22 mars – crash course

They say that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and I have really come to know the true meaning of this expression in the past few months. Though I am an English as a Foreign Language teacher, I am not necessarily an expert on all things English grammar. I am a native speaker, so beyond comma and semicolon usage, I was never explicitly taught many of the rules. In my primary job as an English interventionist in several elementary schools, we don’t spend much time on grammar. The students learn how to use vocabulary in context (I am 10. I have two sisters. Can you swim?) but that’s about as complex as it gets.

Recently, however, I’ve begun privately tutoring two new students- an 8th grader and a senior in high school. At first, tutoring really intimidated me. One-on-one lessons are a completely different beast from lessons with a class of 30 second graders who take 10 minutes just to write their name on a paper. Some days the hour ticks by sooooooo slowly and I leave feeling like I don’t know anything about teaching or speaking English or especially teaching someone how to speak English. Other days, I accidentally stay 15 minutes extra because we’re having such a great time talking and learning!

Little by little it’s become more of a fun challenge, and I’m learning a lot about some grammar minutiae which is a huge plus for a word nerd like me. Just today, I gave myself AND my student a surprise crash course in the very verb tense for which my blog is named!

When we met last week, she mentioned that she was having trouble with verbs tenses that are formed using the infinitive + -ing. I went home and planned a great lesson on the present progressive (I am sitting on the couch. He is watching TV. We are eating dinner.) So imagine the panic on my face when she asked for help explaining some incorrect answers on a recent quiz… on the present perfect*!

I struggled for a bit to explain the concept. “In this sentence it’s just a general idea, so you use present simple. But here it’s during a period of time, so you use the present progressive…but um, here it’s present perfect ’cause….um…”

But, after reading a few more examples and practicing forming sentences in this complicated tense (I have been writing all day. She has been playing piano for 3 years.) not only succeeded at perceiving the difference myself, but also at explaining the nuances to my student!

I certainly don’t wish for many more of these improvised grammar lessons, but in the moment, I felt like I’d unlocked a new secret to the English language! How crazy to think that in just 60 minutes I learned and taught about a concept that 3 months ago, I was not even able to name! ❂



Slice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.


*technically, it was the present perfect progressive, but I didn’t want to confuse the poor girl!!


Present Simple
Past Simple
Present Progressive
Past Progressive
Present Perfect
Present Perfect Progressive
Past Perfect Progressive


14 thoughts on “22 mars – crash course

  1. And that brings up one of my arguments. My students don’t have a good grasp on grammar. I actually miss teaching grammar. I loved the old white Warriner’s Grammar books when I was a student and lived for the days that we were able to diagram sentences. (I know this makes me some kind of nerd). I really think that when we pushed grammar even if it was boring that students had a better grasp on the concept.


    1. I remember very briefly learning sentence diagramming in middle or high school, but it was treated more like an enrichment activity than the main event. I suppose I understand why it’s gone by the wayside recently… as a native speaker, unless you are going into an intensive writing or teaching career, you can probably survive with a very basic level of grammar. I certainly never needed to identify verb tenses in English until I started teaching it! I always say I learned far more French grammar in high school than I ever learned English grammar…


  2. Ha – what you say is so true

    I like the color key – I knew something was up with the colors
    I wonder how your students would respond to diagraming sentences?
    I only did it for a grammar class in college – actually liked it


  3. Those who “get” grammar are a special breed – at least in my humble opinion! Language is fascinating and now that you know French, your understanding of English will be that much richer! C’est bon!


  4. Grammar rules have definitely gone by the wayside, unfortunately. I wish I knew more of them! I used to love diagramming sentences, while my friends loathed it. I don’t think they do that anymore!


  5. I adored diagramming sentences, but what you wrote here feels way, way over my head. I was, however, fascinated by your color coding.


  6. Interesting post with the colour keys. I find that over-using the present perfect progressive and the present perfect in general is a malady of the non-native speaker. It is my bug bear in the world of corporate writing.


    1. That’s interesting.. I wonder if language classes spend a lot of time on teaching it because it’s more complicated and so then speakers assume they should use it proportionally as often… it’s true though that it’s not very often used, especially in American English!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it’s a combination of 1) easier to conjugate as there’s a simple rule and 2) closer to what is used in French, therefore more logical to many people in my area.


  7. I’d say that it’s a pretty similar scene in the UK – we’re taught far more about stylistic aspects of English (like punctuation or paragraphing) than we are about nitty gritty aspects of grammar. It’s only through learning French that I have any grasp of what the different tenses are (and how they differ). Like you, I have students who occasionally throw me with a grammatical question – just last week, I had a student ask what the difference was between “to + infinitive” and “for + gerund”, something I’d never really thought about as a native speaker. I usually have to tell them I’ll go home and look it up, as I don’t want to confuse them further by giving them the wrong explanation!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Re-teaching myself about gerunds is definitely on my personal grammar crash course to do list! Like you, my most basic knowledge of English grammar comes from the understanding I have of French grammar that I learned way back in middle and high school!!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I found this fascinating. Grammar is so abstract but your color-coding made it more tangible! I recall my 4th grade teacher having all the prepositional phrase words up in her classroom. I think I’m doing to write about that today!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s