Thursday, December 15, 2016

Getting teenagers interested in conjugation

Yesterday I was absent and the sub was-- well. I was absent. Anyway, so my Latin 3 class were apparently all on their phones. The principal walked into the room. One of my students whipped her phone away, and began loudly singing, PORTO, PORTAS, PORTAT and the entire class sung along, through all four conjugations, in sync. Although I don't know if he fell for it as them NOT being on their phones, I bet it was funny to witness. They do, for the record, know what they're saying, too- it's not just rote. Why am I telling you this? Because sometimes (a lot actually) I break the rules and do non-CI stuff. This technique for dealing with verb endings is one of my favorite things, and I strongly recommend it so long as you're willing to put away that pesky dignity and have fun with your kids.

Actually acquiring endings enough to use them for output is probably one of the hardest things we try to achieve through CI. CI-wise, I make an effort to use the other forms and clarify who the subject is by pointing at myself, at "you", at "y'all" etc. I'll still point at "portat - carries" (or better portare - to carry") on the board even as I say porto and point to myself, and the meaning gets through. TBQH, the kids don't really "hear" the endings for the most part anyway, especially -t vs -nt, so doing this doesn't confuse them. If you're having trouble fitting non-third person singular entries into your CI, it helps to make sure your stories, whether written or acted out,  have dialogue. Circling by subbing in multiple subjects also helps for plurals. Once they've heard the other endings some, I also use them in written stories and usually gloss them.

Then when they've heard the different endings a lot, I take a page out of my non-CI background and I teach them the present tense active indicative charts for all four conjugations. nefas! 

Now, calm down. I don't give chart quizzes (although I've done it before and I'm not against it really as a just for fun, make up until you get it perfect type grade), and I don't say "and this is first person present active indicative of the third conjugation, characterized by the null vowel sound which results in..." [I'm too lazy to find a picture of Ben Stein but imagine him doing his thing here]

What I do is I teach them a song, and we sing it and practice it with hand motions, and they (mostly) LOVE it. I do it partly because they love it. The other reason I do it is because now they have the endings in their brains for reference if they're confused, and they recognize that amo and amatis are "the same word" even though they look different. This is not CI. Charts in themselves are incomprehensible. It is, however, engaging, brain-sticky, and many students find it helpful and fun. The tune is the Mexican Hat Dance and the "words" are:

amo, amas, amat :clap clap:
amamus, amatis, amant. :clap clap:
habeo, habes, habet :clap clap:
habemus, habetis, habent. :clap clap:
peto*, petis, petit :clap clap:
petimus, petitis, petunt. :clap clap:  
venio,* venis, venit :clap clap:
venimus, venitis, veniunt. :clap clap:

Those "words" are always written on the board when we sing, for several weeks at least. I keep meaning to make a permanent wall chart version but I haven't got around to it.

(The * on peto and venio is because I think next time I might use ago and audio, respectively. In the past when I was teaching out of CLC I used porto, sedeo, trado, audio because those were used a lot. Here's an audio file of that version. This year I tried to make it higher frequency/more classroom-useful verbs. )

The hand signs are:
I - point at self.
You - point directly in front.
He/she/it - point to the left.
We - pointing inward, make a half circle from right to left shoulder as if pointing "you know, me & y'all".
Y'all - pointing outward, make a half circle as if pointing to a group of people.
They - pointing to the left, make a circle/half circle.

Alternate hand signs - some kids like these better, and they're a little easier to coordinate.
I - 1 thumb pointed inward.
You - 1 thumb pointed straight outward.
He/she/it - 1 thumb pointed over the shoulder.
We - 2 thumbs pointed inward.
You - two thumbs pointed outward.
They - two thumbs pointed over the shoulder. I can make a video of me doing this, if you want.

As we get good at the song, we try to do it faster and faster, and gradually the kids work on hand motions as well. For kids who are unwilling to sing along, I ask that from the beginning they AT LEAST clap or tap a finger/toe  at the clapping points, and move up from there by mouthing the words or doing the gestures as they get comfortable. They don't ever HAVE TO sing along, which is important. They'll learn it anyway, trust me. It's an earworm.

We also practice by using individual whiteboards where I say, "porto!" and they have to write "I carry" on their boards. To scaffold this, I keep the chart written on the board (the "song lyrics") and work ONLY with the ones written down on the board for a while. Eventually I do English to Latin, too.

For irregular verbs, I just put up charts with volo, sum, & eo on the wall and leave them there. We also practiced them a lot with the old school ball-tossing game and stuff. They like that very much too.

Yep, that's how I do verbs. It seems to work. They can't always produce the right forms, but when we've practiced like this, the higher flyers start to check their free writes with me and ask if they've got the right ones. If they get them wrong, I don't care, so long as I know what they're saying. As for how they read? It definitely helps. The whole "realizing amo and amat and amatis" are all some kind of "love" thing is a big deal, and I like doing it this way better than teaching them dictionary entries and equations for how to build verbs.

(note: this post is largely cribbed from a comment I just wrote on Teaching Latin for Acquisition. I realized I've talked about this before, and it'd be easier to just link this post, so here it is.)

If you'd like a video, please comment or email me and I'll work on making one.

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