Teaching Word Choice: Using Strong Verbs

Word Choice Lesson Plan: Using Strong Verbs


Instead of talking loudly, I should shout. Instead of walking proudly, I should strut. Instead of resting calmly, I should relax. Instead of hitting hard, I should wallop. Instead of writing long windedly, I should elaborate.


Immunize Your Writing

After morosely reading 14,237 weakly-written verb-adverb combinations while sadly grading essays, I leisurely noticed I had reluctantly begun to do the same. My writing, like that of my students, had slowly become a morass of ly words. I immediately decided to do something about it. I stoically crouched under my desk, enthusiastically pulled out a candy bar, and gleefully ate it when an idea suddenly struck me. Instead of incompetently teaching students how to write incompetently, I could come up with a lesson plan on how to effectively eliminate weak verb-adverb combinations. I hurriedly tossed my candy wrapper, excitedly called my mom, and eagerly told her to not wait up for me.

I had work to do. I had to create a word choice lesson plan. My students needed to start using strong verbs. Here’s what I came up with.

ELA Common Core Standards

Teaching word choice and strong verb use satisfies the following common core standards.  This list will impress your administrator, but bore your students.  I recommend simplifying the language when you write the objective(s) on the board.  And yes, it is ironic that the language standards use words that only a walking dictionary could make sense of.

L.9-10.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening. This lesson plan should help.
W.9-10.2d  Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic.
W.9-10.3d  Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
W.9-10.5  Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of L.9-10.1-3.)
W.9-10.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Procedures for Revision

1.  Explain that adverbs muddle good writing when overused. Students (and some teachers) assume adverb use makes for good writing. They’re wrong. Adverbs equal lazy writing.

  • Define adverb and instruct students to copy the definition in their notebook and at the top of their rough drafts, if necessary.
  • An adverb modifies verbs, adjective, or other adverbs. They answer the questions where, when, how, and to what extent.
  •  A special kind of adverb, called an intensifier, defines the degree of an adjective or another adverb. Intensifiers always precede the adjective or adverb they modify (Definitions courtesy of Grammar Usage and Mechanic Book, McDougall Littel, 2007. p. 16). Common examples of intensifiers include very, somewhat, quite, rather. If the overuse of adverbs represents lazy writing, the use of intensifiers represents sleeping in until noon, not showering, sitting on the couch, ordering food to go, and watching TV all day.

2.  Instruct students to read their rough drafts and circle, highlight, or underline adverbs and the words they modify. If you are not using this lesson for a specific revision, feel free to cut and paste my horrible introduction and use that as an example of over-adverbatizing.
3.  Instruct students to look for intensifiers and words ending in ly, if they are struggling.

Strong Verb Choice Lesson Plan Procedures

It’s time to start using strong verbs.
1.  Volunteer students to write examples of sentences containing adverbs on the board. Make sure they or you identify what the adverb is modifying. Identifying what is being modified will help students create strong verbs and will make for a more effective word choice lesson plan.

2.  Discuss ways to eliminate adverbs by identifying which question the adverb answers.
Example: The teacher looked menacingly at the disruptive student (menacingly answers how) becomes The teacher glared at the hooligan.
Example: The student was quite pleased with himself (quite is an intensifier) becomes The student was pleased with himself.
Example: He foolishly invested in bad real estate becomes He speculated in real estate.

3.  In pairs, instruct students to identify weak writing associated with adverbs and to cross out all intensifiers

TIP: I’m not suggesting you (automatically) eliminate all adverbs from your writing. However, each adverb should be viewed suspiciously. Finally, If the adverb can be (easily) eliminated without (dramatically) changing the meaning of the passage then it should be (immediately) removed and (carefully) scrutinized when revising.

Revision Lesson Plans

Many of the common core standards for language and writing are best taught by revising essays.
Many of the common core standards for language and writing are best taught by revising essays.