Montessori Essentials: Symbolic Grammar: Nouns

It’s that time again! Time for learning the parts of speech! In Montessori schools, we have a lot of fun with nouns, verbs and adjectives because of something called Symbolic Grammar–a system Maria Montessori developed wherein each part of speech was given a different color and symbol to represent it. The Montessori system of learning language is particularly vivid (and hands-on) and, in my experience, never fails to attract students. Giving a symbol to each part of speech gives them a visual memory to go with the definition. They never forget that a noun is a big, black triangle!

Courtesy of Cultivating Dharma

Grammar Chart Courtesy of Cultivating Dharma

When introducing Symbolic Grammar (and, indeed, the parts of speech), I always start with the noun. This is because the noun is the bedrock of the English language. Also, nouns are the easiest part of speech for students to connect with since they interact with them every day. They can experience many nouns using their five senses: touch, taste, sound, smell and sight.

The standard line is that nouns are people, places, things and ideas. Nouns are naming words (the word “noun” comes from the French “nom”, meaning name). Most students can parrot these two statements about nouns, so we have a little activity to help them recognize what nouns actually are. It’s called “Nouns in the Classroom” and it looks like this:

Nouns in the Classroom

Nouns in the Classroom

The focus of this lesson, of course, was Concrete Nouns (those people, places, things and ideas) rather than Abstract Nouns (ideas and emotions). The students made a list of Nouns/Objects they could see in the Classroom. Then I gave them each a Big Black Triangle so they could label a noun in the room–either from their list or a new one. I wouldn’t let them put black triangles on each other (to their eternal disappointment), but we discussed students and teachers both being the people part of Nouns in the Classroom. One turned out not to be enough! So I quickly made a tray:

Nouns in the Classroom Tray

Nouns in the Classroom Work

The tray consisted of two white pencils, a roll of masking tape, black construction paper and my triangle stencil. If students wanted to continue to label nouns in the classroom, I told them, they were free to make their own Big Black Triangles. And they did! Big Black Triangles started popping up left and right. It was an excellent start to Symbolic Grammar.

Here are a few books about nouns that I use in my classroom:


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