8:00 a.m. on a Monday morning is the hardest class of the week for some people. But in B101, Middle School English and history teacher Charlie Williams is wide awake, trying to calm down his energized fifth grade English class. On this particular Monday, Williams’ class began a grammar unit on identifying different parts of a sentence, mainly simple and complete subjects, simple and complete predicates, direct objects, and indirect objects.
The all-male class, consisting of nearly 20 students, warmed up with a short exercise out of the textbook. “Every unit we start out with a different diagnostic test,” Williams explained. His students haven’t studied these topics extensively, but most of them didn’t have much trouble with the exercise.
I took a seat in the back right corner of the classroom next to the West Virginia state flag hanging down from his sideboard. Williams, a native of the Mountain State, was ecstatic this morning after West Virginia’s dramatic upset win over Virginia in college basketball. As he was resting on his wooden podium at the front of the room, the students were concentrated on finishing their work as quickly as possible. Their brighty colored socks and binders lit up the dark room.
Williams transitioned to notes and started defining each new concept or part of the sentence on the board. After each new definition, he asked volunteers from the class to come up and write an example. Simple subjects and simple predicates were pretty easy concepts for the students, but subjects with two or more ideas tricked some of these volunteers. Realizing his answer must be two or more words, one student wrote “Ping Pong” on the board as an example of a complex subject. Williams promptly corrected this student, explaining that “Ping Pong” is just one idea, even though it consists of two different words. This mistake seemed to actually help the class grasp the concept of long subjects.
He even compared this concept to chemistry, correlating complete subjects and predicates to molecules. Molecules are made up of different elements, like complete subjects are made up of the simple subject and different words that modify or describe the subject before the predicate.
During my visit to the class, I sat next Liam (‘24) who explained more to me about what he’s been doing in Williams’ class this year. “On grammar days, we learn mainly punctuation like commas, periods, and colons,” he claims, “I like it. Some things we learn are hard at first, but overall, it’s not a hard class.”
Williams goes on to explain what a linking verb is to the class. Identifying linking verbs as simple predicates can sometimes be tricky; usually, the simple predicate is an action verb which isn’t particularly difficult to find in a sentence. Linking verbs link the subject of the sentence to a word or phrase in the predicate using verbs like is, am, are, was, and were, which are not as easy to identify.
After clearing this up, Williams directed the students to another exercise to try in the textbook together as a class. This small quiz featured 10 sentences that progressively got harder and more complicated. For each sentence, the class was tasked with identifying both the simple subject and predicate. But the class performed much better on this quiz than the first one, finishing with 100% accuracy right as the bell rang. For homework, Williams assigned a new set of ten sentences to dissect.
I caught up with Liam after class to ask some questions and talk about Williams. “He’s really funny and a really good teacher. But I like his history class better. We focus on world history in regions like Egypt and Arabia.”
“I really enjoy teaching fifth graders especially,” Williams states, “They’re able to think about big ideas, they’re naturally curious to learn and engaged in class. You lose a little of that when you get older.” He goes on to say that 80% of his class is devoted to writing, with a little grammar and vocabulary sprinkled in some days. Although I never had Williams as a teacher, he has a positive influence on all of his students and still serves as one of my main role models at Collegiate.
All pictures taken by Jake Johnston.