This is Jenny, and here's a link to her blog: Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares
Shelly has been so kind as to let me guest post in order to promote my recently released book, Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares. And since, like me, I am sure you come here to read her wonderful stories, I am going to try to tell a story, but I apologize in advance: it will not be as beautifully told as Shelly’s.
On my first day of class of teaching college English, I think I was the most nervous I had ever been in my life. I didn’t have my teaching credentials, just my master’s degree—meaning I had never even stood in front of a classroom before. I remember that taking roll was my best friend. I wished I could stand behind the podium and read off names for the full hour.
And then, halfway through, my new best friend betrayed me. It presented me with this name:
Five minutes into class and I was going to have to utter the word “nipple” in front of my students! Awesome!
But I didn’t. Instead, I experienced an apple hitting Newton on the head moment of brilliance. I’ll never know whether Keith pronounces it this way or not, but without missing a beat, I called out Keith Knip Ell—accent on the E.
After that it all went smoothly, but unfortunately, all good things come to an end. However, even though I was still nervous, I had a plan for an ice breaker I was pretty proud of. Since it was a basic English class and grammar was a main part of the curriculum, I thought the students would think I was super cool if we played a beloved grammar-related game from our youth: Mad Libs.
I announced my plan, and it wasn’t met with quite as much excitement as I had anticipated, but it was the first day of class, so I figured they were probably still too shy to unleash their unbridled enthusiasm.
I sat on the desk, opened up the Mad Libs book to the first page, and picked a random name from the roll sheet.
Me: Maria, give me a verb.
Maria (after a moment): Is that the one that’s a person or a place?
Me: No, that’s a noun. A verb is an action word like run or jump
Me: Brian, give me a pronoun
Brian: Looking at me like I asked him to give me a non-defining relative clause.
My requests for adverbs and adjectives were met with similar bewilderment, and I considered running out of the room and going back to waiting tables.
It was that Mad Libs experience coupled with the shock that I experienced when I received back the first batch of grammatically terrifying essays that inspired me to take on grammar as my raison d’ etre. I just couldn’t sit by and live in a world in which the word “I” was no longer capitalized and proper spelling was left up to interpretation.
I immediately realized I’d have to devise a jargon-free, user-friendly way to dispense the information. My students’ glazed over expressions made me realize I’d have to take it one step further and give grammar an extreme make-over: I had to swap its eyeglasses for contacts, unpin its bun and let its hair down, and swap out its stodgy suit for leopard print and sequins.
Hence, I developed a way of teaching grammar that is simple, humorous, and a bit risqué. With Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares, I hope to share this approach with the general public—because there is something quite thrilling and liberating about feeling 100% confident about where you placed that comma.