As I continue to rethink my instruction of Latin, using CI (comprehensible input) strategies, also try to rework the activities I am finding. One Keith Toda’s website, he describes a pre-reading activity he calls “OWAT” or “One Word At a Time”. You can read his post here.
Simply put, it is a pre-reading activity that can be used to introduce students to new vocabulary and also help reinforce it in their minds by having them work in groups to create short stories. The idea is to focus on 8-10 new vocabulary words, writing each on a flash card with its English translation on the other side, and then have students construct sentences in Latin using their selected words. Once the students complete their short stories, they are to be shared with the class after the teacher types them all up.
This is all very analog. Students are to work together and write their sentences, and then the teacher is to take up their writings and retype them to share with the class. What if, instead, you had the students input their work onto a central document all at the same time – saving time? This is what I decided to do using Google Classroom and Google Docs.
I first had all of my students enrolled in Google Classroom – easily done since I did this at the start of the year. What is great about Google Classroom is that it becomes an easy LMS (learning management system) if your school currently does not employ a platform. If, however, you do have a LMS already, Google Classroom could extend functionality to your current environment. Google Classroom allows teachers to assign assignments to all of the students at a click of a button.
With Google Classroom in place, I created a document for the OWAT activity, in which I included all of the vocabulary words for our new chapter (Capitula 3 and 13, for Latin I Honors and Latin II Honors, respectively). I had the list of vocabulary sorted according to major categories – Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives. This way, the students could select a word from the list and think in terms of “raw materials” when it comes to constructing a sentence. I used this document as the source document for my student work, and I assigned it in two different ways. For my Latin II Honors, I assigned one copy for all of the students to work on at the same time. For Latin I Honors, I assigned one copy for all of the students in one class to work on at the same time, and for my other class I assigned a copy to each student. (I did this to experiment with the behaviors of my students to see how effective this would be.)
Once I got everyone set up for the assignment, and I randomly assigned them to groups (3-4 students per group; I used a simple countdown method where I gave each student a number 1-4 and had them meet with the other students who got the same number), they began their work.
I included English definitions on the list of vocabulary words so that the students had everything they needed right in front of them. I then circulated throughout to help with any grammar or vocabulary that they may need.
What resulted was interesting. Some groups really pushed their abilities of expression using the vocabulary that we were working on while also incorporating vocabulary from previous capitula. This is what we want, they are reinforcing old knowledge while introducing new knowledge, which only promotes deeper thinking in the target language of Latin. Other groups may have focused on more simplistic composition, which is also desirable because those students are still introducing new words to help cement their current state of knowledge.
I also set different criteria in place. For Latin II Honors, they were to compose 10 sentences each worth 1 point while Latin I Honors was to compose 5 sentences each worth 2 points – since they had a smaller knowledge base to pull from at this point. The activity, overall is highly scalable depending on your needs.
For the Latin II Honors students who worked on the same document, across different periods, at the same time, this allowed for students to generate new ideas based on what they saw from others. Could this lend to copying? Yes, it could but with supervision, this was hardly a realistic possibility. Also, one of Google Docs features is the ability to see revision history, and students who did things that were out of bounds could be held accountable.
Now, this may or may not work with your class; it depends on the type of students you have and how familiar they are with these web-based technologies. This is a great opportunity, however, to promote collaboration in a 21st century environment. You will have to prep your class on etiquette when using these tools – and remind them about the revision history tool. That said, this is an alternative to having students hand write their stories only to have you record them all to share in class. This is a more efficient and immediate way to roll out this activity and get students engaged.