Pronouns can be very very tricky for children with language delays. Every year a good portion of the children I work with end up with pronouns as one of their therapy goals. As usual the first step is to figure what they are doing and why they are doing it. For some of the children, it’s a problem with pronunciation. They can’t pronounce he, she or they. They substitute another word that is easier for them to pronounce. For other children, it’s the fact that they have difficulties distinguishing boys from girls and so they interchange “he” and “she.” The last group uses the wrong type of pronoun. The most common mistake is using possessive pronouns for personal pronouns. These children will say “His is running” instead of “He is running.” Okay, so now you have figured out what they are doing wrong. How do you help them use the correct pronoun? Here are some ideas that I use in therapy.
1. Make it personally relevant. Children learn faster when it is relevant to their lives. In circle, I will have each child come up and we will identify if Suzy or Jonny is a he or a she. I will ask a child to come up and I will say, “Here is Suzy. Suzy is a girl. Suzy is a ‘she.'” I then go through all the kids. When I have done this a couple of time, I’ll get the children to yell out some of the answers. I will say, “Suzy is a ….” and then they respond. I also have the children sort themselves into “he” and “she”groups. The one they like the most is when I “work on” he and she. I’ll make mistakes and have the children correct me. I tend to do this when they are comfortable with the task.
2. Bombard the children with pronouns. At school we use Handwriting Without Tears and as such the children are very familiar with Matman. After we have sang the song and drawn Matman, we make up an adventure. We talk about what he needs. Usually I (or sometimes the children) will draw what he needs. For example, “Matman is outside in the rain. He needs a coat. He needs rubber boots. He needs an umbrella.” Matgirl will also make an appearance and sometimes they will both go on an adventure together.
3. Sort by he or she. You can use pictures of boys and girls. I tend to use Disney characters or Super heroes depending on the child’s preferences. This makes it more fun for the children than regular pictures of boys or girls. The children tend to want to stay longer and you can have some great conversations about the characters they are sorting. I avoid animal characters as it is confusing if they do not have “it” pronouns.
3. Use puppets. I have a few male and female puppets that come out on a regular basis and by the end of the year the children all know their names and are very excited when they come to visit. The children like it because you can make the puppets exaggerate their responses. It’s great for you because the children are learning. The kids think it’s hilarious when one of the puppets wants eat something silly. One day, Pirate Pete only wanted to eat bugs and another day, Doctor Dana only wanted green foods. Yes I tend to work on classification with the puppets too. Have the children receptively identify “he” and “she” by having the children give “he” or “she” an object. E.g. “Oh! He wants the ant.” Another way is to have the children tell you who (“he” or “she”) they are going to give/feed an object to. “Who wants the carrots?” “He wants the carrots.” Sometimes a child will have a strong preference for a particular pronoun and it can be a challenge to get them to use the other pronoun. That’s when the puppets can really “act out.” Make it so the child has to use the other pronoun by having the puppets use phrases such as “No, No, No! I don’t want that!” and/or “I really want it! Give it to me!” Children tend to be more receptive taking those types of suggestions from a puppet.
4. Use materials from Teachers Pay Teachers. There are many great products to help with pronouns on this site. I have a number of games that work on pronouns. One is called Feed the Chefs. These games help children to work on pronouns in a structured but fun way.
5. Use pronoun cards. I use these pronoun cards a lot! I like them because they have a he, she, and they version of each picture. I use them in a number of ways. The one that the children seem to like the best is jumping on the cards and then either sorting the cards or saying what the people are doing. Another favourite is placing the cards down a hallway or in the gym and have the children run around picking them up and identifying them.
6. Use in Pretend Play. I will bring out the doll house or use Melissa and Doug‘s Magnetic Dress Up sets. This gives the child a chance to use pronouns in a more natural environment. It gives you a chance to monitor how they are using their pronouns in a more natural setting.
A quick note, when working on “they” I always try to have a variety of different people together to make up the “they.” Some children have difficulties if there are only boys together, they will use “hes” or only girls together “shes”. Some children think that “they” is used only if one girl and one boy are together.