A Call for VERBS! Breaking down the Common Core Standards
Next time you write an email or construct a sentence for some writing purpose, look at your sentence. A sentence can offer a moment of peace, explode with energy, or lifelessly fade by the wayside. What is the difference? THE VERB.
VERBS are the ENGINE of your sentence.
Verbs basically fall into two classes: “passive” and “active.” Passive verbs are just that. Shy, unassuming, they allow the subject of the sentence to take charge. (Example: The ball is being thrown by me. (verb= is)) vs.: I threw the ball. (The verb (threw) takes control and moves the sentence producing a powerful statement). Do you know you can virtually eliminate adverbs by using powerful active verbs? (See? I just used an adverb to illustrate. I could have said, “ You could minimize the use of adverbs….”)
It is a skill writers perfect to maximize power and lessen word count; it’s a skill to teach my students. When I say, “OK, let’s rock this paper with POWER verbs,” they may know the meaning of a verb, but not truly understand the function of it in a sentence.
Challenge # 1.
Year after year, I promote students to have more “VOICE” in their writing; or perhaps it is dynamic “WORD CHOICE”; Sometimes, I zone in on their “FLUENCY” and beg for a variation of sentence structures and lengths. I can beat my head against the wall all year, but without proper knowledge of sentence construction and the function of words, nothing will ever improve their writing. As I have taught now for about a decade, and focusing on writing as a form of learning and expression, I’m faced with seeing the students’ difficulties with organization, coherence, and revision. News flash: It is not getting any better! WHY?? What has changed in the past 25 years?
Challenge # 2.
As an Arizona English Language Arts teacher, I was always struck by the lack of attention to grammar in the English Language and Literacy standards. As a public school teacher for eight of these ten years, grammar was only focused on as a form of conventions deeply hidden within the Writing Standards. It wasn’t even in any of the Strands of Reading. The Reading Strands dealt with Informational Text, Literary Text, and Functional Text. For the Writing Strands, they dealt with the Stages, Traits and Genres. Within the Traits, as mentioned above, is the Trait of Conventions. This is where one would find some proofreading standards. But that was the extent of the stress on grammar knowledge. Moreover, grammar was not a tested skill. (Teachers threw it out based on time constraints as well) Sadly, if students cannot think through a sentence and how it is structured, their writing will never improve. Grammar is the function of language and works together with reading and writing. We see grammar in action whenever we read; we apply and practice it in our writing.
With years of being able to rattle off standards, strands and sub-strands from the Arizona State Standards, I have been delving into, digesting, and soaking in the Common Core Standards. Forty-five states (including Arizona) and three territories have adopted the Common Core Standards and are now using them in the classroom. The Common Core for ELA includes Reading of Literary and Informational Texts, Writing, Speaking and Listening, Media and Technology, and (thankfully) Language. This is not to say school districts are using them to the fullest potential, crossing curricular practices, but it is beginning to take effect.
While Reading is the process of gaining and integrating new knowledge, WRITING is the process of producing new thoughts from their knowledge and experience. Moreover, writing is clarity of thought. Writing is given a portion of the spotlight in the Common Core standards, but this time, I see a new LIGHT: Attention to VERBS!
Conventions of Standard English
1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
a. Explain the function of verbals (gerunds, participles, infinitives) in general and their function in particular sentences.
b. Form and use verbs in the active and passive voice.
c. Form and use verbs in the indicative, imperative, interrogative, conditional, and subjunctive mood.
d. Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood.
(Source: Common Core Standards; English Language Arts and Literacy)
Let me give some background on why this is not only vital but so refreshing:
It was discovered that the teaching of grammar alone is like teaching what a dollar bill is but not giving the function or use of it in daily life. It’s meaningless. Lynn Sams discussed this in her article on Grammar and noted that structure and meaning need to be discussed together. It is no wonder why direct instruction in grammar had no impact upon writing. “Quite simply, the grammar instruction in these studies was not related to writing. It merely taught prescription (usage and rules) and description (noun, verb, prepositional phrase), the naming of parts.” (57) So, instead of working to incorporate grammar into instruction, teaching of the basics of grammar was thrown out.
This can be likened to football. I know very little about the game. I can sit and enjoy it, know when a player scores, but in terms of understanding the plays and how they work, I’m clueless. Now, if I were to play the game, I would be lost, making many mistakes, but seeing my way through with a lens of little knowledge. This is basically why our students’ writing has not improved in twenty-five years. They can know bits and pieces, but can they write a sentence, understanding the fundamentals and the functions of the players (parts of speech)? After time, their plays are elementary and never advance; until
they understand the function and the rules, their writing stagnates.
When I want to strengthen the WRITING of my students, I can’t give them a protocol of including stronger verbs if they know not the function nor various usages of this glorious grammar bite.
To illustrate the power of verbs, here is a list of the verbs used in the Common Core Standards:
Identify Illustrate Imagine Implement Infer Inform Inquire Inspect Integrate Interact Interpret Invent Investigate Judge Justify Locate Map Manipulate Model Modify Monitor Observe Organize Outline Paraphrase Participate Perform Perceive Plan Portray Practice Predict Prepare Present Pretend
Process Produce Publish Qualify Question Rank Reason Recall Recite Recognize Relate Reproduce Research Respond Restate Retrieve Review Revise Rewrite Select Stimulate Solve Study Summarize Support Survey Translate Transform V erify Visualize Write
Our writing skills speak volumes about our intellect. So, next time you write that email, see if you used a powerful active verb. Start writing with more attention to this, and your writing will sparkle. It all started with the simple understanding of a part of speech called a VERB.
Thank you Grammar.
Sams, Lynn. How to Teach Grammar, Analytical Thinking, and Writing: A Method That Works. English Journal, January 2003
About a month ago, I was hacking away, as usual, playing golf with a dear friend. The sunset was threatening our hopeless game, and I hit my 17th hole shot into a deep sand trap. Slowly, I stepped into the sand, and next thing you know, I’m laying flat on my back. So, my not so smooth game just became worse as my foundation slid and allowed me to collapse.
Everything goes along smoothly for a while, then one day, out of the blue, you hit a sand trap. It can be something uncomplicated like my fall, or it can be huge, even threaten a relationship.
*wince* “But I ask him every day to pick up his socks…. He just won’t…. He can’t seem to…. I’ve asked him _______ly! (insert verb ex: nice, beg, sweet, angry).” Has any of it worked? Probably not.
First, I must ask if this is a hill on which you want to die? Is this an issue that you can change or is it something that you can let go? Guess what? You cannot change your spouse.
So, you can choose to stay in the sand trap and continue to whack away at that ball, while sand blows in your face…OR…. You can choose to accept the situation and work with it. Maybe try a different strategy like using your sand wedge and gently pitch the ball instead of whacking it with full force.
2. Carrying A Load
Sometimes you need to let it go. Maybe you need to take the cart for a while and put the bag down. Your bag of clubs can get pretty heavy mostly when you stash old Kit Kat wrappers, broken tees and loose change in the pockets. Are you holding on to the stuff in the side pockets dealing with past hurts, issues or anger?
Apparently, A new study shows that carrying your golf clubs and walking 18 holes of golf may have a negative affect on your golf swing and performance as you play 18 holes which was presented at the 55th American College of Sports Medicine. Proof positive that all that baggage may be detrimental to your health. Not only that but another source was noted to say that carrying your clubs reduces your height by 0.2mm! If you are carrying a load of anger and resentment, you need to place park your bag, get in the cart with your mate, and talk it out. Otherwise you’ll be a short, exhausted human being.
3. Lost Ball? The Five-Minute Rule
So, you have hit your ball somewhere in the parking lot. No, maybe it is in the field next door among the bristles or perhaps it is among the pile of leaves along the clubhouse. Hmmmm. You have five minutes to find it. GO…! Now, you may not find it in that five minutes, and if you don’t it’s a one stroke penalty to the score.
Are the conversations with your mate one-sided? Maybe she or he does ALL the talking and you sit there repeating, “Yes Dear..” Maybe you should try asking questions! Moreover, when your spouse gives you an answer, delve deeper. Give this a try for a minimum of five minutes to start. Ask your spouse how he/she feels and then listen. Listen without giving advice or reacting emotionally. Try to understand life from his/her perspective. Then demonstrate your understanding by summarizing what you’re hearing. If you spend at least five minutes a day asking questions and expressing genuine interest in his/her ideas or thoughts, you might find your missing ball.
Look out ahead! Now there are times in the marriage when you need to just take one day at a time and enjoy the ride; however, you should plan for things to do together. Take initiative to spend time with your spouse. Don’t wait for your spouse to make a date with you or to set time to talk with you. Suggest it yourself. Do you go out on dates? Do you sit down at the beginning of the week or month and take some time to plan? Families that play together, stay together.
If you don’t do this and take initiative, “Fore” may be what you really hear; you are in “danger” zone of not connecting lately. Don’t let this go by. Take ACTION!
Connection has to happen daily, let alone weekly and monthly. However, you can avoid the big problems if you take care of communicating and dating as much as possible.
5. Evaluate your swing
Guess what? You have faults! Sorry to break it to you, but you aren’t perfect. People with strong character are aware of their faults and work to better themselves. Now, if I know you, and if you are like any red-blooded human being, you could probably work on something in your life. To have a good swing, for example, you need to have
A bit of Luck
To have a good marriage, you need to have… guess what? The same four things (if not more). Maybe it’s time to evaluate your swing. Take some time and look in the mirror to find some weakness YOU possess. If you work on that, maybe your marriage will improve. Remember, character is built from humility.
6. Take a Mulligan when needed
When I was a child, my favorite phrase as the “Double Dutch Champion of Pueblo Road” was “Do over!” What a relief to know I could try again and better my time. When a player messes up or “muffs” his or her first try at a tee box, he/she can take a mulligan. Who would have imagined that grown-ups have this opportunity. The idea of mulligan in marriage reminds me of GRACE. Have grace with your mate. Sometimes we need a real do over when we make a mistake. I recently read, In, The Grace Wakening, Chuck Swindoll calls grace “the oil that lessens the friction in marriage.” But, it must be mutual. One cannot be the ball and the other the club. They both are active and part of the work.
7. The Spirit of the Game
Unlike many sports, golf relies on the integrity of the individual to show kindness for other players. All players should behave in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy at all times. This is the spirit of the game. As in golf, in marriage (and any relationship!) kindness goes along ways to create warmth and positive feelings in a relationship. Every day there are opportunities for undemanding, kind gestures that show you care. The smallest thing like a compliment or a hug can make any marriage better.
Once again, the game of golf provides valuable lessons for life. Will these seven tips invite bliss into your home? Follow these rules, just like with your game, and your marriage will turn into a hole-in-one.
Recently, I attended a “thank you” luncheon at my church. They just wanted to honor the educators and pray over us for the coming school year. What!? Yep! Pretty darn cool.
They gave us a small bottle of salt as a reminder to what we can be in others’ lives. Salt has many functions, and moreover it is a necessity in all of our lives.
First, it is a PRESERVATIVE
As an educator, I can pour into my students’ lives positive messages. However, I exist for one reason only; to preserve the grace and faithfulness of God.
Next, I want to be used to SEASON my classroom with God’s love and His grace. Being an example, as Christ was for me, is what my walk on this earth signifies.
However, salt has to be used in proper BALANCE. Too much, it causes piety. Too little, it may be thought as weakness. I see SALT as a BALANCE of grace and truth.
So, being salt and working with ONE LIFE AT A TIME; this is what Jesus did. He didn’t try to change people. He just loved one at a time; one life at a time.
He was interruptible. Isn’t it so true that being available is what makes one so attractive? I take time and I don’t rush through tasks… Relationships over task.
Maybe I can create inspiration; I can create WONDER in a child. He/she may be better because I loved on him/her. A prayer for the year.
Reading today in 1John, it is assumed that we know the “old” commandment. “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard.” (1John 2:7). Before I can even move on to the next statement, I am distressed that I take this so lightly. If this is something that we have heard from the beginning, to love God and others, shouldn’t it be something we have mastered?
There is no cause for any “stumbling” or issue if I love my “brother.” Sure…no problem; Just love others and it will be a lighted path.
I pray for the ease of this commandment. No others are needed if I love God and others. That supersedes and abolishes the LAW because if this is the case, then the other commandments are satisfied.
Apparently when talking to a friend, I used these words most often.
I’m seeing a theme!
This summer, it’s time to “settle my brain” and get back to the basics. This means, my bible, my journal, and THE BIG GUY. (Well, and my little guy, Coti)
She recommended I draw through my journal. I found this image and it struck me as symbolic of how I’d like my mind to be; full of seeds, buds, blossoms, and fully bloomed flowers. This all takes TIME and germination.
Here are the verses I’m focusing on:
A fool utters all his mind: but a wise man keeps it in till afterwards
Commit your works unto the Lord and your thoughts will be established.
You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you: because he trusts in you.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength: this is the first commandment.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.
II Corinthians 10:5
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
4Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God
And the peace of God which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and mind through Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
I Peter 1:13
Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
II Peter 3:1b-2
1b Stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:
2. That you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.
I should be a music teacher. In one second flat, I can get EVERY single student in my class to make a harmonious “AAAH” sound with perfect pitch and tone. As an ELA middle school teacher, and understanding the stress of teaching students to write, I always get the whining when I introduce the formal “essays.” What is it about a prescribed writing piece that has students running for the cozy comfort of a story? Students’ desires have waned when they arrive to my classroom. The structured writing models coupled with the robotic sounding paragraph has creativity going out the window. By 7th grade, students seem to put aside their imaginative hats, bury their interests and sadly have less desire to read and and writing.
The Core Standards have non-fiction writing and structured essays outnumbering the experiential narratives by 8th grade and are almost non-existent by 12th. Does this have to be the case?
To Convey Experience
Source: Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects
Perhaps the “experience” needs to be included in each genre of writing. If “70% of what we learn is through stories” and that “storytelling is essential for innovation“ (according to Professor Fels from One Thousand & One; Organizational storytelling in Australia), then we need to re-think HOW we are teaching the informational formal writing piece. We think in pictures; we don’t process things as well when they are theoretical. Marrying the narrative experience with expository or nonfiction writing captures the data and allows for better retention.
When thinking about my favorite books, they tend to be non-fiction. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell or Daniel Pink are creative research writers who dispel information disguised in narrative form. One can argue teaching the expository text with an introduction, body, and conclusion CAN be taught using stories as their main support. Make a point: Tell a story; Make a point: Tell more story. Students can get this.
One of the first “essays” I introduce to my 7th graders is a persuasive “essay” letter for which they write to a potential investor. This integrated invention project’s purpose is to improve students’ research and persuasive writing skills, as well as prepare them to be critical, innovative thinkers. First of all, they create a product which would be financially or ecologically sustainable. For example, one student created a virtual organizer whereas another made a rooftop water collection device to help with the water supply in countries where a steady water supply is scarce. One student also created a table for easy access for people in wheelchairs. Next, they research a company who may be a potential investor in their product. With the use of their persuasive writing skills and their knowledge of propaganda techniques, they write a letter seeking funding while persuading the company about their worthwhile product. Finally, they present their product and read their letter at a “Celebration of Innovation” gathering. Each audience member is given a ballot, and they rate each student on passion, persuasion, poise, and product sustainability. They start the process in Science, and by the time they come to me, they find out they’ll now be writing.
When they discover they’ll be writing a structured paragraph persuasive letter, their brains turn off and they become inanimate objects. Yes, the extinction of the 5-paragraph essay may be looming, but I’m old school in them still knowing the structure of making their point and then support it with reason. Students NEED to have this formal training to help them clarify their thinking and form cogent arguments. The “structure” of 5 paragraphs lays a foundation as does knowing the alphabet helps one learn how to read. They will have a thesis and make points, but how will their data be humanized? How will they bring it to life? This is where the narrative piece comes in. The body of this paper will be filled with paragraphs, but each paragraph needs support. What kind of support could there be? How can they capture stories in their data? The best stories are rooted in the heart of the research, from beginning to end.
I have to debunk the myths in their heads about starting at the beginning of this “essay.” I provide the students with a graphic organizer called an OREO (see Figure 1), and we fill out the THESIS first. I change the name of this to the OPINION statement. (or the “O” in OREO) (This will transform into a paragraph or their introduction, but I tell them we’ll do that at the end.) The opinion statement must be visual because this is how our brains process since we never read for raw information. There has to be a direction and purpose. We call it a thesis, but maybe when teaching the thesis statement, we need to humanize the “problem or situation” which needs examination….something that matters….something that calls for writing.
Which thesis statement allows for ease of reading and seeing?:
“Sing-Can is a powerful garbage can that is happy when things get thrown in it.”
“Sing-Can belts out melodic tunes when one tosses his/her trash.”
The second statement has a human component and an object. It’s the classic, Subject-Action Verb-Direct Object statement, and this structure seems more comfortable for our brains to comprehend.
Next, the students fill out their “R’s” or three reasons why this is the best product. These could be called their topic sentences, but I change the name so as to not make them feel like this is a formal piece. After they do this, they focus on ONE reason. This one reason needs Explanation and Examples (The “E’s) Finally, the story part! A lawyer cannot stand in front of a jury and make a statement letting it hang. He needs to elicit emotion from the reader or audience. How can this be done? Tell a story!? Make the reason have legs. Propaganda techniques like statistics, testimonies, and bandwagon have to have a subplot undergirding the reason. So, then can now have a character and a small story to support their reason. This topic sentence of reason can be: “Sing-Can rids the earth of 30% more trash than regular trash cans. The examples and explanation needs to be a story to humanize this number. Students can spend time on this paragraph in turn enjoying the “essay” process. Once the backbone of the OREO is set up, it is up to them to spruce it up with stories to support.
Finally, the students repeat their “O” in the last paragraph and sum it up. Now they can add the bells and whistles like the Grabber (or first sentence of their Introduction) to sit on top of the Thesis or Opinion statement.
The paper writes itself, and the students stand in awe of the size of their “5 paragraph” essay which is filled with story.
Students never run out of stories. This is why I have students journal through the year with all their slices of life; they capture bits of life which can be used later for information or research. This is true support for a “research” or expository they shall write. We are marrying the two together providing us a thesis and three main points but a subplot undergirding the whole paper including characters and a directional theme.
The “experience” needs to be in each genre of writing. If our brain thinks in pictures we need to teach to the students in stories having them write in kind. Marrying the narrative with expository or nonfiction writing allows the students the resurrect their creativity and provide data which makes the reader not only retain the piece but enjoy it as well.
One Thousand and One Organisational Storytelling. July 2012.