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Eliminate “To Be” Verbs: Substitute with Stronger Linking Verbs Lesson


Using a “to be” verb is like putting on a BAND-AID®Simply open up the protective paper; peel back the two plastic sections; and apply over the wound. Quick and easy. However, removing that same BAND-AID® a few days later calls for bravery and a strategic approach. Slowly peal or rip? Often our strategy depends upon the wound itself. A slow peal around the edges for one that may leave a scar. A quick rip for a minor scrape.

Sporting a BAND-AID® or two doesn’t detract from your overall look. Some of them are quite stylish. In searching whether to capitalize the BAND-AID® product name or not, I see that the company really knows how to market their products. Any six year old girl would gladly scrape her knee for a Frozen BAND-AID®. However, wearing a dozen or so makes anyone look like the walking wounded. You can overdo anything.

Let’s face it; developing writers overdo the “to be” verbs in their writing. So let’s explore a strategy that developing writers can use to reduce the number of or eliminate the “to be” verbs in their essays.

I call it the Substitute strategy and it helps writers replace most, but not all, of the is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been verbs with stronger verbs. If the strategy doesn’t work, use another that does (See all five strategies here).

Lesson Plan: Common Core State Standards W.3, 4, 5  L.2, 3 and Depth of Knowledge Levels 1, 2, 3 (20−30 minutes)

Behavioral Objective: Students will demonstrate the ability to identify the eight “to be” verbs, explain the proper functions of these verbs, and substitute a strong linking verb in place of a weak “to be” verb on the formative assessment.

1. Introduce the lesson by telling students that their task is to learn how to replace weak “to be” verbs with stronger verbs. Remind students To Be Verbsthat a “to be” verb links to the subject (the do-er) of the sentence as a state of being. You might want to reference this Parts of Speech article with my Parts of Speech Song to review the three basic functions of verbs (physical action, mental action, state of being). Tell students that writers generally avoid using “to be” verbs in essays. “To be” verbs can appear more frequently in narrative writing.

2. Write the eight “to be” verbs on the board: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been.

3. Say,”‘to be’ verbs are not always bad; sometimes writers must use ‘to be’ verbs to communicate exactly what the writer wants to say. A ‘to be’ verb  performs one of these five functions: (Write this list on the board, adjusting or deleting the grammatical terms to the level and prior knowledge of your students.) Any questions?”

  • Exists−Is there any trouble? Yes, I am he (predicate nominative).
  • Happens−The meetings are over.
  • Locates−He was at the birthday party.
  • Identifies−Those children were friendly (predicate adjective).
  • Describes−That could be scary (helping verb)! He is being helpful (progressive tense). Those girls have been so mean (perfect tense).

4. Say, “Let’s learn the Substitute strategy to replace weak ‘to be’ verbs, which don’t serve these functions. Look at this sentence on the board: (Write the following sentence.) Juan was ready to help. (Point to the list of ‘to be’ verbs). Which ‘to be’ verb is found in this sentence? Whole class answer on three (pause): 1, 2, 3 ‘was.’ Circle the ‘was’ on the board.”

5. Write this list titled Strong Linking Verbs on the board: appear, become, feel, grow, look, prove, remain, seem, smell, sound, stay, and taste. Note: Some of the above verbs act as both linking and action verbs depending on usage.

6. Say, “Which linking verbs can substitute for the weak ‘to be’ verb ‘was’? Make sure to add the ‘s’ on to the end of the linking verb to match the singular subject, ‘Juan.’ (Write student answers on the board below the sentence.) How does each linking verb affect the meaning of the sentence?”

7. Say, “We need some practice using the Substitute strategy to replace weak ‘to be’ verbs with stronger linking verbs (Print and pass out the Substitute Strong Linking Verbs Worksheet to each student and read the directions out loud.) Complete items #s 1−8, but don’t complete the formative assessment at the bottom.”

8. After most of the students have finished the worksheet, display the answer sheet and direct students to self-correct. Then say, “Now complete the formative assessment at the bottom of your worksheet.” (Tell students to pass in the worksheet and review to see if your student have mastered this lesson objective.

Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

How to Eliminate “To Be” Verbs

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