Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Go Poem #15 -- "All Nouns and Verbs"

by Brett Vogelsinger

One of my favorite (and perhaps the truest) quotes about poetry is from Marianne Moore and serves as the title of today's post.  "Poetry is all nouns and verbs."  Pick your favorite poem and look at it closely.  Your favorite words, the pieces that really make it tick, will be the nouns and verbs.

Many students know the poem "dog" by Valerie Worth when they come to me because it was memorably used in the short novel Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. My students have frequently read this book in late elementary school.  Now we examine it in a different way. 

After the first read, I ask them to count how many verbs they can find.  Following this initial census, I have the kids start calling them out while I circle the verbs on the screen.  Instead of giving the poem our customary second reading, this time I only read the title and the verbs.

Does the poem still work? Can you still get a similar picture, even if we use just the title and a list of verbs?  Why is this?  What makes action verbs so powerful for vivid writing?  Sometimes students associate adjectives with helping the reader see something in their writing.  Why can verbs be just as effective, if not more so, in helping readers visualize a scene? 

What I love about this activity (beside the brevity and straightforwardness) is that it blends in a review of parts of speech and provides a skill that can be extended to any genre, for essays and short stories are just as improvable as a poem is when the writer gives full attention to the verbs during revision.

While this activity focuses on verbs, consider using Jeff Anderson's idea, published previously on this blog, to focus on the power of nouns.  

Brett Vogelsinger teaches freshman English students at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, PA where he starts class with a poem each day. Follow his work on Twitter @theVogelman.

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