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Choosing engaging verbs


Journalistic writing doesn’t have to be boring. True, slanted words aren’t good to use. Neither are ones that show opinion or too much emotion. But that doesn’t mean sticking with “is, are, was, were” and other dull words. This lesson encourages students to choose active, accurate and engaging verbs that help the reader experience the action.


  • Students will be able to recognize accurate, specific verbs in the journalistic writing of others.
  • Students will assess the meaning of word choices to avoid opinion and “drama.”
  • Students will apply this knowledge to their own writing.


Common Core State Standards



Use precise language, domain-specific vocabulary, and techniques such as metaphor, simile, and analogy to manage the complexity of the topic.


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.


Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.




30 minutes plus an out-of-class assignment



Slideshow: Choosing engaging verbs

Internet access for research

Handout: Improved verbs

Differentiated Resources — support for ELL and special education students

Modified Slideshow: Choosing engaging verbs

Lesson step-by-step

1.  The set-up — 10 minutes

Show the slides and discuss the examples from Pulitzer Prize-winning articles. Are they specific and descriptive without showing slant? Which ones are strongest? How would another verb make the sentence weaker – or stronger?


2.  The search — 10 minutes

Have students individually or in pairs find other examples of descriptive, specific verbs that make a sentence in a NEWS or FEATURE story stronger. Be sure it’s not showing opinion. Share the Pulitzer Prize link and scroll down through examples or suggest they try their local newspaper.


3.  The share — 10 minutes

As a large group, share the verbs students found. Discuss the ones that add to the sentence without using opinion. Make a list on the white board or poster board. Include the sentence if there is room.


 4. The follow-up and assessment

For class the following day, have students use a story they are currently writing or one that was recently published. Using the “Improved verbs” handout, have them list verbs in one or more stories that could be better and offer suggestions improvement. (Short stories may only have one or two possibilities, but tell them to look for “blah” constructions like “is” or “There are”).



Students who may have difficulty with vocabulary may be paired with a student who has a better grasp of the situation.