Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Cheering for Compositions

Composition, the translation of English into Latin, has long been a chore for students learning Latin. I've always enjoyed the mental exercise and find it to be a useful teaching activity. What other assignment requires students to apply everything they've practiced and learned in one, neat, little package? My students, though, can find it tedious and even frustrating. I'm sure that I'm not the only teacher who has this experience!

I do have a game we play occasionally to make composition more interesting and exciting... turn it into a competition!

This is what I do:

1) Divide the students into three teams. You can do this randomly or assign them by ability to get a good combination on each team.

2) Divide your blackboard/whiteboard into three sections; assign each team to a section. Keep the sections close together so that you can see all three at the same time.

3) Announce that each team will be translating the same sentence into Latin and the first team that gets the sentence completely correct will win the point or get credit. Here's the catch: each team puts their sentence on the board but the teacher can only say, "There are no correct sentences on the board" until one of them is completely correct. The teacher can offer no assistance or even tell the teams where the problems are -- that is the job of each team to determine.

4) Continue assigning sentences from a list or an exercise in the textbook as time and tolerance will allow. The team with the most points at the end of the game will receive credit, extra credit, or some other reward.


A) Only one person from a team at the board at a time. This allows the teacher to see the whole board and determine which sentence is correct first. Students have to "tag team" to get to the board. A team shouting at a member on the board often leads to confusion or frustration. Have the team member return to the group's huddle.

B) Don't assign the sentences for homework ahead of time. One diligent student can dominate the team and the whole game.

C) Don't worry about teams "copying" the sentences from other teams on the board. This is part of the learning process. Also, savvy teams have been known to leave an obvious error which can lead another team astray but can be easily corrected to catch the win.

D) Encourage the members of each team to work together to figure out the sentence. When the pressure is on and there are three incorrect sentences on the board, the suggestion or idea of everyone on the team can make the difference between winning or losing.

E) You can make more than three teams if you have enough board space and you feel comfortable looking at multiple sentences at the same time.

I have found no other technique which makes translating into Latin so exciting. To hear students cheer when they have translated a sentence correctly is truly music to a Latin teacher's ears!


Ana said...

Great idea, I'll try it!

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