The Point

Philippe Put (Flickr/ineedair)
Philippe Put (Flickr/ineedair)

Clothing was the subject of the lesson, and I looked around at the students, 5th and 6th graders, in their array of jeans, tracksuits, sweaters, and T-shirts. Of the eight kids, three were girls, and they were dressed both better and more brightly than the boys. The students already knew the vocabulary—the British vocabulary that the books taught, trousers, jumper, and trainers—so we played a game, with me describing someone’s clothing and the students guessing who it was. Then I paired them off to interview each other, using the questions in the book. What do you wear to school, what do you wear at the weekend, and what’s your favorite thing in your wardrobe? But first, to demonstrate, I had a student ask me a question. “This one,” I told him, putting my finger on the last of the three, and in a flat voice he asked.

“My favorite thing is a pair of black trousers,” I said. It wasn’t true but it was simple and it served the purpose of reminding the students that in English, unlike Spanish, the adjective precedes the noun. It didn’t, however, grab their attention. There was absolutely nothing in my closet that would have. Nothing in my imagination either. I hoped they’d care more about each other’s choices.

It was my turn to ask, but when I posed the same question, the student didn’t answer but stared blankly at me. “I don’t know.”

“What’s something you like?”

Again the blank look.

“Do you have a favorite T-shirt?”

He wrinkled his brow. I could almost see him picking through a pile of ironed T-shirts, and after a moment he said yes. But he seemed unsure.

I asked him the color and he answered red. “Your red T-shirt?” I asked, and he shrugged. Then said, “Or blue.”

It doesn’t really matter if you say the blue one or the red, I felt like telling him. The point is for you to say something. I told him to ask his partner the questions, and then looked around to see how the others were doing. A girl several seats down asked me how to say gris in English. Then how to say apretado. “Gray,” I told her, “tight.”

“Can I pick two things?” she asked, and I told her sure. The point, obviously, was to have something to say.

“Go ahead, ask again,” I told her partner, a boy, and I listened to his question and then to the girl’s answer.

“Oh,” I said, in dawning comprehension as the girl named her favorite items. I smiled at her and nodded my head appreciatively. She sat up straighter, looking as pleased as punch, arms crossed, positively glowing in her new gray jumper and tight black jeans. The point, I saw then and every time she comes to mind, is to have a favorite new jumper and to be wearing it for the first time.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Clellan Coe, a writer in Spain, is a contributing editor of the Scholar.


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