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How Do You Teach Nouns To ESL Students?

The English language comprises more nouns than any other words, and they are the building blocks of language.  In the ESL classroom, nouns are the first parts of speech that are taught to students.  But how do you teach nouns to ESL students?

Teach Nouns to ESL students by preparing lessons that are interactive and fun.  Include videos, pictures, songs, word puzzles, and fun activities to engage the students and hold their attention.  Repetition and practice help students retain and solidify what they have learned.

There are various forms of nouns that ESL students need to know.  Included in this article are some ideas and activities to assist you with your lessons on nouns.

We have an infographic on the types of nouns in English for you to use and share if you need as well. ( just credit us please!)

_Types of Nouns Infographic

How To Teach Nouns To ESL Students

Everyone should know what a noun is because they are learned in first grade.  Therefore, it is essential that children and adults whose first language is not English be taught how to identify the different nouns and use them in verbal and written sentences.

Although common and basic, nouns are sometimes confusing to ESL students, but the easiest way for them to learn is simply by communicating in English.  Lessons should consist of lots of interaction between the teacher and the students and between students in group activities. 

Using videos and songs to introduce nouns to young students is fun learning, and visual context will hold their attention.  You can use activities more suited to their age group for the older students to promote interaction and verbal communication.  Below are some ideas on how to teach the different nouns to ESL students.

Common/Proper And Concrete/Abstract Nouns

Introducing common nouns at the beginning of a lesson is easy; you can begin with the greeting! 

  • Once the class has settled down, greet some students and enunciate the nouns.  For example, you could say (“Good morning, JOHN! I really like your SCARF!”).
  • Raise your voice each time you say a common noun or proper noun. 
  • Continue greeting this way, you will soon have their attention, and you can tell them what the lesson is about.

You can now illustrate a common noun by naming a few objects in the room like the desk, door, chair, etc.  Ask the students to look around and identify these nouns, correcting them when they get them wrong.

Explain that nouns can be names of things or objects (like in the classroom) and people and places.  By using their five senses, see, touch, feel, hear, and smell, they will identify a noun (concrete nouns).  Give them some ideas by placing pictures or photos on the board to identify the nouns. 

If the students are more advanced or adults, you can explain abstract nouns (ideas, emotion, and concepts) such as love, time, and that you cannot use the five senses to identify these nouns. Once they are familiar with nouns, move on to proper nouns.

You can use some examples of names of cities, countries, people, etc.  Advise the students that these nouns are specific names and are always capitalized.  Make use of pictures or videos to keep the students interested and engaged.

Here is a table for you to use when explaining the common, proper, concept, and abstract nouns:

Things we can see, touch, hear, taste or feel.  These are = Concept NounsExample CategoriesNounProper Noun
PlacesCityNew York
Cannot use our 5 senses to identify these nouns.  They are = Abstract NounsIdeas/ Emotionslove, time, rule

Singular And Plural Nouns

ESL Students quickly understand singular and plural nouns but have difficulty grasping the spelling and sometimes the pronunciation of these nouns.  Using the simple form of numbers is the best way of explaining singular and plural nouns; singular means just one and plural more than one. 

Explaining the rules to the students is not easy, but once they understand these rules and apply them when spelling plural nouns, they will need lots of repetition.  Verbal and written activities will give them good spelling and pronunciation practice.

Below is a summary table to use when teaching singular and plural nouns:

Noun RulesSingular Noun (1) 1 boyPlural Noun (2 or more) 2 boys
When you put “a” in front of the word, then add an “s” to the plural word Eg (a cat = cats) (a school = schools)cat
Just add an “es” to words ending in:
“z” ( add an extra z)


Some words ending in ”f” (no rule, add “ves”)  

In some words, the “f” changes to ”v”
When the last letter of the word is a consonant “y,” then you add “ies” to the plural wordlady  ladies  
Letters ending in consonant “o”, add “es” to the plural.  But, sometimes it is just “s”(no rule here)tomato  

Activities to practice singular and plural nouns are:

  • Using spreadsheets for students to complete by filling in the plural words is a good activity.  You can use word selection, and/or picture prompts for younger students.  Adult students should be able to complete the task without help, and it is an opportunity to gauge their level of spelling and correct where necessary.
  • Use flashcards as a fun game for young students.  Add a colorful picture and write the noun (cat) on the “singular card,” and make a separate matching card for “plural” with 2 pictures and write the noun (cats).  Divide the students into groups and place 10 matching cards on the table for each group. 

Let one of the students “shuffle” the cards and then spread them out and match the singular to the plural.  If there is enough time in the lesson, you can swop the stack of cards with the other groups.

  • Word Puzzles is another great activity you can use for young and adult students.  Just change the level of difficulty.

Irregular Plural Nouns

There are no rules for irregular nouns; students have to learn them, so start teaching the

most common ones.  Use the table below as an example:

No rulesSingular  (1)Plural (more than 1)
Most Commonwoman
These singular and plural nouns stay the same
E.g. (“I see 1 deer, I see 3 deer” )
These singular and plural nouns are the same
E.g. (“I wear clothes” – not “a clothes”)
clothes glasses

You can use the same type of activities as for regular singular and plural nouns in your practice sessions with your ESL students.

Compound, Count/Non- Count, and Collective Nouns

Below are some ideas to teach compound, count, and non-count nouns as well as collective nouns:

Countable and Uncountable nouns.

Compound Noun (singular)Seperate Word examplesCompound Noun
These are words made up of 2 different nouns
put together to create a new noun.
(Eg ice + cream = ice-cream)
The word can be hyphenated.
bed /room (noun/noun)
washing/machine (adverb/noun)
hair/cut (noun/verb)
rain/fall (noun/verb)

Compound Nouns

Compound Noun (plural)   Seperate Word ExamplesCompound Noun (plural)

When the compound is plural, add an “s” to the most significant noun
E.g. (swimming pool – “pool” is the more significant noun = swimming pools)  

Sometimes both nouns are significant, and then both nouns will be plural.  
news/paper verb/noun) alarm/clock (verb/noun)           Cat/fish
newspapers alarmclocks            catfish
Count Nouns  
You can count the noun, e.g. (1 dog / 3 dogs)       Non-count Nouns   Groups of words are often uncountable. These words become countable only when you measure them E.g. (2 glasses of water or 2lbs of sugar)
    1 bird 1 ship          10 birds 2 ships

Countable nouns

Countable Nouns   SingularPlural
You can count the noun, e.g. (1 dog / 3 dogs)     1 bird 1 ship   10 birds 2 ships

Uncountable Nouns:

Groups of words are often uncountable. These words become countable only when you measure them E.g. (2 glasses of water or 2 lbs of sugar)


Collective Nouns:

These have no rules and students must learn the individually. Usually a set, group of people or animals or things.

Table: Examples of Collective Nouns

People ThingsAnimals
a teama bunch of grapesa gaggle of geese
a choira fleet of shipsa school of fish
a groupa pair of socksa ride of lions
a crowda stack of paperan army of ants
a classa pile of wooda litter of puppies

Below is an activity for count and non-count nouns:

  • Adult or teenage students can play the game of “What is your true age”.  Students answer questions about their healthy lifestyle.  Set up a list of questions, using count and non-count nouns such as; what foods they eat, what activities or sport they play, and their personality traits. 

Divide the students into groups.  Students subtract one year from their age for each healthy answer and add a year for each unhealthy answer.  It is a fun activity, and the students decide which answer is healthy or unhealthy.


Nouns are the most basic and first part of speech taught to young learners.  Teaching nouns to ESL students learning English as their second language is essential.  Without nouns, these students would not be able to communicate effectively.  Making the lesson fun and interactive is the best way to teach nouns in verbal or written form. 





I have been a teacher of English for over 15 years, in that time i made hundreds and thousands of resources and learnt so much i think its worth sharing. Hopefully to help teachers and parents around the world.

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