Saturday, October 27, 2018

Putting Latin in the Ears of your Students

Over the past few weeks, I have had some great conversations with Latin teachers both in person and online regarding using spoken Latin in their classrooms. These teachers considered themselves to be traditional teachers who had never experienced active Latin before or never had Latin come out of their mouths for the purpose of communication. For these teachers, to even consider using spoken Latin with their students was a scary experience and was something which they had opposed for years. Somehow, though, they decided to start reading sentences aloud from their textbooks to students and asking students comprehension questions in Latin about what they had just said. These teachers reactions? Wow, their students were able to respond in Latin and enjoyed it! As a result, these teachers have come to the conclusion that it is important to bring in some degree of active Latin to their classrooms, even if they are not experienced in speaking Latin, because having students hear Latin really helps in the acquisition process.

I can completely relate to this, because for the first twelve years of my teaching career I was vehemently opposed to the use of any type of active Latin. My primary defense was "What is the point in speaking Latin if our goal is for our students to read Cicero" (and I hear this defense A LOT). However, my opposition to active Latin was mainly because I had not learned Latin with a spoken element, had never spoken Latin before, and had never experienced Latin as a living language. In other words, my opposition was actually based on my own fears and inabilities, rather than on actual research. However, after attending my first Rusticatio in 2010, I realized that we traditional Latin teachers were leaving out such a HUGE component in the acquisition of Latin by not speaking the language.

But why speak Latin in the classroom? According to Nancy Llewellyn from her article "Why Speak Latin?":
All those of us who teach have known or have taught a few outstanding students who could read extremely well and yet do not speak. But for every one of these, how many others have we lost? How many talented kids have we seen quitting after only a few weeks, or getting bored after a year or two and moving on to something they can internalize and really make their own, such as Arabic, French or Spanish? What we call the traditional method can work tolerably well for the 50% of our class which is composed of visual learners (indeed, extremely well for the top 2% of these), but what about the rest? What about the auditory and kinesthetic learners, whose primary learning modes are so rarely and scantily addressed? 
Let me also say that just speaking Latin in class in and of itself does not lead to language acquisition. If done incorrectly, it can impede student learning and just leave learners frustrated. For spoken Latin to be effective, it needs to be comprehensible. This is achieved by:
  • establishing meaning in L1. Write the Latin word with its definition in English on the board, and point and pause. Do not make the assumption that meaning is obvious through the use of gestures, pictures, etc. Gestures and picture can help create visual cues for learners, but establish meaning in L1 in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page. I can speak from personal experience where Latin speakers have tried to establish meaning of unknown words for me in L2, and all it did was result in frustration for me and not wanting to speak to that person. Just tell me the #%@$ meaning in L1 so that I can move on! I can only imagine what my own students would feel like if I were to do that to them.
  • speaking slowly. Annabelle Allen, whom I absolutely ADORE and RESPECT, says, "If you (as the teacher) are not bored by how slowly you are speaking (to students), then you are not speaking slowly enough." I can tell you that my affective filter SKYROCKETS whenever I hear advanced Latin speakers speaking so fast that their Latin sounds like just one long word to me. Although you may be a fast processor when hearing the language, remember that most learners are not.
  • remembering the level of your listeners. If we are being realistic, we will remember that although we may have Latin 3 students, they are actually only 3-year olds in the language. Do you personally speak to 3-year olds like Cicero?
So if you are new to speaking Latin and are a bit hesitant, here are some ways in which you can put some Latin in the ears of your students:
Let me end with this: you do not have to be a master Latin speaker to use active Latin in your classroom; you just need to be better than your students. Yep, you are probably going to make mistakes, but that is okay. Most likely, your students will not catch the errors, and you can always correct yourself - I correct myself all the time. it is perfectly okay to have a script! If someone tells you that you must speak Latin perfectly (and that includes pronunciation) before you begin to do it in the classroom, then I will tell you that you will NEVER get around to speaking it, because you will never be at that level of perfection. I do not always speak perfect English, and English is my mother tongue!

Years ago, I told Rose Williams, a veteran Latin teacher in Texas, "I need to apologize to that first group of Latin students whom I taught, because I had no clue what I was doing." Her reassuring reply to me was, "But even though you were probably just a few pages ahead of your students in the textbook, they still loved you anyway." To those of you who are hesitant to speak Latin in your classroom because you do not think that you are good enough, let Rose's message be my message to you.

Monday, October 22, 2018


After hearing much about this and reading about it on social media, I decided to try out GimKit last week, and wow, I am now a believer! It did not disappoint! GimKit is an online digital assessment tool much like Quizizz, but it has so many different upgrades and power-ups for students to use while they are playing this game. GimKit was created by students for students, so because of this, there is so much in this game which students find engaging.

The basic set up is like Quizizz in that students answer multiple choice questions asynchronously on their devices/computers at their own pace and receive "money" for correct answers, with the goal of having the most "money" at the end of the game. Students can play individually or on teams - if you put students in teams, they will still answer individually instead of collaboratively, but the "money" which they earn goes towards the team total. However, GimKit has some big differences which add to the fun:
  • Upgrades/Powerups - As students/teams gain "money," they can buy upgrades and powerups, such as increasing dollar values for correct answers, increasing question multipliers, insurance for incorrect answers, and removing two incorrect answers from the choices. In addition, however, they can also purchase powerups such as removing 20% from a team's total, reducing another's earnings by 50% for a minute, and increasing a bonus for a single question. 
  • Length of game - Instead of the game ending after all questions have been asked, the length of the game is determined by time or by total class earnings. As a result, questions are on a continuous loop.
  • Leaderboard - Because the leaderboard can be projected onto the screen, teams are always aware of where they stand, hence they know whom to "attack" with powerups.
  • The only way to earn money is to spend it in this game!
  • The game is SO enaging for students once they understand how upgrades and powerups work. This is what makes students want to continue playing the game.
  • Because questions are asked asynchronously like Quizizz, students can proceed at their own pace. Where Kahoot is a game of speed where the fast processors benefit, GimKit allows for the slower processors to answer at their own speed but still contribute to the team.
  • Because questions are on a continuous loop, this allows for lots of repetitions.
  • You can easily import questions from an already existing Quizlet Live set or from a CSV form. 
  • You can enter in student names ahead of time to prevent "naught nicknames".
  • Like Kahoot and Quizizz, you can share your "kits" with other teachers and can assign it to students.
  • Like Quizizz, the only feedback which students receive for incorrect answers is the correct answer itself. Unlike Kahoot which is synchronous in nature where the teacher can review reasons for incorrect answers communally with the class before moving on to the next question, students do not receive any feedback as to why they answered incorrectly in GimKit.
  • Because the game length is based on time or the class combined-totals,and because the questions are on a continuous loop, if you do not have enough questions, it can get boring for students. I have found that 75-100 questions for 10 minutes is a good amount.
  • Pricing - There is a free version which you can use, but one can only create 5 kits, with 1 edit per kit. The pay version is $7.99 for a monthly pay-as-you-go, or one can pay $59.88 for a year. There is a discounted school/district price.
I was surprised at how engaged students were when playing GimKit. Although students were in teams but not sitting by each other, it was fun for me to hear students yell out, "Who just spent $3,000?!!" and "The Blue Team just attacked us - someone buy a Powerup to attack them and a Shield to protect us?" My students have asked to play this game again, but in order to prevent the novelty, I will only play 2-3 times a semester at the most.

Here are some "kits" which I have made on GimKit (you need to be logged in to play) so you can see how it is played - one is a Latin review of 4 Roman festivals, and the other is a pure vocabulary review.

Monday, October 15, 2018

More Brain Breaks - True/False, Heads/Tails, & Life or Death

Here are some more quick, fun brain breaks which can be done in the target language.

1. True/False
  1. Have students stand up.
  2. Explain to students that you are going to read a statement. 
  3. If students think that the statement is true, they are put their hands on their heads.
  4. If students think that the statement is false, they are to stretch their hands to their sides (like a T).
  5. Reveal if the statement is true or false.
  6. If students get the answer incorrect, they are to sit down.
  7. Do another true/false statement, repeating steps 3-6.
  8. See who is left standing, and do a 3rd statement if desired.
Some statements:
  • There are more trees on earth than in the Milky Way (TRUE - there are 3.04 trillion trees
vs. 400 billion stars)
  • It takes seven years for your body to digest gum (FALSE - it is digested like normal food)
  • Mickey Mouse’s full name is Michael Theodore Mouse (TRUE)
  • The most popular sold item at Walmart is shampoo (FALSE - it is bananas)
  • Dogs are banned on Antarctica (TRUE)
  • Mickey Mouse was originally supposed to be a rabbit (TRUE)
  • Sunsets on Mars are blue (TRUE)
  • In Alaska, it is illegal to shove a moose into a movie theater (FALSE)
  • You can actually charge your smartphone using static electricity from your hair (FALSE)
  • No two tongue prints are the same (TRUE)
  • Hello Kitty’s real name is Tammy Sue (FALSE)
2. Heads/Tails
  1. Have students stand up
  2. Take out a coin, and tell students that they need to predict if the coin will land heads or tails. 
  3. If they think that it will be heads, they will put their hands on their heads. 
  4. If students think that they it will be tails, they will put their hands on their bottoms.
  5. Flip a coin.
  6. Depending on the coin toss, whatever students who incorrectly predicted will sit down.
  7. Repeat again three more times.
3. Life or Death (I got this one from Miriam Patrick, who in turn got this from Andrew Snider)
  1. Make a statement, and ask students if this is a life or death situation.
  2. Continue adding details to the statement, and ask students if this changes the situation to life or death.
Some statements
  1. Rhoda is in the kitchen.
  2. There are lions in the kitchen with Rhoda.
  3. The lions are starving.
  4. The lions are sleeping.
  5. Rhoda runs out of the kitchen.
  6. Rhoda steps on the lions' tails.
  7. The lions do not wake up.
  8. An asteroid then hits Rhoda.
  1. I like doing these brain breaks in the target language, because it requires students to listen. Depending on the level of your students, it may be necessary to do True/False in English.
  2. I have found that students get very competitive with the True/False and Heads/Tails brain breaks.
  3. An administrator came to observe me when I was doing a True/False brain break, and I made her participate. She was so impressed that she now wants the Special Education teachers to observe our Latin department, because she wants them to start using brain breaks in their lessons.