For Example

blackboardOne of the first things every ESL teacher learns is how to write a good example sentence. And you quickly learn the enormous value of them. Here’s an example of an example sentence.

Student: “What does break up mean?”

Teacher (on board): I broke up with my girlfriend because she cheated on me with the gardener.

Student: “Ah.”

“Teacher: “Now you use it.”

Student (on paper): I broke up with my boyfriend because he can’t cook and he is bad in bed.

Teacher: “Bingo.”

ESL teachers learn very quickly that a good example sentence is like your best friend in the classroom. Though this may sound obvious, it’s not as simple as it sounds. In the first place, coming up with a good example sentence can be difficult and often come out vague.

He bought waffles. (So? He bought ketchup and bacon too)

She resigned because of the scandal. (Yeah? She probably also ate a lot of HoHos and cried a lot)

This level of vagueness concerns two relatively simple concepts to explain: waffles and resign. Imagine if the words were more abstract in meaning. Try to come up with a good example sentence for focus, to sense something, to be unaware, to have liberty, to be convenient. Now do it with no time to prepare and twenty people alternating their eyeballs between you and their iphones.

But the worst is trying to explain the meaning of a word. Oh, it might be easy if you’re describing something like pizza or table. Sometimes you can simply draw a sketch. But teachers run into problems explaining even slightly more complex terms because many terms fit the basic descriptions such as “to leave your job” or “a breakfast food you douse in butter and syrup and that I’d throw an old person under a bus for.” Moreover, a lot of people think as they speak, so very few people are able to give a perfect definition or explanation on the spot. Trying to explain terms usually ends up bad, and every teacher has wandered down that corridor only to find it an endless horror show of words, tears, and flop sweat.

Student: “What does break up mean?”

Teacher: “Breaking up is what you do when you don’t like a person that you are dating anymore now because they have done something, or maybe they are just not your flavor anymore, or they decide to leave you and then you are singl…yes, before you break up, you are in a couple, then you, but you were probably single before, but after you stopped being single you were in a, part of a, one half of a couple, except in France you could be one-third, but after you stop being a couple and start being single. Again. That’s breaking up.”

Student (to other student): “Co že?” What’s that?

Other student: “Rozejít se někým.” Break up with someone

Student: “Ah. OK.”

Unfortunately, example sentences become an occupational hazard. I’ll hear a word or phrase and instantly work it into a sentence. I guess I’m concerned that a student will leap out from around a corner and demand an explanation for the term porcine.

Another problem is that my example sentences reflect my state of mind. For this reason my students might be able to figure out if I’m tired.

Under no circumstances are you to wake me up. I swear I’ll cut you if you do.

Or hungry:

Pizza is undeniably the best Italian food to eat in a parking lot after this class.

They might know if I’m aggravated and might even get a clue as to who I am aggravated with.

I’ve been coming up with ways to torture my boss to death.

Recently, that mood has been exhaustion and sourness.

If I jump out that window, I will happily plummet to my death.

My cat ingests the tears off of my cheek in the morning.

If you stab him, bright red blood will come out.

Christmas is around the corner, so I am hoping my sentences will soon reflect exuberant Christmas cheer. My example sentences will soon feature Santa Claus and elves. Unfortunately, the exam period is shortly thereafter, so I am afraid this will add a cruel device to Santa’s world.

The elf bludgeoned Santa with his sack of toys.

Poor Santa.

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