A Can of Worms

story by Geoffrey McSkimming , illustrated by Douglas Holgate

Learning intention

I am learning to understand the way verbs add meaning to a sentence so that I can make deliberate choices with the vocabulary I use.

Success criteria

  • I can reflect on how making deliberate choices with the verbs I use adds meaning to sentences.
  • I can identify descriptive verbs.
  • I can compose a script.
  • I can include descriptive verbs.


Essential knowledge 

Remind students that verbs are action words and discuss examples, such as:

  • Run
  • Swim
  • Dance
  • Talk

Verbs from the New South Wales Department of Education page has more information.

Display the following edited extract from Can of Worms:

Bob the odd-job otter who fidgets with All Things Broken heard Shasta’s saying as he was rubbing the cleats on the SS Webweaver’s deck above. ‘Worms?’ he said to himself. ‘She’s going to give us worms for dinner?’



Discuss the following questions:

  • What type of otter is Bob? (An otter who fidgets, an otter who says unusual phrases)
  • How does Bob hear Shasta? (There is no information in the text about this)
  • What is Bob doing when he hears Shasta and why? (He’s rubbing the cleats on the deck although it’s unclear why)
  • How is Shasta planning to serve the worms? (There is no information in the text about this)

Draw students' attention to questions where there isn’t enough information provided in the text to answer them, for example how Bob hears Shasta, how Shasta is serving the worms and what tone of voice Bob speaks in.

Read Can of Worms or listen to the audio file. Refer students back to the same extracts that were displayed and inform students that in the actual story the verbs are more descriptive. Display the version of the extracts from Can of Worms and underline the verbs that are differ from the first extract, such as:

Bob the odd-job otter and Fixer of All Things Broken and Wonky overheard Shasta’s exclamation as he was polishing the cleats on the SS Webweaver’s deck above. ‘Worms?’ he muttered to himself. ‘She’s going to cook us up worms for dinner?’

Bob thumped his tail against the deck.


Display the same questions as previously and discuss:

  • What type of otter is Bob? (An odd-job otter and Fixer of All Things Broken and Wonky)
  • How does he hear Shasta? (He overhears her)
  • What is Bob doing when he hears Shasta and why? (He’s polishing the cleats on the SS Webweaver’s deck)
  • How is Shasta planning to serve the worms? (She is planning to cook them)


Discuss the fact using more specific verbs impacts readers’ understanding of texts. Ensure students note that the descriptive verbs in the second extract make the meaning of the sentences clearer. Draw students' attention to the fact that there is now enough information for them to respond to all the questions displayed.

Instruct students to work with their partner identifying further examples of descriptive verbs from the story. Note these on the board. For example:

  • twitched
  • dancin’
  • banged
  • clacking
  • remembered
  • scratchin’
  • jigglin’
  • fidgetin’


Discuss general verbs and jot a list of them on the board. Sample responses include;

  • Get
  • Run
  • Walk
  • Eat
  • Write
  • Dance
  • Have
  • Say

Select one of the verbs and create a word-web, placing the verb in the middle of a circle with arrows coming off it, that point outwards. For example, write get in the middle of the circle. Discuss more specific synonyms for this verb and note an example next to each of the arrows, for example, grab, snatch, track down, claw-back. A thesaurus on an online search might help with this.

Tell students to work with the same partner and provide them with thesauruses or with access to digital technology. Tell students to complete word webs, noting specific verbs around the general verb.

Inform students that they will be composing a brief script for their partner. Tell students that the script will need to use the most descriptive and specific verbs so that their partner knows how best to perform the actions. Instruct students to select the most appropriate verbs from their word-webs to include in their sentences. Gradually release responsibility, composing an example together first, by completing the following:

  • Refer back to the story and identify the misunderstanding that occurs (Bob thinks Shasta is preparing worms for dinner when she actually says that having her brother to dinner would be like opening a can of worms).
  • Refer students to the ending of the story (Shasta says if her brother had come for dinner there might have been fireworks. Bob thinks she means that they’ll be eating fireworks).
  • Discuss the type of conversation that might occur between the characters due to this misunderstanding, for example Bob might panic about having to eat fireworks. Tell students that they will be composing dialogue about this misunderstanding.
  • Discuss ideas and compose an example. As you write, pause when using a verb and emphasise that you must select the most descriptive verb for the sentence. Underline descriptive verbs in the example. A sample response is:


Bob: Fireworks, goodness. I can’t digest such a thing. I’d be sprinting around the deck after gobbling down fireworks!

Shasta: Oh you’d be fine, events would just explode with a bang.

Bob: If I see any fireworks, I’ll snatch them and launch them overboard.


For more scaffolding on structuring a script, see The Donkey’s Tale, pages 25 to 29, found in this issue of Countdown.

Place students with a partner and instruct them to compose their own script about the misunderstanding. Remind them to include descriptive verbs and to use their word-webs for ideas.

Once complete, instruct students to swap scripts with a peer. Inform students that they will be performing each other’s scripts and that they will be adding actions based on the descriptive verbs. Tell students it’s important that they don’t speak to each other at this stage as the goal is to use only the scripts to guide the students' performances.

Discuss how students might mime the actions for particular verbs, role-playing the difference between verbs such as snatch (where the performer will pretend to grab something) versus pick up (where the performer would mime gently lifting something). Allow time for students to read each other’s scripts and rehearse their performances.

Assessment for/as learning:

Instruct students to perform the scripts to the person who composed them. Tell students that they should consider whether the person acting out their script is performing it in the way they intended.

Instruct students to answer the following questions in their workbooks:

My classmate performed my script in a similar way to the way I planned when_________

The most notable differences were_______________

I think I could improve on________________ when selecting the most suitable verb.

Finally, students should answer the following exit ticket question in their workbooks:

  • Selecting the most descriptive verb is important because___ (It allows writers to provide the most vivid and accurate descriptions)