Upper Level Work: CI and Communicative Tasks

Perhaps the most common question that I hear from attendees at CI workshops that I facilitate–beyond the basics–is about using CI and Communicative Tasks at the upper levels.  At the high school, that means Latin 3 and above in my opinion.  In this post, I am sharing some observations and a set of tasks that I have designed for a fourth year class (though it is called Latin 5) that I am currently teaching.


In all of this work, I think it’s is crucial to keep reminding ourselves of what “upper levels” and “more advanced students” really mean.  If these are students with 2-4 years of Latin behind them, they are in general at the intermediate level of reading and listening proficiencies.  Their ability to speak and write (output) may not be that advanced.  That’s a sobering realization, or it should be.  It means that even with our advanced or upper level students, they still cannot really read unadapted texts from most ancient authors.  They can read and understand texts and conversation that fits the description of the intermediate.  You can get the complete set of descriptors for all levels and all four modes here.   I have lifted out those for intermediate reading:

Intermediate High
At the Intermediate High sublevel, readers are able to understand fully and with ease short, non-complex texts that convey
basic information and deal with personal and social topics to which the reader brings personal interest or knowledge.
These readers are also able to understand some connected texts featuring description and narration although there will be
occasional gaps in understanding due to a limited knowledge of the vocabulary, structures, and writing conventions of the

Intermediate Mid
At the Intermediate Mid sublevel, readers are able to understand short, non-complex texts that convey basic information
and deal with basic personal and social topics to which the reader brings personal interest or knowledge, although some
misunderstandings may occur. Readers at this level may get some meaning from short connected texts featuring description
and narration, dealing with familiar topics.

Intermediate Low
At the Intermediate Low sublevel, readers are able to understand some information from the simplest connected texts
dealing with a limited number of personal and social needs, although there may be frequent misunderstandings. Readers
at this level will be challenged to derive meaning from connected texts of any length.

In my Latin 5 class which is made up of 9 senior girls all who chose this class to be taught more as a university level course than our Latin 4 classes, I have given them choice about the kinds of things we read.  They expressed interest in comedy, and we settled on some reading from Plautus’ Mostellaria.  I did a lot of work on vocabulary with them in the usual CI fashion with PQA, Communicative surveys, One Word Images, and then embedded readings of texts.  For them to understand and for us to communicate as much as possible in Latin about what we were reading, we did not read much, to be honest.  We read the Argumentum (which was added some in subsequent centuries but provides a quick overview of the play), and Act 1, Scene 1 in which Grumio and Tranio, two slaves, hurl invectives against each other.  Grumio is the sort of faithful house slave, and Tranio the one who has befriend the young master.  They are out and about enjoying the debauched life while father is away on business.  Hence, the argument between the slaves.  Finally, I moved us to Philolaches (the son) and his speech in Scene 2 where he muses on what it means to be a human being and likens it to a new house.

That’s hardly “reading a play of Plautus,” and yet, it’s plenty for their ability to read and enjoy something of the play.  It has also pushed me to think of ways to keep these excerpts meaningful and compelling to them.

We have done the following toward that end.

  1. Students in pairs re-enacted scene 1 of act 1 using the approach of “same scene.”  That is, I told each pair which emotional quality had to characterize their scene.  4 sets of two did a reader’s theater of Grumio and Tranio arguing: one done sadly, one done ridiculously, one done happily, and one done seriously.  The ninth lone student performed the argumentum as reader’s theater, and because she was the lone actor, she was allowed to choose the emotional quality that would characterize her reading. I created this rubric to assess their performances.
  2. As I write this, they are coming into this next phase.  I have identified a list of 18 maledicta or insults that the two slaves have hurled at one another.  Each of the 9 students will choose two of them out of a bag (typed up and cut into strips).  The entire plan is outlined here, but I will summarize our steps.
    • Find ways in Latin to explain what the word means–periphrastic explanations.
    • Draw a picture which illustrates the name, color, titled in Latin and English, with sentence in Latin describing what the word means, laminated for hanging on the wall.
    • Present their pics and explanations to the class
    • Survey of which names each would find themselves most likely to use in the “right” circumstances. For this, I have in mind the simple list of the 18 maledicta which by now they will all know well and have reference to on the wall, and have them decide which of them they can imagine themselves using in certain circumstances.  That should give rise to some interesting conversatins in Latin about them, their lives, and these words.  In the next bullet, I have in mind some starter sentences that we might use to enter into this. 
    • Aliquem (nomen) vocares, quod illa/ille esset . . . Cur aliequem (nomen) vocares? Vocarem aliquem (nomen) quod illa/ille esset . . . (use periphrastic explanations with pictures to help.
    • Finally, I have in mind some further discussion and writing prompts:
    • Quae qualitates communes sunt inter maledicta?
    • Quae qualitates volumus invenire apud homines cum nomina turpia vocemus.

With the last question, I have in mind a thought that came to me in my own reflection on the readings we have done and our exploration of them. Why do we use invectives against others?  Doesn’t that happen because we are hurt, disappointed and angry because what we really wanted or expected was missing?  If so, what are the missing qualities or the qualities behind an invective that we wish to see?  For me, being able to talk a little about these qualitates (another list of which we have been working on for the last two years) raises this to a different level than one would find in Latin 1 or 2.

With these last two questions, we can have some class discussion in Latin followed by some writing in their composition notebooks to bring this to a close.

By the close of these activities, students will have then read a little of the Mostellaria; discussed the use of invectives in the story and how we might use them and why we use them in our own time.  That means cross-cultural competency at work.  We began this whole unit with some research in the media center on Plautus, Roman comedy, and the Mostellaria.  We might return at the end and ask ourselves why these stories still seem to work by examining the seven elements of story (familiarity, organization, meaning, intention, missing elements, perspective and struggles). My own experience at this level is that I feel like I am always on the edge–the edge of asking students to do more than they can do and the edge of not doing quite enough.  For my own part, I think I must guard against the former.  The traditional program that I was trained in always asked far more than we were really capable of.  Even at the upper levels, the work must be comprehensible, compelling and caring.

Bob Patrick



Listening to a Story

I have been using Listening to a Story in my CI classes over the last two years as have my colleagues.  Today, I made use of it in a different way with upper level students and as a result, I learned something for my own practice of it.  I have learned to do what I do by reading and viewing Beniko Mason’s website.  She posts there videos and other materials of her Great Story Reading Project.  If you do nothing else as a result of this post, at least go and learn from her!  I will offer the disclaimer that I do not pretend to represent her or her skillful insight–only what I am learning and trying to practice.

So, the short of it for me is this.

  1. I choose a story that I want my students ultimately to be able to read (so this is backwards design).
  2. I sit down with the story and attempt to draw with paper and pencil a mural like drawing that represents everything in the story–almost to a word.
  3. As a result of that process, I identify 5-6 (could be fewer, might be more, but caveat magister/tra!) words that I KNOW my students will need, and I jot them down on the edge of my drawing.
  4. When I am ready to deliver this story, I make sure I have most of my white board clear, and to one end, I write the need to know words and their English equivalents.
  5. I tell/read the story the first time while drawing the story on the board and pausing and pointing to new words when they appear in the story.  This, by design, goes very slowly.
  6. I tell/read the story the second time with the drawing on the board, pointing to images and new words.
  7. I then hand out copies of the story, and we read the story together.  I pause and allow them to ask “quid significat” questions about anything that is unknown.
  8. I ask them to read the story to themselves silently.
  9. I ask them to turn the reading over and in English, summarize all that they know about the story.
  10. They can keep those, or I can take them up for an assessment.

I’ve been doing this with my Latin 5 students (9 girls) with Latin fables whose themes they chose from Laura Gibbs’ wonderful collection Mille Fabulae et Una.

Recently, I asked them each to pick a single fable out of the collection of fables that had mulieres as characters (one of their top themes).  For their midterm, I assigned them to prepare to deliver that story to the rest of us using the Story Listening approach.  The rubric requires them to:
A. tell the story while drawing (30 points)
B. tell the story again  (30 points)
C. Give a copy to the class and re-read, fielding questions about meaning (20 points)
D. Lead a discussion in Latin about the “septem inchoamenta fabulae” which I developed from Kendall Havens’ Story Proof. (20 points)

We are almost done with the 9 presentations, but today something happened that really opened my eyes to how this practice can be improved, and how I can improve my own practice of it..

The young woman was delivering the fable “Rhodopis et Aquila.”  It was immediately clear that she had spent some time developing the mural-like images that she would use to tell the story.  What nearly knocked me out of my chair in the back of the room was the silence.  Because she took great care in her drawing, she also created longer spaces of silence than when I delivered a story like this.  It dawned on me that as the teacher in the room, I felt compelled to be constantly talking and making Latin words sound through the room.  As I watched this unfold, I realized a truth that Havens makes in his book.  Humans have been telling story for longer than we have had language.

The images began to tell the story in the silence.  Then, this young woman began, slowly, to add the words in meaningful chunks, pointing to the images, pausing and pointing to the new words, repeating meaningful chunks, and so forth, until the entire mural was on the board and the entire story had been told.  I now have a revision of my own “steps” for delivering a story like this.  Given all the prep mentioned before:

  1. I tell/read the story the first time while drawing the story on the board–allowing for spaces of silence while I draw–no rush to fill in words–and pausing and pointing to new words when they appear in the story.
  2. I tell/read the story the second time with the drawing on the board, pointing to images and new words–again, with no rush.
  3. I then hand out copies of the story, and we read the story together.  I pause and allow them to ask “quid significat” questions about anything that is unknown.
  4. I ask them to read the story to themselves silently.
  5. I ask them to turn the reading over and in English, summarize all that they know about the story.
  6. They can keep those, or I can take them up for an assessment.

Doctor a discipula doctus est!

Bob Patrick

Pingite Picturam iam Pictam (Draw the Drawn Drawing)

I’ve created a new activity–I think.  If this is already out there, then I defer to it and whatever it is called.  In Latin I’m calling it PPP, but for other teachers maybe DDD or something else in your language.

This activity requires a little advanced set up.  Needed:

  • Class divided into groups of 6
  • One small whiteboard, markers and rag per group.
  • Three class artists identified at the beginning of class to create the original pictures.  I did this simply by saying:  I need three people who like to draw to take those three seats at the back.  They self identified, and I got real variety among them through the day.
  • A set of vocabulary to base the pictures on.  I had about 15 words, nouns and verbs mostly, that we have been using recently.

Process: Identify three “artists” (students willing to draw a picture), and give them a whiteboard and marker.  Show them the working vocab list and ask them to draw a picture on the whiteboard that is inspired by some of these words.  Tell them that they have no more than 10 minutes to complete the drawing, and more importantly, they cannot let anyone see their drawing.  They cannot even let each other see the other’s drawings. While they are drawing, engage the class in another activity that will take 10 minutes.

So, the activity begins when you have their three drawings in your safe-keeping. The class is sitting in groups of 6.  Using a social-emotional question, identify one student from each group, e.g.

  • Whose birthday is the closest to today?
  • Who put on lotion most recently?
  • Who most recently lifted weights?
  • Who has the most siblings?
  • Who  saw a scary movie last?

The identified student now gets the whiteboard, markers and rags for the group.  They sit in the middle of their group facing the teacher with the rest of their group huddled around them.

The teacher now selects one of the three completed pictures and holds it so that only the teacher can see it. The student who drew the picture being used is asked to sit out of this round, and will be the judge of who does the best job.  The other two artists can join one of the groups as participant.

The teacher begins, in L2, to describe the drawing that he/she is holding.  The identified student in each group begins to draw what they hear. The group huddled around helps the artist by listening for details that the artist may miss.  The teacher should describe the picture completely 3 times with the first round being very slow and careful. With each round of telling, you can raise the level of the complexity of the language.  For example, the first time, you may say in L2: In the picture there is a family.  There are three trees.  The trees are near the river. The second time you may say: in the picture The family is able to see three trees, and the trees are near a river.  The third time you might say: in the field near the river, three trees are seen by the family.  In oral rather than written terms, you are given them embedded versions of the complete scene each time.

At the end of the third description, the individual creations are brought to the front and placed on the whiteboard rail.  The teacher reveals the original, and the artist of that picture decides whose is the closest to the original. I like to have stickers for the winning teams to receive. 

Repeat twice more with the remaining pictures.  With each new round, have the person who just drew the picture for the group choose the next artist for their group. I’ve included quick photos of most of those produced by these classes.  The original drawing from which I was giving the description is usually in the middle and in color.  

Like anything, as we use this activity which creates more repetitions of vocabulary, focuses on listening and invites creativity, we will find variations that we prefer.  When that happens, please share them on Latin Best Practices on Facebook.

Bob Patrick

What Can Happen When CI Teachers and Traditional Teachers Collaborate

This is a true story.  I teach in one of the nation’s largest and arguably best public school systems.  Our system demands the best from us all the time (which can be exhausting).  In one of those ever arriving demands, we Foreign Language Teachers were told that we needed to work on a five year plan that included updating district standards, creating common semester exam assessments and performance exams, lesson plans and curriculum calendars.  All of these, at this writing, are considered resources and are not required to be used.  The largest concern for their creation was that new FL teachers have immediate access to what they need to get started: standards, lesson plans, a calendar, and assessments. There was a call for volunteers in each language to joint this 5 year effort.

I’ve learned over the years that when there is going to be change like this, from the top down, and there is an invitation to participate, those who show up make the rules. I volunteered as did 7 other Latin teachers from our district.  I think that they would all agree with me that we came as a mix of approaches.  Some of us were CI teachers.  Some of us were traditional grammar-translation teachers. Some of us were “Cambridge reading approach” teachers, and some were a mix of all of the above.  Out of the 8 of us, 5 of us remain in what is now year 3 of the effort. I want to tell the story of what happened in our work that has made this one of the most positive and most hopeful, to me, of such collaborative efforts.  I also hope that it may provide some fodder for others around the world to consider for their own collaborative efforts.

I don’t mind owning that I went into our first meeting concerned that with such varying approaches, this could immediately become a committee of political fights (power struggles) over whose way prevailed. While I am committed to the CI approach, I know that there’s no such thing as arguing others into one’s approach–from any angle.  We humans just don’t work that way, and that is not collaboration.

Here’s what happened in the first meeting.  We agreed that our one, single, common goal was that our students be able to read some Latin.  In fact, I think you can extrapolate this as a truth for all Latin teachers and the follow up.  After that one, common goal, we do not agree on much.  We all agreed that none of us wanted our approaches, our programs (which means our students), or our materials thrown under the proverbial bus because of what our committee did.  So, we agreed on some guiding principles.

1. We would focus entirely on reading comprehension of Latin that was appropriate to each level–which nails our one, common goal.

2. We would spend time using a word frequency list and our own common sense and teaching experience to create a common vocabulary list for each level of work. (I will say more about frequency lists below).  Over that process we decided on 150 words per level.  We stipulated that teachers were free to teach more than that, but that all the materials we created would be bound by that list or have glossed words.  On that note, we also bound ourselves to never have more than 5 glossed words in a story.

3. Upon the completion of the list of 150 high frequency words for a level, we then decided which were for the fall and which for the spring.  We then worked in pairs (usually) to write stories using that vocabulary for semester exam assessments.  The stories were all set in historical Rome (broad terms) and with accurate cultural and historical settings.  We agreed that we could use any grammar necessary to tell a good story as long as what we wrote was comprehensible based on vocabulary.  E.g. using a gerundive purpose expression in a Latin 1 story was not a problem if the gerundive phrase made use of known vocabulary words.

4. Each semester exam had 4-6 such stories. After proof reading and editing each other’s stories, we wrote multiple choice questions for each story.  The questions and answers were all in English.  We made this decision for psychometric considerations.  If we wrote questions and answers in Latin, how would we know that a missed question was because they did not understand the story, or because they did not understand the question.  All of our questions were focused on comprehension of the story and they included basic and a few more complex depth of knowledge questions. There were no discreet grammar, culture or history questions even though, as I have explained, each story was full of good grammar usage and set in accurate cultural and historical contexts. The goal was an exam that would allow all students to demonstrate progress in Latin.

5. When exams were written this way for fall and spring semester for a given level, we prepared a teacher guideline packet with the vocabulary list and a summary of the kinds of grammar that one would encounter in the stories.  EVERYTHING that we wrote in those guidelines were descriptive, never prescriptive.  Our aim has always been to set teachers free to teach what and how they thought best while having some common standards, vocabulary and assessment materials.

At this writing, we have completed the above for levels 1-3.  This fall, we will gather again to continue work on level 4, and we will then need to turn our attention to writing sample lesson plans for all four levels as well as a curriculum “guide.”  That last piece may be the trickiest for us.  We have rejected the idea of a curriculum calendar which tells teachers what they should be doing at each week through the year.  Not only is this bad practice for language acquisition, it would turn our collaborative process into something other than full support for all of our teachers and students.  We are toying with the idea of a sort of curriculum map (think giant mind map) with suggestions for delivering new vocabulary, but now I am reaching too far into the future.

Let me say a word about word frequency lists.  In the world of Latin we have several, and in my estimation, they are all useful.  The key issue is to know what each list was built from–that is to say, from which authors were these frequency lists composed.  We discussed several possibilities, but since in our number we had teachers who wanted to use medieval, late, golden and early classical period Latin as well as occasional neo-Latin, we chose to use Mark Williams” Essential Latin Vocabulary: The 1425 Most Common Words Occurring in the Actual Writings of over 200 Latin Authors. As various people have noted, there are some editing problems in this book, but that did not hinder us from using it well.  We chose it for the wide base of authors it covers.  Our process went like this.

A. We took the first word in the list and asked if it were appropriate for Latin 1.
B. If we had consensus, we added it to the list.
C. We organized our list by part of speech so that we could make some decisions based on that as well.  We determined early that since Latin is so verb-dependent, we could afford to have more verbs than other parts if necessary.
D. If there was dissent about a word, we stopped and discussed pros and cons until we had consensus about adding it or not adding it.
E. There were times when we decided that we just needed a word or words because of what we did in our classrooms with spoken Latin regardless of where it showed up on frequency lists.
F. We agreed, of course, that it would be assumed that all the vocabulary in Latin 1 belonged in Latin 2 + it’s own list of 150, and so forth.
G. It became painfully clear at times that a word chosen by the Cambridge Latin Course –our district text (often for apparent cognate value) was not the best word or at times even an accurate words.  E.g. consumere for eating.  We went with comedere instead for classroom discussions of eating.
H. Sometimes, words that were high on the frequency list don’t show up in CLC until later units. At times we made concessions to the CLC teachers and at times we followed the frequency list which means that CLC teachers will have a word to teach before it shows up in their stories.  We tried to do this in an even handed manner.

We now have three lists of 150-ish words each with the most frequent words appearing in Latin 1 and so forth.  I am sharing those lists now (which many have asked for) since they have now been rolled out to our district teachers.  I am sharing them as examples.  I do not contend that they are perfect, or that they should become someone’s curriculum, or that they represent anything except what they are: the produce of our district teachers’ collaborative efforts. No doubt, over time, as we work with these lists and resources, we will learn things that require more editing.  That is the nature of teaching and learning–it’s always an ongoing process.

Here are the three current lists:

Latin 1 common vocabulary

Latin 2 common vocabulary

Latin 3 common vocabulary

This whole process has made me look forward to each gathering of the committee.  I actually have fun spending 8 hours with this group of people (whoever said that about committee work?) focusing our work on reading comprehension and writing stories with them.  I hope that telling this story–so far as it has gone–can inspire other collaborative efforts among Latin teachers.  As I often say, I think that our language tradition is in a most fragile position these days.  We don’t have time to bicker with one another.  We have to find ways forward together to increase both interest in Latin and demonstrate student success (which in turn generates more interest).  This is the story of one way.

Bob Patrick

Close Reading in a CI Classroom

This is a sort of “report from the field” but it is definitely something I will be repeating and thought worth sharing.

For the last nearly 3 weeks (yes, ’cause we started school on August 6 with students), I’ve been working very hard as a CI teacher.  I have three sections of Latin 3 Honors (33 bodies in each class).  The hard work has been the core of what we do in CI: various activities and processes to help them acquire needed vocabulary and structures for things we want them to read well, in Latin.  Each class is also made up of students taught by 4 different teachers over the years, so there is also the need to do some serious community building.

I’ve been working hard.

Yesterday, we read most of a story that I wrote using the vocabulary and structures that I want them to know. The story is about a man named Quintus who lives in a large, country mansion, alone now after the death of his parents, his sister in childbirth, his evil brother fled after killing a man, and his other brother serving in the military.  Quintus is afraid of a lot of things, never leaves the house, and gets a surprising message one day about a hidden treasure. It gave me plenty of opportunities to talk about Roman wealth, estates, inheritance, marriages, infant mortality, military service, etc.  Let’s be clear.  This was targeted vocabulary and one targeted structure: clauses after verbs of fearing.  I won’t go through all the things we did, but suffice it to say that through various CI activities we built vocabulary around a set of adjectives that can describe physical as well as personality traits (e.g. certus, clarus, gravis, sinster, et al) and expressions of fear that something might happen.

Today, I gave them each a hard copy of the 645 word story, and sent them out into our courtyard in groups of 3 (courtyard?  Yes, finally here in Atlanta we have morning weather in the upper 60’s and low 70’s!).  Their task was to make a list in response to this:  Quid de Quinto scimus?  I gave them a response sheet with these instructions:

Quid de Quinto scimus?  In the spaces below, list all the things we know about Quintus from the story.  This includes what we know about Quintus himself, what he fears, and what we know about his family or his house and property.  If it relates to Quintus, list it.  You may list in Latin only or English with Latin evidence.” (I did tell them that they would receive no credit for English only answers, and from what I can tell so far almost everyone is writing only in Latin).

I told them that I would be assessing this standard in my grade book: “Reads Latin for detail and specified knowledge.”  I also told them that I had already done what they were about to do, and that I found 49 different things about Quintus, and so I was inclined to think of their work in these terms for the sake of assessment: less than 30 would = C-F; 30 = B-; 35 = B+; 40 = A- and 45+ = A+.  They formed their groups and went out to the courtyard.  I walked around and answered occasional questions.

It went beautifully, and I say so for several reasons:

  1. They were intense and intently focused the entire class period, working with each other, reading the Latin text and writing their answers.
  2. They asked me really informed questions about the text and which made it crystal clear that they were reading and understanding the Latin.
  3. They did not finish and asked for more time–which I gladly granted for the morrow.
  4. A few told me that they did not feel like they were doing this work correctly.  In each instance, I checked, and they were doing it perfectly.

That last issue led me to ponder a bit.  My conclusion is that they felt like they were “doing it wrong” because this was not a worksheet.  This was close reading of a Latin text for detail and specific knowledge, and I set it up as a communicative task.  While one of my classes was in the courtyard, a much loved and respected colleague from the Language Arts department came along.  She wanted to know what we were doing.  I explained.  She said: “oh, characterization, analysis of a character, close reading of a text. I taught these babies to do this in English, but you have them doing it in Latin!”

Yes.  And it felt really, really good. Today, walking around and interacting with students over this close reading felt so good to me as a teacher. What I know for sure is that this moment happened only because of the 2.5 weeks of hard work, acquiring the language we needed for them to read this story.  When we got back to the room, I told my students that what we had just done was often referred to at university level courses in Latin as “a close reading of the text.”  I want them to know that what they just did was important (and a life skill!), and that they are doing it well.  That they did it well should be more clear to them when they get their papers back marked with a grade, but from what I’ve seen already, they will virtually all be very good.

Bob Patrick

Comprehensible Input In Latin Classrooms: Is it Silly or Serious?

Several times in my life I have been told that I am too serious.  I know a few (okay, a LOT) of other Latin teachers (okay and other language teachers) who fit that charge as well.  It’s easy to be serious when you are a Latin teacher.  Our textbooks are all some version of a grammar, and grammar is always serious business.  When we chose to study Latin, we had to endure any number of inquiries (which felt like inquisitions) about WHY we chose Latin and what in the world we were “going to do with that!” The questions alone have the power to turn us deadly serious as we try to defend our choices to those who don’t appreciate them.  And then, there are the classics programs we have gone through.  While we all have found wonderful friends and mentors in and through our programs, the programs themselves don’t pretend to be anything but . . . serious. Add to that the reality that Latin faces the real possibility of disappearing from the educational and intellectual landscape in the not too distant future, and it’s enough to turn and keep any of us . . . serious.

You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have some interest in or already established practice of the philosophy of teaching knowing as Comprehensible Input.  As I often like to remind myself: in a Comprehensible Input framework, three things must always be in play: comprehensible material in Latin; compelling material in Latin; and a caring atmosphere in the classroom. Those three items create a framework around what we do in the classroom. That’s why I call it a philosophy.  It frames and informs what we do, but does not dictate what we do. Teaching within the framework of CI is a game changer.  Whatever Latin material I work with, I have to make sure that every single word is understandable to every single student in the room.  Every day. (That’s still very serious). I also have to find ways to make sure that whatever material I bring into the room is intensely interesting to the students in the room. In addition to that, I need to insure that however I bring whatever material I bring to the room is done in a way that students experience as caring and supportive.

Those last two of the three necessary items hold the real possibility of moving away from serious and toward silly. Most of us are working with children and teenagers.  Even if we are working with adults, the truth is that what we find most interesting will always have the qualities of story in them, and as human beings, we like to laugh. While tragoedia is a long standing genre in our literary tradition, comoedia is as well, and it’s not a newcomer to the literary scene. If we look at our own comedic literary traditions, they are not only some of our oldest works, but they are always attempting to deal with the serious in life through laughter.  Situations that feel the most supportive to us always include smiles and laughter especially around the most serious of situations.  We cannot do serious all the time and pull off smiling and laughter.  Work that is truly compelling to our students and which is done in a way that is caring and supportive will at times include silliness.

Our work helping students acquire Latin while teaching within the CI framework can go off the rail in two different directions: with too much serious or too much silly. This is really not a choice of whether our work will be serious or silly, though at times I am sad to hear it cast that way.  If someone is teaching within a CI framework and all that they are doing every day, all year, in every level is just silly, then they are missing real opportunities to connect the fun and light hearted things of life with the richness of our Latin literary tradition. On the other hand, if all that we do every day, all year in ever level is about following a textbook, section by section, plodding through a grammar syllabus and never using any Latin with students that connects with their daily lives, we are likely being too serious.  In that case, we miss the opportunity to help students experience Latin as a language for communication that might be relevant to who they are and what they do. What if I told you that I have used a story about a monster who went to Starbucks to get a cookie but Starbucks was out of cookies?  The monster then had to go from one Starbucks to another but they were all out of cookies.  Is that too silly?  You might think so at face value.  What if I told you that in the use of that story all of the students in the room (who, btw, thought the story was outrageously funny) acquired all the vocabulary they needed to read a Roman myth about the creation of the world completely in Latin.  Not so silly now, is it?  The follow up conversations with students about the myth were how sky (Uranus) and earth (Gaia) really are sort of the parents of all that is on earth, and that was a pretty serious conversation.

It’s always okay for things to go a little silly in this work for two reasons.  1) Silly can be a vehicle both to compelling material and a caring atmosphere, and 2) you are the language and literature expert in the room.  You have the capacity to take what they create and re-embed it into the Latin literary, cultural and historical tradition. Most often, when we do that, students want to know more about that tradition, and that’s why we are helping them learn Latin in the first place.

I’ve watched us as a Latin teaching community go through our growing pains as increasingly we embrace Comprehensible Input as a framework for helping all kinds of learners acquire ability in Latin.  At first, the great reaction was “you don’t teach grammar!”  That’s simply not true.  What is true is that in a CI framework, we teach grammar very differently than before, and it is no longer the engine that pulls the train.  More recently, I’m hearing: “CI work is just too silly to be taken seriously.” The truth is, using a CI framework allows us to take our students and their lived contexts seriously, and it allows us to be a little more light-hearted about this vast literary, cultural and historical tradition within which we work.  Too serious, too much of the time is going to kill this language tradition in our schools.  We might just ponder this.  Within our own literary tradition there is written this tension between too serious and too silly.  Catullus came along and offered what was derided as “light verse.”  Ovid appeared and not only did us the very serious favor of preserving the only copy of Greco-Roman myths in one huge collection, but he did it by making a little fun out of almost all of them–his own unique signature, most often at Vergil’s expense.  Plautus, one of our oldest literary giants, does this almost mundane, predictable physical humor with the same 4 or 5 characters even as he deals with issues of love, rejection, slavery, poverty and power.  Pretty serious stuff for comedy.  Silly and serious.  As a literary tradition, that is exactly what we do–holding these things together.

Bob Patrick

OWI: One Word Images

I recently was able to sit in on a workshop being offered by Steven Ordiano as he demonstrated OWI–One Word Images.  I think all of us acknowledge that this CI activity originates with Ben Slavic, and I am sure that like many others, it has been touched and shaped by many practitioners of Comprehensible Input.  Here’s my freshest take on OWI thanks to Steven.

Begin OWI by establishing a few jobs in the room.  You will need:

  1. An artist–the artifex.  The artist should be given a blank piece of paper or butcher paper, some colored markers and an ample surface to work on.  The job of the artist is to draw as best as possible the object or animal that the class is deciding on during the OWI.  This becomes the “image” part of the OWI.  The artist should work in a space where others cannot see the artwork as it takes shape.
  2. A Decider.  When Steven did this in Spanish, he called this job proffe2 (proffe-dos, or teacher # 2).  In Latin, we might call this person “secundus/a” or “iudex.” I use iudex.
  3. A Dictionary person–the lexicographus.  Steven had this person look up any word he did not know that came up in the lesson.  Teachers might think this beneath them or be disturbed at the notion that they might be caught not knowing a word, but the truth is that none of us know every word we need all the time.  In fact, during this session, someone called for a “woodpecker” in the OWI, and Steven couldn’t immediately remember the Spanish word for it (Spanish is his first language, btw, so that gives me a little room for not knowing every word).  He turned to his Dictionary person and had them look it up.  For Latin, I would have that student open up Whitaker’s Words to use simply because it’s an easy, online dictionary for students to use.  We all know that finding the right word can be complicated, and sometimes more modern Latin words don’t show up in the best dictionaries (arming a beginning student with Smith’s massive volume or teaching them how to use the Morgan lexicon is too much at lower levels to ask, in my opinion).  If they search in Whitakers, they can then give you the options, and you can determine with them the correct word.  Everyone is watching you do this, and it becomes a mini-lesson in how to use a dictionary.

Once the jobs are established and each of them knows what they are to do, you proceed this way.

Ask the class to give you an object or an animal to work with as your “one word.”  There can be some discussion about it in English.  Once several options are on the table, your iudex must decide.  If these are more than beginners, you may invite:  iudex, quid dicis, quid cernis?  The Decider then tells you what the word will be.

You then ask the class questions about the object/animal. Your questions can include:

1. Size
2. Color
3. What it likes (especially with animals) or what things are near it (with objects).
4. What the problem is.
5. What the object/animal’s name is.
6. Where the object/animal is now.

Knowing that you are going to be asking all of these things, keep a few things in mind.

A. Ask for input on each item above.  Students can answer in whichever language they are capable of.  You always repeat it in Latin.  After many options are out for discussion, always have the Decider determine which it will be.  If your object is a monkey–simia, then you ask about size.  Magna, parva, alta/brevis statura.  For something like a monkey, you might get “long arms” and you can couple it with alta/brevis statura for an interesting image.  This might be: simia, brevis statura est, sed bracchia longa habet.

B. Recycle often.  That means that after you have asked information about each item above, you always restate in Latin everything that you have determined.  So, when asking about what the monkey likes (and of course you get suggestions like bananas, hamburgers, french fries, and another monkey), your decider gives the answer (another monkey) and you recycle everything like this:  Discipuli, simia est brevis statura sed bracchia longa habet.  Simia colore spadix est et simiam delectat alia simia nomine Frederica.  The further down the list you go, the longer your recycling will become–the more repetitions you get in, and the more Latin your students will be hearing that they understand.  Comprehensible Input!  If you are concerned at this point that this is getting “too silly” don’t worry.  You are the Latin and Classics expert in the room, and you can take whatever they create today and tie it into Roman culture, history and literature tomorrow.  In this instance, you know that there are quite a few fables from Aesop and others which include simia as the main character. (You may be reading this and thinking: I did NOT know that a monkey was the main character of several fables. That’s okay.  You simply look up the object or animal that your students chose for OWI and find out where in Latin Literature this word shows up.  Look it up in Lewis and Short, for example, and see where it occurs.  Then, pull an example–make it simple enough–and work it into the lesson tomorrow.  More on that below).

C. Decide how far you are going with this.  You have a couple of options.  OWI can be a warm up, brain break, or closing item for a class.  If you decide to do this, when you have finished asking about the 6 items above, you are done.  You invite your artist to reveal the image.  Perhaps you hang it up so that it is now part of the room, and you move on with whatever else you have planned.  Or, you can decide to ask a story with the OWI.  In this case, you do that by asking where the character needs to go in order to deal with the problem.  The process is the same as for the previous 6 items.  The class volunteers possibilities, and the Decider determines what it will be.  This then can go as long as you want, and you are always recycling everything.  This story could develop over several days if you wanted it to.  It could simply be what you do today, and 5 minutes before class is over, you call for a surprise ending to the story.  They offer possibilities and the Decider gives the answer.  If you think that you are going to ask a story, then, I would include one more job: the Scriptor.  This is a student who has already shown some advanced interest and who might sometimes be bored because things don’t go fast enough.  The job of the Scriptor is to write down everything new that YOU say in Latin.  By the end of the class, you then have a script, more or less, of the story, and you can very quickly and easily type it up, correct any errors, and have a reading ready to use later in the week. If I were to choose this option, I would also work an ancient fable about a monkey into the story (perhaps as an embedded story), which folds Latin literature into the class creation.  When the story is re-read, you can include the artwork that the artist has created by taking a photo and putting it on the page.

Remember, in a Comprehensible Input framework, three things must always be in play: comprehensible material in Latin; compelling material in Latin; and a caring atmosphere in the room.  It’s always okay for things to go a little silly in this work for two reasons.  1) Silly can be a vehicle both to compelling material and a caring atmosphere, and 2) you are the language and literature expert in the room.  You have the capacity to take what they create and re-embed it into the Latin literary, cultural and historical tradition. Most often, when we do that, students want to know more about that tradition, and that’s why we are helping them learn Latin in the first place.

Bob Patrick

Word Chunk Game–Revisited and Revised

What follows are the instructions for playing the Word Chunk Game, still one of the most favored things that we do in our now very large Latin CI program.  I have made some changes to the description based on several years of playing it now.  One aspect of the original  version that remained problematic is that the teacher has the burden of seeing who raises their hands first (which team) for answering the question.  Because this turns the game into something like a Certamen Contest (who has the fastest finger on the buzzer), the language comprehension aspect of the game suffered.  This revision removes hand raising as an aspect of answering questions and replaces it with names drawn out of a container.  How very Roman!  The Fates get to decide which person in which group gets the next question.  By design, everyone in the room will be called on and every group’s discussion of the question or word or phrase is essential.  So far, as we play the game, the language comprehension aspect has been returned to front and center (okay, maybe just behind the enticement of throwing balls into a basket)!  If you have never heard of this game, just read below as if this is the only way to play!  I have marked revisions below with bolded type.

This game is both low stress on the teacher (unless students having lots of fun in your classroom stresses you out!) AND while having fun an intense vehicle of language acquisition.  It is used with material, a story for example that you have already been working on with students, so I think of this as a Friday kind of activity to review a story, especially with structures or vocabulary that has been challenging.  First the set up; then the procedures:

  • Pass out to students small pieces of card stock (2 x 3 inches or smaller) and have them write their full names on one side of the paper, and then fold once.  Collect the names into some sort of container.  Have a separate container for each class and mark it so that you will know next time which container has their names.
  • Students are divided into small groups (3-6 per group, depending on class size.  3 is better but in huge classes you may have to go with larger groups.
  • groups are in small circles around the edges of the room so that there is a long ally down the middle of the room.
  • At one end of the room, a box is set up on a stool (or some other arrangement) that approximates a basket. You can also find in various stores small wastebaskets that look like a basketball goal, if you like but not necessary.
  • 3-6 whiffle balls or tennnis balls or rubberized balls that fit nicely in one hand are lined up at a “free throw line” some 15 fee or so away from “the basket”.  (how many balls depends on the size of your groups)
  • Teacher preps a list of sentences from the story that has already been read and which highlights structures or words new to the group.  (e.g. if relative clauses are new, most sentences should have relative clauses).  You can pull sentences directly from the story, but you can also edit them to focus on what you want to focus on.  Separate items can be single words, phrases, clauses or sentences.  Single words in context are always better.
  • Each group  must come up with a name for itself, in Latin, and a gesture that they do with the name.  Any time that a person from their group is called on, they must shout their name in unison while doing the gesture.  If they don’t, or even if one member doesn’t, they don’t get to answer the question and it goes to the next person chosen.  This seems silly.  Don’t skip it.  It helps build camaraderie in the group which is necessary for how they have to work together.
  • The game proceeds like this.  Teacher reads the first sentence slowly, aloud, and continues to do so, over and over again.  Group members huddle together and decide, together, what the sentence means. After reading the item at least three times, shake the container of names and draw a name out.  Call on that person.  The group says their name and does their gesture.
  • ONLY that person whose name was called can answer, and if the group feeds the answer, they are disqualified.  HOWEVER, if the person makes a mistake, group members may correct it.  The teacher must distinguish between FEEDING the answer and offering CORRECTIONS.  Corrections are allowed.  Feeding the answer is not.  Because no one knows whose name will be chosen, they learn very quickly that everyone must know what the item means before they raise their hands.
  • If the person called on gives the correct English meaning of the sentence, the entire group goes to the free-throw line and shoots for points.  Teacher keeps score.
  • An easy way to work on Latin numbers is to announce the score after every score earned.  Something like (group name) duo, (group name) quinque, (group name) septem, (group name) nulla), (group name) tria puncta habent!
  • If the person does not give the correct English and the group cannot correct mistakes, the teacher calls on the group whose hands went up second, and so forth.
  • At the end of the period, the group with the most points (or groups if there is a tie) have earned bonus points that they can use on a quiz or test grade (teacher’s discretion).

This is a listening and comprehension game.  They are “re-reading” old material, which is always good.  They are helping each other understand.  Because you can focus on certain structures or words, and because you are reading slowly, clearly, over and over again, they are getting multiple repetitions of Latin that they otherwise would not have done on their own.  Students swear by how helpful this game is.  My problem is not overusing it.

Timed Writes, Free Writes and that Whole Grammar Thing

If you know how we do timed and free writes using portfolios and portfolio analysis you may be interested in these ongoing reflections and evolving ideas about students writing in the target language and what we as language teachers do with grammar–teaching and assessing.

I’ve just finished reading my seniors’ portfolio analyses in Latin 4.  They have been in our program for four years and had three of us for teachers (including myself, Caroline Miklosovic and Rachel Ash).  The version of the portfolio analysis is a little different for the senior year (one of the evolutions of the process), and it can be found here.  I found the consistency of the comments made to be fascinating and instructive to me as I continue to teach in a CI Latin program.  I share them here for what they are worth.  What is increasingly clear is that teaching with CI is never a fixed process.  It always involves evolving as we learn and listen to the experience of students acquiring language.

Students wrote the following things in their end of year analysis, with my reflections.  Used here with their permissions.

“I am surprised by the difficulty of concentrating when trying to focus on grammar and ideas rather than content. . . I was so focused on grammar that I disregarded time management.”

In the fourth year, I have done more regular direct grammar instruction which I invite them to take note of in these notebooks.  I promise two things:  I will  never test you on grammar, and you may use these grammar notes whenever you write in Latin.  Why would a Latin teacher ever say such things?  Teaching with CI and its guiding principles has convinced me that direct grammar instruction does not help a learner make any advances in language acquisition, and that the value of grammar itself is in the editing process.  In order to use grammar well for editing our own writing, we must know the rules and have the opportunity and time to apply them to our writing.  This is exactly now what my work with grammar has become.  I show them the structures.  Give them examples from literature.  They take notes, and they reference them while writing and editing their own work.  In short, they are creating their own in-notebook grammar to reference when needed.  They had other comments about this process.

“When we took two days to do a writing and were able to write, read and revise, that was really helpful.”

“Taking two days for a rough draft and then to work out a final draft allowed for thought and reflection on grammar–particularly verbs, and to include information about the story/writing that was left out in the rough draft.”

This was echoed again and again by students.  I gave free write assignments which came at the end of a reading and which allowed for one full class time to write extensively and without concern for editing the first day–that is, a rough draft.  On the second day, they were asked to read that draft and re-write it using their grammar notes and thoughtful reflection to make it their best.  Almost to a student, they identified those as their “best writings.” Krashen notes in his research what I have come to see for myself.  Writing more does not make writing better.  But there is value in writing.  Writing is communication with others and with the self.  My students seem to really value the communications they were seeing from themselves to themselves about all that we had read this year in Latin through their own words.

“I used to think that how many words I wrote was a sign of how good my writing was, but now at the end of four years, I realize that it’s the quality of the writing and not the quantity that really matters.”

“I’ve realized that we have begun caring less about writing sentences and counting words and more about our responses to the questions presented to us.”

The fact is that early on–in Latin 1 and 2 and probably most of 3–the only measure of writing in our program is the number of words they write.  Teachers do read some of the writes, but we don’t grade for errors.  We look to see if they are re-telling the story, adding a detail, reflecting on a part of the story–in Latin.  And, we look to see if their word counts are increasing.  Errors?  Of course there are, just as one would expect from baby language learners.  We also know that time taken to correct errors is wasted both by the teacher and on the student.  There is no evidence at all that for normal learners error correction makes any difference at all in language acquisition unless it’s this:  error correction by the teacher tends to make students less willing to take risks with language.  They keep their writing safe, simple and undeveloped out of fear of the error corrections (and lower grades!).  In these comments, students are recognizing for themselves–after four years of Latin–that it’s about the ability to begin communicating about what they have read to others but mostly to themselves that matters.  Quality is more important than quantity, and many students found that when they allowed themselves to write for quality, their word counts did go down a bit.

“The point of the class is to be able to understand what is being said, and my writings show that I am actually doing that and not just copying down words that I memorized.”  (This student notes that earlier he was doing that–memorizing and copying, but that he has shifted to a lower word count but a greater level of understanding.  Increasingly challenging reading (via Harrius Potter) is what he credits to this shift.)  He goes on to observe about his own writing:

“Some writings show an increase in grammar (Itinera Petri) and others an increase in vocabulary (Harrius Potter).”

Several students noted the huge leap in new and strange vocabulary in Harrius Potter.  That’s why we spent the better part of the semester reading just one chapter (along with other kinds of readings).  It is interesting to me that they felt they gained more in grammar use and understanding from reading Itinera Petri which sheltered vocabulary but not grammar, but when it came to HP all they could do was think about the new vocab, which exploded.

After I had read all of their analyses, I had a discussion with them.  I wanted to know what they thought about the “grammar days” and taking notes.  Without an exception, the high flyers liked the grammar days and note taking and the more normal learners  largely still found grammar confusing or irrelevant.

So, I asked them: without exception you all say that you are clear that your grammar has improved–how do you know and how did that happen?  They gave this evidence of improved grammar:

“When I’m writing, I don’t have to reference my grammar notes as much.”

“My sentences have become more complex.”

” My number of words may drop but the quality of the writing and things expressed goes up.”

“I feel freer to write around words I don’t know using other words.”

“I know that when I can write about Roman virtues in Harry Potter or in a fable of Aesop and express an opinion or an argument all in Latin–and that when I re-read it weeks later I can understand it–I know that my grammar has improved.”

I can attest that all of these things are true about their writing, and it does indicate more control over the grammar and vocabulary (the monitor for Latin is strengthening in them), and they still make mistakes.  The mistakes are normal and appropriate for just four years of study (more like 360 hours of instruction).

What caused their grammar improve?  When I asked that question they almost answered with one unified voice:

“Reading and speaking Latin!”  

One added: “When you speak and we speak back to you, it helps hearing you repeat it correctly.”  This was held in contrast to calling students out, pointing out their mistake and embarrassing them.  “You just say it again correctly, and we can hear that.”  In my opinion, they have become better at hearing that.  In their first and second year, there is less evidence that they are hearing that which only argues for more time with them.

Another:  “After a while–reading and speaking, some things just begin to sound right and wrong.”

At this point, I thought I might just openly weep for joy.  Without knowing, per se, my CI agenda, they were telling me exactly how CI works for them.  

Even as I rejoice over how CI is working across 4 years for our students, I have to honest to say that I am also still left living with a traditional Latin teacher’s brain.  What does that mean?  It means that I continue to experience doubts about what I am doing.  Shouldn’t I be testing them on grammar?  Shouldn’t I be correcting their writing errors? Doesn’t misuse of grammar mean that they aren’t learning Latin?  

Likewise, when I am among a larger group of Latin teachers outside of my program, I find myself lost as teachers talk about a “dative worksheet” or mnemonics for remembering deponent verbs.  I once did all of those things, and I don’t anymore.  I can offer them while doing a “grammar day” but they are no longer standard fair in my classroom. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, and sometimes I feel cognitive dissonance when I hear Latin teachers talking about that.

This CI work works, and it’s changing me.  The change is slow.  As I look back, I have interfered with what I know to work because that traditional Latin teacher brain objects.  I think that’s happening less now, but it’s still a process.

No student makes progress in the language from writing or speaking.  Their writing and speaking are evidence of the interesting and understandable listening and reading they receive.  There is value, then, in writing for two things:

  1. It lets me know how effective my speaking in Latin and reading choices for them are.
  2. It allows them to communicate with themselves in this language about the things we read the conversations we have.

Bob Patrick

Writing Analysis–for level 4

This is a slightly different take on the portfolio analysis that we use in our CI Latin program.  Seniors in Latin 4 keep a composition notebook in which they do timed writes, free writes, take grammar notes and any other notes that they think will be helpful when they do writing in Latin.  They can use anything in the notebook when they write.  The composition notebooks stay in the room all year long.  Here’s what they do at the end of each semester.

  1. Take about 20 minutes to read through ALL of your entries in your composition notebook.
  2. Do all of your analysis on a fresh page in it.  Date it at the top with the title “Composition Analysis–(today’s date)
  3. After your read through, what are you noticing about your writing that surprises you?  Surprises should be both about progress and perhaps some shortcomings.  Explain with examples.
  4. Which of your writings is your best?  Identify it by title and date, and explain with examples why it is your best?
  5. Pretend that this composition notebook were the only evidence of your progress in Latin over the last 4 years.  Write a summary description of what that progress means and looks like.  Write it third person about yourself, and include examples from your writing this semester.
  6. Give yourself a numeric grade for your performance in Latin this semester based only on what is in this notebook.  Give an explanation for this grade.
  7. When finished, fold the pages of this analysis over in half, close your notebook, and return it to the front of the room.