Classroom Throwback: Hands-on Linking Verbs and Helping Verbs

Teaching grammar to young students can be a daunting task. As much as I love English literature and grammar, I realize that it is hard to make grammar lessons fun and interesting for young children. When I was teaching fourth grade, I was teaching a unit on verbs. During the unit, I designed a hands-on activity for linking verbs and helping verbs.

My students were having a hard time understanding the difference between linking verbs and helping verbs. I have to admit, it is a hard concept for most adults to understand. Most people believe linking verbs and helping verbs are the same. They are not the same.

  • Linking verbs help to link the subject of the sentence to the words or group of words that identify or describe the subject. They are also called being verbs because they explain or show states of being. The following words are linking verbs: seems, tastes, appears, smells, went, feels, is, looks, is, am, was. Example Sentences: He is a builder. The teacher feels overwhelmed. The flower smells sweet. 
  • Helping verbs “help” the main verb show the action or the state of being of the subject. Helping verbs also provide tense for the sentence. The following words are helping verbs: am, are, is, be, being, been, has, have, were, was, may, might, must. Example Sentences: I was reading the report this afternoon. He is teaching the next unit in math. She might travel abroad next year.

I provided my students with many examples. However, the hands-on activity above really helped my students to understand both types of verbs. I actually came up with the idea when I realized that I had too many sentence strips in my closet. Sentence strips are not used often in the upper-grade level. I felt this was the perfect opportunity to use the supply in my closet.

I had my students complete both strips: one for the linking verbs and one for the helping verbs. I told them to imagine that helping verbs were giving a “helping hand” to the main verb in the predicate of the sentence. Their hand would be the helping verb that would connect the subject to the main verb and the rest of the predicate.

For linking verbs, I gave them different advice. The linking verb acts as an “equal sign” that joins the subject of the sentence to the predicate of the sentence. For example, in the sentence “The flower smells sweet,” the flower = sweet. The “equal sign” is the link in the sentence because it tells us about the flower’s state of being (what the flower is supposed to be).

The result was a great hands-on activity that helped my students understand the difference between linking verbs and helping verbs. So, if you have sentence strips explore the world of verbs with your upper-grade students!