"To be" verbs are among the most commonly used in the English language, but they're considered irregular. That can make them tough to teach and hard to learn. Introducing "to be" verbs through games and entertaining hands-on activities will boost student interest and engagement, as well as increase the odds that they'll remember those verbs for years to come.
The "to be" verbs include am, are, is, was, were, be, become and became. Say "The class is happy," and ask the students to act this out by smiling, pumping their fists in the air or jumping for joy. Continue the activity with additional sentences such as, "We are sad," "The caterpillar became a butterfly," "We are sleepy" and "The teacher is grumpy." This activity works well in early elementary classrooms, but older students and students learning English as a second language (ESL) who need verb reinforcement practice will enjoy it, as well. Put a spin on the game by holding a ball, saying a "to be" verb and tossing it to a student. That child has to come up with a sentence using the verb. So, you could say, "was" and toss the ball to a student who might say, "I was playing outside." Then the student says another "to be" verb and tosses the ball to another student.
Find the Verb Games
Play a flyswatter game, which is appropriate for elementary, middle and ESL students, and is recommended by the Nebraska Department of Education. Give students index cards, with a different "to be" verb written on each, and have them spread them out on their desks. Provide a flyswatter to each student. Recite a sentence with a missing blank where a "to be" verb belongs, such as "The child ____ talking." The students will use their flyswatters to slap a correct "to be" verb that would fit in the sentence, in this case "was" or "is." Ask one student to recite the entire sentence, including a correct "to be" verb. Play a similar game, using the same cards, by pairing students as partners. Ask one child to make up a sentence missing a "to be" verb and have the partner hold up the card with the correct missing verb. Have the students swap roles and repeat the activity.
Hold a "to be" verb hunt, which is entertaining for students of any age. Ahead of class time, cut several small slips of paper. Write a "to be" verb on each slip, repeating the same verbs many times. Hide the slips around the classroom. During class time, invite the students to hunt around the area to find a predetermined number of slips, such as five. Once the students have found their slips, they return to their seats. Ask students to write sentences, using one of the "to be" verbs they found in each sentence. Give students a simple text, such as a picture book, and ask them to hunt through it and find two or three examples of "to be" verbs to share with the class.
Invite ESL students to make "to be" posters describing themselves. A student might write "I am a girl," and then draw a picture of herself. "I was born in Mexico" is another example of a sentence with a "to be" verb. Ask the students to write five or six sentences, with illustrations. Invite children to share their posters with the class. Divide the students into partners and have them hold a question-and-answer session. Have one student ask a series of questions that the other student has to answer with a "to be" verb. For example, a student might ask, "Are you happy?" and the partner would answer with, "Yes, I am happy" or, "No, I am not happy." Have the students swap roles and repeat the activity.
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.