Tedium, tedii, tedio
June 20, 2014 8:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm teaching a three-hour daily intensive college Latin class. Help me come up with ideas to relieve the mind-numbing boredom of endless drills and "The queen sent the letter to the citizens"-type sentences.

I'm teaching the morning part of a daily intensive beginning Latin class. I just do drills and review; the students learn new material in an afternoon class taught by someone else (they have six daily hours of Latin total). I have two groups of about twelve students each, which I see on alternate days (there's one other morning instructor). They're a pretty even mix of undergrads and grad students, with two or three older lifelong-learning types thrown in. This is the textbook we're using. The students are motivated, smart and engaged, but sometimes the time does drag on. Help me find some creative ideas to mix things up a bit.

They get lots of homework every day, so about half our time is spent reviewing that, which is the most boring part of the class but also the most unavoidable. What I've been doing is mostly just going through the exercises and calling on people for the answers, or sometimes having a number of students write up their answers on the board at the same time and then reviewing them all. Even so, we don't get through all the homework (which is OK as some of it is pretty mechanical). But even an hour of this can be mind-numbingly dull, especially, I imagine, if it's morning and you know you have four or five more hours of Latin to sit through that day.

The rest of the time I've been doing some combination of: review of new concepts/constructions/forms; readings from the textbook (which are from real authors but are still very short selections at this point, so tend to be puzzling or pointless-looking out of context); readings which I bring in (Cicero; they don't know all the forms yet, so I have them read out the Latin and see what they can recognize or understand, and then I give the full translation); and Latin composition exercises where I pair them up and have them use the vocab they know, plus some extra vocab that I give them which I try to make funny, to come up with sentences containing whatever forms or constructions they've recently learned. They seem to like the latter two activities (as far as I can tell: they rarely give that kind of feedback), but it's all getting a bit repetitive.

We're moving through the material really fast, so it's not like I can ever take a break to show them a classics-related video or anything like that; all our time really does have to be spent on mastering the forms, practicing translation and so on. But there must be less zombifying ways of doing this. Ideas?
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark to Education (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, if you change the excerpts to shorter things (e.g. Martial), you could get the whole point across in a digestible amount of time.

You could also try doing some English-to-Latin yourself. I remember one of my teachers making a paragraph about March Madness where he coined the term 'tuxtax omissio' for 'slam dunk'; if your students are following the World Cup, you could write up game summaries and have them translate those.
posted by Maecenas at 8:21 AM on June 20, 2014

Elvis songs in Latin.
posted by Sophont at 8:24 AM on June 20, 2014

I learned Latin in high school. I really enjoyed it, partially due to my fantastic teacher; I really like that you're bringing in new readings for them. I learned out of Ecce Romani, though; I suggest you embrace the ridiculousness of sentences like "the queen sent the letter to the citizens". I still have fond memories of the puella Cornelia and her doofus buddy Sextus. And dormice. A little ridiculous vocab to help going through declensions+conjugations and whatnot is also useful; I see you're doing that too.

When I learned Greek in an intensive summer course, we didn't have as much time for the silly things, and really, I learned it less solidly; it only got more solid when I was reading material (yay Euclid and Archimedes) that I really enjoyed. Perhaps later on in the course you can help each student pick a reading (from a short list) that they might personally enjoy? (I'm a physicist in real life, so yeah, Euclid+Archimedes were very interesting for me.)

That having been said, almost two decades later, there are a lot of resources out there on the web for incorporating works into the study of Latin; one I'm personally familiar with (caveat lector: my own Latin teacher as well as one of my very good friends were involved in this, so I'm probably biased) is called Bartholomew's World. Its intent is to bring in medieval works and it also has some games and other study materials.

Lastly, I would also recommend some facing-page translation, especially if you're finding some of the sentences in your text are out-of-context; if you recognize the context for a particular quote, then provide it, in English. Or get a facing page translation (I kind of love some of my Loeb's, even with the occasionally Victorian translations..), and have them see how the sentence they just translated works in the context of the whole stanza/paragraph.

Ok, that wasn't actually lastly-- in an intensive summer course, you just might not have time for this. The students have an absolute ton of material to absorb, especially if they don't have strong experience with inflected languages. And that's ok, it's part of the nature of an intense course. The point is to get what they need to use Latin in their actual graduate work; as long as you're facilitating their future ability to use the language, I think you're good.
posted by nat at 8:32 AM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

My Latin teacher had a penchant for the macabre: The characters in her sentences would beat each other with sticks, stab each other, even kill each other. (Rome was a tough place.) There was a great deal of pantomime, especially for the new verbs.

So yeah, depending on your audience, maybe a short segment on Roman noir liven to things up.
posted by mochapickle at 8:33 AM on June 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, one more idea, which might work better with high school students-- we really appreciated the Latin sexual vocabulary. Got to thank whatever monk copied Catullus for that one.
posted by nat at 8:38 AM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

What about funny sentences drawn from contemporary pop culture and music, as a bit of comic relief? "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard." And then you can puzzle out what the best neologism for "milkshake" is.
posted by Liesl at 8:44 AM on June 20, 2014

You're the teacher, you would know better than I do, but I find the asides and small talk in Cicero's letters especially funny. Not necessarily the content stuff. Are there other correspondents who have aged so well?

Also, Book 6 of the Aeneid, can't go wrong with that, even though it's a prose class.
posted by 8603 at 8:46 AM on June 20, 2014

I hated English to Latin with a fiery passion...and this from someone who loves Latin for All Occasions as humor. If it were me, I would leave the prose comp for the appropriate class later on, and try to pull more stuff out of the sources.

For every few drills, not for every single one, of course, can you find a real sentence in Perseus that contains that very form? This was not an option when I took Latin.
posted by 8603 at 8:51 AM on June 20, 2014

Some of my fondest memories from high school Latin involve reading Auricula Meretricula. It introduces forms and concepts bit by bit, and it's a lot of fun to read and to act out scenes.

This may have been funny only because I was 15, but I'll never forget my teacher getting increasingly frustrated and gesticulating wildly at a classmate, yelling "you're not allowed to be the pimp anymore! you're a terrible pimp!"
posted by charmcityblues at 9:24 AM on June 20, 2014

Elvis songs in Latin.

My high school Latin teacher let us translate songs (well, Christmas carols, since it was a December assignment) into Latin for extra credit.

For extra extra credit you could attempt to sing them to the class.

The results were, predictably, hilarious.
posted by phunniemee at 9:33 AM on June 20, 2014

I had a Latin teacher in college who would get us to sing the forms of a verb. It was kind of funny at first but then we got into it and they really stuck. I also really enjoyed translating ribald ancient graffiti as a student.
posted by Lardmitten at 9:42 AM on June 20, 2014

Best answer: Oh! And another fun exercise would be to critique this Latin translation of Sir Mix-A-Lot's Baby Got Back. Or translate any fun modern song into Latin.

magnae clunes mihi placent, nec possum de hac re mentiri.
(Large buttocks are pleasing to me, nor am I able to lie concerning this matter.)
posted by mochapickle at 9:49 AM on June 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

Harry Potter and Winnie the Pooh have been translated into Latin.
posted by brujita at 9:58 AM on June 20, 2014

Best answer: With the structure you're working in, I don't think you're going to have a lot of opportunity for more fun readings or whatever (out-of-context things really are dreadful). The question really appears to be, "How can I make doing drills more fun?" right?

So. Games! Verb/noun relays on the board (divide students into teams, they stand in a line, first student is given a marker/chalk, they write a form on the board, hand off to next student: who can then either correct one form already on the board OR add one new form; first team correctly finished wins). Small whiteboards (your local hardware place or big-box hardware store will sell something called "shower board" or similar which can be written on with dry-erase markers, and if you ask, they should cut it into 1'x1' squares for you; it's not terribly expensive). Vocab Bingo ("habeĊ")! Around the World! Basketball (divide students into teams, one student from each team is up, shown a word, first kid to correctly say it wins the round: they can then either take a point for their team, or risk the point and shoot a wadded up paper ball into a box: if they make it, they get three points, but if they miss, zero points)! Flyswatter!

Also fun and helpful are songs! I do 1st declension to Jingle Bells, 2nd to Bingo, and 3rd to Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Present tense is the Mickey Mouse Club song.
posted by lysimache at 1:33 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm an (occasional) latin teacher, and I made playbrighter.com - we have an lot of latin content, and you can set your own question sets if ours don't match your syllabus.

I'd recommend Conspiracy and Billionaire as games for college-aged students. They should be awesome on a big projector, assuming you don't want to set the students up with their own accounts.

If you need a full account, just memail me or send a contact request through the website.
posted by piato at 2:37 PM on June 20, 2014

As someone who spent a lot of time teaching and drilling English to children, teens and adults in Korea, let me 2nd games. I deleted my folder of ESL bookmarks, so I can't link to anything. Off the top of my head, Boggle's World was a good site. I'm sure something in the ESL world could be adapted to LSL (Latin as a Second Language).

Bingo might be fun for conjugating verbs. Have a short list of verbs and the forms you're studying. Students fill out their bingo sheets with a conjugated form of the verb (so a Spanish example, since I never took Latin... simple present is one of your sets of forms and the verb to write is one of the verbs then the student could put escribo or escribas, etc on their bingo sheet). Maybe have like 12 verbs and the students have to pick two forms for each verb (or whatever would give you 24 words, don't forget the free space). I don't think I'm explaining it well... but I did do something like this in HS Spanish I/II (which is more years ago than I'd care to admit).
posted by kathrynm at 4:35 PM on June 20, 2014

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