Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Explain THIS. Part 1

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author

Picture this: A teacher is standing in front of the class. A student asks a question. It suddenly dawns on the teacher that he/she doesn’t know the answer. It also goes through the teacher’s mind that it would be so much nicer if that student hadn’t shown up for class! So now what? All eyes are on the teacher, whose heart starts beating a tad faster and whose forehead is suddenly feeling quite moist. What to do? What to say?

I bet you’re grinning right now. You can relate to that scenario, can’t you? I know I certainly can! But it’s an unavoidable occurrence in our profession; an occupational hazard, as they say. We just can’t know everything about everything! So I’m going to start a mini-crusade of sorts. I’m going to dedicate a number of my pieces on “Teacher Talk” to help teachers avoid some of those uncomfortable moments like the one I’ve just portrayed.

I think the best way to approach this crusade of mine is to offer you some mini-dialogues and sentences to think about and ask you to come up with interpretations you’d give to your students. First, we’ll check out some individual words in the lexicon; later, we’ll deal with phrases, clauses, or sentences in which just one little word or one change in stress can change meaning tremendously, albeit subtly.

Each of these mini-dialogues or individual sentences will have errors. Find the errors, correct them as you see fit, and figure out how you would explain your corrections to your students. That’s the most important part: how to explain the differences in meaning and/or usage.

So let’s get started. Please have fun with these while you think about them – and DON’T use a dictionary. There isn’t going to be any fun in that!

1.   (at a park)

A: See that bird! She’s feeding her chicks.
B: Where? I don’t look at her.

2.   I’m going to show you how to decorate a birthday cake. Now look at me carefully. First, you …

3.   A: Hey, Dad. You’re taking the car to get to work this morning?
B: Yeah. I’ve got to run some errands after work, so I’ll need the car. Get on and I’ll drive you to school.
A: Thanks! It’s awesome not to have to get in the bus!

4.   (on a military base)

      A: Good morning, General. Good morning, Colonel. May I help you gentlemen?
B: Good morning, Corporal. Our wives will be here very soon. Please ask them to wait right here for us.
A: Yes, misters.

5.   A: Good afternoon, madam. Welcome to Chez Maurice. Would you like a table?
B: Not yet, thank you. I’m waiting for a friend of mine to arrive. We’re having lunch together.
(a few minutes later)
A: Good afternoon, madam. Welcome to Chez Maurice. Do you have a reservation?
C: No, but my friend does. I’m meeting her here for lunch.
A: Oh, yes, she’s over there.
C: Hello, Belinda! I’m here!
A: Please follow me to your table, madams.

6.   A: I still think that Yuri Gagarin was the greatest cosmonaut/astronaut in the earth!
B: I’m not arguing with you. He was the first man to go into outer space and circle the world.

7.   A: I just bought five acres outside the city. I’d love to build a house there.
B: I know how exciting this is for you. How does it feel to own ground for the first time in your life?

8.  A: I know that paleoanthropologists may never be able to answer this question, but I keep
wondering why our hominid ancestors stopped swinging in the trees and decided to come down to the
B: Beats me. Maybe like some kids today, they just liked to play in the soil!
A: Hah, hah! Very funny!

9.  (at a department store)

     A: Excuse me. What are these sheets made with?
B: One hundred percent Egyptian cotton.

A: Do you happen to know if this paint is made from latex?
B: Well, I believe that’s one of the ingredients.

A: Is it true that this jewelry is made in abalone shell?
B: Yes, isn’t it beautiful?

10.  A: You know, I’m tired of the color scheme in our living room and dining room. Let’s exchange it.
B: That’s okay with me. Since I have to go to the paint store to change this camel-hair brush I bought
there for a nylon one, I’ll pick up lots of color samples for you to look at.
A: That’ll be great.

Now how was that? You had fun, didn’t you? If you found these challenging, great! That means this hasn’t been a waste of time!  Answers will follow in my next piece, so hang in there.


Comment from naleeni
May 22, 2012 at 7:03 pm

In ans to that 1st paragraph : I would normally tell the std I do not know the ans but I’d be happy to find out and let them know later. Phew! That would certainly give us breathing space, wouldn’t it?

Comment from Richard Firsten
May 22, 2012 at 8:11 pm

That’s the perfect answer, Naleeni, and one I myself used many times, especially in my early years of teaching ESOL. Those were golden opportunities to do some digging and find out answers to those questions.

Comment from Pam
May 24, 2012 at 9:27 am

I would say that I’d find the answer, too, and have done just that. In the meantime, the correct verb is “see” and I think it’s because it’s passive whereas “look” is active; I am “looking,” (active), but I don’t “see.” To “not look” is to actively avoid “seeing.”

Comment from Richard Firsten
May 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Hi, Pam. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m sorry, but I don’t follow what you’re saying. What I can say is that I think you’re confusing ther terms “active” and “passive” with “voluntary” and “involuntary.”

At any rate, you’ll see all the answers and explanations in my next piece here on “Teacher Talk.”

Comment from PGS
June 2, 2012 at 11:52 am

What a marvelous teachable moment how to use knowledge, the teacher’s AND the student’s, to gain knowledge, the answer to the question

Pingback from Teacher Talk » Explain THIS, Part 2
November 1, 2013 at 11:53 am

[...] back! In Part 1 we took a look at some lexical problems. I asked you to correct them and then, most importantly, [...]

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