By Carey McDaniel
Language Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

When I walk into my daily Advanced Grammar class, I am pretty stoked to talk about past progressive verbs or the benefits of using noun clauses as the objects of the prepositions. Who doesn’t love the snappy banter of gerunds in the morning?

I couldn’t understand why my students straggled into class–coffee in hand and texting away–between 8:35 and 8:50 (class starts at 8:30:01 AM). The only student I could excuse was a woman who had to put her kids on the bus every morning.

Wasn’t my energy, enthusiasm, and compassion enough for them to get to school on time? Wasn’t I modeling the professionalism they were striving for?

In a word: no.

Not even close.

While the class itself was required for the students’ certification, and my creative instructional design was (pretty) gripping, and my standards of behavior and decorum were carefully outlined in the first week of school–I still couldn’t get more than half of the class there by 8:30 unless I picked them up for school myself.

I would do almost anything to help and completion rates, right? No, I couldn’t do that! There must be a better way.

Inspired by my New Faculty Development class, I decided to try linking some of the grammar lessons to real world events through supplemental readings, in and out-of-class videos, and in-class discussion “blogs” we held aloud.

I wanted to share the global news of earthquakes or volcano lightning as an entryway into practicing prepositional phrases.

I wanted to analyze race riots to further our study of adjective clauses.

I wanted to practice gratitude journals to differentiate related and direct speech.

So I gave a bland introduction at the beginning of class and started homework review or some on-the-board notes (in multiple colors, no less) and waited until everyone got there to share the daily news and what we called “making it real” in daily grammar lessons.

That’s right, I waited until everyone arrived to start what some students called the best part of class. The part where they got to work together in small groups, identify their relation to the global issue at hand, write and eventually report on it–all in a vibrant practice of the grammar lesson of the day.

The students who got up early enough to get to class and be ready at 8:29:01 were getting the same lessons as everyone else, including those who stopped for lattes before class. The moseying latecomers still bothered me, but I managed to ignore them for about two weeks.

Then it finally dawned on me.

Making the first 20 minutes more interesting and special was as simple as writing a good lead: I had to hook ‘em without their even knowing it.

The first few minutes of class became a precious time for all of us. We began to look forward to sharing what we read or watched the night before. Students who were Dunkin’ Donut regulars started getting to class earlier and earlier. When they walked into a class of uproarious debate or laughter, they knew they had missed something big, and that coffee became less and less important.

The best lesson had to come when we talked about how lottery winners are not much happier than the rest of us. A study discussed findings that suggested we all have our own happiness point to which we rebound up or down after great joy or serious sadness. And we were using the discussion about the lottery to wish for things–and practice prepositional phrases, noun clauses and direct objects.

We paired our lottery winnings wishes with a gratitude walk, a few minutes when we walked around the classroom and said aloud what we were happy for. Many students shared aloud those things we take for granted every day–including, as my student who put her kids on the bus in the mornings said, “the ability to be on time when you want to be.”

Maybe learning the value of punctuality was more important for that student than learning to conjugate in the past perfect progressive. I’d probably argue against that–but it sure made a difference to her.

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