Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Using Nonfiction Animal Books to Teach Timeless Verbs [K–1]

By Dr. Susan Bennett-Armistead, Professor of Literacy Education, Guest Blogger

Sometimes people, children, and teachers get a little confused about what counts as informational text. It’s not surprising really. Different people use different definitions for it. In today's blog post, I'll describe how helpful characteristics of informational texts can be leveraged when you're teaching kids about verbs.

Characteristics of Informational Texts

The definition of informational text used in My World and Zoozoo Animal World reflects characteristics of texts whose primary purpose is to inform about the natural and social world. As such, it also has some pretty specific characteristics and text features that are different from other genres. One of the characteristics of informational text is the use of timeless verbs. That may not be a feature that you’ve been talking about before, but you’re likely aware of it when you encounter this genre.

Timeless verbs and their partners, generic nouns, are one of the ways you can tell something is informational text. To be clear, a timeless verb is a verb such as bark in the sentence Dogs bark. The idea is that dogs barked a hundred years ago and they’ll bark a hundred years from now. It’s what dogs do. They bark. There’s no time attached to it so no past or future tense. To further clarify, a generic noun is a general noun that refers to a whole class of things, not one specific member of that group.

In the case of Dogs bark, dogs is the generic noun. You could also have something like German Shepherds bark since German Shepherds are a class of things; but you can’t have Fluffy, my German Shepherd, barks. That turns the subject into a specific noun and in that case, Fluffy is like a character in a story. Stories are great but they aren’t informational text and they aren’t constructed the same way. We’re trying to learn about all German Shepherds, not just special one.

Teach kids about animals in eight habitats within Zoozoo Animal World by  clicking here.

Practicing Verbs with Informational Texts

One way to reinforce the difference between timeless verbs with your students is to use high-quality informational texts and assist them in locating the verbs. Start off with simple two-word sentences like Dogs bark and Snakes slither. Invite them to be Verb Detectives and see if they can figure out what word is the verb.

After they’ve read a book like Donkey, ask your children to think about what donkeys do. They should say things like work, drink milk, and eat hay. Make a list on a chart or whiteboard as they share their ideas. Be sure to have them show you where in the book they got their idea. After you have a list, explain that verbs are Doing Words. Invite the children to circle or underline the word that is a Doing Word on your list:

  • Donkeys work.
  • Donkey babies drink milk.
  • Donkeys eat hay.

After you’ve tried this out, see if you can do it with other books in the Zoozoo Animal World series. Try Goat and Alpacas. You’ll have a list of verbs that are drawn from each book but are common across the animals. That will allow you to talk about how donkeys, goats, and alpacas are the same and different, just by focusing on the verbs.

Later, you can also look at Honeybee. Making a similar list, you can talk about how honeybees are very different from donkeys but they both do something that’s the same. You can try asking, Can you figure out which verb they share?

Once your Verb Detectives get better at sentences with a simple sentence structure, try increasingly complex sentences to see if they can find the verbs. For example, Insects grow and change, from the My World book titled Insects, can illustrate that sometimes sentences have two verbs. The sentence Some babies come out of eggs from the book Animal Babies can make it tricky to decide which word is the verb.

Explore paired fiction, nonfiction, and wordless books in the My World series  by clicking here.

Even the simplest books can offer challenges for examining verbs. Timeless verbs are an important feature of informational text, and as our children are learning these features, they’re also learning important content about the world around them. Choose any animal you’re studying and invite the children to generate all the verbs they can think of that make sense for that animal. I’m sure you’ll see their vocabulary blossom while they think about new action words!

Finally, here’s a fun fact for you: there is one kind of informational text that breaks the pattern of timeless verbs and is always written in the past tense. For another clue, the topic is a favorite of many young children. Can you guess what it is? Dinosaur books are always written in the past tense!

Be sure to visit our blog soon for more surprises and fun ways to engage your students!

Susan Bennett-Armistead, PhD, is an associate professor of literacy education, the Correll Professor of Early Literacy, and the coordinator of literacy doctoral study at the University of Maine. Prior to doctoral study, Dr. Bennett-Armistead was a preschool teacher and administrator for fourteen years in a variety of settings, including a brief but delightful stint in the Alaskan bush. She is also the author of our My World Collection and several books in our Kaleidoscope Collection. If you like what you read here, be sure to read more helpful articles by Dr. Bennett-Armistead on our blog.