Assignment: Write two short descriptions of the same thing. One description should use only action verbs. The other should use only linking verbs.
I am Luna Lovegood. I am good at beliveing. I am brave, and I was with Harry at the fight at the ministry. But I am usually quiet.
They call me “Loony.” (Even though I would like them to just call me Luna.) I once went to the ministry and fought some Death eaters. And I helped Harry smash prophecies.
This is from Sentence Island, the writing component to Michael Clay Thompson’s language arts program. As in the last writing activity I posted about, there’s a lot going on in this assignment. It is not, as I first assumed, just an exercise in making sure the student understands the difference between action verbs and linking verbs. Instead, as Alex verbally brainstormed and categorized two lists of descriptors about her subject and I took notes, the exercise turned into a thoughtful exploration of what these two kinds of verbs are for. What kind of things do action verbs let you talk about? What is the effect when you pile up linking-verb sentence after linking-verb sentence? What things are hard to say using each type of verb?
She selected just a few things from each list to put into her final descriptions. She really tried to make them parallel – an interesting challenge that I wouldn’t have required. I like the solution she found for introducing her subject without saying “I am…” or “my name is…” in the action-verb description.
When she was done, we read them over together. “This one is better,” Alex said without hesitation, jabbing a finger at the action-verb description. “It just sounds better. It’s more interesting.” She’s right, even if I do now want an icon with a picture of Luna Lovegood and the words “I am good at believing.” This assignment was such a powerful way of introducing the writing precept “show, don’t tell” – without ever telling that, incidentally, but just showing it. I’m starting to see that a grammar-based approach to good writing is much less petty and dry than it sounds. Michael Clay Thompson believes that grammar is profound, and that it extends far beyond the pursuit of “correctness.” He’s starting to convince me.
(Also, memo to myself: don’t skip the writing activities just because you figure that Alex already has a firm grip on the concepts.)