possessive where you only tack and apostrophe onto the end. Later on, when it came up in a reading, I just said something about how they didn’t need to add an s because that sound was already there. The child accepted this as a logical explanation with no further questions.
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