esl-pronouns

6 Enticing ESL Activities for Making Pronouns Stick

Wish you could create grammar lessons as appetizing as sugary treats?

Well, you absolutely can!

You don’t have to subject your students to boring, force-fed explanations of how English works.

In fact, you can’t afford to be boring—if you don’t make the language fun and accessible, it’ll never stick!

In this post, I’ll show you how to sweeten up one challenging but crucial part of English grammar: pronouns.

Pronouns are essential to English language growth and will be useful to your students in many ways.

Understanding where a pronoun can be substituted for a noun will make their speech and writing smoother and give their confidence a boost.

But how do you make sure those pronouns stick?

Just pointing them out isn’t enough.

You have to make them worth paying attention to, and you have to give your students opportunities to start putting them to use right away.

It’s vital for you to cover all the various aspects of pronouns and how each type can be useful in different contexts.

But don’t worry, we’ll go over how to do all of that!

Let’s take a look at the significance of pronouns and how you can cover all the essential pronoun-based ground with your students.

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The Importance of Pronouns

Prolific pronouns are not only personal.

Try saying that 10 times fast!

Pronouns can be easily overlooked in ESL, especially when it comes to introducing all the various pronoun types that are crucial for filling out your students’ vocabulary and general understanding of how the language works.

As an ESL teacher, you need to go into depth when discussing pronouns with your students, adding more than the usual suspects (personal pronouns), and crafting grammar-heavy lesson plans that are still fun and appealing.

First, let’s take a quick look at what a pronoun really is. A pronoun is essentially a replacement word for the many wonderful nouns we use in the English language.

You can think of them as the back-up quarterback doing the job of the star quarterback. This is a great general metaphor to convey what a pronoun is to your students. You can use soccer or the other kind of football, depending on where you’re teaching English when discussing pronouns.

The noun is the main or star player and the pronoun is the subbed-in player who fills in from time to time during the match.

Pronouns refer to nouns previously mentioned in the same sentence or a sentence used earlier in speech or writing. When we replace a word with a pronoun, the word becomes an antecedent.

Pronouns allow your students to introduce a noun and then replace it to avoid repeating the noun over and over. This technique adds flow and will help your students write or speak more naturally, like native English speakers.

The various types of pronouns can be surprising or confusing to your students, so taking it slow and covering one pronoun type at a time will prove most useful for their overall comprehension.

Here are the pronouns we’ll cover in more detail:

  • Personal
  • Demonstrative
  • Indefinite
  • Intensive
  • Reflexive
  • Relative

When teaching pronouns, you can add a lot of great ESL sub-skills into your lesson plan. Your students will discover the usefulness of pronouns in writing and speaking, which will allow them to build confidence and grow.

It’s always an excellent plan to add as much communicative learning into a grammar lesson as possible. This will keep your students engaged in the new material throughout the lesson, since any mention of grammar can easily turn their attention elsewhere.

If you’re looking for more ways to keep learning interactive and exciting, make sure to check out FluentU, an online immersion platform that takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. Not only does FluentU offer video, but it offers scaffolding that isn’t available anywhere else; students will find authentic content approachable and within reach.

These interactive activities keep lessons exciting and promote a communicative atmosphere in the classroom. Getting your students involved will make your presentation easier and help them build knowledge together as a class.

6 Enticing ESL Activities for Making Pronouns Stick

1. Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns are the most common pronouns in the English language. Your students should already have a bit of knowledge when it comes time for a personal pronoun lesson. They may already be using personal pronouns without even knowing there is a specific name attached to them.

Personal pronouns represent a person or thing being discussed or described.

They come in a few different shapes and sizes: Singular, plural, first, second and third person.

Have students pick out nouns around the room as you write them on the board. After all the types of personal pronouns are represented, have your students label each item with its designated pronoun. You can build on those pronouns by having your students write short sentences, utilizing the noun first and following it up with correct pronoun use.

Here are a couple examples:

“I have my notebookIt is full of notes.” (The notebook becomes the antecedent in this example.)

Tim sits next to me. He is my friend.” (Here, Tim becomes the antecedent.)

This interactive activity is great for all your students to engage in together, making sentences using the nouns they picked out in the classroom. This promotes communicative learning and speaking skills. It can also be used to introduce a few simple adjectives. Challenging your students to practice first, second and third person pronouns is a great way to hold their interest as well.

2. Demonstrative Pronouns

Demonstrative pronouns are used to shed light on people, things, animals, places, thoughts and/or ideas.

The list of demonstrative pronouns is short and this material can be used in one lesson or along with another pronoun lesson.

Demonstrative pronouns include this and that (singular) as well as those and these (plural). It is important to show your students the correct times to use the plural demonstrative pronouns, as misunderstanding this point is a common problem for ESL students.

A great way to teach demonstrative pronouns is to focus on the near vs. far aspect associated with them. Using “this” refers to something near, and “that” refers to something farther away. For this lesson, you’ll need to make use of your whole classroom.

The best way to keep things organized is to use the same objects throughout the activity. This helps to avoid confusion. You may have to bring in material from home, so make sure to plan ahead. Using cups of different sizes, shapes and color gives you the option to incorporate adjectives into this lesson after your students understand the main concept.

Here is an outline of this activity:

1. Place one cup in front of you and another cup on a desk across the room.

2. Ask the students what you have in front of you. They will of course reply, “A cup.”

3. You will reply with, “Yes, this is a cup.”

4. Ask the students what is on the desk across the room. They will reply, “A cup.”

5. You will tell them, “Great, that is a cup.”

6. After your demonstration, you can highlight the importance distance plays when using the demonstrative pronouns “this” and “that.”

For the demonstrative pronouns “these” and “those,” just add more cups to your demonstration and your students will immediately pick up on the concepts. Incorporating adjectives is a great way to get more communicative learning going.

Pair up your students and have them write about the different cups or cup near them and away from them as you mix and match your visual aids.

3. Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns are the words we use to replace nouns with no real identifier. Indefinite pronouns can often be confusing since they rarely specify a specific thing, so patience is key when teaching this pronoun. Before beginning your indefinite pronoun activity, give your students a working list of the different types of indefinite pronouns, both singular and plural. This can be used as a guide for them to draw information from during the activity.

Here are a few singular indefinite pronouns:

  • Everybody
  • Everything
  • Nothing
  • Someone
  • Anything

Here are a few plural indefinite pronouns:

  • Few
  • Many
  • Others
  • Both

The lists are important, and you should have an example for each indefinite pronoun you list, clearly underlining the indefinite pronoun in the sentence.

After your class is clear about the new material, separate them into small groups or pairs, depending on the size of your classroom. You will have made two worksheets. One worksheet will be for singular indefinite pronouns and the other will have singular and plural indefinite pronouns mixed together. Each worksheet will have sentences, different from your examples of course, and the object is for each team to underline the indefinite pronouns in each sentence.

Here are a few examples:

Do you want anything from the store?

Has anybody seen my car keys?

This group activity will further communicative learning and allow your students to collaborate on finding the correct answers. After all worksheets are finished, you will read out the answers to each question and crown a victor.

This activity is fun and promotes reading, writing, communication and teamwork.

4. Intensive Pronouns

Intensive pronouns describe a person or animal, emphasizing a pronoun or noun previously used in the sentence or in a sentence before it. Intensive pronouns are often referred to as emphatic, noting the importance of emphasis when using them.

These are the pronouns which end in “self” or “selves,” the difference being singular or plural. Intensive pronouns are used often in writing and speech and they are important for your students to understand and use in their daily English.

For this activity, you can take a similar approach to the indefinite pronouns activity. You will split your class into small groups, giving each group a worksheet filled with multiple choice sentences.

A good rule of thumb is to make each question more challenging than the last.

Here’s an example sentence:

The woman did all the work ___ , because her team had gone out to lunch. (herself)

Your students will collaborate and choose their answers as they work through the many multiple choice sentences you provided.

After they are finished, have each group choose one of the intensive pronoun sentences to act out in front of the class. Above is an example sentence pointing out a woman doing all the work herself while her team ate lunch. This is a great sentence for your students to act out, as it will be fun and keep them engaged in the grammar material while also working on some excellent ESL sub-skills.

5. Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns include the same words as intensive pronouns but are used a little differently: Himself, herself, itself and themselves are all reflexive pronouns as well as intensive pronouns.

However, the difference between the two is that reflexive pronouns are not used for emphasis. Reflexive pronouns are U-turn pronouns, pointing the audience back to the object of the sentence. They can be a little confusing for your students at first, but practicing them along with intensive pronouns will help immensely with comprehension.

Here are a few reflexive pronoun sentence examples:

I bought myself a new car.

She treated herself to some ice-cream.

He scolded himself for sleeping in.

Reflexive pronoun activities can be easily built into your intensive pronoun lesson plan and taught in the same way. Take the opportunity to discuss the differences between the two, and your students will have a clear understanding of how to use their newly discovered pronouns effectively.

6. Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are the that, who, whom, which and whose of pronouns and they are important in a few ways. Relative pronouns are connectors or introducers. They introduce a relative clause in a sentence and connect the clause to a noun. There are subjective relative pronouns like “who,” objective relative pronouns like “whom” and possessive relative pronouns like “whose.”

When teaching relative pronouns, you want your presentation to be very clear and concise. You may want to develop a warm-up exercise to get your students loosened up and ready to begin more challenging relative pronoun activities. Introduce each relative pronoun by writing it on the board, touching on pronunciation and giving examples of how it’s used.

I recommend splitting this relative pronoun activity into two parts: You can introduce the activity as a single student exercise and then develop it into a pair exercise to get some communication going among your students:

1. Put together a worksheet that has 10 to 20 sentences using the various relative pronouns in them. Let your students work through the worksheet, circling the relative pronouns they find and asking you questions as they arise.

2. For a wonderful pair exercise that will allow your students to collaborate, you will give student A a worksheet with the first half of sentences and student B a worksheet with the second halves of sentences. They will then discuss how to put together each sentence by finding the correct relative pronoun.

Here’s an example:

Student A: I am not sure…

Student B: …bag that is on the bench.

A relative pronoun that links the two halves together could be the possessive relative pronoun whose.

They will need to work together to choose a relative pronoun to piece together the sentence. This activity will challenge your students to communicate effectively while building their relative pronoun skills.

Whether it’s personal pronouns, intensive pronouns or any of the others, always keep in mind your students’ engagement with the material.

Communicative learning is an exceptional way to build student enthusiasm for new material and you can always add a few ESL sub-skills to keep them growing in other areas as well.

When your lesson plan is well-developed and interactive, learning pronouns (or any grammar) can be fun and exciting.


Stephen Seifert is a writer, editor, professor of English and adventurer. With over 7 years of teaching experience to students worldwide, he enjoys the many aspects of culture and traditions different from his own. Stephen continues his search for writing inspiration, boldly enjoying life to the fullest.

Oh, and One More Thing…

If you liked these teaching tips, you’ll love using FluentU in your classroom. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, cartoons, documentaries and more—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons for you and your students.

It’s got a huge collection of authentic English videos that people in the English-speaking world actually watch on the regular. There are tons of great choices there when you’re looking for songs for in-class activities.

You’ll find music videos, musical numbers from cinema and theater, kids’ singalongs, commercial jingles and much, much more.

esl-pronouns

On FluentU, all the videos are sorted by skill level and are carefully annotated for students. Words come with example sentences and definitions. Students will be able to add them to their own vocabulary lists, and even see how the words are used in other videos.

esl-pronouns

For example, if a student taps on the word “brought,” they’ll see this:

esl-pronouns

Plus, these great videos are all accompanied by interactive features and active learning tools for students, like multimedia flashcards and fun games like “fill in the blank.”

esl-pronouns

It’s perfect for in-class activities, group projects and solo homework assignments. Not to mention, it’s guaranteed to get your students excited about English!

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to teach English with real-world videos.

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