A Poetry Lesson in Strong Verbs
by Kathleen Flenniken
One of the obvious weak links in most student writing is verb choice. Verbs are central to a sentence’s energy, and young writers often undercut their good images and ideas with was’s, made’s and went’s.
So why not challenge your writers by providing great verbs to begin with? I presented each of my 4th and 5th grade students with one of five verb lists, each culled from a different text: a construction manual, a groundwater textbook, a cook book, a bird book, and a history textbook. Then I told the students they could write about anything they liked using any language they liked but would be limited to the verbs on their lists.
I asked them to use each verb only once, and to write about an unrelated subject (though as you will see, the verbs influence the direction of most of the poems). I provided a few subject ideas as a examples: new shoes, reading, clouds, snow, haircuts, color, running, and so on, and read to them a sample poem of my own:
Here’s a sampling of what the students came up with.
Ella (5th grade)
MessesThey pour the yarn right out of the ball knowing it would take a long time to roll back up and cover the floor with your robot pieces and add a little of freckled strawberries it was a recipe for disaster it sliced their mom’s brain in half when she saw the sight and crushed her heart and drained out the tart it made her face heat up because they really press her buttons she continued to melt and then she felt too cool and began to clean and stir up a punishment and baked a punishment stew she removed the freckled strawberry and dropped the grenade of punishment
Jonah (4th grade)
LoveLove starts in your stomach, starts to flap its wings, starts to climb your throat, and starts to bathe in your saliva, making your mouth dry as a desert. Then it lies on your tongue, making it impossible to speak, starts to migrate toward your brain, making it go fuzzy, and back to your mouth. Suddenly, it drops back in your stomach, and dies.
Mohamed (5th grade)
ConstructionI nail the highways together desperate for a coat in the cold bouncing air I crawl as I extend the road and shut the cracks I moan as the fuzzy wind hits me when the wind sings its songs
Jesse (4th grade)
Ethan (4th grade)
BirdHe broke his wing. He crawled back home. His arm extended. Raking his arm on the dry ground.
Sydney (5th grade)
BreathI breathe in the words the record is playing I study and write while I look out the window I will follow my mother’s footsteps into the future My breath scattering all over the polished floor I take my first breath into my first life I look out my window and breathe Someday I may be history