Teaching Verbs with Older Students

Teaching verbs with older students? Verbs are powerful tools in student writing, so let's treat them that way as we cover verb lessons.

Teaching verbs with older students? Verbs are powerful tools in student writing and in their literature!

Verbs: the backbone of sentences, the fun part of sentences, the words connected to our subjects. I love verbs. I know that’s a weird thing to say, but I love verbs, and I love teaching verbs, and I get to be goofy with students when I teach verbs.

Verbs contain numerous components, and teaching them never ends. (I also never stop hunting for ways to teach verbs!) Here are some ways I manage teaching verbs.

Teaching verbs with older students? Verbs are powerful tools in student writing, so let's treat them that way as we cover verb lessons.

Pretest and planning

Look at the data! Before I start any lesson, I look at the pretest and analyze what needs covered. Do students need help with basic identification… differences between action and linking? Are students ready for a quick review and then a study over voice?

Next, I provide direct instruction over verbs: helping verbs, action verbs, linking verbs, and whatever the pretest showed me I should cover.

The pretest show me where to start teaching verbs, but as we progress, I start using data that students give me.

Connect to literature

When I teach verbs, I’m in the short story unit. To continue to establish the power of verbs, I jigsaw whatever story we are using. I will divide the short story into columns or maybe pages. Then I ask students to find verbs in their sentences from what we are currently reading. I hand out notecards, colored pencils, markers, and we create a rainbow of verbs. It’s a bulletin board of vivid verbs that students created. That’s actually one of my first bulletin boards for the year: our vivid verbs bulletin board.

This is also a really good opportunity to emphasize the difference between action and linking verbs. We don’t need students to write vivid verbs that are linking verbs!

As a bonus, you can create vocabulary activities from the “vivid verbs” bulletin board.

Differentiate

Grammar really starts to be differentiated with verbs because some students are totally fine with identifying verbs, and others need a larger review.

A grammar sort helps differentiate. Students make a column of action verbs and linking verbs and sort verb examples. You can have them do it on a piece of paper, or you can have them do it on a poster board to add to your classroom. Grammar sorts are really nice because you can draw conclusions from those. For instance: what do all of the linking verbs have in common? Well, you can’t act them out.

And this is one of my favorite things to do is: my students and I act out our verbs together. It’s very memorable, it really gets students moving, and it stays in long-term memory.

At this point, students might be rotating through stations with worksheets, a grammar sort, or task cards. Look at the data students are giving you! Students might understand verbs, and it’s easy to add verb moods active and passive voice right there.

Typically, if I add verb moods or voice lessons at the start of the year, those problems are evident in student writing.

Connect to writing

An abundance of linking verbs and passive voice in student writing? Shifts in verb moods? Really, we ELA teachers are never done with verbs.

Linking verbs: we never read a book where every sentence is an action verb or where every sentence is a linking verb. Explain about balance and work on that with students. Are students using too many linking verbs? Typically, they are. Sometimes every sentence that a student writes follows the same format: subject, linking verb, predicate adjective.

Verb moods? Students sometimes struggle with the subjunctive or the conditional mood. Whatever students are currently writing in your class, ask them to experiment with these verb moods after you cover their meanings. Remember that the subjunctive mood can be great fun. You might end up with mythological stories or tales about unicorns.

Verb voice. Passive voice has a place in writing, but students should not primarily write in passive voice. Empower students with lessons on verb voice so that they can determine situations where passive voice is necessary.

I can’t really emphasize enough that I’m constantly looking at data, especially from student writing. Where I take my verb lessons primarily depends on what students need.

Emphasize WHY

If you look up verbs in a dictionary, what are the notes? Does this verb take an object; does this verb not take an object? Start to show students, we’re learning this for a reason. You’re going to some day see a verb that you are not familiar with, look in the dictionary, and decide how to use it.

I emphasize and discuss with my students along the way, “hey, this is why we’re learning grammar.” Grammar is so much more than just correcting mistakes; it is empowering them to understand the literature they read, the nonfiction that they read, and to question things. (Question those verbs that people use!)

Students might not think that in their head, “oh, I’m questioning verbs!” The process will become natural to them. And that’s hopefully what we want, that grammar will become a lens that students can use to analyze, and to think about things in language arts and beyond.

I always mention domain specific vocabulary while I’m working with grammar so that it becomes natural for students and as we continue our school year, we never stop talking about verbs.

Most activities mentioned in this blog post are in my verbs grammar bundle. Those activities typically get me through a week of instruction.

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