“Grammar Pens” Caught in a Teacher’s Self “Ping Pong”

What’s the next move? Naomi’s Photos

Ping: “Oh Pong, listen to this! I’ve got a new idea for the next school year. Let’s use…”

Pong (interrupting):  Now hold it right there. Did you just say a new idea? As in a NEW IDEA? Weren’t you the teacher complaining about feeling overwhelmed and tired?

Ping: That was me…

Pong: So convince me why I should even LISTEN to this new idea when you can stick with what you already have. Go ahead, let’s see what you can come up with.

Ping: It doesn’t require much teacher preparation time.

Pong: Not bad. Keep going.

Ping: Making small changes, even “tweaks” to the routine always boosts my work-related motivation level, and I really need some of that after this school year.

And the students might learn something…

Pong: Okay, okay, good points. Let’s hear the new idea.

Hear my words…
Naomi’s Photos

Ping: You see, we’ll have “Grammar Pens” to… (Pong interrupts)

Pong: Wait a minute. “Grammar Pencils” are “A THING”. You can Google them and find sites to purchase them from. Those pencils have confusing grammar points on them, such as “to, two & too” or “there, their and they’re”. Are you already planning out-of-pocket purchases for the English Room?!!

PIng: No, no, calm down. Absolutely not. This idea was just inspired by those products. Our students prefer pens and purchasing things like pencils makes no sense as they aren’t made for long-term use.

Pong: Whew… (sighs in relief).

Ping: You know those students who never bring a pen to class? I once read that in such cases a student should leave something of his/hers until the pen is returned at the end of the lesson. Such a method would be problematic to implement with some of our Deaf and hard-of-hearing adolescents (I don’t what anyone taking off their belt, for example!). However,  I thought that perhaps I could still turn the situation into an educational experience.

Is that Gandalf?
Naomi’s Photos

So, before I let them use one of the English Room pens, they will have to tell me what the difference is between your/you’re,   its/it’s,  have/has, etc. I can add confusing vocab items such as long/no longer too.

Pong: What happens if they don’t know the answer?

Ping: We do what we always do, unrelated to this particular idea – I tell the student, and then the student has to tell it back to me.

Pong: How are you going to emboss/ engrave the target words onto the pens?

Ping:  I’M NOT!  Even if I knew how to do such a thing I wouldn’t.  It’s the same principle that holds true for playing board games in EFL lessons – you don’t want the target item to appear in a fixed place. On a board game, if an instruction or a vocabulary item is written in the top left corner, the students quickly memorize what they need to say or do when they reach that corner, and stop reading the words written.  If the words are permanently on “the red pen”, or the “large pen”, the students will just use such cues to retrieve an answer without focusing on the words written.  The cards can’t have numbers on them, for the same reason.

I’ll place a little box with the target words on cards beside our pen holder.  Easy to shuffle cards or pull out ones that are below/above a certain student’s level.  You get a lot more repetition with cards, compared to “fixed words”.

Take a card, respond, get a pen – easy peasy!

I can use it with the highlighters/colored markers too!

Ha ha ha!
Naomi’s Photos

Pong: If you’ve got all that worked out, why did you call me in? I usually only show up when there’s a problem.

Ping: (Sighs in regret)* There is a problem.

Actually, there are two problems.

Pong: Start with the easier problem.

Ping: It’s a learning center, so not all the students are doing the same thing. If a student began the lesson working on the computer, and then went on to something else, he/she may ask for a pen in the middle of the lesson, not at the beginning…

At the moment they just go over to the table and take one without my involvement.

You must look at it all…
Naomi’s Photos

Pong: Hmmm… What’s the other problem?

Ping: What about the students who ALWAYS bring their pens, pencils, erasers, dictionaries, markers, and anything else they might possibly need for the lesson?

They need to practice these items too…

Pong: Why don’t you ask your readers for advice? Maybe they can offer suggestions.

Do you have any suggestions for me to consider?


  • Can you guess which poem I have been teaching recently, yet again?