It’s so easy to use boring verbs in writing, isn’t it? But our writing is stronger and more interesting when we use vivid verbs. Teach children how to write with action verbs by reading mentor texts with strong action verbs.
Use mentor texts to teach children about vivid verbs. Look for verbs that sing and move. Consider their more lackluster alternatives. Discuss why the writer chooses those specific words to create their piece of writing.
The right vivid verb shows nuance. Devour is better than eat. If you use the word devour instead of eat, it implies a voracious appetite.
Likewise, fleeing is better than running. If you say flee instead of run, semantically, you’re giving the reader more information. It shows a different meaning.
Verbs can also create an atmosphere and emphasize narrative voice. If I’m writing a story about a cat, I would use verbs like tip-toe, prance, and bound. I wouldn’t choose those verbs in a story about an elephant. Does that make sense?
It’s essential to revise your writing for verb choices. Even in my own writing, I often start with boring verbs but in revision, cut the boring verbs for stronger action words.
So start with these books. Search out action verbs. Underline them. Highlight them. Collect them.
Remember, action verbs are words that can be acted out. (“Simon Says,” anyone?)
Then, apply what you know about action verbs to your own writing. And revise your drafts for better verbs, too.
Vivid Verbs Mentor Texts
Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
It’s a night in the life of a coyote who is searching for food to feed her cubs. I love the descriptions and verb choices that set the mood. “Twigs crack. Rabbit freezes. Ears twitch. Coyote lunges. Rabbit leaps. Shadows blur. Coyote is fast, but Rabbit is faster, skittering under the slide to safety.”
Donut the Unicorn Who Wants to Fly by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Andrea Zuill
Simple rhyming noun-verb combos show a persistent unicorn who keeps trying to fly and eventually, DOES! “Donut sails! Donut flails.” Enchanting, expressive illustrations narrate much of this charming story. You can’t help but cheer Donut on!
Bubbles…Up! by Jacqueline Davies, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez
Written in the second person, this is a verby, punchy, exuberant celebration of swimming and playing underwater! And even if a storm stops you for a while, when it’s gone And time to get back in the water, you plunge under under under BUBBLES UP!
Ride, Roll, Run Time for Fun! by Valerie Bolling, illustrated by Sabrena Khadija
“School’s done! Ride, roll, run!” Kids will enjoy this action-packed yet simple story about all the things kids can do after school. Teachers and parents will love the (action) verbs, verbs, and more verbs! “Dribble, fake. Fast break! Shoot, wish. Swoop, Swish!” Mentor text, anyone?
A Round of Robins by Katie Hesterman, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier
First, the robin parents build a nest, then guard their eggs, and eventually raise their baby birds to be independent. The rhyming poems are joyful, playful, and fun to read out loud. Teachers, you’ll love using these poems in your writing workshop. Vibrant action verbs capture the lives of this bird family, “Jumble, jostle, rumble, squirm” or “Wiggle, ship / Squiggle, slip.”
When the Snow Falls by Linda Booth Sweeney, illustrated by Jana Christy
Playful poetic language invites readers into a wonderland of multigenerational, multicultural family time in the snow. The children sled, make snow angels, watch the snowy roads, and return home to a cozy fire next to grandma and grandpa. “Cocoa warms. Mittens puddle. Day dawdles. We cuddle.“
Walrus Song by Janet Lawler, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering
Lyrical writing with descriptive active verbs, this is a beautifully written book with dramatic illustrations and minimal text about the life of a walrus underwater, above water, fighting, making sounds, and more. “Waddle. Walk. Slap! Slap! Walrus lumbers. Flippers flap.“
The Longest Letsgoboy by Derick Wilder, illustrated by Catria Chien
Heartbreaking and beautiful with transcendent illustrations, this is a beautiful book for anyone who has a dog or who has lost a dog. An old dog walks with his Little one last time through nature, speaking to us in a playful dog-speak style. “I wigglewag…We reach a bend in the gurgleburble, where hornheads and stripetails often visit, and sipslurp cool sweetness.” Later, when Little sleeps, the dog slowsteps to the softgreen, circles twice, and then hears his last letsgoboy. He closes his eyes and is lifted to a place where he’s young again.
Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby
Outside In thoughtfully looks at our relationship with nature. Sometimes we forget about Outside but Outside reminds us of sunset and shadows and birds…”Outside sings to us with chirps and rustles and tap-taps on the roof.” Celebrate nature with this lyrical ode to all that Outside gives us. Beautifully written with evocative watercolor illustrations, this gem is one you don’t want to miss.
One Springy, Singy Day by Renee Kurilla
“Stretchy yawny wide awake at dawn-y.” It’s a VERBY, action-filled day showing a diverse group of kids who play and read, eat and imagine until the end of the day which is “soapy scrubby bubbles in the tubby.” Charming.
Walk Your Dog by Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, illustrated by Neesha Hudson
Detailed illustrations of a little girl and her exuberant dog add depth to this book about loving your pet dog. “Greet your dog,” the book begins. Simple three-word sentences on each page make this a good choice for new readers as well as a read aloud. See what you do with your dog from the beginning of the day to the end. “Settle your dog. // Love your dog.”
Things to Do by Elaine Magliaro, illustrated by Catia Chien
Beautifully illustrated and filled with words that sparkle into wonderful images, this is a lovely, lovely book I highly recommend! These are the things to do if you’re dawn, a honeybee, the sky, and more. “Things to do if you are RAIN / Polka dot sidewalks. Freckle windowpanes. Whoosh down gutter spouts. Gurgle into drains. Patter ’round the porch in slippers of gray. Tap dance on the roof. Then . . . go away.”
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
This beautifully written gem celebrates Native American culture through the lens of the food Fry Bread. The repetitive text starts each two-page spread, “Fry bread is…” then descriptive, lyrical verse follows each statement, elaborating on the meaning. “Fry bread is sound / The skillet clangs on the stove / The fire blazes from below / Drop the dough in the skillet / The bubbles sizzle and pop.” This rich text paired with evocative illustrations culminates in a wonderful book that will show children Native American traditions of family, food, and love.
The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome
The short, poignant phrases set the tone for a bittersweet, emotional story. The repeated text helps kids can put themselves in the shoes of the child narrator who is a slave on a plantation whose older brother runs away. Every day is the same — the bell rings, then her parents and her brother Ben go to the field and she goes to Miss Sarah Mae’s to play with the other children. “The bell rings. / Daddy gathers wood. / Mama cooks. … Mama kisses me. / Daddy touches my neck / with rough hands.”
See the similarities between humans and animals! Simple sentences show animals in playful action plus kids doing the same, showing the similarities between animals and humans. “Animals hide and hop // sniff and sneak // and peek and peep. // We play too! kimetawanaw mina.”
Dreamland by Noah Klocek
Luminous illustrations, vivid verbs, and sensory imagery depict a little girl on a bedtime journey to find her dreams and restful sleep. I know that my own daughter can relate as she has struggled to fall asleep night after night. “She struggled past the moonlight that fell in her room . . . // and waded through the blankets that seemed lost in the sheets.” Marching, dancing, and traveling, Amelie finally finds herself in her favorite dreams.
Splatypus by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic
This fun story’s language just invites reading aloud. Platypus wants to play — so he finds animals and tries his best to fit in — skipping, hopping, dipping, dropping, and splat! Kangaroos, dingoes, possums, and fruit bats all make Platypus become Splatapus. Then he finds penguins who are swimmers just like him.
Winter Dance by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Richard Jones
This beautifully illustrated and written picture book enchants readers with repeated text and soft forest scenes. “Winter is coming, what should I do?” the fox asks. As he asks the different forest creatures, one by one they tell him what they do in the winter like make a chrysalis, burrow in the mud, gather and hide acorns. But, it’s not until he sees another red fox that he learns what to do. “When a million snowflakes fill the air, twirling, tumbling, spinning, waltzing, you and I join them.” It’s absolutely a joyful celebration of winter.