Dammit, Jim! This is a grammar lesson, not a spelling lesson.

On my last day of the CELTA course, I had to teach a grammar lesson.

So far, I’d had a hard time with teaching grammar. I think that might come from my own dislike of it. As a language learner, I hated grammar lessons. Memorizing formulas and filling out worksheets never stuck with me, and I had been traumatized by a Spanish teacher in high school who made us do worksheets every day and nothing else (someone stole the giant Mexican flag from her classroom and wore it as a cape during the school year. Stealing is wrong, but I still giggled when I found out). I always preferred to be immersed in the language and figure out the rules on my own as I went along. I’ve always thought that grammar isn’t terribly important when learning a language, as long as you can get the meaning across.

Apparently that’s not how Cambridge wants English to be taught. My blasé attitude toward grammar did not help me when I had to teach it.

It also didn’t help me sell it to the students. I learned the hard way that if you spend the lesson thinking, “This is stupid. Why am I doing this. I hate this,” they’ll know. You guys, students can read minds.

My solution was to pretend to be a different teacher. A teacher who was good at teaching grammar. Specifically, I pretended to be one of my classmates, who had given some phenomenal grammar lessons throughout the course.

We weren’t required to observe each other teaching during the last week, so I had a lot more time to prepare for my lesson. I spent hours researching and planning how I was going to explain the grammar, trying to make my lesson as structured and interactive as possible. On the day of my lesson, I found an empty classroom and spent about an hour rehearsing how I would get the students to figure out the answers and practicing how I would write it out on the board.

All that preparation, while probably unrealistic for a full-time teacher, made a HUGE difference for me. I felt confident and in control, and I was able to have fun with the material. I actually liked the topic I was teaching, and so did the students.

About halfway through the lesson, a student tried to ask me a question, but struggled with a word that he wasn’t sure about. I said the word for him and he nodded, but still had trouble pronouncing it. He asked if I could write the word out so he could see it.

As I was writing the word on the board, I realized that I wasn’t exactly sure how to spell it. Had I ever seen this word written before? I paused, added another L, erased it with my fingertips, thought, added the L again, and then stood back to admire my handiwork. There, on the board for the entire class, was the word:


I looked at it and thought, “Well, that doesn’t look right.” As I wondered how I was going to fix it, I could hear the scratching noise of the student writing it down. I threw myself at the board to cover the word, using my body to protect him from my atrocious spelling. I turned my head to look over my shoulder at the student, screeching, “Don’t write that! I wrote it wrong!”

I snatched up the eraser and frantically tried to erase the offending word. This was the eraser that we had all been using for our lessons during the month-long CELTA course and no one had time to clean it, which meant the eraser was coated with dry erase residue. As such, I didn’t erase the word so much as I smeared the letters around and turned the white board purple.

“This isn’t a word that comes up a lot,” I said, casually trying to erase the smears with my hand. The smears didn’t go away, but my hand was now purple. “We need to move on now, but I’ll get the correct spelling for you before class is over.”

I was very pleased with how the rest of the lesson went. All my preparation had paid off, at least with the grammar. But as we moved through the lesson, I completely forgot about my promise. If I had been left to my own devices, my student would still be wondering about that mysterious word. Fortunately, one of my friends was in the room observing. At the very end of the lesson, he caught my eye and discreetly showed me the word he had written down for me:


He doesn’t own a smart phone, so I can only assume that he’s just better at English than I am. If this were a dramatic movie about my struggles as an English teacher, I would have thrown my arms around him and wept tears of joy and gratitude. Instead, I whispered, “Thank you!” and wrote the word on the board.

Later, my instructor pointed out that there was a dictionary on the table the entire time. He said it would have been perfectly fine to stop and look up the word. “But you still went back to it at the end, so it wasn’t a problem,” he added. This made me think it would have been a problem if my friend hadn’t come to my rescue. Thanks, buddy. =)

One of my lessons that week was about the future and technology. As I was looking for material to use, images of Patrick Stewart kept popping up. Since he apparently really wanted to be a part of my lesson, here is the image I used:


Image via acidcow.com
This entry was posted in Living in Germany, Teaching and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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