In the MOOD for Verbs?

Posted by Rod Burnette on

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.1c. Form and use verbs in the indicative, imperative, interrogative, conditional, and subjunctive mood.

Regardless of how you feel about Common Core, teaching verb mood can be pretty challenging. These three steps can help your students learn these concepts—and they can be applied to teaching other concepts as well!

The steps are simple. Step one: Introduce the concept. Step two: Collect examples. Step three: Use and identify examples in the context of writing. The process looks something like this:

Step one: Introduce the concept. There are many ways to introduce these different moods, of course, but one way is by having students create mini-posters. In small groups, students illustrate indicative (making a statement), imperative (giving a command), and interrogative (asking a question) mood. Provide a model of each mood, and then give each group a specific verb to use. (There's a sample below. Hang on just a minute.)

Continue with mini-posters of conditional and subjunctive, which are a little trickier. It’s best to introduce these moods after students begin to understand independent and dependent clauses. (Daily Grammar Practice can help with these concepts!) 

The conditional mood is almost always used with the modals could, might, or would in an independent clause.

Some people believe the use of subjunctive mood is fizzling out like the use of whom and shall. In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye sings

If I were a rich man,
Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.
All day long I'd biddy biddy bum
If I were a wealthy man.
I wouldn't have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I were a biddy biddy rich,
Idle-diddle-daidle-daidle man.

In the more modern song “What If?” by Coldplay, however, we see

What if there was no light?
Nothin' wrong, nothin' right.
What if there was no time
And no reason or rhyme?

If you were to visit, you would find more information about subjunctive mood (which occurs in a dependent clause).

Here are examples of student-created mini-posters. Notice that the students underlined the verb in each sentence.

Step Two: Collect examples. My students don’t generally have trouble with imperative, interrogative, and indicative, but the best way I have found to help them grasp subjunctive and conditional mood is to have them collect examples. Think of a bug collection—except with sentences as the specimens! Dedicate a bulletin board or space on your wall for the collection. When a student comes across an example of one of the moods you are studying, she writes it on a note card (along with a basic citation). 

When a student brings in an example, allow him to share it with the class and point out the verb form. Then post the card in the permanent collection. My classes have always enjoyed competing against each other—the first class to bring in twenty specimens gets some kind of reward, for example. With awareness of and regular exposure to the different moods, students can remember and use them correctly. 

Here is an example of a specimen card and one of the charts I use to keep up with how many examples each class has contributed.

Step three: Use and identify examples in the context of writing. When students submit writing for assessment, require them to highlight and identify any imperative, interrogative, conditional, and subjunctive forms they use. (They can occasionally highlight an indicative as well though it’s certainly not necessary to point out every one of those!) 

Annotating their own writing in this way encourages students to think critically about the writing and to understand the relevance of the concepts they are studying. Of course, students can identify other concepts you’re trying to reinforce as well.

Here is a student example. Because of the annotation, you can see quickly and clearly that this student understands interrogative mood but doesn't quite grasp conditional mood yet. This type of assessment is much more meaningful than a multiple choice test.

If you have your own classroom-tested strategies for teaching verb mood, I hope you’ll share them in the comments section below. We can all use a new idea now and then!


Post by Dawn Burnette.

Dawn is a National Board Certified Teacher who has taught middle and high school English since 1990. In addition to English, she is also certified in gifted education for grades K-12. She is the author of Daily Grammar Practice as well as numerous other publications for teaching language arts. She received the NCTE High School Teacher of Excellence Award for 2005 and was a 2007 finalist for Georgia Teacher of the Year. Dawn teaches professional development courses and has presented at countless conferences.


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