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Teaching Declensions - grammatical TPRS

Laura Gibbs recently made an observation about the strange way declensions are taught in Latin textbooks, and in classrooms.

It is far more intuitive, and in accord with the way declensions are taught in modern declined languages, to teach them by case.

I decided to experiment with this with one class - the result was highly satisfactory. The outcome of this is a method I have developed, I call 'teaching with the hand', or Grammatical TPRS. This was my Eureka moment - that I could use the human hand to teach the declensions. Maybe it has been done before, but I've never seen such a table or image in a textbook before.

I made a tar heel reader going through the method blow by blow. It works really well. Five declensions, one per finger. Vocative on the index finger, which is what we use to point when 'addressing' something. Second declension is on this finger.
Students immediately know the numbers of the declensions, because the paradigms are literally 'at their fingertips'

As a teacher, easy to get the class involved - simply hold up a finger, and state a verb that requires a certain case: then the student has to decline the paradigm verb for the finger held up:
e.g. The teacher calls out Ecce! and her fourth finger: the student has to decline fructus.
Video (or amo, or habeo, or some such) and the index finger, will produce dominum, or magistrum, or verbum....
O! and the pointing action will produce domine, or fili, or vergili or some such response....and rapidly, the students can be challenged and tested. They can 'see' immediately that there in only a vocative case on the 'pointing finger'.

Tests are given on blank hand sheets. (Be sure to trace your hand PALM UP, as this gives the hand that the student is looking at in front of them)

In the student's workbooks, ten large hands ( 5 for singular, 5 for plurals) are traced out from a photocopied master copy, and instead of declension tables, the students have hand pages, each headed up with a verb, or, in the nominative, with 'ecce'.

I managed to teach ALL the singular in one lesson - but only gave the nominative for homework for a formal test.

So, Laura, thank you for suggesting this, it really has made a huge difference to my approach to teaching this.
My students have grasped the differences between the cases much more quickly than they had before.

I think this method is better, as it involves 1. visual sense 2. kinesthesis (feeling, as the kids touch their fingers) 3 auditory input so it reaches a wide range of learning inputs. It is sort of like TPRS but for grammar.

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Comment by Laura Gibbs on June 29, 2009 at 12:52pm
I think you are really on to something with visual sense and, especially, with kinesthesia, Evan!

In a related way, I've really enjoyed doing color-coding to help students start to "feel" the different prosodic shapes of Latin words; I've been marking antepenultimate stress for 3+syllable words in red and penultimate in blue at this blog - I figure it certainly cannot hurt, and it might help students see/feel/grasp the way that every Latin word that is 3 syllables or longer goes "red" or "blue" based on prosody rules. The rules are abstract and even complicated, but by color coding, I think students can start to intuit a lot of the patterns, even if they might not be the kinds of students good at applying abstract rules.

I'm going to try to do something like that for poetry, too - I"m working intensely on elegiac poetry right now, and I think a similar kind of color coding will come in handy for marking the different parts of the verse. I'll need four colors for that -
currently I'm thinking:
red for dactyl-dactyl
blue for spondee-dactyl
green for dactyl-spondee
purple for spondee-spondee

In fact, maybe I'll go give one a try right now, just to see what it looks like. I've been having so much fun with the elegiac fables, and I'm definitely starting to see why the majority of the 19th-century Latin verse composition textbooks focus on elegiac couplets - it is truly a great meter for beginners to work with!


P.S. Thanks for getting in touch with Fabianus - I really appreciate it! We got that all worked out, and his libellus looks super.
Comment by Laura Gibbs on June 29, 2009 at 1:20pm
Evan, here's an example of the color-coding that I think would work for elegiac couplets - I'm curious what you think! To me, this is the best way to help students see how the elements (bigger than feet) are put together to create these lines. :-)
Comment by Laura Gibbs on June 29, 2009 at 1:34pm
Oooh, this is fun. Here's another one:
Comment by Latinum Institute on June 29, 2009 at 4:07pm
This looks very useful. A similar colour coding system is used when teaching young Jewish Boys to get to grips with the trope when learning for their bar mitzvah - it is an effective method there, and I can see immediately that it works here really well as well.
I can see that this will be a useful resource - for anyone wanting to get to grips with Latin poetry, and, maybe at some point in the future ( I'm not ready for that yet) ......composing.....
Comment by Laura Gibbs on June 29, 2009 at 4:36pm
YESSSSS... you guessed my secret plan - not so secret now - I found an early 19th-century book by an anonymous "master of Trinity College, Cambridge" who put 30 Aesop's fables into elegiac verse form in order to inspire people to stop using Ovid and Vergil and such for composition materials, and instead to use the fables. Well, that really got me to thinking... then I started poking around last week in all the 19th-century verse composition books I could find, and the elegiac verse couplets are definitely the preferred form for beginners, since the pentameter lines are so easy to write, and they in turn provide a really solid grounding for the more difficult hexameter lines.

As you can see, my color coding system is designed to highlight that relationship, emphasizing the similarity of the first three feet of the hexameter line (up to the caesura) as having the same metrical shape as a penameter hemistich...

Anyway, I'm so excited about this. I'm going to make a book of Aesop elegiac verse next summer (I've already got the poems picked out, and am working on the editing and glossary now)... then I will use that book of Aesop elegiac verse as the basis for a revision of the old 19th-century verse textbooks, with Aesopic source material...



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