Can you banana?

It was a bit of a shock to my system when I first found myself trying to ‘teach ‘ verbs to children who had never heard of the word ‘verb’. I’d got on fine teaching German verbs to Grammar School children but the advent of the comprehensive system in the 70’s brought with it a brand new experience for me (and  for many other language teachers) – lower ability classes.

An experienced teacher gave me a tip – ask the children to put ‘Can you…?’ in front of a word. If it makes sense, it’s a verb. If it doesn’t make sense, it’s not a verb. We tried it in English first, needless to say.

It worked! It was fun!

Can you :





Yes, we even moved on to abstract verbs.

I needed to think of similar strategies for defining prepositions, adverbs and so on. Prepositions were easy because the clue is in the word – thank goodness!

The trouble with me was that I then became anxious about using specialized terminology in other contexts and started to talk to people in general as though they had never heard of verbs and lots of other things besides! I needed to remember to adapt my language and style to suit audience and purpose.This is something most secondary school pupils learn to do, so I was without excuse.

I’ve been thinking about ‘Can you banana?’ again recently because I’ve been taking part in a small Twitter Bible Study group, and we’ve been studying St. Paul’s Epistles. Woven into my own struggles with Paul’s language and style are thoughts of those children who’d never heard of a verb. How would they cope with Paul’s writings? Would I be able to explain Paul’s teaching to them in language they could understand? Surely God wants them to be able to understand Paul’s teaching? God loves them, too.

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but when children tell me Jesus loves them, I believe them. When adults tell me Jesus loves them, I believe them.The fact that they’ve never heard of ‘justification by faith’ or ‘circumcision of the heart’ doesn’t seem to matter too much. I think God is the best ‘special needs’ teacher ever and He knows exactly how to touch the hearts and minds of every one of us.

Having said this, I am so thankful for St.Paul’s fine intellect and for the fine theologians who have grappled with his theology and doctrine. As we know, there are clever atheists around who need a robust rebuttal – and get one! I know several atheists and humanists and the best ‘rebuttal’ I have come up with so far was when a pupil said to me,’I don’t believe in God’ and I managed to reply, ‘I know, but God believes in you.’

I want to improve on that!


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