It’s a beautiful day. You are sitting comfortably in a warm classroom, listening to your students reading the answers to an exercise you assigned as homework. It’s one of those somewhat boring phases you need to survive before you can introduce a more exciting activity. Anyway, it’s a pre-intermediate class and the exercise is very short and very easy – it’s about the difference between will and going to. Your students know the rules (prediction, offer, promise, plan, etc.), you know the rules, so everybody is happy.
In the middle of the exercise, you suddenly realize it; once again, the wicked coursebook writers have included a question where no rule can be applied. You start panicking because you didn’t check the answer key. You never do with pre-intermediate classes, not for trivial grammar exercises like this one. The trouble is that both answers seem perfectly ok to you.
We’re going to the Caribbean this year.
a) It will be my first visit.
b) It’s going to be my first visit.
You know what’s going to happen now. It’s not the first time you’ve experienced this so you fully realize the disaster a few seconds before it actually happens: you won’t be able to predict what the answer key says. In other words, you won’t be able to guess which answer the coursebook writers expected the learners to pick.
You wait and hope that something or someone will save you. You could text a colleague and ask her to knock at the door. You could pretend to have passed out. Anyway, when the dreaded moment comes, the student reading the sentence chooses option B. You nod in agreement but hesitate for a second. The girl at the door must have noticed your reaction. They always sense your insecurity, your students. Her hand shoots up instantly as if she could read your mind. You know exactly what she’s going to do. You can predict it with absolute certainty.
“Isn’t A a better option here?”
“Damn it. Calm down. You are the teacher. You know the answer. Come on, there are only two options so there’s a 50% chance you get it right anyway. It’s like a game of roulette. Red or black? A or B? I can’t open the Teacher’s book now. What would they think? They’d think I don’t prepare for the lessons. They’d think I don’t know such a simple answer. No, I can’t check the answer in the key. Not this time. Not now.”
I put on a thoughtful expression and I tell the students that both options look acceptable to me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem the option they expected to hear. How come there are are two possible answers here? It’s all very suspicious. Oh dear, my reputation has been ruined. They will never trust me again. Or … they are never going to trust me again?
But then it dawns on me. There’s still a way out of this mess.
“Ok. Let’s ask fellow teachers on Facebook. Let’s see what they think”.
The students’ faces lighten up. Hm, this sounds interesting. Plus they can have a break. Yeah, let’s go and ask on Facebook.
From now on quite seriously. 🙂
Luckily, almost instantly, people started responding to my FB post. The good news is that the comments I got were quite varied. Most teachers found both options perfectly acceptable and some even came up with new, better ways of expressing the same thing. I made the post public so that my students could read the responses later. And they did!
In the next lesson, we had a nice discussion about the post. I think it was quite interesting for them to see that I can ask about a linguistic problem on social media and that people from all around the world will respond. The guilt was gone. I realized that if I had checked the answer key prior to the lesson, we would have never had such a nice exchange about a grammar point. Well, sometimes it’s better to be underprepared. 🙂