Word Choice Lesson Plan: Using Strong Verbs in Place of Weak Adverb/Verb Combinations

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After morosely reading 14,237 weakly-written verb-adverb combinations while sadly grading essays, I leisurely noticed I had reluctantly begun to do the same. My writing, like that of my students, had slowly become a morass of ly words. I immediately decided to do something about it. I stoically crouched under my desk, enthusiastically pulled out a candy bar, and gleefully ate it when an idea suddenly struck me. Instead of incompetently teaching students how to write incompetently, I could come up with a lesson plan on how to effectively eliminate weak verb-adverb combinations. I hurriedly tossed my candy wrapper, excitedly called my mom, and eagerly told her to not wait up for me.

I had work to do. I had to create a word choice lesson plan. My students needed to start using strong verbs. Here’s what I came up with:

Procedures for Revision

Adverbs muddle good writing when overused. Students (and some teachers) assume adverb use makes for good writing. They’re wrong. Adverbs equal lazy writing.

  • Define adverb and instruct students to copy the definition in their notebook and at the top of their rough drafts, if necessary. An adverb modifies verbs, adjective, or other adverbs. They answer the questions where, when, how, and to what extent. A special kind of adverb, called an intensifier, defines the degree of an adjective or another adverb. Intensifiers always precede the adjective or adverb they modify (Definitions courtesy of Grammar Usage and Mechanic Book, McDougall Littel, 2007. p. 16). Common examples of intensifiers include very, somewhat, quite, rather. If the overuse of adverbs represents lazy writing, the use of intensifiers represents sleeping in until noon, not showering, sitting on the couch, ordering food to go, and watching TV all day.

  • Instruct students to read their rough drafts and circle, highlight, or underline adverbs and the words they modify. If you are not using this lesson for a specific revision, feel free to cut and paste my horrible introduction and use that as an example of over-adverbatizing.

  • Instruct students to look for intensifiers and words ending in ly, if they are struggling.

Let the Teaching Begin

It’s time to start using strong verbs.

  • Volunteer students to write examples of sentences containing adverbs on the board. Make sure they or you identify what the adverb is modifying. Identifying what is being modified will help students create strong verbs and will make for a more effective word choice lesson plan.

  • Discuss ways to eliminate adverbs by identifying which question the adverb answers.

    • The teacher looked menacingly at the disruptive student (menacingly answers how) becomes The teacher glared at the hooligan.
    • The student was quite pleased with himself (quite is an intensifier_)_ becomes _The student was pleased with himself._
    • He foolishly invested in bad real estate becomes He speculated in real estate.
  • In pairs, instruct students to identify weak writing associated with adverbs and to cross out all intensifiers

TIP: I’m not suggesting you automatically eliminate all adverbs from your writing. However, each adverb should be viewed suspiciously. Finally, If the adverb can be easily eliminated without dramatically changing the meaning of the passage then it should be immediately removed and carefully scrutinized when revising.

This post is part of the series: Better Grammar Equals Better Writing

Grammar builds the foundation for good writing: the better the grammar, the better the writing.

  1. Teaching Students How to Combine Sentences and Improve their Writing
  2. Lesson Plan: Eliminate Weak Verb-Adverb Combinations
  3. Lesson Plan: Eliminate “To Be” Verbs
  4. Lesson Plan: Write With Strong Verbs
  5. Lesson Plan: Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
  6. Revising Pronouns and Antecedents with this Lesson Plan
  7. Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement Made Easy
  8. Lesson Plan: Understanding Independent and Dependent Clauses
  9. Teach Your Kids to Eliminate Fragments and Run-ons in Their Writing
  10. Lesson Plan: Use Parts of Speech to Improve Sentence Beginnings