Coach’s Corner: Writing in Third Person – Resources and Activities

coachs corner

The first writing experiences of a child are retells or stories about themselves.  The most common of the daily writing tasks are lists and first person recounts such as short notes/ emails and journal entries.  When conversing with friends or family we speak in first person.  We say things like, “I did the dishes” and “I went to the movies”.  When we consider that first person narrative is the most common form of text construction and comes most naturally, it is not surprising that third person is a difficult text structure for students to master.

Case in Point

The case is pointing!  (get it?)

The case is pointing!
(get it?)

A Social Science teacher, let’s call her Kay, came to me last year because her year 9 students just didn’t seem to  understand the specifics of writing in third person.  She also noticed that they would switch back and forth between  first and third person.  The next assessment item on the calendar was an Analytical Essay that students were to  complete in exam conditions (they would be given three lessons and allowed to bring in notes).  Kay had supported  her class with researching the essay topic and had facilitated several activities that revised concepts of  paragraphing, vocabulary and analysis.  Her students seemed to understand paragraphing, they were using some  appropriate vocabulary and had a good understanding of the content they would need for the essay.  Kay noticed  early that students were using first person in their writing and, while she had shown the students exemplar texts  and given appropriate feedback, were still struggling to write in third person singular.  She asked for some  background information on the difference between first and third person as well as some student friendly  resources that she could display in the room.

Resources

I sent Kay some background information the most useful of which was from Grammar Girl.  I created a very basic resource and recommended the following activities for Kay to do with her class.  She was pressed for time and chose to do only the first one.  She printed the resource on A3 paper and displayed it in the room for students to access during their exam.  This was considered a reasonable adjustment and was approved by the Head of Department.

third person resource

Click Here to Download

Activities

  1. Display the resource poster and discuss how the statements are different.  Tell students which ones are first person and which ones are third person.  Discuss how this would impact the writing of their essay and increase their authority in the eyes of the reader.  Remind them that they are expected to write in third person singular for the entire essay.
  2. Provide examples of short texts that are in first, second and third person and label them.  Provide a definition/ checklist of attributes for each structure.  Discuss this with the class.  
  3. Use a range of text types (such as novels, movies, newspapers, task sheets, analytical essays, scripts, comics) and ask students to sort them into first/ second/ third person.  Discuss reasoning for their choices and ensure misconceptions are recorded and corrected.
  4. Copy the resource poster and cut along the lines to make each cell into a statement.  Cover or take down the poster for this activity and ensure it is out of sight.  You may choose to make several sets of cards so this can be completed in small groups or you may want to create more example statements so each student will get a card.  Hand out the cards and tell students to organise the statements into similar groupings as the poster.
  5. Depending on time restraints: divide students into three groups and tell each group to create a poster (similar to the resource) for first,second and third person.  This means that student posters will become a resource in the classroom throughout the year.  You can place a large tick (a sign, a card etc) above the perspective you want the students to use for the current writing assignment.
Remember that images attached to vocabulary help students to remember  what they have learned.

Remember that images attached to vocabulary help students to remember what they have learned.

The Outcome

Kay had done a lot of work to teach students this skill but for some students they were really struggling to make a connection.  When the students submitted their final writing tasks, everyone had used the Third Person structure and Kay was really pleased.  The chart was not the only thing, but it helped students to make a solid connection between ‘third person’ and their own writing.  They could see the right and wrong language choices for the text type they were writing.  {Now we will do the Dance of Joy!}

Your Turn

How do you teach the difficult concept of writing perspectives and appropriate perspective choices?  What activities do you find are helpful for your students when they need to write in a specific form in order to complete assessment?  What resources do you use to ensure that the information or explanations (about grammar and writing) you give to students are accurate?

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