TWO hours ago this white board was filled with erratic markings from a red, dry erase marker. I was trying to explain parallel sentence structure to my one-and-only student. And she was tired. This is understandable. For the last two hours, she had been taking a series of tests designed to assess her mastery of reading comprehension. After passing the reading section—a feat I congratulated her for repeatedly—she was on to the writing section, but she had hit a wall.
So, parallel structure. You have four answers: A, B, C, & D. C is the correct answer. You know this, but you can’t tell your student the answer and then explain; that’s not what a teacher does. You have to lead them to C, by teaching him or her about parallel structures. She has to do this on her own. Even if her eyelids are beginning to droop as the small, drab, and windowless room finally drains the last of her energy. But you have no lecture planned for parallel structures. So, what do you do?
I did what came naturally. I visualized. I aligned my hands side-by-side and demonstrated how two parallel lines are situated. Not very helpful. I was losing my student. I grabbed the red marker standing on the the table to my left, and stood up with no clue what to do next. My first instinct was to demonstrate the incorrect answer: B. B reads: “Scarlett flirted with the men, and sung a song.” I now had to isolate what is parallel in this sentence. My first demonstration was underlining. I wrote on the board: flirted with the men, and directly underneath that: sung a song. Four words in the first action and three in the second: this is the first clue that the sentence is not parallel. Your second clue: the tenses do not match.
Next, I demonstrated a non-parallel sentence (due to tense) that contained the same amount of words. I think I confused her more. So then it dawned on me: I could write them as a list! Answer A: “Tom turned down the position because the hours are too long and low pay”. I wrote on the board: “Tom turned down the position,” and to the right of that: 1) “because the hours are too long” and 2) “low pay”.
Finally, I wrote C on the board in the same manner as A: “Phillip” 1) “mopped the floor” and 2) “fixed the sink”. As a list, the comparative structure became more evident. I was teaching…
I knew this because I had learned something. I had learned how to teach parallel structure. That moment is my favorite moment when instructing. The specificity of the subject matter is not very important. What is important is that moment when you both understand something that you didn’t not just five minutes ago. That is the ephemeral moment of teaching.