Kristina Smekens is convinced that stronger verbs produce stronger writing, which produces higher test scores. Work this winter to build your students’ verb choice. Not just their word choice–their verb choice!

1. Collect lists of “Great Verbs We Noticed in our Reading.” No student ever says, “‘Am’ is the best verb in that whole story!” They take note of verbs like screeched, alarmed, bloated. These words are worth noting on chart paper or within their individual notebooks. NOTE: Content area teachers, this includes you, too! Some strong verbs might include control, conflict, affect, oppose, elect (social studies), simplify, operate, estimate, plot, intersect, solve (math), increase, filter, produce, contain, saturate (science).

2. As students’ vocabularies grow, consider banning all versions of “get” (get, got, getting) and “go” (go, went, going). These are two of the most useless verbs out there, and yet students utilize them often.

3. To push students even more, eventually nudge kids to stop using other weak verbs, too: did/do, make/made, like/love, take/took, put/putting. Be prepared to do some brainstorming as a class for alternative verbs before taking them away. This makes for great lessons on synonym use and quick review of the thesaurus.

4. When assigning a writing topic, brainstorm a list of common verbs associated with that topic — then make them taboo. For example, if students are preparing to write about winter, then you might make freeze, froze, chill, and snowing taboo. In other words, students have to write about winter without those typical “winter” verbs. To make it even more challenging, taboo other predictable words, too. For example: white, cold, flake. NOTE: This is a great activity to differentiate. For the struggling writers, taboo only a couple words. For the stronger writers, push them to their descriptive limits by tabooing 8-10 words.

Article originally posted May 14, 2008.

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