How to teach possessive adjectives
Summary: Simple and fun ways of teaching and practising "my", "your", "his", "her", "its", "our" and "their", with 16 possessive adjective games.
Especially for young learners, the possessive adjectives “his”, “our”, etc might be the first thing like an actual grammar point that they have come across in class. This article gives tips on presenting and practising the language so simply and smoothly that they won’t think of it as grammar at all.
Common student problems with possessive adjectives
Students coming to this point for the first time are often not completely comfortable with all the subject pronouns yet. For example, they may have to think carefully before being able to correctly use “we” or “they”. You might therefore want to limit yourself to just the basic possessive adjectives “my”, “your”, “his” and “her” for at least the first lesson on this grammar.
Students can often get confused between “his” and “her”, maybe because of differences with L1, but perhaps just because “her” looks a lot like “he”. Other mix ups with L1 can include wanting to use different forms with plural nouns (“hers hats” X), wanting to use a different form for “your” when “you” is more than one person, wanting to use different forms of “their” for more than one male and for more than one female, and wanting to use different forms for “our” including the person listening (= “my and your”) and for “our” talking about the speaker and one other person (“my and his” or “my and her”). At the most extreme end, there might also be students who try to make forms like “The cat of me” and “The bed of he” to match their own language. In my experience, all of these problems can be solved by eliciting and explaining with the right kind of context, lots of drilling, and lots of meaningful controlled speaking and writing practice in the ways explained here.
A problem that students share with native speakers is mixing up “its” and “it’s”. If that is a problem, it can help to point out that “his” is not “hi’s” and that an apostrophe usually means two words combined, because “it’s” is “it is” whereas “its” is one word, just like “my”, “her” or “our”.
The other common native speaker problem which some students share is mixing up the spelling of “their”, “there” and “they’re. This is an unsurprisingly problem as all three are homophones. The confusion between the homophones “your” and “you’re” is also possible, although less common. “Our” and “hour” are also homophones, but that is unlikely to be a problem.
Some students might also have problems with understanding and producing the right one in the related minimal pairs “his”/ “he’s”, “its”/ “eats”, “your”/ “yo”, “his”/ “fizz”, “her”/ “fur/ fir”, etc.
As possessive adjectives are more common and useful in young learner classes than object pronouns, it might well be that students who are studying “my” and “his” don’t yet know “me” and “him”. This is not a big problem and it can often be more logical to teach the forms in this order, but it does mean that you can’t use what is perhaps the most common way of drilling these forms, namely “I me my, you you your” etc. Instead, you can just drill “I my, you your” etc. It is also possible to have the opposite problems of students who have already learnt the whole of “I me my mine, you you your yours” etc list, perhaps without really understanding what they have learnt. Those students can have problems drilling any smaller part of that list. Again, this is not a huge problem, and it is well worth practising until they can do parts of the smaller drilling list as a first step towards actually understanding what they have learnt.
Presenting possessive adjectives
Students who come to this grammar point for the first time often already know “What’s your name?” “My name is…”, so a good way into possessive adjectives can be extending that to “What’s my/ his/ her/ its name?” and “What are our/ their names?” The most obvious and easiest way of drilling this is by students testing each other on the names of everyone in the class, perhaps including the class pet, the characters on posters in the classroom, etc. If they know each other very well, this can be extended to “What’s his mother’s name?”, “What are our pets’ names?” etc. You can also get them to test each other with pictures of famous people, cartoon characters, etc. There are game versions of this in the practice activities section below which could then be the next stage of the class.
Another good way into this grammar point is to give them a need to use the forms to communicate, and then to present whatever language they don’t know. A nice way into this is to take something from a student’s desk such as their book, mix it up with your own book then try to give them back the wrong one. When they shout out “No!” try to get them to explain why with sentences like “This is your book” and/ or “That is my book”. If they can’t come up with the correct possessive adjective form, you could ask “What’s your name?” and then “Which is your book?” straight after to try and get the same “My… is…” form in both answers. You can then ask another student to correctly identify his own pencil, your pencil, the pencil of a male student, and the pencil of a female student. You could then move into one of the games below that involve classroom objects.
See below for useful gestures for eliciting and practising possessive adjectives.
Drilling possessive adjectives
As mentioned above, it is well worth some time drilling “I (me) my, you (you) your” etc until students get the hang of the basic forms. As I often point to myself, the person speaking, a picture of a girl etc when I elicit and drill “I you he she” etc, I vary that gesture when eliciting and practising “my your his her” etc by curling my hand as if I am holding something. This gesture helps indicate possession of something and fits in naturally with sentences about possessions like “This is my teddy”.
As well as the game ideas below, ways of making drilling “I my” etc as a class more fun include suddenly flashing up or slowly revealing an object or body part which belongs to someone (real or imaginary), showing the silhouette of something, or showing something through a bag or other fabric.
Fun classroom practice activities for possessive adjectives
Possessive adjectives drilling games
More game-like activities to practise the basic forms of possessive adjectives include:
- Throwing a ball back and forth, perhaps with the rules of tennis or volleyball about who “serves” (with the subject pronoun), how you can score points, when you end the game, etc.
- One student throwing and catching or bouncing a ball on their own, seeing how far they can get through the list
- Building a tower of blocks until it falls down, with one block for the subject pronoun then one block for the possessive adjective each time
- One person going through the list and suddenly stopping, and the other student(s) racing to say the correct next word
Possessive adjective practice games
My name your name his name drawing game
Students draw themselves, their partner, other people in the class such as the teacher, famous people, fictional characters, cartoon characters etc, and their partner tries to say that person’s name in a correct sentence, e.g. “His name is Mickey Mouse”, “Your name is Alex” and “Its name is Wall-E”. As with the Wall-E version, it can be interesting include some whose (lack of) gender is debateable. The game is most amusing if they only have names to choose from when they try to draw, but you might want to have pictures ready that they can at least glance at to help if they are otherwise likely to be slow getting started with their drawings.
Possessive adjectives feeling games
Students try to identify things with their eyes closed and/ or feeling inside a bag. They then try to say the right possessive adjective sentence about that thing, e.g. “It’s his hair” with a male lion’s hair, “It’s my pencil” with stationery, “It’s your little finger” with body parts, etc. I managed to do this in a one to one class by putting some of the stationery in front of a male puppet and a female puppet, then adding some of my own and the student’s real things to the bag, but I had to take a photo on my mobile of each person’s stuff in case I forgot myself which things was supposed to belong to which!
Possessive adjectives combinations drawing game
Give students at least three or four pictures of people, animals, monsters, robots, etc. One student decides how he wants to combine parts of those things to make an amusing picture and tells their partner how to do so with sentences like “I want her eyes, its neck, his mouth, and his teeth”. The person who was listening then adds those things to a picture. You might want to limit one person to choosing just three or four parts, then ask the person who was drawing to choose the same number of things for the next person to add to the picture, continuing moving around the group until the picture is finished. Students can then vote on the most amusing picture in the class.
You can add “my” and “your” plus more personalised use of “his” and “her” to this game by also allowing them to choose real things in the class to be drawn as well (“I want his shoes” while pointing at a male student, etc). Plurals can be added by allowing them to add more than one of each object, e.g. two noses if they say “our noses”.
The same game can be played with cut up pictures from magazines, or printed up and cut up pictures from the internet, but the drawing version is quicker, simpler and probably more fun.
Possessive adjectives classroom pictures
Students take photos around class of things belonging to someone which are difficult to identify from that image, e.g. a photo of the sole of someone’s shoe. If possible, they should take such photos without other people noticing what they are snapping. They then take turns choosing one of those photos and asking “What’s this?”, to which the reply should be something like “It’s your knee”, “It’s her hair” and, if they were really sneaky about taking the photos, “It’s my pocket”. If you don’t have the technology available and/ or you don’t want students to use their phones in class, the same game can also be played with students drawing the things, either as a preparation stage or while the people who are guessing are watching them draw it.
Possessive adjectives TPR race
Students to rush to touch the right thing when they hear “It’s my chair” (meaning the chair of the person who is speaking), “It’s her leg” (meaning another, female, person’s leg) and “It’s your little finger” (meaning the finger of the person who is racing to touch the right thing). You can also make it more like the well-known TPR game Simon Says by saying things which aren’t in the class such as “It’s my elephant”, perhaps with points off for people who move when something nonsensical like that is said.
Possessive adjectives problem solving
Make a list of things that can be used to solve lots of problems, for instance a penknife, a roll of masking tape, three plastic bags, and a stapler. Divide the objects between four worksheets with at least eight or ten objects on each, as words and/ or drawings. You can put some objects on more than one worksheet if you don’t have enough different ones. Draw a girl on one worksheet and a boy on another one of the worksheets. Put students in pairs, put the other two worksheets in front of each of them, then put the boy and girl worksheets face up on the table next to them to make a square with all four worksheets. The two students take turns using at least two things on any of the worksheets to make things and/ or solve problems, describing whose objects they are using as they do so with sentences like “I’m going to use my sticks, his plastic sheet, your string and her nails to make a tent”. If the other student agrees that what they said seems possible, they get one point for each object that they used and those things are crossed off the worksheets. You can give them ideas for problems to solve (on another worksheet or on cards), or students can just come up with their own ideas for what they want to do with the objects.
The game can also be played with ingredients to make food. You can also add “its”, “their” and/ or “our” with extra worksheets, with “our” being a worksheet placed between the two students, “their” being a sheet with two people drawn on it, and “its” having something without gender like a robot drawn on it.
Possessive adjectives pelmanism
Make a pack of cards with one word and/ or picture on each, preferably things that the students might really have and/ or want such as a house, a cat, a motorbike and a smartphone. Put the students into groups of three to five, with mixed genders of students in each group if at all possible. Ask students to deal out the cards between them and then to put their cards face up on the table in front of them. They should try to memorise all the cards, then each person turns their cards face down. One student turns to the person on their left and asks them for one card from each person in the group, e.g. “I want my hat, her dog, your boat and his boots”. The person who was given that instruction can pick one card in front of each person in the group and gets one point for each one that matches what they were asked for. The rest of the cards go back in the places that they were taken from. All the cards are turned face up so people can try to memorise them again, then they are turned face down. The game is repeated in the same way until all the cards are gone or the teacher stops the game.
It’s less fun and not so communicative, but it is also possible to play a more traditional pelmanism memory game with cards with the same objects with pictures of a girl, a boy, two people etc next to each object. Students get a point if they can find and describe the same object with different people (“This is her car and this is his car”) and/ or different objects with the same possessive adjective (“This is their house and this is their horse” etc).
Possessive adjectives pick and draw
Make some cards with single words on that can be put together to make sentences with possessive adjectives that describe pictures, e.g. “His” “head” “is” “big”. The activity works best if you just have one word per card. Students take turns choosing cards to make sentences in order to be able to add that thing to a big picture, e.g. one drawn on the whiteboard. For example, if they can make the sentence “Your eyes are big”, they can draw large eyes on a picture of their partner.
If you want to avoid cutting up bits of paper, this game can also be played with students crossing such words off a worksheet as they make sentences, as long as the words are sufficiently mixed up on the worksheet to make the task challenging for the students. You can continue the activity by students making any sentences that they like with possessive adjectives, so that they can add things to the picture which they think are desirable or amusing like “My muscles are big”.
Possessive adjectives stations
Students listen to a full sentence, blanked sentence or single word and race to touch something representing what they hear or what should be in the gap. For example, students can race to run and touch cards on opposite walls saying “his” and “he’s” if the teacher says one of those two words, “His trousers are leather” or “He’s a teacher”, or “Blank hair is brown” or “Blank a fireman”. As well as touching walls, students can race to slap one of the two cards on their table, hold up cards, hold up one of their two arms (or other body parts), point at the two cards on the board, throw paper planes at the two things on the board, etc. This works with different possessive pronouns such as “his” and “her”, minimal pairs like “his” and “fizz” and homophones like “their” and “there”/ “they’re” (for more advanced classes).
Possessive adjectives passing game
Students sit in a circle with one object belonging to them each in the middle of the circle. After people have tried to memorise what is there, they take back their own thing, hide that in their hands, and pass the objects around the circle as secretly as possible. This is easier (but perhaps too easy) if you allow them to hide and pass behind their backs. They can pass in both directions, and it’s okay for one person to be holding two or more objects at one time. When the teacher says “Stop”, the students take turns saying “You have my ruler”, “You have his rubber”, etc, with one person making sentences until they say something wrong. The person guessing is given each thing that they say correctly, and each thing that they get represents one point. Anything that someone is still holding without anyone guessing correctly at the end of the game also gets one point for it.
Possessive adjectives bluffing
This is based on a television game show in which three people all say that they have the same job and the audience have to work out which one is telling the truth. This version is played with objects instead of jobs. Take one object from each person in the class and put all of them in one bag. One student takes one object from the bag and says “This is my (pencil case)”. Perhaps after the other students asking them questions about it like “Do you like red?” and “What’s this character’s name?” the next student has to guess if it is really their thing or not – with that being particularly easy if they can “That’s not true. It’s MY (pencil case)!” If it isn’t really their object, the person whose object it is can also ask questions about it, but obviously the game is ruined if they tell other people guessing that the person speaking is lying, so this game does rely on having students who won’t cheat!
Possessive adjectives video activity
Students watch a video and shout out whenever they think they can see someone or some people and something that belongs to those people in the same shot, e.g. “That is his car” or “That is their son”. They get one point for each thing that the whole class decides must be true, either logically or from what they see later in the video. To make this more than practice of just “his” and “her”, try to choose a bit of video with things that people have together (including family members) and/ or an animal etc which could be “it”.