THIS IS ABOUT LATIN CLASS BUT THE ACTIVITIES AND IDEAS APPLY TO ALL WORLD LANGUAGES

Last year my daughter started a classical school in Denver and asked me to teach Latin. I didn’t know Latin, but I took up the challenge and decided to learn and teach it the way I taught Spanish for more than 30 years: with Comprehensible Input. I volunteer to teach Latin twice a week at my daughter’s school. The class periods those two days are filled with listening and speaking Latin. The other days it’s reading, with some listening and writing.

After seeing the Latin page on my website and hearing about the stupendous jobs the high school students did writing and producing their play in Latin a few weeks ago (Here is a blog about that amazing experience), teachers have asked me to explain what’s working in my Latin classes. It’s very similar to what I did in my Spanish classes and what I teach to language teachers. All are adaptations of what worked in my public school and college classes and that I teach in my workshops.

These techniques and principles will work in any world language class.

SPECIFIC TECHNIQUES, ACTIVITIES & PRACTICES:

Special Person Interviews: These were hard to do in my first year of teaching Latin because I didn’t know enough to react quickly and fluidly. This year they’re going better. One every 2-3 weeks.

• Storytelling: With the younger kids (3rd-6th grade) I have stretched out class stories for 4 weeks—ridiculous situations, running, falling down and screaming are included in most stories. They never get tired of them. I draw bits of stories on the big white board in the front of the classroom which amuses the kids and helps them to understand. Here is the first story we did with the younger students.

Passwords: I call it the Verbum Secretum (I’m open to a better Latin name for it, if you’ve got one). These are mainly Latin mottos that they have to say to me at the door to enter the classroom. I also often ask almost every student a short follow-up questions like these. The follow-up questions may the most important part of this ritual because I can tell if they understand what the context of the saying.

  • What does that mean in English?
  • Who said it?
  • Who was that?
  • Around what year was it said (or written)?
  • What was the circumstance when it was said?
  • Who else would or did use this expression?
  • Why is it important or noteworthy?
  • How could it be useful in your life?

The passwords are almost always well-known Latin mottos that educated English speakers know, the idea bein that even if they do not go on with Latin, they will have more understanding of the myriad Latin expressions swirling around them in the English language. Here are the passwords from last year.

I introduce the password on the first day of class each week with a call-and-response routine I learned years ago from Ben Slavic: Discipuli? (Students?) Eta, magister? (Yes, teacher?)  Secretum habeo… (I have a secret…) Students all lean forward and put a hand to their ear, then I whisper the new password to them in Latin. Later I write it on the board in Latin and English.

Facite Nunc! (Do Now, Warm Up). There is a warm up on the board every day when students enter the classroom. This is important because students need something to do once they are in the classroom while I am still greeting their classmates. The Warm Up is always in the same spot, always written in the same color, and it is always 5 questions. This time of the school year, the instructions and questions are in Latin. It is almost always a review of what we did the previous class period.

I invite the rowdiest, most unfocused kids to say their password first and get into the classroom first. Their job is to put a small white board and dry erase marker on everyone’s chair (I have a deskless classroom). It helps those rowdy kids to have a task to focus on, it gives them a responsibility in the class,  and they have time to dig in their jumbled backpacks to find their materials and get busy on the warm up.

Besides reviewing material from the previous class, some other winner warm ups have been:

  • What are your 5 favorite Latin words and why? (Wide variety here—personal preference.)
  • What do you think the 5 most important Latin words are?  (There were high frequency words plus several intriguing words with justifications.)
  • What are 5 wise Latin sayings you know? (This was impressive—they remembered passwords form the beginning of the year last year!)
  • Who are five famous Romans? (One class came up with 26 off the top of their heads—no notes.)
  • Who are your five favorite characters from Roman mythology or legends? (They showed they have been paying attention to class readings and discussions.)
  • Write five reasons studying Latin makes sense. (Unprompted they gave many good reasons.)

• Classroom Jobs: Giving students responsibilities helps them to buy in to your class, which makes classroom management easier. (See Give Yourself  Time to Think below)

• Norms Over Rules. Norms are different than rules. When you break a rule, you get a negative consequence. Norms are the way we agree to behave. Students help to create the norms. Norms guide acceptable behavior.

Breaking a class norm doesn’t always result in overt, official consequences. For example, I wouldn’t punish a kid for not participating joyfully enough, or if a few students didn’t check out their FVR books before class was over. The result of violating or disregarding a norm may be a gentle reminder like simply pointing at the norm and waiting. It could be classmates blurting out with the rejoinder “Non sequitur!” It could be a brief  class conversation or an individual conversation after class.

• Deskless Classroom: Students have assigned seats and chairs are in a U shape. This set up has many advantages. Students can see each other which helps when we are reviewing TPR gestures. They can talk to one another, especially with encouraging or teasing rejoinders (see below). The classroom can easily and quickly be reorganized for active storytelling, activities, and games. Students cannot hide cellphones.

• Reading: We do whole class reading (2 or 3 books per semester), but mostly individualized reading on their own at home. I have a classroom library with over 140 titles ranging from Novice Low to Intermediate High. Here is a document about building a Latin book share program from the Latin page on my website. I am completely open to your input about the order and worthiness of the books on the list. Reading on their own at home is where the acquisition is happening! The kids are going to town! I’ve attached a couple of reading logs from the 3-6 class as examples of what they are doing. The classes are small enough that I can talk with kids about what they have read. They seem to be understanding what they’re reading.

I also have them do book reports every so often on books they have read on their own, about every 6 weeks. Besides picking the books they want to read, students can often pick the book report they would like to use. Find examples of these varied book reports here, here, here, and here. These reports and many more ideas for teaching and assessing reading come from my book Hi-Impact Reading Strategies.

• Games: The sillier and louder, the better. Noisy Pictionary is a favorite right now. Running Dictation is another. “Simon Dicit” is fun with the younger kids, because it overlaps so well with the classical TPR gestures I teach new verbs with every week. All games are conducted in Latin and coincide with the content we are currently studying. They’re rowdy and fun, but they are content-centered, not silly non-L2 stuff.

• Celebrations: We do other fun activities occasionally too, like seeing who can memorize the most digits of Pi for Pi Day (March 14, 3/14, Get it?), to support math and science. I coordinated Pi Day with math and science teachers in my Spanish classes for 10 years. This doesn’t really help with fluency, but: 1) it is impressive, 2) it shows students that they can memorize difficult things, 3) it’s in Latin, and 4) it makes them proud. And that’s got to count for something. This year 4 students memorized more than 50 digits of Pi in Latin! Those four were given a full sized pie of their choice. Almost all Latin 1 students memorized at least 20 digits, and 4 younger students (ages 7. 7. 6. and 4) that were not even in Latin class yet memorized 10 digits of Pi in Latin by listening to siblings and friends practicing! All got mini-pies. Total cost was about $100, but parents volunteered to help with the cost. then we all ate some pie. It was a good day.

This year we will be also be celebrating “Palindrome Week“, which is actually 10 days, April 20-29, because those dates are palindromic: e.g. 4/20/24. This will be just a part of one day of class. To prime students and them thinking about it, I explained what palindromes were and asked for examples. Even younger students almost instantly came up with esse, ecce, non, and sumusI’m working on a document to give them that will be similar to the one I made in Spanish and used playfully with students for years. If you’re aware of good Latin palindromic words or phrases, I would appreciate you sharing them.

• Rejoinders. Teaching rejoinders helps students to express themselves spontaneously in class. It’s fun and empowering for them. Students spout off rejoinders constantly and I encourage them to do so. Here are some Latin rejoinders. Here is my list of Spanish rejoinders

• Embedded Reading:  Presenting class created stories and mythology with the scaffolded, stair-stepping method of Embedded Reading is a must. Every class is a multi level class and Embedded Reading is a way to adjust instruction to accommodate the differences in cognitive abilities and how quickly students acquire language. Years ago for Spanish I wrote an embedded reading of a well-known Mexican legend, La Llorona and an accompanying Teacher Resource for it. Michele Whaley and Laurie Clarcq, the developers of the Embedded Reading technique, said that my work was a good example of what they promote. Their endorsements appear on the back cover of my La Llorona books. I have written several embedded reading for Latin, including this one about Romulus and Remus for the younger students (grades 3-6) which had legendary (pun intended) success.

Free Voluntary Reading and the Latin Book Share:  Students can choose which books to read out of our classroom library (over 140 titles so far), or elsewhere. If they want to read further or take a book home to show their parents what they are reading, they can.

They can choose whether to read a book all the way through, or put it down and pick up another.

In the Reading Log on the right, the 6th grade student with 1.5 years of Latin was reading two books that are both classified as high school intermediate level. She read in Latin at home voluntarily for 242 minutes that week, as witnessed and signed by her mother. I also talked with her about the two books. She understood them.

• Routines:  We always start and end every class in the same way. Those bookends to the instruction give students the comfort of predictability. The middle of each class period is different, but the beginning and end are always the same. The Password routine (described above) is always done, even when there is a substitute.

Rituals: Students always react the same way when the “password” for the week is introduced (see above). Another ritual is always to sing “Happy Birthday” in Latin when we are aware of a birthday.

• Memorization: Students memorized their lines in the Latin play they wrote. They memorize passages in Latin that are meaningful to them and bits of Latin poetry. One girl memorized a toast by Horace that she intends to use at her sister’s wedding this summer.

• Brain/Body Breaks. Kids can only sit for so long. Get them up and moving with purposeful activities.

• Other Comprehensible Input Practices. This acronym explains the specific practices: SCRIMP. These are the way the Big Ideas are put into practice

BIG IDEAS, STRATEGIES & PRINCIPLES:

• Give Students Choice and Voice:  This may be the most powerful technique that is working. Student choice is a constant characteristic in my classes and I am consciously working on getting better at it. When students have meaningful choices they engage more. They take more ownership of their learning. Here are some examples:

  • Let students choose which embedded reading level of a story to summarize. Lower level students naturally choose embedded readings that are shorter and simpler.
  • Let them choose which reading report they will use to show what they got out of a book. There are many examples of reading reports in my book Hi-Impact Reading Strategies.
  • Let students choose how they will be evaluated over a class reading. Most recently students in an upper level Latin class chose to write, produce, and present a play in Latin based on a couple of stories they had read.
  • Students can choose the information they will reveal about themselves in Special Person interviews.

Give Yourself Time to ThinkTeachers make over 3,000 decisions a day. Teachers are conscientious. They want to get things done, so they often do everything themselves. This distracts from the work that only the teacher can do. To give yourself time to think you need help. Get your students to help you so that you can focus on what matters. Once you start using classroom jobs, you will wonder how you ever had any time to teach or think during class.

• Teach Both Culture and Language. Culture and language cannot and should not be separated. People communicate with cultural metaphors. The most important metaphors of a language and culture are presented in it’s myths. The legends and folktales, history, geography, cultural sayings and idioms are all important.

• Use Compelling Input. The input needs to be interesting to the students. Not you. To the students. find books they’ll want to read and topics they’ll want to talk about. Adolescents love to talk about themselves, so use that.

• Limit Explicit Grammar. Grammar is important. Recognizing and understanding vocabulary is more important.

• Differentiate Your Instruction. Students do not all learn at the same speed. They have different abilities, different preferences, and different goals. We need to acknowledge those differences and reach them differently. We may need to use different assessments

  • Comprehension Checks. Constant Checking for Understanding is a must. If students do not understand what you are saying in the target language, it is not comprehensible input. It is irritating and frustrating noise. We don’t know if they understand unless we check.
  • Ask Many and Varied Questions.

• Catch Them Being Good. Students will surprise us. We need to pounce on their positive behavior and praise it if we want to see more of it. This student read a non-fiction book about birds in Latin, but all he had was a book report form for a fiction book. He changed the report and wrote answers for the book he read. I praised his ingenuity and wrote the Latin motto attributed to the great Carthaginian general Hannibal: Aut viam inveniam, aut faciam (Either I will find a way, or I will make one.), declaring he was like Hannibal. He loved it and has been working harder ever since.

• Use Comprehensible Input Principles. This acronym explains the general principles: MANIAC. These are the Big Ideas that ideally behind all planning, materials, lessons and interactions. The MANIAC hypotheses are always operating in the background.

There are plenty of world language teachers that are not aware of these C.I. techniques and mindsets, but the word is getting out.

If you are interested in scheduling a Professional Development workshop with Bryce specifically for Latin, or for world languages in general, please contact us at: contact@brycehedstrom.com.