Category Archives: revising weak verbs

Replacing weak or overused verbs with strong, specific ones.

black or Black?

In the 1950s and 1960s, the correct word was “Negro.”

In the 1970s, the terminology changed to “black” and then to “African American.”

Now in the 21st century, “black” has again predominated.

But with so much attention lately focused on racism and particularly unconscious racism, the question this summer is “black” or “Black”?

On June 19, the AP Stylebook, the longstanding rulebook for print journalists, changed its policy about referring to Black Americans.  Now using a capital B in “Black” is preferred in a “racial, ethnic or cultural context.”

In the two weeks since, several prominent news outlets have made the change.  They include The Los Angeles Times, NBC News, The New York Times, and the USA Today Network.

Why does it matter?  Media reflect culture.  Most large media outlets are owned and run by white males.  Whether consciously or unconsciously, they have used a lower case b which Black Americans have interpreted as condescending.  (In contrast, media focused on a Black audience such as Ebony Magazine have long used a capital B.)

Our culture is changing.  This subtle change in a single letter reflects this change by the most powerful media in our country.  They have looked at how racism can be shown in something as simple as a single letter.  And to their credit, they changed.

As Aretha Franklin sang a generation ago, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”—now with a capital B.

Forbidding am, is, are, was, were, be, been, being

1  What if you could not use any forms of the verb “to be”?  No am, is, are, was, were, be, been or being.  No progressive verb tenses.  Fewer passive verbs. No “that’s” or “it’s.”  Could you do it?

2  That’s what two of my high school students were asked to do on a research paper due today.  Any form of the verb “to be” was outlawed by their teacher, even if that verb was part of a direct quote.

3  With no choice, they wrote and rewrote sentences.  They pared down direct quotes or paraphrased them.  They eliminated passive voice.  And then they asked me to scour their writing to be sure no forms of “to be” still lurked.

4  And they did it!

5  I was telling this to another student, an eighth grader, whose writing we had just revised, and for the heck of it, we re-revised, eliminating the verb “to be” in all its forms.  A funny thing happened.

6  The student’s writing became more concise.  The student’s writing contained more active verbs and fewer linking verbs.  “It’s better,” the student said.  “Oops,” he added, realizing he had said “it’s.”

Let’s try the strategy on this blog now.

In paragraph 1, I cannot eliminate the forms of the verb “to be” or you might not know what I am talking about.

Paragraph 2 begins with “That’s,” meaning “that is,” and later in the sentence, contains the passive verb “were asked.”  I can rewrite that sentence to say “Two of my high school students needed to do. . .” dropping the “were asked” part.  In the next sentence “was outlawed” and “was” need to be eliminated.  Instead I can write, “Students could use no form of the verb “to be” even if the verb occurred within a direct quote.”

Paragraph 3’s last sentence contains the infinitive “to be.”  I could rewrite that sentence like this:  “And then they asked me to scour their writing until. . .”

Paragraph 4 passes okay.

Paragraph 5 begins with “I was telling.”  I could easily change that to “I told.”

Paragraph 6 passes okay.

When I first heard about the “confining” verb choices for my students’ assignment, I said to myself, “Ridiculous.”  But now I am an ardent fan of this way of writing.  The results convinced me.  Fewer words.  Tighter sentences.  Fewer linking verbs.  More specific verbs.  More active voice.

Win-win.

11 Tips for Writing a Blog

Write short.

  • Short sentences.  Short paragraphs.  Short blogs.  Why?  Many times your readers are using phones to read your blog.  Long sentences and paragraphs discourage, especially if they appear in small typefaces.  But if an idea demands more text, go for it.

Include white space.

  • The space between sentences.  The space between paragraphs.  The space where a headline or subheading ends.  Why?  Your writing will look friendly, not intimidating.

Include bullets.

  • Why?  Bullets insert more white space.  They indicate a list without ordering the elements.  They shorten a line of type and make it easier to read.

Sound like you. 

  • When you write, pretend you are talking to a friend.  Let your voice come through. Why?  Blogs are personal.  If readers like your personality, they will keep coming back.

Use hyperlinks. 

  • If you mention something you’ve already written about, hyperlink it.  Why?  A hyperlink makes it easy for your reader to move from one item of interest to another.  And it gives you more page views which can raise your profile in search engines.

Use graphics.

  • Why?  Like white space, graphics break up your text and make it friendlier.  They can keep a reader reading and add additional information.

Respond to blog comments.

  • Why?  To encourage more comments.  To show you are a real person.  To connect with readers.

Post to social media.

  • Why?  To attract more readers.  To encourage readers to share your posts.  To develop a wider network.

Post when you have something worth saying.

  • Your blogging schedule need not be set in stone, but it should be fairly regular.  Your posts should be relevant, not time wasters.  Why?  You should respect both your own time and your readers’ time.

Write professionally.

  • Correct grammar errors.  Be concise.  Use topic sentences.  Why?  You want readers to respect your ideas, but if they are focusing on your errors, they will lose confidence in you and your ideas.

In your headlines, use numbers.

  • 12 ways to do this.  3 main points to avoid.  Why?  Numbers are hard facts.  They are specific.  They draw readers in.

Fun picture books for beginning readers, plus learning activities

Are you looking for funny stories for your beginning reader? Silly stories using easy-to-read CVC and sight words?  With silly pictures to make kids laugh? And learning activities to reinforce the phonics?

We’ve made them!

Click on the image above for more information on these beginning readers.

Years ago, when my kids were learning to read, that’s what I wanted. But I couldn’t find them. So I started writing them. My sister, an art teacher, made them even funnier with her cartoon-like drawings. We tried them out on our kids and later my students, improved them, and now they are available for you to use with your beginning readers.

The story themes focus on little kids’ lives.

• A six-year-old receives a yo-yo for her birthday, but her father wants to play with it.

• A baby brother wants to do what his kindergarten-age brother does, but he’s too little.

• A wild child makes a mess while the babysitter gabs on the phone.

• A preschooler talks his grandfather into playing with his toys.

• A five-year-old devises ways to hide her father’s bald head.

After each story are several pages of game-like learning activities to reinforce the words and ideas of the stories.

My sister, Anne Trombetta, the illustrator, and I, the author, are teachers with masters’ degrees. We’ve applied educational research to devise story lines, words, activities and art to engage new readers.

Please check out our early reader picture books. We hope you’ll not only buy  them, but tell us how your little reader responded to the silly stories.

13 writing tips

The father of one of my students asked me if I could provide his son with a short guide his son could keep near his computer and use while writing.  Here it my suggestion.

Create a detailed prewriting organizer before you write.  Use it.

Make sure you follow directions if you are writing a response.  Cite?  Paraphrase?  Summarize?  Analyze?  Two instances?  Three?

Write the thesis sentence first before you write any other sentence if you are writing an essay.

Decide who your main character is and the problem he or she will face before you write your first sentence if you are writing a narrative.

Read your first draft aloud.  Does every sentence make sense?  Do you follow your organizer?  If something is missing, include it.  If something is irrelevant, delete it.

Make sure every body paragraph supports the thesis of your essay.

Make sure every action moves the main character closer to solving his or her problem in your narrative.

Identify weak or overused verbs and replace them with specific verbs.

Identify and vary sentence structures.  Especially include complicated simple sentences and complex sentences.

Show, don’t tell.  If you are concluding, you are telling.

Search for your typical grammar mistakes and fix them.

Add more precise details such as names, numbers, dates, locations, direct quotes, dialog, examples, thoughts, precise descriptions and sensory information.

Do revise.  First drafts are seldom good enough.