When I was working on my book Things to Do, I tried to select verbs that best described the actions of the things that I was writing poems about. For example, in my RAIN poem, I wanted my verbs to help readers hear sounds that rain makes and to help them envision things that rain does: polka dot, freckle, whoosh, gurgle, patter, tap dance. Using strong verbs helps to make our writing come alive for the reader.
Things to do if you are RAIN
Polka dot sidewalks.
Whoosh down gutter spouts.
Gurgle into drains.
Patter ’round the porch
In slippers of gray.
Tap dance on the roof.
When I was teaching elementary school, my students wrote quite a bit of poetry. I often tied their poetry writing in with science units that we were studying in class. My students especially enjoyed writing "things to do" list poems about animals.Before asking my students to write their own "things to do" poems, I'd gather them together and have them collaborate on writing a class poem. I'd talk to them about trying to select the verbs the best described the actions of the subject of their poem. I also ask them to try to begin each line or sentence of the poem with a verb.
On a large sheet of chart paper, I'd write down the rough draft of our class poem. We'd read through it once or twice. Then I'd give them a day to reread it to themselves...and to think about any changes they'd like to make to their poem. As we worked on revising the class poem on a second sheet of chart paper the following day, we'd try to think of more dynamic verbs that we use in place of those we used in the first draft.
One year, my students chose to write a collaborative poem about the things they would do if they were a witch. It was October...and their interest was high on all things Halloween:
Things to Do If You Are a Witch
Wake up at midnight.Fly around the moon
on your magic broom.
Zoom around a haunted house.
Swoop out of the dark sky
and scare children.
Have a huge purple wart
on the tip of your long, pointy nose
and skin as green as grass.
Wear a tall black hat
pointed as a thumbtack.
Make yucky snake skin potions
in your kettle.
Cast nasty spells on princes
and turn them into toads.
Eat vulture leg stew, bat wings,
and frog eyes for lunch.
Throw bat noses into the air
and catch them in your mouth.
Go to sleep in a graveyard
before the sun comes up.
Excerpts from some of my students' "things to do" poems:
SHARK by Mike B.
Speed through the freezing sealike a bullet.
Dart away from enemies.
Catch silvery fish
for your chick.
KITTEN by Leo S.
Tear up couches.Pounce on a furry mouse.
Rocket out an open window
and climb a tree...
Sharpen your claws on tree bark.
Dive for whiskery catfishand eat them.
Fly out of the water
like a bullet...
Jet through warm seas.
MANATEE by Adam K.
Nibble yummy water weeds.Nuzzle a friend...
Fold up your flippers,
Close your eyes,
And go off to dreamland.
BALD EAGLE by Nick P.
Soar through the air like a rocket.Feel the wind on your wings.
Swoop down to the river.
BUTTERFLY by Phoebe G.
Flutter in the skyAnd show off your rainbow scales.
Find a yellow rose
And settle on a petal.
...sip up the sweet drops of nectar.
I found that having my students write "things to do" poems was not only a good creative writing activity--it was also an excellent language arts exercise.
Here are other examples of verbs that my students used when writing about animals:
Rattlesnake: slither, stick out, rattle, bite, swallow, slip, coil
Shark: glide, bite, gobble, sneak, scarePenguin: dive, speed, dart, catch, waddle
Kitten: pounce, tear, climb, fiddle, hide, curl up, rocket, sharpen
Irene Latham has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Live Your Poem.