Teaching About the Vitality of Verbs

When you write you use words to create pictures or mind movies in the reader’s mind. Words that express action make a big difference in the kind of visualizing that occurs in the mind of the reader.

In the story “Fox “by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks there is a part where Fox is running away with Magpie on his back.

While Dog sleeps, Magpie and Fox streak past coolibah trees, rip through long grass, pelt over rocks. Fox runs so fast that his feet scarcely touch the ground and Magpie exults, “At last I am flying. Really flying!”

Verbs are without question, immensely valuable to the writer. When used effectively, they can make sentences vibrate with energy. They are the life support system of the sentence. Mark Tredinnick in his book , The Little Red Writing Book says this about verbs:

“They are where a sentence moves, where it gets up and runs or walks or means or changes or loves or hates or talks or recommends or concludes or speaks its mind. It is the breath of thought, it is the heart that pumps the blood that keeps the sentence alive.”

Vivid verbs give your sentences a chance to succeed. Go looking for them. Harvest them. A plentiful supply of these juicy words exist in the world around you. Make a list as you go about your day. Verbs abound. I’m not sure of a collective noun for verbs but that doesn’t preclude one from harvesting a few. Here are a few examples of verbs that appeal –knead, slough, congeal, tilt, loom, beguile, grimace, lope, wriggle. – You get the picture?

The best writing uses powerful verbs. Remember, verbs are the muscles of writing. When they are applied with power in the right situation they are apt and vivid.

Teach young writers how to look for verbs as a revision strategy. Ask them to take a pen and underline the verbs in their sentences. Are too many of them passive? Are enough of them strong and vivid like those listed above? Are too many of them vague, lifeless and junky? Is there an over supply of junk verbs like, went, have,or take? Are there many verbs at all?

Only use the best of the species to replace those ho hum verbs. You and your students will be amazed at the difference these words will make to the quality of the writing that results. This type of revision delivers instant results. It injects a wow factor to the writing. It also sends a positive message regarding the value of revision. I recently taught this revision strategy to a Grade 2 class and they were so impressed with their ability to undercover those juicy verbs.

Don’t rely on the thesaurus for inspiration. Encourage your students to find vivid verbs in their reading, their conversations, the media. Take verbs with you, adopt them, share them around. They are yours to use. Good writers never stop collecting. Viva la verb!


  1. I love the ideas here, Alan! I've taught about using strong verbs before, but I like the approach of students editing their own writing, focusing on verbs. I hope to try this idea soon!


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