Brainstorming and Physicalizing Strong Verbs – NVWP Summer Institute – Day 8 pt. 2

Next up is Janique Parrot.

Brainstorming and Physicalizing Strong Verbs

Janique is going to talk to us about how she approaches the use of strong verbs in student personal narrative writing.

She puts four verbs up on the board: sprinkle, was, went, and twist. She has us then draw each verb on our paper. Here’s mine and my neighbor’s.


My strong verb drawings.

My neighbor’s illustrations

The point here is that strong verbs are the ones you can see and really picture in the mind’s eye. Our collective pictures for sprinkle and twist are exciting and manifold. Food, pizza, sleepover games, etc. Nothing of note for ‘was’ and ‘went.’

We then turn our strong verb-focused gaze to a chunk of writing from Ralph Fletcher. Janique reads aloud to us while we circle/highlight any strong verbs. She helps us realize which verbs are strong by using kinesthetic movement and exaggerated. After doing a few together from the first page, we’re off to complete the activity in pairs. Alternate sentences, alternate paragraphs, read silently and come back to confer, whatever way works for each pair. Love the choice. Anyways, here’s a sprinkling of the words my partner and I circled: wandered, munched, gobbled, pried, staggered, and vomit! We put some on the board and have fun acting them out. We talk about intentionality again. The idea that Ralph Fletcher used these specific words for a reason. How does it impact readers to use strong verbs in a story vs. more quotidian prose? It helps you visualize! It creates images and connections.

Next, Janique puts us into groups of four. Each group gets a piece of chart paper with a weak verb on top. The four weak verbs are: clean, look, run, and walk. As a group, we’re going to brainstorm as many strong verbs as possible to replace that word. This makes me think about teaching denotation, connotation, and the importance of shades of meaning in language. We brainstorm as many strong verbs as we can for the bland word.


After a few minutes, we’re told to pick three and think of actions. Each group member has to be involved in the action for each word. We’re going to act out, “strut,” “shuffle,” and “stagger.” Every group shows us their word/action combinations and the audience copies them. This is, like, really fun! Janique puts the charts up on the walls in her classroom to act as anchor charts to stay reminded about strong verbs. We briefly discuss the shades of meaning separating the words.

NVWP Teacher Consultants practice their 'glare' (versus their look)

NVWP Teacher Consultants practice their ‘glare’ (versus their look)

Now we’re going to describe pictures with strong verbs. Janique shows us images and we describe them using strong verbs. We can write a sentence, a story, etc. Our first image is a man climbing up the vertical face of a mountain. This makes me think of a particularly bizarre professional development opportunity from my old school. Teachers, cranky and spent from a day in front of children, slink into a dark room. At the front of the room lives an old TV connected to a shiny Blu-ray player. This anachronistic combination of the old and the new is common in public schools, I’ve found. So the teachers shuffle to their usual spots, plopping down onto re-purposed elementary school cafeteria chairs. That’s a quickwrite that didn’t go anywhere!

Lastly, we revise some sentences. Janique shows us a sentence on the board. We’re to swap out the verb with a stronger choice, then continue it.

First: Ms. Parrot drank her coffee.
Revision: Ms. Parrot inhaled her coffee, flecks of grounds from the bottom of the mug sticking to her teeth. 

Others use ‘gulp,’ ‘delicately sipped,’ and ‘savored.’ 

First: The monkey moved between the tree branches.
Revision: The monkey caromed between the trees, flinging feces on any and every unsuspecting tourist below.

We’re having a ton of fun with this, btw. Janique tells us about how she continues this by asking children to keep track of strong verbs in their independent reading, cut out images to represent them, etc.

This excellent lesson gets us moving, giggling, and thinking. Now we’re off to eat lunch and go to our writing groups.

What a way to end the first half of our Summer Institute!


One comment

  1. Pingback: Writing Resources from the Northern Virginia Writing Project | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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