Stercus: Poop and Probability
This is another game that has been around for a while. I believe Linda Kordas dubbed the Latin version as Stercus. In the Ecce Romani series, Stercus or manure plays a pivotal role in Chapter 21 entitled "Murder." Students using the Ecce Romani series rarely forget that word. It is, as I think you will see, an apt name for the game.
This is an excellent small group activity that can be used to reinforce many different things - phrases, vocabulary, verb tense, prepositional phrases - pretty much any information that can be broken down into small chunks. Students play this game in small groups of about 3-5 students. Each student in the group competes against the other students to see how many correct answers they can pull out of an envelope before pulling out a STERCUS and losing all their points.
The first step is to create a Stercus worksheet. This contains 30 numbered questions that students must answer -perhaps 30 verbs in several tenses to translate or perhaps 30 short phrases with prepositions. It could even be 30 vocabulary words. I like to create this worksheet in 2-3 columns because it makes the second step easier.
The next step is to take a copy of the worksheet and cut up all the questions into small pieces until they look like the fortunes from a fortune cookie. In addition to the questions, you need some pieces that say STERCUS and one that says SUPERSTERCUS. The number of pieces that say STERCUS is important. You want the STERCUS pieces to be about 15-18% of the total number of questions. This means that if you have 30 questions, you want to put in 6-7 pieces that say STERCUS. No matter how many question pieces you have, you only what one that has SUPERSTERCUS. You then put all these pieces into an envelope.
You repeat this step for as many groups as you will have playing the game. If you have 20 students, I recommend that you make 5 groups of 4 students and make 5 STERCUS envelopes.
If you can see from the helpful "how-to" diagram, I cut the worksheet in half vertically first and then lined up the columns and snip both columns of questions up at the same time. This is easy to do when the questions are in two or three identically spaced columns. It's not necessary, just a way to save some time.
Give each student a copy of the uncut up worksheet and have them write the meaning of the phrases. Review the correct answers with the class.
How to Play the Game
Now you hand out one of your pre-made envelopes to each group students of 3-5 students.
To play the game, each group sits together. Each group appoints a scorekeeper to keep track of the points earned by each student in the group. The first student to play reaches into the envelope and shuffles the pieces. Without looking, he or she pulls out a piece, reads the phrase and says the answer. The rest of the group checks his or her answer against their corrected worksheet. If the player has the correct answer, the scorekeeper awards the player a point. He or she leaves the piece outside of the envelope and pulls out another. Again, the player reads the question and his or her answer aloud. If the player does not have the correct answer, then they do not get a point. They can however continue to pull out pieces. In middle school, I limit students to 4 pieces per turn. However, in high school, I let students pull out as many pieces as they wish.
Here's the fun part. As the player pulls out more questions, he or she may score more points but if he or she pulls out a STERCUS, then they lose all their points from the round and their turn is over. Should the unlucky player pull out a SUPERSTERCUS, their turn is over and they lose all the points not only from this round but all previous rounds. Eheu! Once a player's turn is over, they put all the pieces back into the envelope and hand it to the next player who repeats the process. The winner is player who has the most number of points when the game is over. I generally let students play about 20 minutes which is about 3-4 rounds.
The unpredictable nature of probability makes this game entertaining. Some students will find that they rarely get to answer more than two questions correctly before pulling out a STERCUS and others will pull out multiple questions for several rounds without ever losing any points. "Why do I ALWAYS get STERCUS?" They ask me. What can I say? The inscrutable nature of luck has baffled philosophers and scientists since the dawn of recorded history. Ask me something easier - like how to use indirect discourse within a subjunctive clause.
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