Saturday, December 10, 2011

Getting Started with Oral Latin: An Introduction to Latin Q & A

In this post I describe the activity I recently used to get going with oral Latin in my Latin I classes. I was not taught Latin in all four domains (i.e., reading, writing, listening, speaking), but I have decided I want to teach that way. This activity, then, was as informative for me as for my students, if not more so. I observed, even with the basic questions and answers described below, my students thinking in a way that would be impossible to reproduce using only reading and translation. This post is greatly indebted to an article by Ginny Lindzey on

Activity Name
   An Introduction to Latin Q & A

   for students to begin developing an awareness of Latin phonology and morphology via oral/aural pathways

   Students will be able to...
   -answer the three basic question types (quis, ubi, and quid... facit)
   -pronounce short Latin sentences

   1.1 and 1.2 (from CAMWS)

   Whiteboard and markers, or equivalent; source of sentences for each student, such as a textbook

   The first time this activity took us 30-40 minutes, but that was mostly spent explaining the use of speaking, hearing, and writing Latin. I imagine when we do it again it will take 15 minutes.

Description of Activity
   This activity could be done using any type of Latin passage or sentences. I recently introduced my students to hearing and answering questions in Latin using the Stage 8 "Picture Sentences" of the Cambridge Latin Course. We focused on eight sentences that looked something like these:
  1. cives per viam festinabant.
  2. Pompeiani in forum stabant, quod nuntius erat.
  3. cives ad amphitheatrum contenderunt, postquam nuntium audiverunt.
  4. Pompeiani, quod cavea erat plena, Regulum vituperabant.
  5. spectatores gladiatores laudaverunt.
  6. spectatores gladiatores in areana spectabant.
  7. Pompeiani plauserunt.
  8. cives in via riserunt.
After reading out the sentences quickly for my students, I explained that we were going to learn how to listen to and answer three basic types of questions:
  • quis/qui? -who?
  • ubi? -where?
  • quid Caecilius facit? -What is Caecilius doing?
As a class we were able to look back at earlier sections of the book to discover what these questions were asking. I think this was a lot more effective than it would have been had I simply given them the definitions of the words in the questions.

Two points before we go forward: (1) I modeled the procedure of the activity after "Think-Pair-Share." I figured this would give the students more confidence when it came to speaking their answers out loud, and that they would be more willing to speak if it was only to one partner and not in front of the entire class. Both of these assumptions turned out to be true. (2) I also made sure to structure the activity so that my student would gradually be forced to transition away from just reading out their answers. I allowed them to write in the beginning, but, as you will see, pencils were soon not allowed.

The rest of this post will describe in more detail how I accomplished the two points in the previous paragraph.

For the first part of the activity, after reading the sentences and explaining the three basic questions, I wrote one question on the board for each of the first three sentences. Of course I also read out the questions slowly. I had them write down the questions from the board on their own paper in a chart like this:

I then gave them five minutes or so to write down their answers in the "Answers" column on their own paper. I made sure they wrote their answers in complete Latin sentences. After they were finished, I had each student turn to a neighbor and check his or her answers by saying them out loud. Just letting a partner read what you had written down was strictly forbidden! Only after each student had confirmed his or her answers and practiced pronouncing them did I repeat the questions out loud to the class and call on volunteers to answer in Latin.

With the first three questions done, we moved on to the next three. We covered these with the same procedure of Think-Pair-Share we had used on the first three questions, but with one important difference: I did not write the questions on the board for them to copy. Instead, they had to write down the questions on their own paper as I asked them out loud to the class. I repeated each question several times, and afterwards each student had something like this on his or her paper:

Again, they answered each question in a complete Latin individually before turning to their neighbor to practice.

After I repeated the questions and called on three different volunteers, we were ready for the final two questions. Here we practiced truly oral/aural Latin. I did not write down the questions on the board, nor did I allow them to write down the questions or their answers on their own paper. I asked the final two questions in Latin (e.g., 7. qui plauserunt? and 8. ubi cives riserunt?) and called on two different volunteers for answers.

   Students are assessed informally as they complete their work and when they volunteer to answer. The teacher could also collect each student's "Questions and Answers" chart for a closer and more formal evaluation.

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