I was preparing my elementary grammar class for an upcoming test on modals, and we were reviewing the previous night’s homework. For one exercise, the students had to complete a sentence with the most appropriate modal and another verb. A student, Nicolas, read: “We might use more solar energy in the future.” Seeing a chance to mention more modals, I said, “I think we will, because we must.” Since this is a very important topic for our world, I didn’t stop other students when they started responding to these comments, as their responses soon turned into impassioned discussion. From time to time, I thought of my duty to steer the talk back to grammar, but everyone grew more interested and animated, as the discussion turned to many surprising ideas: global warming, nationalism, religion, the pyramids of Egypt, God, the oceans, the natural world, the age and size of the universe. I was amazed that everyone in a basic level class was able to express complicated ideas so clearly, and delighted that they even had such ideas.
I was amazed and delighted–but I can’t say I was surprised. I teach, after all, in New York, the capital of the world, where people from every village in every nation on Earth feel equally at home, and where the most ambitious, curious and talented people come to make themselves better, including the people who walk through the doors of our little school.
The bell soon brought me back to reality, however, and I realized that although any conversation contains very useful grammar, we’d spent nearly an hour on very ungrammatical themes. I would have to work more in the next three days to present the topic fully and prepare them for their test. For me, though, engaging in fascinating ideas and getting excited by my students’ minds were worth the extra effort. I think the same goes for the students.