«How to Teach Latin (A Guide to Using Latin for Children) • By Karen Moore N OTA BENE: This guide is intended for the use of teachers in various ...»
Words are the essential building blocks of any language. A toddler needn’t have a great understanding to communicate his needs, but the right words are crucial. So also is the case with the lost traveler desperately searching through his pocket-sized conversational-help-book. He is not worried about how articulate he sounds, but in getting out the right word to get him to his destination. In the grammar stage the central focus of teaching language is the rote memorization of words, the building of vocabulary.
The LFC series introduces ten new words in each chapter, adding an additional five review words in primers B and C. Day one should be spent on introducing these new words to the students; do not leave them Classical Academic Press • www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com to fend for themselves. The teacher should model the pronunciation and then ask students to imitate. If you feel less than confident about your pronunciation, you may wish to use the DVD or CD provided by Classical Academic Press.
The debate over classical vs. ecclesiastical pronunciation is a hot topic in some circles. There are well respected Latin instructors who present well crafted arguments on both sides. I, myself, prefer the classical pronunciation. However, I do not feel that the pronunciation you choose is nearly as important as being consistent with your decision. The primers and DVD sets provide readers with guides to both ecclesiastical and classical pronunciation. Choose the one that fits best with your style of teaching. Then, stick to it.
When reciting vocabulary I urge you not to simply repeat endings, but make sure you chant the whole words to them. In other words do not have students chant: puella, -ae. This may not seem to present a problem for the well-behaved first declension nouns. However, before too long you will begin introducing second and third declension nouns whose stem varies between the nominative and genitive
singular, i.e. ager, agrï. Instead require students to continue chanting the noun stem with both endings:
puella, puellae; ager, agrï; vox, vocis, etc. The same should apply to adjectives (bonus, bona, bonum) and to verbs (amö, amäre, amävï, amätum).
Some texts do not teach students to memorize all four principal parts of verbs, and some teachers do not require it. I am emphatic about requiring such memorization from my students. The principal parts are the essential forms from which every type of verb will be formed. If they do not memorize all the principal parts as a complete set now, it will be much more difficult to do so later. The last two parts often vary in their form, and students will not readily associate them with the first two. They will in essence find it necessary to relearn all of their verbs. Moreover, this is the stage at which children are easily able to assemble and retain great quantities of data. The extra memorization may take a little more rehearsal, but is readily accomplished. It is crucial that students have command of their vocabulary, and now is the opportune time for them to gain it.
As you proceed through the new vocabulary list, pronouncing each word properly, take time to discuss English derivatives. At first, give students the opportunity to guess a few derivatives on their own.
The guidelines for detecting a derivative are: 1) it must look similar in spelling to the Latin word and 2) it must have a meaning related to the Latin word. If the suggested derivative does not meet both of these requirements, then it cannot be a true derivative. They often love this time for it is a game that provides them active participation in the learning process. If they can come up with some derivatives on their own, they make an invaluable connection – they own that word.
Of course there are those Latin words that seem only to inspire diction too elevated for young students. So, the primers do provide some help. Each review chapter contains a set of derivatives for most of the Latin vocabulary words. You can sneak an early peek at this list and have some derivatives ready at hand. The memory worksheets also provide a derivative exercise for each chapter. It is helpful to introduce the derivatives they will need in your initial derivative discussion. Sometimes the younger students have a hard time coming up with some of the derivatives for the memory worksheet on their own. However, if you have discussed it as a class the day before, they will almost certainly be able to recall the word with little or no prompting. Older students should be encouraged to use an English dictionary to find some derivatives on their own. In this case it is important to make sure you have an English dictionary that will list the words’ origins. Unfortunately, not all dictionaries will provide this information. At the beginning of the year, do a few derivative detective exercises, teach your students how to search for derivatives using the two clues above and then how to use the dictionary to verify their theories. Once again, they have Classical Academic Press • www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com made the connection themselves and this builds confidence in their newfound vocabulary skills.
A very wise Latin teacher once instructed me that the more senses you use to learn something, the better you retain it. I have found this time and time again to be so true, particularly with children. So far students have used the senses of sight and sound to learn their vocabulary words; now it is time to add tactile practice. Next on the agenda are the famous flashcards. Some programs offer pretty pre-made cards.
I, however, have always preferred that students make their own. The time it takes them to write out every vocabulary word with all of its grammatical parts, meanings, and even a derivative or two is time well spent.
As they write they review each letter that makes up each part of each word. Ask students to write only the first entry of each word on the front and the remaining information on the back.
Always require students to memorize the gender of their nouns along with the other pertinent information. We are, after all, training them how to learn a language. While gender may appear easily recognizable in the beginning, it will not be so easy later on. Even the first declension has its exceptions. It is wise to develop in students a habit for memorizing a noun’s assigned gender.
To this end it is also beneficial to use color coded index cards. Pink is assigned to feminine nouns, blue to masculine, and yellow to neuter. White remains the color for verbs. Some colored packs also include green and orange. These colors can be assigned to adjectives and prepositions. Use white once again when it comes time for adverbs, thus connecting them visually with the verbs they modify. This mnemonic device not only comes in handy when students are reviewing vocabulary cards at home, but also when they are creating them. The student must take the time to think again about the word, the part of speech, the gender (if it is a noun), and then the color needed for that word. When they have finished creating the cards, the teacher should check them. The students need to use the vocabulary tools they have just created to practice their new words for a few minutes each night at home. It is important to make sure that they have recorded the information correctly.
The mantra for the grammar stage is “rote, repetition, review.” This seems a dry and dull philosophy, but it does not have to be. There are plenty of creative ways to review vocabulary words that will keep the young mind fully engaged. Classical Academic Press provides an activity book full of games and puzzles that serve this very purpose. Many kids enjoy using the flashcards they have just created to quiz each other on their new words. These same cards can lead to playing Latin taboo, a favorite at our Classical Academic Press • www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com school. One student must give clues to try to help another guess the word on the card, BUT they cannot use the meaning of the word or any of the derivatives listed. Some students like to use extra index cards to create another set of Latin cards that are blank on one side, making them suitable for card games such as “memory” or “go fish.” There are other games that do not require cards at all such as Latin Hangman, Around the World, and Spelling Bees. The list of Latin games could continue ad infinitum. Many of them are the creations of imaginative Latin students. Engage your students in creating their own review game. It will most likely become their favorite.
GRAMMAR: The mortar that binds.
If words are the building blocks of language, then grammar is the mortar that binds them together.
It is grammar that gives vocabulary meaning and power. Without it they would be, well... just words.
On a fundamental level, the grammar of Latin is very different from that of English. Latin is an inflected language. That is it is a language that regularly affixes endings to words in order to demonstrate to the reader the function of that word in a sentences. The word inflection is itself a Latin derivative from the verb flectere meaning, “to alter the shape of.” Indeed Latin is very fond of altering the shape of its words, molding them to fit the purpose needed. English too uses inflection as demonstrated in the manner that it pluralizes most words, i.e. girl – girls. Of course Latin, with its many lists of noun declensions and verb tenses, uses inflection on a much larger scale. It often takes a little time for our English brains to conform to this new paradigm of grammar. A very good reason to begin instructing the so called “poll-parrots” in these new paradigms with the familiar method of “rote, repetition, review.” Each chapter of Latin for Children begins with a new or review grammar chant. Although we do not introduce the grammar lesson until the second day spent on this chapter, we always make time to rehearse the grammar chant on the very first day. Again it is important to model the pronunciation of each word and each ending for the students, and then ask them to repeat it. Rehearsing these chants should be the first exercise of every Latin class. It is a great way to signal to the students that we are moving from the world of English grammar to that of Latin.
Once again, however, the time spent orally reviewing these chants does not have to be dry and boring. Find creative ways to enhance this time. We have several grammar songs and chants that have become so popular at our school, even the Kindergarteners know them. Many a student has been caught singing them on the playground, in the car, and on one occasion even in her sleep! Many of these were created by the students themselves. One fifth grade student set the imperfect and future tenses of esse to the music of the Mexican Hat Dance. Another group created a rap that listed all of the prepositions that take the ablative case, and another for those taking the accusative. We have nurtured such an attitude of enjoyment at our school with regard to Latin that my husband often teases me that I am “warping” these young minds. No - I’m merely “inflecting” them.
Once students have begun learning how to memorize the vocabulary and grammar paradigms of this language, it is time to show them how the two work together. Some programs prefer to wait until children are older to show them how to apply the tools of vocabulary and grammar work together. This could be compared to a lesson in wood shop in which we teach students about a nail and then about a hammer, but then put off instructing them on the affect the hammer has on the nail when applied. Once students have learned a few words and then a grammar chart, it is only natural to show them how the one affects the other. Latin for Children does just this. On day two of each chapter students are presented with a short and fairly simple grammar lesson. The lessons are written in a very straightforward manner that clearly takes into consideration a young audience, and the possibility of a novice teacher or parent who does not Classical Academic Press • www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com have any formal training in Latin. Before class look over the grammar page and the worksheet that follows.
Every worksheet will have a grammar section with questions regarding the grammar lesson on the previous page. Take the time now to circle the answers on the grammar page so you know exactly where they are located. You will want to emphasize these as you give the day’s grammar lesson, particularly with the younger children.
Begin the grammar lesson by having the students read the grammar page out loud, stopping often to ask comprehension questions about what they have just read: “What is a conjugation? What does it mean to conjugate a verb?” As they read, have them also circle or underline the same passages that you identified in your preparation for the lesson. Allow them to use a colored pencil (markers tend to bleed).
This exercise is training them in the skill of note taking. Not only will they relish the opportunity to use colors in their book, this exercise will highlight the segments of the lesson they will need to complete the worksheet. As the students get older, it will become less necessary for you to tell them exactly which sentences they need to highlight. Instead at the end of the reading ask the class, “What is the most important point in the first paragraph? Circle that sentence.” Again, teaching is not simply filling them full of information, but training them how to learn.
Now the students are ready to review the vocabulary and grammar they have learned with their first assignment, the chapter worksheet. With all of the preparation you, as the teacher, have provided in discussing vocabulary words, derivatives, and grammar, the students should be able to work quietly on their own or with a single partner to complete the worksheet. Afterwards the teacher can collect the books to look over the assignment. Of course, with larger classes, taking up fifteen to twenty books can be quite a lot. Instead, you might consider having the students check their own work. Ask them again to produce a colored pencil – any color (always a big hit). Review the worksheet aloud as a class and ask them not to erase their mistakes, but simply write the correct answer over the error. It is important to emphasize that mistakes are a part of learning, and not an occasion for embarrassment. This method of correction and review tends to work best with the younger classes, who are not naturally given to reviewing their corrected assignments on their own.