I’ve been an English teacher for more than 20 years. Recently I’ve become a school librarian, but I have lots of great tips and tricks to share. Here’s a simple strategy for teaching proper nouns vs. common ones:
It’s a proper noun if it names the person (Rick Riordan), place (Pacific Ocean), thing (Play Dough) or idea (Civil War). In these cases, the noun must be capitalized. In these cases, you can imagine something very specific in your mind–a person with very realistic facial features, a specific location on a map, a label on a can, or a uniform worn by the soldiers in that specific war.
It’s a common noun if it doesn’t name the person (guy), place (ocean), thing (toy) or idea (war). In that case, you can’t imagine any faces, places on a map, company labels, or specific battles with soldiers in uniform.
So the rule is otherwise stated thus: if you can’t picture the individual item, it’s not a proper noun (don’t capitalize it). If all you’re getting in your mind is a vague image, like the bathroom sign for the men’s room (see image above), it’s not proper.
Another way to teach it is to remind the student that a proper noun is a proper NAME. But I like it best when we use the vocabulary they will see on the state standardized test: proper noun.
Can you point to the specific ocean found on a map or globe if I just say “ocean”? If not, it’s common. So being able to find a place on a map is another way to determine that it’s proper. You don’t have to visit the Pacific Ocean to picture it in your mind; it’s just a matter of being able to find the NAME on a map.
For more helpful tips and tricks for teaching parts of speech, please visit that area of the menu above, right here on English Emporium.WordPress.com.