Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Events" - Working in Past Tenses in Latin 1

Here is a great way to introduce past tenses and to use them in a way which demonstrates the "past tense" nature as compared to the present tense.

At NTPRS 2014, during my group's session with Blaine and Von Ray, they introduced the concept of "events," which essentially are flashbacks in a story with which students are already familiar.

Now this concept of "events" was a departure from what I had learned at my first TPRS workshop in 2008, where Blaine Ray himself had said that it was important to teach past tenses as soon as possible, since most stories were written in the past tense; he posited that we should just begin telling stories using the past tense and expose students early to the concept. At NTPRS 2014, Blaine's changed his tune a bit, as he and Von explained that the use of "events" now allowed for past tenses to be used in a meaningful context, while at the same time distinguishing themseves from other tenses. After having implemented "events" in stories, I can definitely say that they work and are a wonderful tool to use.

The set up is very simple: Take a story which you have already used with students, but the key part is that it needs to have been written in the present tense (I suppose you can take a story written in the imperfect/perfect tense if you wish to introduce the pluperfect tense). The idea now is to create a flashback which will either explain details of the original story or add new ones.

So here is how I used an event to introduce the imperfect and perfect tenses in Latin 1. After roughly six weeks of school, I "revisited" the very first story which I had used with students.

Part of Original Story
Earl elephantum vult. Earl est tristis. Aliyah elephantum habet. Aliyah est laeta.

Event (with original story embedded in it)
hodie, Earl elephantum vult, sed heri Earl leonem volebat. heri Earl dixit, “ego leonem volo!”  mater leonem ei dedit. Earl erat laetus. sed leo patrem consumpsit. nunc Earl est tristis.

hodie Aliyah elephantum habet. heri, Aliyah elephantum non habebat. Aliyah erat tristis. heri Aliyah erat in Arbys. Aliyah elephantum et senem vidit. Aliyah dixit, “ego elephantum volo.” Aliyah senem pulsavit. nunc Aliyah elephantum habet. Aliyah est laeta.

  1. I was surprised by how seamless it was for students to pick up the imperfect and perfect tenses this way.
  2. Using flashbacks in a meaningful context truly allowed for students to distinguish between the different tenses, because they were being used and contrasted at the same time.
  3. Because I was taking a story with which students were already familiar and one which involved their classmates, the flashbacks were compelling for them.
  4. Because I was limiting vocabulary, I could focus on taking known words and "milking the heck out of them grammarwise." When introducing the new language structures, because I was using known vocabulary words, students could focus purely on the new form and meaning. 
  5. The only new vocabulary words which I introduced were hodie, heri, and nunc, which served as adverbial timemarkers necessary for introducing the time shifts in the story. I also had to introduce the word erat.
Now I try to write some type of "event" in all of my stories in order to work in both past and present tenses at the same time. There is no reason why I cannot introduce future tenses this way too!

For some reason, "events" used to be known as "bird walks" - I do not quite know why...


  1. Keith, Are you creating the flashback with the students orally? Or is it put into an embedded reading that you read with them? (or both?) It seems like a better idea to me than the asking the story in the past and reading in the present - it seems more organic and makes it clear to the students what is in the past and what is now.

    1. I created the new story ahead of time and simply told it to students (with circling involved). The new forms (imperfect/perfect) were on the board, and I pointed/paused whenever they came up. Afterwards, I gave students the reading. In a way, it was a form of an embedded reading, since sudents were already familiar with the parts in the present tense (since it was the first story which they had ever done), so the new additions to the story were the flashbacks. Hope that makes sense.