Monday, January 30, 2017

I accidentally made a dictation compelling. This is my story.

So, dictation/dictatio. I love dictations because they are QUIET and I don't really have to grade them. They also really seem to help with spelling & listening, and they force the skimming kids to actually READ the Latin in front of them. Beautiful! But... the kids hate them. They're not especially comprehensible as input, especially if you're using new words. You have to use them s.p.a.r.i.n.g.l.y or else do them in more complex but totally awesome ways that I'd have to, like, prep for. I'm much too lazy for that (or alternatively, my brain is too full to learn any new activities at the moment).

The past two weeks I did two story listens. I liked doing them and the kids mostly liked doing them. They seemed to work pretty well for getting the vocab into their brains. They will be hella part of my rotation, which means it's all the more important that I not overdo them. This week I needed to do something else to do some kind of story about the gods. I decided to do a simplified version of the Cronos-baby-nomnoms story, because I think it's hilarious, and it's as good a place to start for the Olympians as anything else.

The way it played out in different classes... differed, depending on time and what other stuff I had to do with each class and all that. Some classes got straight out dictate ten sentences, then correct ten sentences, then translate & discuss ten sentences. Others got dictate one, correct one, then translate & discuss the whole thing at the end. Still others got dictate, correct, translate & discuss, repeat. (The latter is an idea I got from Chris Buczek, btw, who has a new blog and you should read it.)

Here are some things I did that made it work well.

1. The last order- dictate, correct, translate together & discuss- is definitely the best one. Why?

  • Seeing the corrections on each sentence means kids build confidence as they go. Even if Iuppiter sounds like nonsense the first time, after they've seen it in writing once, it goes much easier. 
  • The same thing builds comprehension as you go. For example, -que on the end of otherwise known words was upsetting and incomprehensible the first time they heard it, but once they'd seen it written and had it explained, the next five times were comprehensible input. 
  • It breaks up the tedious listening & writing.
  • It slows down the storytelling, which builds suspense, because they didn't get to find out what happened next until they'd heard & corrected another sentence.

2. Before we started, I brought out my big thing of colored pencils and said, "Come pick out a colored pencil to use for corrections." This tactic meant:

  • they had to move their butts out of their seats to walk over to my colored pencils before we did a long, seated activity.
  • they got to make a personal choice, even such an unimportant one as what color to use.
  • they got to use fun colors, which tbqh is the only way I get through grading. It is juvenile, but it really does make life cheerier.
3. This part was by accident. Here's the dictatio in English. The unknown words are in brackets. The Latin is here in a variety of formats & tenses. 
  1. Saturn is the [king] [of the gods], because he kills [his own] father.*
  2. Rhea, sister and wife of Saturn, is the [queen] [of the gods].
  3. Saturn and Rhea have many sons [and] daughters. (the "and" was a -que btw)
  4. Saturn eats his sons [and] daughters because he [fears] [them].
  5. Rhea [saves] one son.
  6. [That] son, Jupiter, attacks his father.
  7. Jupiter takes his brothers [and] sisters out of his father's stomach.
  8. Jupiter [saves] his brothers [and] sisters.
  9. Jupiter [wages] [war] [against] Saturn.
  10. Jupiter puts Saturn in Tartarus.
Sentences 1, 2, 4, and 7 (and to a lesser extent, 6) contain shocking details: patricide,* incest, cannibalism, taking people out of someone else's stomach. Thus, they are the most compelling sentences. Since those sentences also contained mostly known vocab, they were also the most comprehensible. Thus this result:
Sentence 1: ":mild shock:"
Sentence 2: "What?" "Eww!" "Incest?!"
Sentence 4ish: ":gasp:" "I think I understand a lot of what's going on, but it's really weird."
Setence 7: "STOMACH?" (stomachus) "But they're dead, right? How can they be fine?"

Entirely by accident, I managed to pepper the dictatio with built in "hooks" to engage the kids in the story while they did the tedious work of writing down what I said. I am TOTALLY doing that on purpose next time!

* yes I know he didn't kill Uranus, but I forgot while I was writing this, and also they don't know the verb "to castrate" or "to defeat." I casually added the castration part in as we translated. 

One thing I can't account for is that several of my literally-does-nothing-in-every-class kids participated and did the dictatio. Like, all of it. Even when I didn't finish on day 1 so it was two days in a row to some extent. I DO NOT KNOW WHY. We're talking three out of four kids who never do ANYTHING, in different sections of Latin 1. The fourth one is usually asleep and he slept through this too. If you have any ideas why dictatio was the thing that worked for them, I'd love to know. Maybe because it's a "free hundred." But so are my bell ringer activities, basically, and these kids don't do those... It's a mystery. A beautiful mystery.


  1. I love this post! I have *just* had a similar experience--having students become totally engaged in a dictation, and speculating what will happen next with a story that was accidentally compelling. The way I had mine do theirs was to read the Latin, show them the Latin, they correct and ask questions about words/forms until they fully understand... then they have to draw a picture illustrating the sentence. If a sentence seemed especially tricky, or they seemed confused, I got someone to translate it orally. So far, this activity seems to work really well with my kiddos as long as I don't overuse it! :)

    1. omg this is SO smart. I do 'draw the story' things after we've read sometimes but I'd never thought of doing it as part of the dictatio. That is a great way to check comprehension too. Love it!

    2. also, share your accidentally compelling dictation on TLA ;)