Verbals lessons: more than worksheets.
Verbals, those tricky little words that look like verbs but aren’t verbs. Yes, the participle, gerund, and infinitive must be taught so that students can use them in their writing for extra spice and punctuate them correctly.
Plus, when they look verbs up in a dictionary, don’t they wonder what “participle” is? (Tell students they should wonder, and that you are here to clarify for them. I promise they will roll their eyes at you.)
Teaching grammar requires some tricks and methods to get students understanding the concepts. I’ve taught verbals to both middle school and high school students, my classroom students, and students prepping for standardized testing. Verbal lessons are part of grammar curriculums. Here are my grammar lesson plans for teaching verbals.
Decide when you want to teacher verbals. For instance…
Understanding verbals and their phrases is the goal of my freshmen students toward the end of the school year. I recognize that the Common Core lists verbals in seventh and eighth grade, but I always need to teach them with freshmen. Sometimes, sophomores don’t understand verbals, but with that age group, I focus more on punctuation and use in writing. With juniors and seniors, I focus more on the ‘create’ part of Bloom’s and ask them to judge which verbal should be used and its eventual placement in their writing.
Considering that, here is how I teach verbals.
Tap Prior Knowledge
After teaching parts of speech and parts of a sentence, but before sentence structure, you can begin verbals lessons. Typically, verbals are part of lesson plans with phrases, but before discussions of clauses.
As always, I begin by tapping prior knowledge. Students use verbals! Show students they know more about grammar than they might realize.
Ask students to provide you with a verb. Let’s use “purchase.” I write something like this:
Save money to purchase that game.
The purchased game was worth the wait.
Purchasing a game is my goal for today.
Ask students if those forms of “purchase” are the verbs, and then identify the sentences’ verbs (save, was, is). Tell students that those words are verbals; they look like verbs, but they don’t function as verbs. Starting your verbals lessons with success: Show students they can find and use verbals.
Find Your Method
I have taught verbals lessons all at once and in every order possible. In my experience, starting with infinitives is best. Why? I think it boils down to confidence. Students are confident that they can identify infinitives.
First, I work on infinitives for two to three days. I do not begin identifying their functions in sentences. We will work on using infinitives as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs later.
Second, I introduce gerunds. I begin by finding “noun jobs” —subject, direct object, indirect object, predicate noun, object of the preposition, appositive. (I normally make an anchor chart of these.) Students are pretty confident in finding gerunds too. As I review gerunds, I will switch a gerund to an infinitive to show that infinitives can be nouns. Look:
Shopping all day hurts my back.
To shop all day hurts my back.
Which do students prefer? In demonstrating and questioning this way, you are showing students that grammar is not simply identification—it can shape their language and its meaning.
I work on gerunds (with infinitives mixed in) for at least a week. As we practice, students and I identify the function of verbals. Once I didn’t do that, and when I introduced participles, students struggled to tell the difference.
Third, I introduce participles. Participles function as adjectives, and infinitives are modifiers too. As we practice identifying participles, it helps to teach them the punctuation. Participles often have commas (but not always).
Excited, the little girl skipped.
The little girl, excited about ice-cream, skipped to the restaurant.
When teaching verbals, I build. I will practice some identification of participles alone, but not often. We practice identification and use together. As we identify, we create and write. Our writing is NOT fancy or extensive. We’ll write a few sentences about a story we read or about a class discussion. Often, these sentences are exit tickets. Then, I use the date from them to start the next class period.
Finally, when reviewing gerunds, I reference “noun jobs.” When reviewing participles, I focus on comma use and their proximity to the modified word.
I’ve taught verbals at numerous grade levels, sometimes with better success than other times. This approach helps me meet my goals better than other sequences I’ve tried. I would love for other ELA teachers to add to these methods.
As always, I emphasize verbals in what we read and write. Students use verbals, and I am sure to show them that with their own examples. When we read, I ask students to find a verbal on a certain page. (I’ve found it helps if you give them a specific verbal!)
Over the years, I’ve developed a variety of tools for differentiation, variety, and types of learners for verbals lessons. Here are a few I use:
complete verbals review: verbals bundle
review: verbals exit tickets and sort
a bit interactive: verbal phrases task cards
interactive notebook: verbals interactive pieces
coloring sheet: verbals coloring sheet
digital: verbals for Google Drive
By providing a variety of activities, students don’t become bored with a simple grammar worksheet, and we can have discussions and make anchor charts from our activities. Plus, I can provide student choice. When students tell me they would rather work with a grammar sort than with task cards. . . great! I’m happy to oblige and help students discover how they best learn. Finally, I don’t take a grade on every grammar assignment. Often, we use an activity to jumpstart a discussion or writing task.
Need more? I’ve added a presentation to Slide Share with specifics to teaching verbals. Watch it alone, with a colleague, or as a department.