Year 4 – Teaching the difference between the plural and the possessive -s

Learning objectives for the lesson

  • To use the possessive apostrophe with plural nouns.
  • To identify the grammatical difference between plural and possessive -s. 

Lesson opener

Is it mine?

Using flashcards or objects ask the children to identify the owner of a range of items. Model the first couple, for example, a whiteboard pen and a tiara. On whiteboards the children write who owns the object (for example, a teacher/you; a princess/queen). Do this for five more objects or pictures.

In talk partners ask children to discuss the ways we show who owns an object in a sentence for one minute. Then ask them to choose an object from the items already seen and put it into a short sentence, for example:

                        The queen wore her tiara. (Possessive pronoun)

                        The teacher’s whiteboard pen didn’t work. (Possessive apostrophe)

Main lesson


Share with the children a version of The Listeners by Walter De La Mare (there are multimodal versions available on YouTube if you feel this is appropriate or you do not feel confident reading the poem aloud). They should have paper copies they have been using to support previous learning, so could be encouraged to read along. Return to the title: The Listeners. Why do they think the writer chose to call it this instead of The Traveller? Discuss this for one minute using talk partners.


Ask for three suggestions which might explain the title. For each, ask the pair to ‘Tell me’ why they have reached their hypothesis.

Explain that today the children will be writing from the point of view of the Listeners. They will have many decisions to make as the omniscient narrator (the narrator as all-seeing, rather than narrator as one of the characters).

In order to scaffold the task for some of the pupils you may wish to provide a writing frame which provides support for the use of rhyme or reminders of the syllable pattern. The syllable pattern is not rigid, but is somewhere between 10 and 12 for odd-numbered lines and 7 syllables for even-numbered lines, so you could provide a frame that indicates where the shorter lines appear.

Critical questions to ask pupils:

                        How will the reader know that there is more than one Listener?

                        What descriptions or roles are being applied to the Listeners in your text?

Practical application

The children then draft their ideas for their version of the poem (eight lines in length) using the prompts and visual stimulus material gathered as part of previous activities. They will need to make careful vocabulary choices to ensure they can match the A/B/C/B rhyme scheme, and begin to make precise use of punctuation to guide the reader. 


Play ‘Pass the Parcel Peer Review’: play a piece of music (or even the multimodal reading of the original poem if a YouTube clip was used for the introduction) and ask the pupils to pass their poems around the class. When the music/clip is halted they must read the text in front of them and identify an example of the correct use of the rhyme scheme, circling/highlighting it and annotating with the abbreviation RS for rhyme scheme. Play the clip again for the children to pass the poems on: this time when the music stops they need to identify the way the writer has used the syllable pattern by counting the syllables in the first four lines and marking the number at the beginning of each line. Play the music again, and when the clip stops ask them to identify any use of the possessive apostrophe with the plural noun (most likely Listeners’). Ask for examples of effective phrases which demonstrate appropriate use of the apostrophe, possibly in response to an element of the original poem. For example, where De La Mare wrote:

And a bird flew up out of the turret,

Above the Traveller’s head:

the children may have responded with something like:

At the flight of the bird the Listeners’ ears

Pricked at the sound of their wings;

Use a visualiser if possible to show the children examples and analyse how the punctuation helps us understand that the Traveller is alone while the Listeners are not.

Assessment (measuring achievement)

Assessment for learning

There are aspects of learning you will need to be sure the children have experienced and understood that are not a part of the lesson detailed above, for example the other uses of the apostrophe (to indicate contractions or omissions). It is important that they are clear what an apostrophe is and on the difference between omission and possession.

The starter activity will enable you to assess the children’s level of understanding regarding the use of possessive apostrophes.

Identify the way apostrophes are used in the original poem to model the use of the genitive case with singular nouns.

Assessment at the point of learning

The lesson offers several checkpoint opportunities for you to monitor the application of learning and address misconceptions.

The use of whiteboards enables you to check all pupils have remembered the conventions of plurals and apostrophes.

During the drafting process, monitor the pupils’ use of punctuation when writing about the Listeners. Make a note of any children who may need further intervention, and provide guided support (either from you as the teacher or a teaching assistant) during this section of the lesson for those who need it as part of differentiation.

Assessment of learning

The correct application of the possessive apostrophe and the plural -s will demonstrate children’s ability to meet the key objective, which is:

To use the possessive apostrophe accurately in words with regular plurals (for example, girls’, boys’) and in words with irregular plurals (for example, children’s).

It will also indicate their understanding of the grammatical difference between the different -s morphemes. Any errors in the use of the genitive case or -s as a morpheme in the drafts of the poems need to be analysed to see if they are indicators of an underlying misconception or just mistakes through carelessness. 


Prior learning. If pupils have not consolidated their understanding of singular and plural nouns as well as the use of the possessive apostrophe they will find it difficult to recognise how the two work together.

Reluctant writers/poor planners. Pupils who rush to finish tasks rather than considering the audience and purpose are more likely to make mistakes in the application of punctuation for grammatical meaning. Teaching children to use a range of planning formats and allowing them to choose the one that works for them for each task can help them consider their ideas more carefully; also, by making the use of punctuation part of the explicit success criteria you will encourage them to consider it during the writing rather than add it afterwards.

For more lesson inspiration and for the theory behind how to develop good lessons, see the Lessons in Teaching Series.