Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category


Hooked on Phonics

I was wondering what Quintilian meant when he said that children should begin with syllables (which sometimes just means ‘the alphabet’) but if this third century papyrus fragment from an educational manual is any indication, they really did study every possible syllable. (Source:

Syllables from a pedagogical papyrus.

Then I wondered: What about the possibility of using the rhythm of the hexameter to practice the quantities of vowels?

– ⏔ | – ⏔ | – ⏔ | – ⏔ | – ⏖ | – × ||

bā da da | bē de de | bī di di | bō do do | bū du du | bȳ dy
cā da da | cē de de | cī di di | cō do do | cū du du | cȳ dy
dā da da | dē de de | dī di di | dō do do | dū du du | dȳ dy
fā da da | fē de de | fī di di | fō do do | fū du du | fȳ dy

And so on. It could be a mouthful, but it could also really help to solidify proper pronunciation of individual sounds by divorcing them from the familiar contexts of students’ parent languages.


Grading with Google Docs

Flubaroo by is a very interesting little script for grading multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank responses via Google Docs spreadsheets. You need a Google account and have to take a few steps to install the script, but it’s promising. I’m a great fan of anything that minimizes the numbers of sites and services I need to use, and if I can keep it all with Google then I’m very happy. (via at Google+)

Want to know more about Flubaroo? Like where the name came from? How other educators use it? Want to get your questions answered live by the creator of Flubaroo, and other educators? Want to learn a little bit about Google Apps Script, the code that Flubaroo is written in?

Then tune in tomorrow, May 2nd at 6pm EST (3pm PST) to watch a live session on Flulbaroo and Google Apps Script, part of Google’s Education On Air Conference (eduonair).

To watch, visit this page ( a few minutes before the session starts….


Things students say

“I don’t get textbooks. In every class textbooks confuse me.”

Not my student. But I’ve learned over the years that it’s worth taking time to walk students through the textbook (and other materials) as early as possible. No matter how obvious it seems. It used to surprise me when students didn’t know about the sections of a book (e.g., table of contents, appendices, indices, etc.) and how to use them. But every year when it’s time to distribute textbooks I patiently take them through it and have them practice finding things.


GapVis: Visual Interface for Reading Ancient Texts

You may know that I teach Latin in a public high school, and that my school is in the midst of a major technology push involving $2.4 million invested in MacBooks for teachers and iPads for all. Of course there’s the usual resistance — or at least disconnect — from faculty who are uncomfortable with technology. But I’ve made it a priority to find things that students can do to enrich their experience, and in my searches for iPad compatible site I was very pleasantly surprised to find GapVis.

GapVis is a product of GAP, the Google Ancient Places project, and has its roots in the HESTIA project, which focused on plotting places in Herodotus. GapVis expands on that idea by pulling texts on ancient history from Google Books and offering the reader a visualization of the places mentioned via Google Maps.

GapVis reading view

The "reading view" of the Histories of Tacitus, from GapVis.

I was so happy to find a site like this because, as any one who has read ancient history knows, without careful attention to geography, it can quickly become very difficult to follow texts with any real precision or deep understanding. Visualization is key, and is one of the reasons the Robert B. Strassler’s ‘Landmark’ series has been both so popular and so helpful.

GapVis can not yet approach what the ‘Landmark’ editions of ancient historians offer, such as carefully edited maps, scholarly appendices, and contemporary translations, but that’s not really the point. I think that what makes GapVis such a treasure is its interactive nature and its potential, even in a beta offering.

The texts are often problematic, considering the state of OCR text from scanned books that haven’t been carefully reviewed. And often places are misidentified by similarities in personal names, etc. But this can lead to productive activities for students and ensure a close reading of texts. Students may be assigned particular passages and asked to perform certain tasks, including checking the place identification and reporting problems to the GapVis team.

I think this is a tool to watch and one that has pedagogical potential even today. I’m looking forward to see where it goes.


How to pronounce Latin vowels

We’ve all seen suggestions (in textbooks, vel sim.) for how to pronounce Latin vowels. We’re often given pairs of words, and depending on the text the sounds are either un-classical or unlike the sounds of our own dialect of English.

What has worked for many of my students is using disyllabic words or phrases in English, showing the qualities of both the short and long vowel sounds of Latin in that order.

A aha! [ăhā]
E bed frame [bĕdfrēm]
I Phillies [fĭlīz]
O autos [ŏdōz]
U footloose [fŭtlūs]

It works as long as you understand that it’s meant to illustrate not the quantity of syllables but the quality of vowels.
Thorvaldsen Cicero
As I alluded to in the beginning, you may find that these vowels don’t work in your dialect, but the principle holds: find short, easy, memorable words and phrases that work within the dialect used by your students, and you should see — or rather hear — better results.


The tandem bicycle: a figment of Ennius

I sent this to the Latinteach list today in response to a post on a student’s mnemonic for remembering the meaning of tandem. I think I’ll keep it in my back pocket for the next time tandem comes up in class.

You know why they call it a tandem, right?

Its invention goes all the way back to the Alban kingdom, in the days when those fabled twins, Romulus and Remus, were busy playing Robin Hood and making merry.

When the vehiculum they called the birota was doubled by a clever Alban faber, Romulus cried out:

“TANDEM! A bicycle built for two!”

It’s in a hexameter fragment of Ennius.*

Rōmulus ait, ‘tandem! birota aedificāta duōbus!’

*Not really. I just made this up.

It would probably be most effective delivered dryly, especially if you can convince students that the bicycle actually was an ancient vehicle.


A bit of Tacitus for high schoolers

I’ve been thinking a bit about things that I think every student should read before walking away from Latin, and the opening of the Annales of Tacitus stands out.

urbem Romam a principio reges habuere; libertatem et consulatum L. Brutus instituit. dictaturae ad tempus sumebantur; neque decemviralis potestas ultra biennium, neque tribunorum militum consulare ius diu valuit. non Cinnae, non Sullae longa dominatio; et Pompei Crassique potentia cito in Caesarem, Lepidi atque Antonii arma in Augustum cessere, qui cuncta discordiis civilibus fessa nomine principis sub imperium accepit.

In this passage we have the opportunity to discuss the hexameter (urbem Romam a principio reges habuere), the outlines of Roman constitutional history (from Kingdom through the various crises of the late Republic, and finally ending on the principate of Augustus), and several features both of language and rhetoric that are useful for review. We have the alternate third person plural of the perfect tense, the passive voice, and on and on.

This is a passage that could be revisited again and again as a starting point for so many discussions and as a brief road map for students.

I’m especially interested in its utility for teaching, as I’ve said, the broad outlines of constitutional history, and perhaps of having students memorize the whole selection not only for its content but as a model for the pronunciation and the rhythms of the language.


Latin Mad Libs: fragmentary texts in the classroom

As you may guess between this and my last post I’m working on ways to liven up the classroom, and it has occurred to me how we might do Latin Mad Libs that are both fun and effective:

From Wikipedia.

…(ṃ)ad lib[itum]…

The name of the game should be formatted that way on the page, and students taught about the nature of fragmentary texts before they’ve ever been given a hint of the task. This is something that could be brought back again and again, sometimes as a game, sometimes as an assessment, now tied to the text, now entirely silly and free. It allows of a lot of variety, but the key that ties it together is the conceit of trying to emend a fragmentary text.

Students have to work closely with the text using prior knowledge, context clues, and their own best thoughts.

I can’t wait to try it myself next week.


A better ‘Simon Says’ for Latin Classes

Simon Says

Check out more of Rex May's excellent cartoons at toonpool.

I’ve never used Simon Says in my Latin classes because I’ve never liked the Latin it tends to produce. The teacher says something like ‘Simon dīcit “tollite manūs!”,‘ but it doesn’t work for me grammatically.

You could say ‘Simon iūbet vōs manūs tollere‘ or ‘Simon vōbīs imperat ut manūs tollātis,’ but then you’re far beyond the target audience.

To give the command in a direct quotation you should use inquit, after the commander’s words. And why not make the commander Quintus to effect some kind of alliteration? (While inquit Quīntus may sound harsh we should be driven less by euphony than by the demands of the sounds and structures of the language.)

It might go a little something like this:

tollite manūs, inquit Quīntus!
nunc, salīte omnēs!
ah! nōn Quīntum dixī!

And a translation:

Simon says, “raise your hands!”
Well done!
Now, everybody jump!
Ah! I didn’t say ‘Simon’!


Diacritical Exegesis: a novel approach to reading Latin aloud

It seems that I keep coming back to pronunciation as one of the most important areas for students at all levels of Latin. There are the obvious benefits: it attunes the ear to the unique sounds of the language and helps to reinforce things like vocabulary. But it’s at least as important that students develop an ability to read Latin expressively and to pick up not just its sounds but its rhythms.

The rhythms of the language will do more for students than precision in consonant articulation (e.g., aspirated vs. unaspirated consonants). When students have the ability to read Latin with its natural rhythms it’s easier for them to identify sense units on the fly and much less likely that their reading will fade into an unintelligible jumble of empty syllables. Both in the classroom and when reading alone students should see a marked improvement in their comprehension of texts if vowel quantity and rhythm are either mastered or practiced formally through a pre-reading exercise in which they mark-up their texts not for vocabulary and grammar (as is often done) but for rhythmic cues.

I came across a worksheet I made some time ago and promptly forgot about that uses a system of diacritics to easily help students read Latin with proper attention both to stress accents and vowel quantity. It’s not groundbreaking, but it is something that can be produced just as easily with a word processor as with a pen, and it provides students with visually distinct symbols that supply all of the needed information. Here are the diacritics:

¯ The macron marks long vowels in unaccented syllables.
^ The circumflex marks long vowels within accented syllables.
´ The acute accent marks other accented syllables (i.e., those that do not contain long vowels).

It’s important to note the distinction between long syllables and long vowels, and students should be taught to recognize diphthongs and syllables that are long by position. For the purposes of this exercise, it would be a mistake to equate macrons with long syllables, and equally to mistake macrons for accents. This notation may help to reinforce those distinctions while encouraging pronunciation.

(NB: In the marking-up of verse, the distinction between vowels and syllables is quite different, which raises serious objections to this use of macrons, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I have only the vaguest recollection of putting the text together (so vague, in fact, that I wasn’t sure I should take credit, but I couldn’t find anything like it elsewhere online). Here’s the text I prepared (evidently from a version of Aulus Gellius as adapted by Rose Williams in this pdf on Holidays for Latin Class):

Sāturnâlia Athênīs hílarē támen modéstē agēbâmus. Conveniēbâmus ad cênam múltī Rōmânī quī in Graéciam érant. In órdine cênam dabâmus et post cênam praémium solvéndae quaestiônis ponēbâmus. Praémium érat lîbrum scriptôris vel Latînum vel Graécum et corônam e laúro pléxam. Tótidem rês hóspes quaerêbat quot hóminēs erâmus. Rém et lócum dîcere sórs dâbat. Quaestiônēs ígitur solûtae corônam et praémium recipiêbant.

People will doubtless continue to debate the minutiae of accentuation, but this could work as a step toward better reading if applied, as mentioned previously, as a pre-reading exercise to be abandoned once the rhythms are acquired. I would not advocate for its adoption as a regular feature of handouts, but a tool toward the acquisition of a necessary skill.

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