In 2022 Bryce’s adult daughter asked him to teach Latin at the classical school she was starting. He didn’t know Latin, but he was determined to be his daughter’s hero. So he began to learn Latin the way he suggests teachers teach—with comprehensible input. He read over 50 vocabulary-controlled novellas in Latin and began teaching Latin as a part time volunteer at his daughter’s school in fall of 2022.
He’s teaching Latin again this year (2023-2024). And while still no expert in the language, he continues to learn Latin and is loving it. The students are learning and enjoying the Latin classes because Bryce is applying his vast teaching experience, humor, artwork, and knowledge to the task.
This page is devoted to sharing what he’s picking up about teaching and learning on itinerarium suum Latinum (his Latin journey).
We all get better when we talk with each other and work together. Please add your thoughts, advice, criticism, and questions below!
NOTA BENE: Be sure to also check out Bryce’s Latin Instagram page!
Build Your Own Latin Class Book Share Program with
VOCABULARY-CONTROLLED READERS IN LATIN
Free Voluntary Reading works. Reading self-selected book independently can launch your students to incredible levels of acquisition.
HERE is a list of vocabulary-controlled books for building a LATIN CLASS BOOK SHARE PROGRAM. It is a list of materials and advice on how to guide students to read joyfully and independently. With the right kind of instruction and help, students can start reading much earlier than you might imagine. Recommended vocabulary-controlled chapter books in Latin begin on page 6 of the Book Share document.
The authors of the books on the lists in the link above follow the dictum of my mentor Susan Gross: “Shelter vocabulary, not grammar,” which means the vocabulary used in the books should be controlled and limited, but natural grammar should be used; i.e., protect students from exposure to too many unknown words, but use the necessary grammar called for in the message.
The authors of vocabulary-controlled Latin readers strive to make their books understandable and compelling to students. The result is interesting and comprehensible reading material. I have read each of the books on the Latin Book Share list linked above and vetted them for appropriateness, vocabulary control, and compelling stories. Most also have cultural and/or historical content, which is a plus: the Language learning trifecta: Comprehensible, Compelling, and Cultural.
The goal is for almost all of the reading to be comprehensible and interesting to students. Here are some specific techniques to get kids reading:
– Prepare Them with the Right Vocabulary.
Begin teaching your novice students high frequency verbs. Here is a lesson plan for the first week of school with a novice class. This has worked well with students from 3rd grade to 11th grade. It is an adaptation of this lesson (in Latin) and this longer lesson (in Spanish). With preparation like this, students can start reading the simplest novels on the list above right away. If you are not sure which verbs to teach take a look at this document.
Besides pre-teaching vocabulary with classical TPR, I’ve begun to assign flashcards (!?). Seems non-C.I., but flashcards can get vocabulary into short term memory and prepare students to acquire the words as they listen in class and read on their own. Here is a document explaining how to use flashcards and links to the research that indicates flashcards can be helpful.
– Have Books Available.
An ample supply of books in your classroom library is a must. A wide variety of unique word counts and genres is what will draw them in. If you’re lacking funds to increase your classroom library read this. There is money available to buy books, you may just have to look for it and ask the right people for it.
– Expect Students to Read.
For middle school Latin I students, a reasonable expectation is to read a minimum of one hour per week in Latin outside of class (15 minutes 4x/week, or 30 minutes 2x/week). This will be 2,000 to 5,000 total words every week outside of class. Once they get the confidence and the right books, many will voluntarily read more than this.
The average reading speed of middle school students (ages 11-14) is 150-200 words per minute (wpm) in their first language (L1). If they are reading at a fraction of that rate in Latin, say 50 words per minute, or 1/3 of the reading rate in L1, 60 minutes of reading time outside of class per week would be 3,000 words, or at least one short Latin novella.
For high school students, the reading expectation is to read in Latin outside of class a minimum of 100 minutes per week (30 minutes 3x/week, or , 20 minutes 5x/week) which will be between 4,000 to 10,000 words a week. Many students will voluntarily begin to read more once this habit is established and they find that reading in Latin is doable and enjoyable. These expectations are not too much for high school students. They may even be too low.
For high school students (ages 14-18), the average reading rate is 200-300 words per minute in L1. A similar fraction of that rate would be 70 words per minute, which would be about an hour (57 minutes) of reading in Latin per week for 4,000 words.
For elementary age students average reading rates are understandably slower: 3rd grade: 107-162 wpm, 4th grade: 123-180 wpm, 5th grade 139-194 wpm. So the reduced fraction for reading in Latin may be something like 3rd grade: 35 wpm, 4th grade: 40 wpm, 5th grade: 45 wpm. So for 2,000 total words read in Latin: 57 minutes, 50 minutes, and 45 minutes respectively.
When students are reading L2 at an appropriate level, they may approach their L1 reading speed. The ideal reading level for L2 is understanding 95%-98% of the words on the page. At that level of understanding reading speed in L2 will be closer to that of L1.
Source for average reading rates in L1.
– Help Students find Suitable Books.
The teacher needs to know both the students and the books in the classroom library to help them find good matches. Reading levels and student interests are the two big issues big issues. It is helpful to know what their friends and peers in other classes or schools are reading too. Coach them that reading several books by the same author can help them to grow in their literacy in the target language —so can reading several accounts of the same story at ascending reading levels. Both of those are available on the Book Share reading list in the link above. This poster and your advice can help students to choose books that match their interests, aptitudes and goals.
– Give Students Attention and Respect.
This is what everybody craves and hardly anyone gets enough of. Catch them “being good.” Notice when they’re reading and what they’re reading. Talk with students about what they have read. Ask their opinions about parts of books that you both have read. Let the respect flow from your face and body language. Give them attention with your tone of voice and your questions. They’re looking for approval. Give it to them. It goes a long ways.
– Assess (Just a Bit).
Check up on your students’ reading, but not too much. Light, occasional assessment can help to keep students honest and on track—just don’t do it too much. A regular (just once a week) informal oral explanation in class may be best. At other times, ask students to write a short book appreciation, a Reading Reflection. Once every four weeks or so assign a Dual Entry Journal report on what they’ve read. this can help you to see what they’re understanding and thinking about as they read. Occasionally (once a semester) have them write a more detailed Focused Book Report like this, this, or this can help to see what students are reflecting and processing.
This is what has worked for me. All of the advice and reading assessments above are from my book Hi-Impact Reading Strategies: How to Accelerate Fluency and Proficiency with Reading. Get it here.
Passwords are phrases that students are asked to say in the target language before entering the classroom each day. It is a way to connect with each student and to get them thinking about the language before class begins. And students remember them. At the end of the school year every student in both middle school and high school classes was able to write out 90% of the passwords in Latin and also explain the context and use. We used common Latin mottos as passwords. Mottos are Latin phrases that literate English speakers know from science, medicine, law, religion and cultural wisdom. Here are 25 LATIN MOTTOS AS PASSWORDS from last year (2022-2023). Stay tuned for a new set Latin mottos every English speaker needs to know that we’re using this year (2023-2024).
Latin Rejoinders Rejoinders are short, common phrases that people use all the time. They are helpful in a Latin class because they let students express themselves without breaking into English. Here is a video of master Spanish teacher Grant Boulanger presenting rejoinders in a middle school class the second week of school. Notice the good teaching techniques he is using. For more about rejoinders look here.
The Discipulus Illustris, or Special Person Interviews can be a regular year-long part of a Latin language class. These questions help to get to know interesting details about students. And because they are real facts, the language sticks with them. The questions in the link were adapted from Lance Piantaggini’s Latin version of my original “Special Person” interviews. I had each page of these questions expanded to poster size and put them on the wall of the classroom. Here are the DISCIPVLVS ILLVSTRIS posters. For tips and techniques to make Special Person interviews work, read here.
WHERE’S THE LATIN?
This is a hands-on activity to raise student awareness about the use of Latin in our modern culture. Here is a worksheet for students to fill out as they examine the coins and bills.
I made this poster of Roman numerals and put it on the wall of the classroom. Using the laser pointer or my wooden Roman sword as a pointer helped students to get these as I referred to page numbers or question numbers.
We also occasionally played a counting game that the kids ended up calling gladiator parvus after a character in the novella Rūfus et arma ātra, by Lance Piantaginni, which we were reading first semester in the middle school Latin 1A class. (I got the little gladiator figurine on Amazon for $15.00). The idea was to hide the gladiator figurine and have a student look for it. The other students counted aloud in Latin as the student searched. The hints were in the volume. Farther from the gladiator: whispering the count. Closer to the gladiator: counting louder. Right beside it: screaming numbers in Latin. Very fun. We kept score, both high and low. Record low: Count of IV (!?). Record high: Count of CXII.
Cartoons with Roman numerals are fun and helpful with learning the numbers too. The illustrations help with comprehensibility and the humor helps make it interesting. It’s all part of teaching with Comprehensible Input (CI).
Pi Day, March 14 (3/14, get it?) has become quite popular with math teachers in recent years. We can use it to motivate students to learn about this fascinating number and to do some impressive memorization in Latin and other world languages. I issued this challenge in my Spanish classes for years. It was always a hit.
Check out this Pi Day activity. The highest number of digits of PI memorized in my middle school class was 52 digits. In Latin. No notes. All students got at least 20 digits… and pie! Do it.
Use Memes and Humor
Posters like these are put up in the hallway to delight students as they wait to enter the classroom with the Latin password. Some are designed to make them think, others just to amuse them.
- These posts and many more are on my Latin Instagram page
MORE MATERIALS AND ACTIVITIES THAT HAVE WORKED
FOR ME ARE COMING SOON!