Making and using flashcards is, I have come to believe, an essential skill for the beginning students' success in Latin. For many years, I merely "suggested" that students make flashcards and of course, students rarely made them. Now, as part of my routine, I require that students make flashcards of all new words. I introduce new words orally, we talk about them, use them in sentences and finally write them down. The homework is to take the new words and put them on flashcards. The first time I have students make flashcards, I model exactly how I want it done. I show them how to write the Latin word in large, neat letters on one side and the English meaning on the other. Without clarification, there will always be a few confused souls who will put both the word and meaning on the same side. Others will write the word in tiny letters in the top left hand corner of the card as if this is the first word in a long essay they expect to write.
In Latin I, new words are introduced on Monday and flashcards are due on Tuesday. It is this kind of routine that helps the beginning student build study skills. Part of the routine on Tuesday is that students, immediately after entering the room, spread their flashcards on the desk with the Latin side up. That way, I can easily see who has and who has not done it. Also, I can walk around the room and check spelling of the Latin words.
After the initial flashcard check, I have students practice with each other. Again, I model how this is done. One student holds up a card for the other, then puts the card in one pile if the student correctly identifies the word and other if the student gets it wrong. I also remind students to tell their partner the correct meaning if they get it wrong. (You might think this would be common sense, but you would be surprised.) Now the other students holds up a cards for their partner and their partner guesses. That way both students are practicing at once. For a terrific and easy game to play with flashcards, see "Slap and Grab" under the "Card and Board Games" tab.
Students learn this routine fairly quickly. I tend to let them choose their partners unless there are a few kids that are consistently left out. In that event, I set up some permanent groups. Students who come to class without flashcards are given blank cards to make them in class while everyone else practices in partners. Students are uncomfortable when they can't participate in this activity - even more so when their usual partner shows up, prepared to work with them but instead finds they need to find a different partner. It is this subtle peer pressure that keeps my flashcard completion rate at about 90%.
The other great thing about this simple activity is that it is completely student centered, requiring no participation from the teacher. While students run through the flashcards, I take attendance, enter homework, and sometimes check email. Peace and learning at the same time. It's a beautiful thing.
One of the early lessons in Latin grammar is the difference between the nominative and the accusative and how the accusative indicates that someone is receiving action while the nominative is the subject. Comprehending this idea often represents a seismic shift in linguistic understanding. Language no longer dependent on word order - whoa.
One of the most popular and instructive activities I have done is to have students write short skits or "Silent Movies" as I call them that use the nominative and accusative case. I give students three scenarios to choose from:
Gladiators Battle it Out in the Arena!
At the Daycare Center: Children Not Learning to Share
Beauty Pageant Gone Awry: Whose Crown is it Anyway?
I supply some good direct object verbs: pulsat, oppugnat, trudit, necat, iacit and some prepositional phrases and useful nouns. The assignment and the vocabulary is in the drive for Beginning Activities. Students working in pairs write a short script for the scenario. I encourage them to "Latinize" their names by adding "us" or "a" or find a Latin name for themselves and their partner so that they can put nominative and accusative endings on it. Yes, some of them have third declension names but I let them put first and second declension endings on them. Since I only work with first and second declension nouns for the first half of the year, It's just simpler to let that issue go.
The scripts look something like this: (Here's a typical Gladiator skit)
Marcus et Validus in arenam intrant.
Marcus Validum pulsat
Validus hastam iacit
Marcus iratus est.
Validus cum gladio perforat
You get the picture? Same kind of actions - just different vocabulary for the Daycare and Beauty Pageant scenarios.
What makes this activity memorable rather than simply more fun than translating is the costumes and props that I supply. I bought a plastic pail and shovel and I provide a stuffed pig and an empty box of Cheerios for the daycare scenario. I have several ridiculous dresses and a plastic crown for the beauty pageant. For the gladiators, I have a collection of plastic swords and one battered shield. Props really do help but they need not be exact replicas of the tools used in the script. Before I bought the plastic shovel, we used my plastic ice scraper from my car and for many years, we used a yardstick for a hasta. Now I have a fancy one made out of a plastic pipe and Styrofoam but you have to start somewhere. Just get props. They don't have to be accurate - they just have to be there.
Students write the scripts. You help them to make sure they are putting on the correct nominative and accusative endings. I suggest using a "proofing sheet." There is one in the drive. Students then write the final copy on a PowerPoint slide and share it with you if they have computer access or an old fashioned transparency if they don't.
The writing may take one or two days depending upon the skill of your class - about 80 minutes. Finally, they act out the scripts. Dress up the actors, hand out the props and project the script. You then read it aloud and they act it out. This part is always hilarious. Usually at least one set of boys wants to act out the beauty pageant and another group, that has created a dramatic script, becomes so shy when standing in front of the class that they only shuffle back in forth on the "stage." Their performance contrasted with the action that they have written is pretty funny to everyone - even the actors.
Every time I do this activity, I explain that I will grade it based upon grammatical accuracy. I'm really looking for three things: nominative and accusative with first and second declension nouns, noun- adjective agreement again only with first and second declension, and the use of t vs nt on a verb with a singular or plural nouns. I say this but more than half the time I never get around to grading it. It doesn't matter. Grading or threatening to grade this project has absolutely no effect on a students' effort here. They work because they envision the thousand of action movies they have seen on TV. They see themselves flying in slow motion around the room. Of course the reality is much different but it's the dreaming that counts and creates the motivation to try.
Vinco is a great little game created by Linda Kordas. It's a short one - only 10 minutes to play. It can be used with any level but it will be more helpful for the beginning student. It's like Bingo except simpler and shorter. Vinco can be used with any Latin word list. It works well with a new list, maybe one that you have introduced at the beginning of a new unit. Students need not know these new words well for this game to work. The goal of the game is to acquaint students with the new words.
The students need to have a vocabulary list of 15-20 in front of them. Ask them to take out a scrap piece of paper and write 5-7 words (your choice here) from the list on the paper. They write just the Latin (without the English meaning) . For example, here is a Vinco list that might be generated from Ecce Romani, Chapter 10 (Raeda in fossa cadit.)
Ask them to close their word lists and then call out the English meaning of the words from the list. Ask the students to check off the words that they have on their list. If they have all the words on the list, they should yell out, "Vinco!" Once someone has yelled out Vinco, we stop and the person reads off their list to make sure that those words were actually called. If there were no errors, then that person is the Vinco winner. The whole process takes about ten minutes.
Tips to Make this Game Work:
Here is the link to the Hilara Google Drive Omnia folder which has the Beginning Activities in the folder
Another beginning is lesson is the parts of speech review. For some students, this is comes very naturally, others painfully slowly. For your students who do not intuitively grasp the differences between the basic parts of speech, I suggest that you give them these three "tests." Each test will help them figure out what part of speech the word is. It's simple. If the word makes sense in this phrase, then it is that part of speech. If it doesn't, then it is not.
The noun test:
I want (some/ a/ the) ____________________.
Ask students whether words like freedom, chaos, sadness are nouns. Then ask them to use the test and put them in the phrase to check if they are correct.
The adjective test:
Of course any noun works here. I like to use the noun "chinchilla" because for many years, I kept them - not in the classroom. Ask them to try out the test with colors and numbers.
The action verb test:
Can you _________________?
You need to explain that if that the verb needs to be in the present tense to make this work.
No test that I've come up with unfortunately. I find it best to explain that adverbs answer these three questions in ONE word. If you the answer is TWO words then, it is not an adverb. Of course most grammar books will list all the parts of speech that adverbs modify but I find this is not particularly clarifying when trying to figure out what an adverb is. Here are the three questions
How? (Cleverly, suddenly, happily... alot of ly)
When? (now, later never)
Where? (here, there, everywhere)
It is the last question that students will confuse with prepositional phrases. Hence, the emphasis on ONE word. "In the kitchen" for example cannot be an adverb, nor can any place name. Of course, the last question is "to what extent" but I like to lump that "How" since it's easier to remember.
These four I believe are best taught or reviewed at once. I have done more - prepositions, conjunctions, interjections etc. but I find that students tend to glaze over after a short time here. If they get the big four, you are off to a good start.
The next thing to do is an English mad-lib. To do a mad-lib, you need to know the parts of speech. One that I have used successfully after this lecture is in the drive. It only takes about 10-15 minutes. Middle school students (7-9th grade) find it hysterically funny and it's a good way to close this lesson.
Another early lesson in every textbook is how to pronounce Latin. The consonants, vowels and diphthongs are categorized and explained. Students read and repeat. Bored with the sentences in my textbook, I wrote these sentences for students to practice. I explain the rule, read it aloud and then ask them to read it in unison. Sometimes I call on a brave soul to read it aloud before me, based upon my explanation of the rule. Interest in pronunciation has increased since I started using these sentences.
Vir in via vehiculum videt
Certe, Caesar cum celeritate cecedit.
Iam Iulius ianitorem iubet ianuam iacere
Haec Caesar Laetus in aestate est.
Amasne me, bene, Cornelia? (to demonstrate the long e sound in Latin)
There are more of course, but you get the idea.
However, the dessert is my hand-out, given after we have reviewed all the major rules of pronunciation, usually ten minutes before the end of the class. It's entitled "Useful Latin Expression" and its full of the kinds of things that students really want to say in Latin such as, "The dog at my homework" or "Pull my finger." Somehow kids never lose this sheet. We generally don't practice all of the expressions on the page. I read some of them and then let them try them out on each other. It never fails to please. For this activity, I must credit Henry Beard since many of these sentences were based upon the expressions in his book, Latin For All Occasions. It's hilarious. If you don't have a copy, you should buy one immediately.
One of the first things, I teach students is that adjectives match the nouns. They have the same gender and case as the noun they describe. For the first half of the year, this means that they have the same ending. I tell them to look for words that have the same endings. This means they go together. Yeah, I know. But I strongly believe as Emily Dickinson wrote:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant --
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
Or, to paraphrase the last line, quite a few become discouraged, confused, and drop Latin. Not as poetic but perhaps you see my point. I use Latin Insults to help students see that the adjectives must match the nouns. I teach students to say, "You are a bald, foolish peasant " and other silly insults. They LOVE this. You may wonder if students ever use the Latin Insult Creator to be rude or seriously insult another student. No, they don't. Partly because the insults are so ridiculous and partly because I warn them that anyone using these insults to be truly be mean will have their insult sheet confiscated and not be able to participate in the activity. As they really want to participate in this activity, this is a serious consideration for any would-be bullies in your class.
As you'll see if you access it on the drive, students have to pick two adjectives and a noun, make sure the adjectives match the noun in gender and then insult someone in the class. That person, once insulted has the option of insulting them back or insulting someone else. This usually continues until everyone has had a turn.
Numbers! For a long time, I was stymied about how to begin. The first week is short in my school, only three days before Labor Day. Too short to begin in earnest... so what to do?
I teach numbers. Numbers are a great two day lesson. It's a self contained lesson -requiring no explanation of parts of speech, cases or genders. I know it's not the first unit in your textbook. It's not the first in mine either. Numbers give students confidence. They sound like the Spanish numbers they already know just slightly more exotic. They are listed in the back in the reference section. Flip the the back and get everybody counting and then ask them to add:
How many chairs in your room?
How many posters on the wall?
How many pairs of sneakers?
How many dwarves? (septem)
How many nazguls? (novem)
How many bears? (tres)
What if the bears met the dwarves? (decem)
What if One Direction met the bears and Justin Bieber?
(*Honesty, I forget but some of your students will know)
Then, on Day 2, play Latin battleship. Board is in the Hilara drive. It's just like regular battleship but students need to say the numbers in Latin to each other. Battleship takes about 30 minutes to play. After two days of numbers, your students will go home and count aloud in Latin to their parents or any adult they can get to listen to them.
You can engage them, or you can lose them. Guidance departments do a brisk business during the first week of school changing schedules. The first day, the first week, is critical for the beginning Latin student. Many of your students are already worried that they aren't smart enough to take this class. They are wondering if they should have taken Spanish. They have a lot of friends in Spanish. Perhaps they have an older brother or sister who took Latin. But he or she was the smart one as they are sure all their teachers already know.
If you want to thin out your class, you should list all the cases in order and then put the first declension endings on the board. Or you can explain that there are three genders in Latin that have different endings except when two of them have the same endings in the third declension and then put all those endings on the board. Either way, if you begin this way on the first day or the first week, you will likely convince some of them that their initial fears were correct. The line at guidance will get longer.
Do not begin by reading the syllabus, the class rules, the weights for formative vs. summative assessments, late policy blah, blah blah. Your students have already heard this at least once and maybe four times depending on what hour in the day you see them. No one is listening. Students rarely get into trouble in the first week anyway and you can be sure that any student who does, would not have been deterred by a recitation of the class rules. Yes, this is necessary information but save it for the second week.
I suggest an alternative. I constructed this little "Survey" for the first day of Latin ever and it has served me well. In the drive are two versions, a middle school and a high school version. I explain that it's not real survey but a way to talk about all the cool things that are Latin. It will not be graded and it will not be collected. Guessing is encouraged. They take it and then we discuss the answers. The whole process takes 50 minutes. There will be some giggling. At some point, a few students will reveal shyly to you that they read mythology on their own or that they have seen Gladiator on TBS three times. They will leave relieved. So far, Latin is okay. Later, they will tell someone about that crazy Roman emperor who made his horse president of Rome. Oh, and the Latin teacher is nuts too.
About that kid...
Every year, I have one or two students who actively or passively work against me on the first day. You probably have this kid too. He talks to his friends around him, yells loudly that he "doesn't want to be here" or just calls out random remarks or obvious wrong answers to questions. It's tempting to yell at that kid, send him or her out of the room etc. If you can at all help it - Don't. Any kid working that hard on the first day to get on your nerves WANTS that to happen. Why? Because then they can label you as "mean" and give themselves permission not to try. This kid doesn't hate you - he doesn't know you. Their behavior isn't about you - it's about their own discomfort. Remain calm and address their off topic comments briefly but seriously. For example, "No, I don't know if aliens visited ancient Rome but I think that would make a great short story." After class, check in with the kid. "Are you okay? I'm sorry that you didn't get into Spanish/Chinese/ etc. I want you to be comfortable in here." Often this knocks them off balance because usually they were expecting a reprimand or detention. What I find is that over the course of a few days, their disruptions decrease and they settle down. Of course if it doesn't, then you need to address it with the usual fare of disciplinary measures but usually when treated with a healthy dose of kindness and good humor, the problem stops on its own.