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 have students write 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.