De Usu Saccorum (Ep 68, 69 follow-up)

We recently recorded two live broadcasts of our podcast recording. Since these episodes included a visual component, we thought it made sense to broadcast them live on YouTube, and keep them up for future viewing (which you can see at the end of the post).

Our goal in presenting these episodes was to present simple activities that teachers can use in their classrooms, either by showing the videos themselves, or by copying the activities that are presented. In episode 68, Gus and Justin attempt to guess what secret item Jason has “hidden” in his bag (a la 20-questions). In episode 69, Justin and Gus do a show-and-tell of the items that are in their backpacks.

So, why do we think that these are good activities for a comprehensible input based classroom? Both examples provide clear boundaries and structure for student conversation, and both can be easily scaled and/or targeted to other classroom content.

In the secret item game (Ep. 68), the teacher can pick an item to present to the whole class, or students (with coaching) can bring in their own items. At the novice level, students will ask simple, concrete questions – What color is it? How big is it? Etc. Intermediate and Advanced students can ask more complex questions – Is it used for writing? Does it cost less than $20?

After the item has been revealed, there is opportunity for further discussion. Why did the teacher or student pick that particular item? Does it have any personal significance. Do other students have the same or similar items? Here again, the level of conversation can scale based on the proficiency level of the students. Novice speakers will focus on the physical characteristics of the object itself, while more advanced students can discuss what the object represents or implies.

This activity can also be used as a preview for an upcoming discussion or reading. Consider Aesop’s story of the crow and the urn. An object like a reusable water bottle not only provides students a chance to practice relevant vocabulary (water, full, empty, want), it can also engage students with the content on a more personal level. Have they ever been thirsty, like the crow?

Episode 69 gives viewers more of a show-and-tell type of activity. This is an excellent beginning of the year exercise, since it gives students an opportunity to show off and practice a lot of classroom vocabulary that they will be using throughout the year – calamus, liber, charta, etc. Students will also probably have some more personal items in their backpacks, giving them a chance to solicit new language from the teacher, and subsequently teach one-another. As before, the same conversation grows in scope based on the level of the speakers. Instead of just listing the items, students can talk about what those items are used for, make comparisons, and express preferences – “Anna has a lot of pens, but I prefer to use pencils, because I can erase things more easily.”

Beyond the practical advantages listed above, these activities fit into a classroom culture which makes students, rather than the teacher or textbook, the center of instruction. Students begin their exploration of language by talking about their own lives, and then later making connections to one-another and ancient cultures.

Finally, we have been really thrilled with the responses we’ve gotten to these two videos, in particular videos that others have created showing off what’s in their bags (you can watch some of these videos here). One disadvantage we have as Latin teachers, compared to modern language teachers, is the lack of materials appropriate for novice and intermediate students, particularly audio-visual material. Videos like these, however, provide students opportunities to hear a variety of different speakers, all discussing a similar theme. Not only is this linguistically advantageous, it also helps students to appreciate their own proficiency, since they are interacting with Latin that was not targeted specifically to them, either by their teacher or their textbook.

So, how are you using these activities/videos in your classroom? What other kinds of classroom content/activities would you like us to address? Let us know in the comments below.

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