Basic Explanation of the Montessori Grammar Symbols

Understanding the Montessori grammar symbols will likely deepen your understanding of parts of speech and how words function within a sentence. These specific symbols help identify and classify the intricacies of language. Children can come to understand abstract grammar concepts in a concrete way through the Montessori grammar symbols. Let’s dive into each of these symbols and definitions of the part of speech. In addition, I’ll cover how grammar is approached in a Montessori classroom.

Three dimensional Montessori grammar symbols.

What are Montessori Grammar Symbols?

Montessori grammar symbols are a tactile material that visually represent abstract grammar concepts. Clarity as well as a strong impression of the basic parts of speech are impressed upon a child through exposure to the Montessori grammar symbols. In Montessori schools, children understand the abstract world of grammar, specifically the different parts of speech, in a concrete way by using the Montessori grammar symbols.

There are different symbols for each part of speech, both basic and more advanced parts of speech such as gerunds and proper nouns. Young minds may also have an experience with three-dimensional grammar symbols, making those impressions even stronger. They may even hear a story about the family of the noun or the verb, and thus come to deeply understand the meaning of how words function in a sentence. Grammar symbols help to lay a strong foundation and deep understanding of grammar. Additionally, the Montessori philosophy recognizes the need for a multisensory approach to learning language and the language rules, both of which the grammar symbols help to do.

Wooden box with small compartments and small grammar symbols in each section.

Approaching Grammar in Montessori Classrooms

There are various simple ways the grammar symbols are used in a Montessori classroom environment to learn and better understand the structure of the language. Grammar is approached with a few different materials within a Montessori classroom. In the next two sections, I’ll share both the overarching approach that is taken when teaching grammar in a Montessori environment as well as specific materials used to introduce these concepts.

Hands-on Approach

Dr. Maria Montessori talked about psychogrammar; which means appealing to the psychology of the child through grammar. We need to appeal to their reasoning mind and their imagination. Montessori grammar lessons are not boring and dry, but fun and exciting! The learning process involves the children’s senses. The children will encounter grammatical rules and come in contact with them through an exciting interactive approach. Children will work with the magic of language through active learning experiences, starting in early childhood education. An example of this approach is the introduction to the verb. A teacher will bounce a red ball. This ball appeals to the imagination of the child. 

Tactile Experience

Working with grammar symbols is a tactile experience. Once a child has identified the verbs in the sentence, they will perform the action and then find the corresponding symbol from the grammar symbols box. They will place this symbol above that word or words in the sentence. These basic symbols create impressions in a child’s mind, giving them a deeper understanding of their language. The power of Montessori grammar symbols is quite amazing. As a teacher who presented and taught grammar in a Montessori elementary classroom, I have first-hand expereince seeing the beauty of these symbols that make words within a sentence come alive and have a deeper meaning for the child. The abstract concepts of grammar now offer a tactile expereince and a positive attitude toward language skills for a child.

Child working with a Montessori grammar box.

Appealing to the Characteristics of the Child

In a Montessori environment, grammar is taught by appealing to the child’s characteristics. In the lessons, a teacher will relate the terms to the child’s characteristics. We often pose questions and share the history of words to appeal to the child’s reasoning mind. The teacher will even share the etymology of the parts of speech which deepen the understanding even more.

How the Grammar Symbols are Used

Grammar symbols will be used within the primary (pre-school) and elementary classrooms, 6 to 12 years old. Let’s look at how they are used differently at each of those levels.

In the Primary or Children’s House Environment 

Within the 3 to 6-year-old Montessori environment, there are many language activities in the function of words area. This simply means the child will begin looking at how words function in a sentence. This is commonly known and refered to as grammar and syntax. Yet, these presentations are not intended to teach grammar or syntax to young children. Instead, the function of words presentations are aimed at giving the child concrete experiences to see the role an individual word has within a phrase. In the Primary environment the article, adjective, noun, preposition, conjunction, verb, and adverb are introduced to the child. But it isn’t until the elementary environment that the child will learn the names of the parts of speech. They are simply coming to expereince the function of words. You’ll notice that pronouns and interjections are not introduced until the elementary environment, but more on that later!

In the Elementary Environments 

the Grammar Boxes

The Montessori grammar boxes are a material that will lay and provide a foundation for classifying the parts of speech. Much of the other grammar work will rely on the experiences a child has with the grammar boxes. There are 8 grammar boxes. 9 parts of speech are introduced but the first grammar box, grammar box II, has both the noun and the article. It is called grammar box II becasue there are two parts of speech being considered. There is not a grammar box I.

The grammar boxes are the physical wooden material with the wells (small compartments) that house the cards. The colored lidded boxes are the filler boxes, which has sets of cards that fill up the grammar boxes. A box of grammar symbols is also needed for the grammar box work. We always used plastic grammar symbols in the classroom, and they worked great!

A Montessori grammar box with grammar symbols laid out.

Grammar Command Cards

The grammar command cards will extend the child’s experience with the parts of speech. There are command cards that go with most of the parts of speech. Each box houses a set of command cards. These commands allow a child to expereince the part of speech further, but in a really engaging way. The commands usually give the child something they have to do. Then they complete whatever the card says. Each command comes will little cards that the child can hold onto while they are performing their command.

A wooden box of cards and a card sitting on a surface with two smaller cards with words on them.

Symbolizing Their Own Writing 

We want to ask the children to symbolize their writing from time to time. Periodically, ask a child to write a couple of sentences and have them leave space to draw the grammar symbols above the words. This is the beginning of work on style. It is a quick way for you to tell if she understands the work from the grammar boxes. This would be done after they have been introduced to most, if not all of the grammar symbols, which typically happens by the end of Lower Elementary.

Symbolizing a Text 

At differnet times in a child’s learning experience, a teacher may give a child a text from a book or a poem to symbolize. This is just another opportunity to apply their understanding of the parts of speech. A child can freehand draw the symbols or some environments will offer a grammar symbol stencil.

Writing Sentences from Symobl Structures

Once a child has worked with identifying and symbolizing the basic grammar symbols, then we can offer additional opportunities with grammar that promote critical thinking. There are basic sentence structures that are common in the English language. We can provide a child with a sequence of grammar symbols. Then they need to come up with words that fit that part of speech.

Montessori grammar symbols structures.

Definitions of Basic Montessori Grammar Symbols

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The noun is symbolized using a black equilateral triangle, which is the face of the black pyramid. Additionally, nouns will name people, places, things, qualities, or ideas. A black pyramid is used as the 3-dimensional shape becasue pyramids have been around for a long time. Nouns are words that have been around for a long time, so Dr. Maria Montessori used a black pyramid to represent the nouns.

Examples: lamp, chair, apple

a black triangle with the word "noun" underneath it.


An article is symbolized with a small light blue equilateral triangle. In the English language, articles include “a”, “an”, and “the”. The article gives content to the noun and is either a definite or indefinite article. 


Adjectives are symbolized with a medium-sized dark blue equilateral triangle. Adjectives describe the noun.

Examples (the adjective is in italics): the red shoes, the fat pig, the big flower


The verb has action, energy, and movement. The word ‘verb’ comes from the Latin word, verbum and it means “the word”. The verb is the chief word in the sentence. With children, the verb is presented with a red ball. The red circle symbol helps to represent the movement and energy a ball has.

Examples: Lock the door. Open the door. Hit a ball.

A circle and the word "transitive verb".


A preposition is the part of speech that shows a relationship between objects, time, space, direction, and place. Additionally, the grammar symbol for the preposition is a green crescent shape, illustrating this connection and relationship. Essentially, it acts like a bridge.

Examples: Place the fork beside the plate. Put the ball under the basket.

A moon-shape crescent with the word "preposition" under it.


The adverb is symbolized using a small orange circle. It is a circle because it relates to the verb just like the adjective refers to the noun. Adverbs tell you how or when to do an action. 

Examples: Sing loudly in the choir. Walk clumsily to the stairs.

a small circle with the word "adverb" under it.


Pronouns take the place of a noun. Since pronouns are a type of noun, the symbol is still a triangle. However, the pronoun symbol is a taller purple isosceles triangle.

Example: Sally, Meg, and Jan go to the park. They will play a game.

In this example, they replaced the nouns Sally, Meg, and Jan. Other pronouns are (I, he, she, it, we, you, they) which can replace nouns in a sentence.

An isosceles triangle with the word "pronoun" under it.


The conjunction symbol is a pink rectangle. Since conjunctions are words that connect clauses and phrases, the symbol helps to show this connection happening in a sentence.

Example: I went to the store and bought some apples.

A rectangle with the word "conjunction" under it.


An interjection is an abrupt remark. Dr. Montessori’s original symbol was an equilateral triangle with a circle on top. It is a union of the symbol of the noun and the verb. This puts together energy and matter. The symbol is a gold keyhole, also resembling an exclamation point.  

Example: Wow, that sunset is beautiful!

a key hole shape and the word "interjection" under it.

Definitions of Advanced Grammar Symbols

Proper Noun

Proper nouns denote or classify a specific person, place, or thing. We capitalize proper nouns. Compared to a common noun which is not capitalized. 

Examples: Target, November, Megan, Sunday, Christmas

Abstract Noun

An abstract noun is a noun that denotes an idea, quality, or state. For instance, in a lesson with young learners, we can ask them to bring us things like happiness, humor, growth, and youth. They will attempt to find something that has qualities of that but will be unable to bring them to you. They will see that there are types of nouns we can’t smell, taste, or hold in our hands. Yet, we know in our mind’s eye that they exist. We tell them that these are abstract nouns.

Examples: love, freedom, happiness, courage, wisdom, honesty, justice, friendship

Collective Noun

A collective noun refers to a group.

Examples: herd, litter, pack, and swarm.

Transitive Verb

Transitive verbs will exert their action on an object. Another way to say this is that transitive verbs need an object, either a noun or a pronoun, to complete its meaning.  


  1. She baked a delicious cake for the party.
  2. The cat chased the mouse around the house.

Intransitive Verb

Intransitive verbs have meaning on their own. Compared to transitive verbs, intransitive verbs do not need to exert their action on an object for it to make sense.

Examples: fall, dance, learn, pause, and pray.

Auxilliary (Helping) Verb

Auxiliary or helping verbs are words that are used together with other verbs.

Examples: She can play the piano beautifully.

Sure, here are some common helping verbs:

Common helping verbs: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, have, has, had, do, does, did, will, shall, would, should, can, could, may, might, must.

Linking Verb

Linking verbs connect the subject to additional information about it. They are not action words. For example: is, are, was, were. Additionally, conditional examples include seem, feel, appear, remain, look, smell, sound, taste, stay, grow, turn, and prove. Lastly, state of being examples include have, had, has, do, did, does, will, and would.

Example: The sky is blue.


A gerund is a verb form that functions as a noun. In English, gerunds end in -ing. Additionally, nouns can be the subject, direct object, indirect object, object of opposition, and subject complement. Here are some examples of gerunds in each of those cases.

  • As subject: Cooking allows me to provide for my family
  • As direct object: Do you like cooking too?
  • As an indirect object: I can’t seem to give cooking my full attention these days. 
  • As an object in opposition: In terms of cooking, I normally prefer following a recipe 
  • Subject Complement: My favorite passtime is cooking


Participles are verb forms that share adjective characteristics. Furthermore, there are present and past participles. Present participles will typically have an ending in -ing. Past participles, on the other hand, end in (-ed, -en, -d, -t, -n, or -ne).

Examples: talked, eaten, swum, rung, seen, and gone

Present Participle: The barking dog woke up the neighbors.

Past Participle: The freshly baked bread smelled delicious.

Benefits of Montessori Grammar Symbols

The Montessori approach to grammar and the use of grammar symbols helps break down the intricacies of sentence structure. Moreover, grammar symbols are a powerful tool for bringing complex grammar concepts to young children in a simple and concrete way. As a result, a child’s holistic understanding of grammar developed through their experiences with the grammar symbols will remain with them throughout their lifetime and hopefully create a lifelong curiosity about the power of language. The values of a Montessori school or home are exemplified through the grammar symbols, allowing children to be more self-guided in their learning.

Questions for the Children

We can use questions to help facilitate thoughts around how words function in the sentence. These questions will be what we ask a child as they are working to identify the part of speech for various words in a sentence. As a teacher, I would use these questions during grammar box presentations, when a child is symbolizing their own written work, or in any other text where a child is trying to identify the function of a word.

NounWhat is the naming word? Which word told us the object? Who are we talking about? 
ArticleWhich word tells us if we are talking about a specific ‘thing’ or any ‘thing’?
AdjectiveWhat is the word that describes the X?  Which word tells us what kind of “thing”?
VerbWhich word tells us our action? What other word shows us that we have a sentence? (is) Which word is showing us tense? 
PrepositionWhat word tells us the relationship between the two things?
ConjunctionWhich word joins two sentences together?
AdverbWhat word tells us how to do our action? Which word tells us when? 
PronounWhich word replaced the nouns? Which work is in place of our objects? 
InterjectionWhich word exclaims? Which word provides expression in the sentence? 
Questions to Identify the Parts of Speech
A graphic of Montessori grammar symbols above words and text overlay that says "how to use Montessori Grammar Symbols"

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