How to Explain Participles to 5th Graders


Irregular verbs, such as those in participle form, can throw even the most grammar-savvy of fifth-graders. Participles are words that are technically verbs, but that are used instead as adjectives, or describing words. The "crying baby" or the "buzzing bee" are examples of participles. Because they infuse a student's writing with flair and depth, it's essential that fifth-graders learn what participles are and how to use them effectively. Hands-on, engaging activities in the classroom will help you accomplish this goal.

Identify Examples of Participles

  • Review what participles are, give your fifth-graders several examples, and turn them loose to find their own examples. Give your students highlighters and copied text from picture books or textbooks and challenge them to read the text, highlighting all examples of participles that they can find. Alternatively, students can circle or underline the examples. Assess your fifth-graders' understanding of participles by reviewing what they've highlighted. Extend the activity further by reviewing the difference between past and present participles and asking the students to note what participles they've highlighted are past and which are present.

Write it Out

  • Assign your fifth-graders a writing activity that requires them to use participles. Start small by asking students to write a paragraph that includes at least three participles. Have them share their writing with the rest of the class. Extend the activity by asking students to think up a new planet and create a travel brochure describing the planet, using at least five participles, to would-be aliens wishing to travel there. For example, students might describe the planet as having smoldering volcanoes, floating space rocks or sparkling comets. Have the students illustrate their brochures and then share them with the rest of the class.

Participle Race

  • Set a timer and challenge your fifth-graders to write down as many participles as they can think of. You might start with five minutes and gradually reduce the time to one or two minutes as they get the hang of the activity. Tally up the totals for each student and award a small prize to the winner. Extend the activity by requiring the fifth-graders to use their participle examples in a sentence. This activity can also be used as an assessment for the end of your participle unit because it illustrates how well the students understand what participles are, as well as how savvy they are at using participles.

Participle Fest

  • Hold a participle fest in your classroom. During the time of the fest, which might last for your entire literacy time or the whole day, the students are only allowed to speak using sentences that include participles. For example, instead of saying, "It's time for lunch," students could say "My growling stomach tells me that it's time for lunch." Before starting the fest, give each student a string with eight to ten beads threaded onto it. Tell the students that if they catch another fifth-grader using a sentence without a participle, they can take a bead from his string and thread it on theirs. At the end of the fest, the student with the most beads is crowned the "Participle King" or "Participle Queen."


  • Photo Credit petrograd99/iStock/Getty Images
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