Using Mentor Texts to Teach Verbs of Action and Being

Mentor Texts Create Writers. Mentor Texts Are Awesome.

teaching verbs


Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt is our all-sixth grade read. Our district gave all fifth graders this book to read over the summertime, so they have a chance to have a common, shared conversation about a single text when they enter middle school. While not all students take part in the rising class read, all students are given books. The best way to promote this text is through a book talk. Often, I hear students say “I didn’t read this book over the summer,” and then they choose to pick it up after they hear it book talked. We can never forget the power of a book recommendation to our students. The goal for this small mentor text mini-lesson will be to show students the difference between verbs of action and verbs of being.

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As we go into the practice part of today, it is important to recognize the struggle with identifying verbs of action and verbs of being. Most of my high-level readers do not have a hard time identifying verbs of action. However, all students-no matter the reading level-have been identified as striving in terms of identifying verbs of being or states of being. Jeff Anderson in Patterns of Power: Inviting Young Writers into the Conventions of Language, Grades 1-5 focuses on the following verbs of being: Is, Am, Are, Was, Were, Been, Being, Be. There is always power in emphasizing actions; there is also shared power in realizing that the subjects of sentences have the power to state existence or being. Examples:

Stephanie jumps around the room. (Concrete)

Stephanie is happy. (Abstract)

Practicing examples during this phase of instruction will be the “secret sauce” to getting students to understand the difference between action verbs and verbs of being. Again, like simple sentences, starting the analysis with shorter, simplistic work builds into more compound and complex sentences later on in the sequence of instruction. It is important to keep in mind that verbs of being require a level of abstract thinking that we have to scaffold for striving readers and writers. I like to create word banks with videos like “Jack-Jack Attack” or show a Flocabulary clip to help students practice as well. While the idea of a state of being can be a difficult concept to grasp, it is achievable through the classroom examples practice.  I have embedded the handouts I use below or you can go to the Writer Resources page to get access to my Google Doc.


It is important to carry over the work from simple sentences into the work of identifying the verbs of action and being. I still have students identify the simple subjects in their sentence. We make this simple by using names. We are the best subjects of our own sentences because we are the most familiar with ourselves. So again, I ask the probing questions:

Does your sentence have a who?

What are they doing? (Action)  How are they now? (Being)

Is there anything else we should know?

After students have written their sentences, we act them out and share them. We also get to use a standard think-pair-share model where students go back to identifying the types of verbs in each others’ writing. 

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Writing Mindset Reflection: How do you make teaching verbs exciting? What lessons have you used for verbs of being?

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