Friday, April 7, 2017


When I was working on my book Things to Do, I tried to select verbs that best described the actions of the things that I was writing poems about.  For example, in my RAIN poem, I wanted my verbs to help readers hear sounds that rain makes and to help them envision things that rain does: polka dot, freckle, whoosh, gurgle, patter, tap dance. Using strong verbs helps to make our writing come alive for the reader.

Things to do if you are RAIN

Polka dot sidewalks.
Freckle windowpanes.
Whoosh down gutter spouts.
Gurgle into drains.
Patter ’round the porch
In slippers of gray.
Tap dance on the roof.
Go away.


When I was teaching elementary school, my students wrote quite a bit of poetry. I often tied their poetry writing in with science units that we were studying in class. My students especially enjoyed writing "things to do" list poems about animals.  
Before asking my students to write their own "things to do" poems, I'd gather them together and have them collaborate on writing a class poem. I'd talk to them about trying to select the verbs the best described the actions of the subject of their poem. I also ask them to try to begin each line or sentence of the poem with a verb.

On a large sheet of chart paper, I'd write down the  rough draft of our class poem. We'd read through it once or twice. Then I'd give them a day to reread it to themselves...and to think about any changes they'd like to make to their poem. As we worked on revising the class poem on a second sheet of chart paper the following day, we'd try to think of more dynamic verbs that we use in place of those we used in the first draft.

One year, my students chose to write a collaborative poem about the things they would do if they were a witch. It was October...and their interest was high on all things Halloween:

Things to Do If You Are a Witch

Wake up at midnight.
Fly around the moon
on your magic broom.
Zoom around a haunted house.
Swoop out of the dark sky
and scare children.
Have a huge purple wart
on the tip of your long, pointy nose
and skin as green as grass.
Wear a tall black hat
pointed as a thumbtack.
Make yucky snake skin potions
in your kettle.
Cast nasty spells on princes
and turn them into toads.
Eat vulture leg stew, bat wings,
and frog eyes for lunch.
Throw bat noses into the air
and catch them in your mouth.
Go to sleep in a graveyard
before the sun comes up.

Excerpts from some of my students' "things to do" poems:

SHARK by Mike B.

Speed through the freezing sea
like a bullet.
Dart away from enemies.
Catch silvery fish
for your chick.

KITTEN by Leo S.

Tear up couches.
Pounce on a furry mouse.
Rocket out an open window
and climb a tree...
Sharpen your claws on tree bark.

DOLPHIN by Billy E.

Dive for whiskery catfish
and eat them.
Fly out of the water
like a bullet...
Jet through warm seas.

MANATEE by Adam K.

Nibble yummy water weeds.
Nuzzle a friend...
Fold up your flippers,
Close your eyes,
And go off to dreamland.


Soar through the air like a rocket.
Feel the wind on your wings.
Swoop down to the river.

BUTTERFLY by Phoebe G.

Flutter in the sky
And show off your rainbow scales.
Find a yellow rose
And settle on a petal.
...sip up the sweet drops of nectar.

I found that having my students write "things to do" poems was not only a good creative writing activity--it was also an excellent language arts exercise.

Here are other examples of verbs that my students used when writing about animals:

Rattlesnake: slither, stick out, rattle, bite, swallow, slip, coil
Shark: glide, bite, gobble, sneak, scare
Penguin: dive, speed, dart, catch, waddle

Kitten: pounce, tear, climb, fiddle, hide, curl up, rocket, sharpen



Irene Latham has the Poetry Friday Roundup at Live Your Poem.



Jane @ Raincity Librarian said...

I certainly feel like being a manatee today!

I love this idea of writing collaboratively - poetry can often be a solitary pursuit, which can be liberating, but can also be intimidating for emergent young poets!

Elaine Magliaro said...


When I became our school's librarian, I continued to help different classes write collaborative poems. I posted them all on my library website. Unfortunately, the system took down my site a few years after I retired. I wish I had been informed beforehand...and not after the fact.

Irene Latham said...

I love the witch poem! And I especially love how you gave students a day to reread and think about how they might improve the poem. "Sleeping on it" is such great advice for creating all types of art. Thank you!

Linda B said...

I loved your book, Elaine, and know that you must have given such poetic gifts to your students. Each one of these shows they listened to you well. Writing together first really helps, and I love that "vulture leg stew."

Tabatha said...

Terrific post! Have you heard about this call for submissions? It seems like it would be perfect for you to submit a "things to do" poem to:

Have you written a bop? A golden shovel or a specular? A pecha kucha or a gram of &s? Invented a form of your own? Send us your best original poems in a form invented or rediscovered in the new millennium for consideration for an anthology that will collect together all of these divergent poetic forms. Email up to 3 poems along with a brief biographical note [and instructions if it's an invented form] to:


Editors Sharon Dolin and Ravi Shankar will make all final decisions and submissions will be accepted by Sept. 30th, 2017.

Kay said...

So many great verbs! Not only is it a lesson your students took to heart as demonstrated in their poems, it is also one I will carry with me.

Mary Lee said...

I've been using a library copy all week with my students as a mentor text if they are writing their narrative nonfiction in verse. Got my OWN copy TODAY!! YAY!!

Elaine Magliaro said...

Mary Lee,

I am so happy to know that you FINALLY got a copy of my book!