Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hannibal Romae: a Strategy-based Game for the Latin Classroom

I was looking back at my recent posts and realized I never linked the article I wrote (in December) over the war unit I did with my students.

Here's a preview section of the article:
The game I made is strategy-based and loosely historical. I kept the rules relatively simple so students could navigate them in a short amount of time. It gives context and purpose to the readings: now students are reading about these ancient battles to learn strategies that they can use in the game. In groups of four, students are officers of a cohort. Each office has different duties (outlined in the instructions and materials I’ve linked below), and together the groups decide what action their cohort takes each session. Their actions need to be historically founded, and they can provide research if they suggest something I doubt is authentic. I require them to judge their movement based on the mileage key on the map of Italy I hang on the wall, and the class as a whole is fighting for the same end result: to keep Carthage out of Rome.
Not only am I having fun playing the brilliant general Hannibal and attempting to crush my students’ cohorts, I am watching students get excited and focus who often check out halfway through class. When we recently read a short passage from Livy in which Hannibal tempts a Spanish army to charge into a river and then demolishes them with his cavalry, one of my students–a student I almost always have to remind to be on task--immediately asked “Can we use this against Hannibal?” Not only was he paying attention, he was taking in the point of the passage and ready to apply it to a ‘real life’ situation! After I said yes, he responded, “Good. Because I really want to kill Hannibal.”
You can find the entire article at the Classical Journal Forum. Feel free to comment and question!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Vocabulary Picture Wall

I thought I'd do a quick write-up of something I found surprisingly effective; it's an activity for introducing vocabulary that I came up with on a Monday morning after working late the night before on my thesis and not really having a lot of energy to offer my students. I had intended to do something much more interactive, but my buy-in has to be obvious for students to buy in, and I knew I couldn't produce the enthusiasm required. Which is okay. We all have days we can't be super energetic, and we need to forgive ourselves for being human.

My solution that morning was to put students into groups of five, and ask each group to produce a picture for each of the new vocabulary words. I was introducing five words, and I can remember them by visualizing the wall (which I neglected to take a picture of): caedis (slaughter), saevus (savage), mors (death), petit (seek or beg), civis (citizen). (Those words may seem a little dark; part of being a Latin teacher is accepting the Romans' penchant for violence. We and our students develop a fine and morbid sense of humor.)

I handed out five pieces of blank copy paper to each group, instructing them to fill each page with an image, without using words. To help them create, I put out crayons and markers. While they worked, I taped a large printout of each word to my back wall, which is relatively huge and empty. When each group finished, they taped their images next to the word they represented.

At the end of the first period, I had six images for each word. By the end of the day, I had a completely full wall, spanning multiple interpretations for each word.

In the activity itself, students are encouraged to discuss the vocabulary in depth and how to accurately represent it without words. Each student is responsible for one word, but the groups worked through ways to show begging, citizenship, etc., through conversations about the vocabulary. I was excited to hear how much they worked on their representations while I paced the classroom; then students had fun comparing their drawings to those of their classmates and the other Latin II classes, which caused further discussion of the vocabulary.

In addition to that reinforcement, when I was using the vocabulary with them afterwards, I would refer to the wall--usually dramatically. For example, when I told the class a story about pirates, and suddenly needed to use the word "savage," I stopped the story and literally ran across the room to point at saevus on the wall, choose a student picture and repeat the word, perhaps multiple times, then run back to where I was constructing the story with my students and review the sentence, now with saevus added in. The excitement and goofiness of stopping, running, pointing, repeating, kept students engaged and helped them build a visual memory for the words. Even after the pictures were taken down, students would stare at the wall if they got stuck on one of those five words, picture the wall, and remember.

Those are probably the words most universally remembered for the semester. It was a nice and surprising result of an activity that really was created to give them and myself a chance to have a quiet, low-stress day.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

This Year's Google 80/20 Project

A student was fascinated by Agamemnon's mask and
chose to recreate it in ceramic.
I think I've talked about my love for Google before. That hasn't changed. I hope to be a high-ranking officer in the Google army when it gains sentience and takes over the world more effectively, efficiently, and effervescently than Skynet ever dreamed, with a cheerful Google Doodle to commemorate the event.

Part of Google's success is its business model. Google dictates only 80% of its employees' time, and leaves 20% of their work time free for employees to work on any project they are interested in--as long as it can be tied back into the company. That is where most of the April Fool's Day jokes come from, and it is the source of the innovation and creativity of the company. Once Miriam and I heard about that model, we immediately wondered how to bring it into our classrooms. We haven't honestly finished figuring it out (Miriam started two years ago and I started last year), but I thought an update is due. We did some good things this year and have already started discussing what we want to do next year.

I thought it would be easiest if I broke down what I did last year and this year by topic, then discuss what Miriam and I are thinking about for next year.

Introducing the Project
This year, I handed out this paper to each student that outlined the project, my expectations for the project, and focused in particular on the idea that it needed to be an actual product, not a poster or a powerpoint presentation, plus my expectation that the product would reflect real research (not Google Images) and would have taken ten hours to produce (in specific, it would show that they had not wasted the ten hours of instructional time I had given them to work on these).

There were several differences between last year's handout and this year's handout:
One student created constellations that could be viewed
as just stars in the dark (see inset image).
A student recreated the Parthenon and included a scale model
of the statue of Athena Parthenos, which can't be seen in
this picture, unfortunately.
  • I eliminated mentors. I love the idea of students learning how to seek expertise outside Google, and was committed to helping students find mentors in their topics of choice, but in a regular school class, without a school initiative, it just proved to be too difficult to incorporate expert help for every student in six different classes.
  • I replaced discussion posts with conference sessions. Last year I required a discussion post (on our school's learning management system, of which we were required to show use) every week to update me on students' progress, thoughts, and needs regarding the project. Students were unable to think of new things to write each week, so I ended up coming up with topics for each post, and even then it was not only a burden on them but on me, who had to read 180 discussion posts, make thoughtful answers, and grade them for following the requirements I had set--every week. This year I conferenced with each group, sitting with them, asking the questions I needed answered to be sure they were making progress, answering their questions directly, and checking their resources to make sure they are authentically related to ancient Rome and Greece.
  • I added a conclusive video requirement. I decided last year that I preferred to have students present their projects in a gallery, like a mini science fair, rather than formal presentations. The format left something to be desired, though, that presentations would have included: a formal discussion of the research each student/group undertook, how the research related to the products, and whether they found their ventures successful. So I added a video, and wherever a product was placed, I put a laptop with headphones, so the videos could be viewed by anyone.
During the Project
A student worked to recreate the Antikythera device. He
had planned to use a 3-D printer, but the printer broke
down. He was able to show me his plans and adjustments
to incorporate the modern understanding of planetary
movement.
Laptops
Last year I hosted each "20% day" in the computer lab so students would have easy access to information for research. This became an issue later in the project when fewer and fewer students needed computers to complete their projects, and I was afraid to allow students to bring art supplies, etc., to the labs, so many students just did nothing during those days.

Thankfully, my school got laptop carts this year and I was able to check one out each Friday. The cart does not contain enough computers for my classes (only 16 per cart), but since most students were working together in small groups, that issue was easily resolved: only one computer per group.

A student studied ancient music and musical instruments.
She created a working pipe!
Groups who were doing something creative were able to bring supplies on Fridays, because we worked in my room instead of the computer lab. Students filming were able to film. Basically, this allowed students to complete most of their projects in class.

Proposals
Each group turned in a proposal for their project that included their topic of choice, planned product, and a timeline for each week in class. For some groups this took several tries; I would get their proposal, give them a correction (often "Timeline doesn't mean due date--it means everything you are doing and when between now and the due date"), and have them fix it and resubmit.

This process helped clarify for students what steps they would need to take to complete their projects on time and what expenditures might crop up (something many students don't think about).

It also helped me intervene when students were clearly headed in the wrong direction (most commonly when students were mistaking modern things for ancient things--like food).

A group worked to recreate ancient foods for their classmates.
Conferences
Each Friday I met with around half of the groups, and kept track so I would be sure to be meeting with everyone in turn. I used their proposals to remind myself what they were working on and where they should be by that point. The proposals were really just a guide; sometimes the projects took an unexpected direction that required a completely new timeline.

The conferences, like the proposals, gave me the chance not only to spur students on who were dragging their feet on their projects, but also to further check for misunderstandings or false research--this has been a good opportunity to teach students about websites as resources and how to decide whether a resource is fallacious or not. Romans and Greeks are very popular and there are innumerable websites dedicated to false information about both.

The Due Date
The day the project was due, I pushed all the desks in my room against the walls to make a sort of gallery where students could place their projects and the laptops showing their videos. After they set up, I roamed the room watching videos and grading projects with this rubric.

A couple of students were interested in ancient
surgery and decided to recreate one of the
tools. They took progressive images to show
what the surgery would have looked like and
posted on tumblr.
There were mostly projects that blew me away, but there were some that, even with conferences and oversight and constant reminders of what I was expecting, produced items copied from a Google Image, or from their own conception of what Romans or Greeks were like.

For Next Year
Overall I think that it's been a good thing to let students explore their own interests. That said, there are several things that Miriam and I have been discussing for next year.

  • More due dates along the way. I already had students turning in proposals, but there are other items we could have students create along the way to make sure they are progressing toward a meaningful project, like a bibliography of sources (solving the problem of students still getting around me and using Google images as a source).
  • Focus the project around Products, Practices, and Perspectives. This would help students think about what culture is and how it relates to the Romans and ourselves. This would also help them figure out what they could create as a result of their research and how it could be considered a true product (I outlaw powerpoints, posters, and speeches because they are used to slapping those together for everything and can do it with minimal engagement).
  • A couple of young men composed music dedicated to the
    gods; one also composed music to accompany our book!
  • Focus the project on a problem, and how to solve it. This is Miriam's idea, and I'm really excited about it. Students would have to research actual problems the Romans faced and create solutions using only materials and resources that would have been available to the Romans. This seems like it would require meaningful research and creativity just to start
I think the projects have been very good, overall, but I don't think I've figured out how to do this project very well yet and I am continuing to work towards a goal of perfect student engagement and valuable products.

I'll report in next year with changes to the project and results!

Monday, May 23, 2016

An Open Letter on Testing and Education

Dear Congressman or Congresswoman; Dear Mr. President; Dear Bill and Melinda Gates; Dear Arne Duncan; Dear Anyone Who Has Touched and Impacted Education in the Last Decade:

I'd like to try an exercise with you. Close your eyes, block out all outside distractions, and think about your favorite teacher. I want you to picture that influential man or woman, and remember why that teacher was your favorite. Was he especially good at creating connections to you emotionally? Did she encourage you to explore your interests, even when they diverged from her lesson plan?

Or did that teacher, your favorite, win your heart because he or she got great results on standardized tests? Do you remember this person because he was especially good at following the prescribed curriculum?

I have several teachers that stand out in my past. Ms. Jeanne "D" DeVilliers gave up night after night of her own time to meet with us and work with us on competitive speeches, student congress, and our debate cases. To meet the demands of a subject area that requires creativity, intense research, and heavy practice, she led an unusually-structured class, with students moving between her room and the library, hall, and theater, to conduct their own personal research and rehearse until each gesture had been refined into perfection. We did not cram for standardized tests, and she did not employ traditional assessments, yet there was no question whether she was one of the best teachers in the school and the state.

Mr. Charlie Dugan, world history teacher and track coach, inspired students with his enthusiasm and passion for ancient cultures. He loaned students books from his own library when they sought to learn more about world religions and cultures. He drew comics for every handout and used science fiction to help us understand the impact of history on the modern day. It was his assignment to interview an older relative or friend about his life that gave me access to one of the most meaningful and impactful moments of my life and taught me the true meaning of living well.

I've had teachers who weren't afraid to be goofy--some of whose antics I use in my own classes because they were so effective for my learning. I've had teachers who weren't afraid to find out why I was withdrawing to the corner of the room and teachers who allowed me to work ahead when I was inspired.

These teachers built a foundation in education for me which remains with me, woven into my identity, and I remember them all because they were great teachers.

I don't remember the name of my reading teacher in the fourth and fifth grades, who had us complete innumerable practice readers to prepare for the Iowa State tests. In fact, the readers are the only thing I remember about that class--which became a problem when I changed schools a year later and was expected to know how to analyze literature. I couldn't explain the theme of a story, but I got top marks--99th percentile--on the Iowa test.

To tell the truth, I don't remember the names of any of my teachers in that school, a school that was known throughout the area for its outstanding test scores. We spent weeks every year preparing for standardized testing, and I got very good at multiple-choice tests.

But I didn't know the material on a deeper level; I hadn't learned to use information well, how to analyze ideas and evaluate them myself. And I did not form any lasting relationships with the teachers there. I was never inspired.

When I enter my classroom and greet my students, when I read brain research to learn how students' minds learn language best, when I ask my students about their lives and really listen, when I show I care in the lessons I create and the relationships I build, I am not following a prescribed curriculum. I am not working to improve students' test scores.

I am working to improve students' lives.

I want my students to know I care and I want my students to care, not just about Latin, but about learning. I want my students to embrace and love education. I want them to feel safe being themselves in my room and to pay that safety forward by standing up for each other's rights. I want my students to know that every inch of curiosity pays rich dividends of information and I want them to learn how to find that information.

I want my students to be healthy, happy, and lifelong learners.

How can that happen in a nation where the discourse about teachers is so negative that the legislators have decided it would benefit their future campaigns to dictate to teachers what and how they should teach in their classes, without one year of experience or one experienced consultant? How can students learn to love school when a billionaire turns his ambivalent feelings into bitter rhetoric that has no source in research?

When did accountability begin to mean micromanagement? Teachers are told when to test and how to test and what they should teach on the way and how to train students to produce the correct form of the correct answer and there is no space left in this crowded syllabus for teachers to innovate, create, or personalize learning.

"No Child Left Behind" became "Race to the Top" but the baseline is the same: test scores for money. So schools put teachers in boxes and punish them for stepping outside them.

No matter that students learn to hate school. No matter that there is a nation-wide epidemic of teen anxiety that is endangering young lives. This has never been about what is best for students. This is about appearances and votes and seeming like you're doing something. No matter that it's the wrong thing.

No matter that you're strangling education.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Reflections on being a first year teacher.. again!

While this was my 6th full year (7th including all teaching time) teaching, this was my first year in a new school. Not only was the location different, but the school population, size of my department, and school atmosphere was different.

  • This was my first year working with another Latin teacher in the building (okay, well 3 other Latin teachers)
  • This was my first year having less than four preps (5 classes of Latin I and 1 class of Latin II)
  • This was the first time I proctored an AP exam. 
  • This was my first year without a window in my room. 
  • This was my first year sharing a door with another teacher. 
  • This was the first time I did not know every single Latin student in my school.
  • This was my first time, in a number of years, being in the same building with fellow foreign language teachers. 
There are a lot of lessons and firsts that I experienced this year and I thought I'd write this post to reflect on those and maybe, if it is useful, pass on some things to those who have yet to experience their "second first year". 

  1. Collaboration is key. This was true last year for me as well - since we untextbooked. But, it continues to be true. Even though we are all in the same building and we teach a variety of things, collaboration is key. I don't say this to say something like, "you have to follow every lesson plan to the letter and be on the same day every day." I say it to say things like:
    * A fresh pair of eyes can be helpful.
    * Sometimes you are tired and need an alternate plan.
    * Hearing someone else's perspective might give you new ideas.
    * Stealing your colleagues ideas is okay! 
    I can't tell you how many times this year my colleague Bob Patrick (and my father) would take my lesson plan and tweak it and then we'd collaborate briefly at the end of the day and I liked so much of what he did that I did it myself the next day. Similarly, he'd tweak a plan and then see what I'd done with it and do it himself that way the next day. This made light work for both of us and gave us many new ideas. Similarly, we collaborate across levels. I would watch things Rachel did and steal them for Latin I or hear about what Caroline did in Latin III and adapt it for my kids to read. 
  2. Communication is bread and butter. I came from a school where I was an individual Latin teacher. I worked well with my colleagues, but there was much in the Latin world that I was on my own to do. It is important, whether you are going or coming from a place with more than one teacher, to communicate. There was so much I had to learn (and am still learning) about how things are done here. It can be frustrating because I am used to trying to figure it out on my own and I don't always remember I have a group with me now who knows what it is I am dong. I am so thankful for how kind and understanding they've been with me! 
  3. The stuffed animals may remain the same, but their personas will not! I took my stuffed animals with me and I've added to my collection since then. The animals that were my previous students' favourites are no longer sitting on a golden throne. The kangaroo has been traded for the llama; the koala for the grizzly bear; the sheep for the hippo. Similarly, the stories we tell aren't the same. This has been an adjustment for me, but it has been fun. I have had to forget 6 years of names and back stories only to discover new ones. 
    On a side note: I am more convinced than ever of the healing and therapeutic effect stuffed animals have. Students who are allowed to hold one are often calmer than without and they can be a quick and easy way to tell which students are feeling down or need a break. 
  4. Learning a new campus is STILL hard. I have gotten lost so many times (and this is with a guided tour)... I've been late to meetings, ended up on the wrong side of campus, and even exited a building only to re-enter from another door and not realise what I'd done. This is one of my biggest learning curves, but it has given me something to bond with my youngest students over and we laugh about it. 
  5. Duties, Drive-ins, and Dues. Chances are, no matter the school, district, etc. that the way duties, parking, and various "dues" are done is different everywhere you go. There will be things you like and things you don't. What I've found is that, even with the things I wasn't fond of, they work for this school. They wouldn't work for my old school, and so I am glad they are done this way here. Even as I adjusted to this way of doing thing, and grew tired of it, I still remember being glad of the change: having an assigned parking space, having my new duty station, proctoring the AP exam (yes, I enjoyed it!). Ya, I still groan sometimes, but what would school be without them?
  6. It's okay to occasionally enjoy the cave that is your classroom. I will be the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan of change. Even change I initiate (and I am always looking to be better), has to sit with me for a bit before I'll take the chance. I am also a fairly strong introvert and I recede into my brain as often as possible; not because I hate people, but it is how I think best and recharge. Yes, making friends is important. Yes, being a presence in the school is key. But, also taking time to become comfortable and to make your space feel like your own is important. My first few days here were spent in and out of meetings, but we were also given a good bit of classroom time. I put my headphones in and took my time setting up my space. I didn't have it completely ready by day 1, but I enjoyed getting to know my space and make good use of it. I still put in my headphones during lunch and after school while I grade, or plan, or whatever. The school is new, my colleagues are new, but my cave is mine. There are some things, if you are like me, and find change and new people daunting that you can do to ease into it:
    * Meet one new person a day/a week.
    * Have a mentor of your choosing: someone you already know or are already comfortable with.
    * Make a 10-20 minute time of day, especially in the new year, where you don't check email. Get up and clean or decorate something. Read an article or catch up on teaching posts.
    * Leave early/on time (depending on your school's rules) one day a week. You can stay late, get caught up in work, plan far ahead all the other days. 
New schools, rules, people, and students can all be overwhelming, and they certainly were for me. There were days when I arrived, went into my room, and locked the door to prepare. I still get lost going to a new room or lab and I feel my students' frustration when I don't have the answer of where the lab is or how to get to a testing room. But, in all of this, I've learned a few things and come to enjoy a few things:
  • I have great colleagues! 
  • I have supportive administrators! 
  • I have hilarious students! 
  • I have a space that is my own and that I've made my own. 
  • I actually liked proctoring an AP FL exam. (yes, I'm weird)
And all of these things don't mean that I didn't have them at my old school, or have them all the time. We all have bad days, weeks, and even months. I loved teaching my former students and I enjoyed working with my colleagues. I also love working with my current students and enjoy my current colleagues. Both are okay. 

I think I've learned that as much comparison as we all do when we move schools (it's natural). I've also learned not to compare them. My two schools have different demographics, different layouts, different rules, and different people. I like them both. and that's okay.

I want to close with this quote I saw. I don't know who said it, but I saw it on instagram and it spoke to me:

You'll be fine. Feeling unsure and lost is part of your path. Don't avoid it. Breathe. You'll be okay, even if you don't feel it all the time.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Picture Relay Races

One of the biggest challenges for a teacher using CI (quick overview here) is providing the optimum number of repetitions so that vocabulary remains comprehensible while still remaining compelling. The goal is repetition without being repetitive. 

Because of that, I am constantly scouring the blogs I follow and collecting activities to use in my classes. And sometimes I make something myself, which I then share with all of you, because sharing information and ideas is why the internet is my favorite thing in the universe (followed shortly by quantum entanglement and the word "stultiloquence"). 

This semester, as part of my resolution to slow down and make sure all my kids comprehend everything, I'm taking time after we introduce new words to add in extra practice, but, to make sure it doesn't get repetitive, I'm working to make sure that every repetition of a story or vocabulary is different. I've set a goal for myself (which I haven't achieved this year, so it will be a goal for next year too) to avoid using each activity more than twice a semester. I need a LOT of options.

Last week, I was looking for something active, like a relay race. My students have been testing now for several weeks, and I wanted to give them an outlet for energy that was not only pent-up, it was suppressed. 

But I couldn't find anything that worked exactly like I wanted it to. I really wanted something that felt like a relay, but provided an extra repetition for a story we had been working on. 

Finally, I found if I meshed concentration with running dictations, I got something that would take up only about half a class and allow my students to walk around! I named it picture relay races, and it was surprisingly easy to set up once I figured out what I wanted to do. Which is good--I didn't figure it out until about an hour before my first class started.

Basically, students are matching pictures to sentences from the story, and have to show understanding in their matches. 

A pile of sentences students must sort through!
Preparation
  • I broke down the story into ten important sentences and drew pictures for each of them (I am the queen of stick figures. I can draw just about anything as a stick figure). Feel free to see the break down and pictures here.
  • I copied the sentences onto ten sheets of orange paper and the pictures onto ten sheets of blue paper (school colors ftw!). This was more than my number of groups, but that doesn't matter because they just have to work harder to find sentences and pictures!
  • I cut the sentences in one mass thanks to our beastly paper cutter (one of the best I've ever used--it is SHARP) and the pictures in one mass too. They can be all mixed together within their categories.
In Class
Students were instructed to get into groups of 3. Then (after some finessing at the conclusion of my first class) the rules went:
One team is almost finished!
  • The first student chooses one sentence from the sentence pile (piled on a desk on one side of the room). If the student is not sure about the meaning of the sentence, he or she can check with the group.
  • The first student then chooses the picture that matches that sentence from the picture pile (piled on a desk on the other side of the room).
  • The first student brings both pieces of paper to the teacher to make sure they match. If they do, the student takes them to his or her group. If they don't, the student must take the picture back and try again.
  • The group keeps the correct match and sends a second student to choose a sentence and picture.
  • The first group to get all ten matches wins.
Prizes!
This is really just included because I got a great idea for prizes from a teacher commenting on the facebook iFLT/NTPRS/CI teaching page. A teacher there commented (if anyone reading this can give me her name, I'd love to have this correctly attributed) that she uses bubble wrap and the little packets of air that come with things she has shipped to her as prizes in games. It's genius! Between offering packets of air and stickers as prizes, there was complete prize buy-in. Usually the prize is "a sense of pride" but I was feeling generous.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Activity - Who Is Better?

This is a two day activity (it could easily be a three day activity or a one day activity with an upper level class) that I came up with to review vocabulary for both our story and the final exam. I am calling it: Comparisons - Who is better?

Some Notes

There are a few things I want to point out in case you are exploring Standards Based Grading, Untextbooking, etc. 

  • This activity would be great for standards that involve writing, writing with accuracy, list making, descriptions, and comparisons.
  • This activity is great for novella reading with lots of characters or descriptions. It can be a review activity that leads into a chapter with lots of descriptions
  • This activity works really well with nature vocabulary, body parts, colours, places, prepositions, and adjectives. 

My Set Up

We did this activity before reading chapters 6-7 of Magus Mirabilis Oz and also before the final. We've done a lot of nature, body parts, and colour vocabulary to read this book and I wanted something to review that before reading these chapters because, in these chapters, we meet the Cowardly Lion, review everyone's desires, and we have our first dangerous adventure with the Kalidae (fearsome half lion, half bear creatures who chase the characters across a ditch). 

Process




Day 1

approved animals with feet, hands, ears, eyes, hair, horns, wings,
teeth, fins, and a variety of colours!
On day 1, put students into small groups and give them some object to focus on. In m classes, we used a variety of stuffed animals that I chose based on the number of descriptors students could use and how easily these animals lent themselves to the "most" portion of the activity. 

Students were to describe the animal as best they could using their vocabulary notes and any resources I'd given them to describe the body, colour, etc. of the animal and then to describe where the animal lived (nature vocab). 

Finally, students were to pick from a list on the board of "most" adjectives and give a reason, in Latin, why the animal was the "most". 

Example using image to the right:

homo est mirabilis. Iacobus vocatur. aures duas habet. oculos magnos habet. os magnum habet. Iacobus dua bracchia et duos pedes habet. est homo mirabilis. Iacobus cornua longa habet. Iacobus est coloris caerulei. Iacobus est homo mirabilis. Iacobus sub aqua habitat. Iacobus magnam domum habet et cum coniuge habitat. tres filias habent. Iacobus est fortissimus quod cum trebus filiis habitabat. 

Translation:
This man is strange. He is called Jacob. He has two ears. He has big eyes. He has a big mouth. Jacob has two arms and two feet. He is a strange man. Jacob has long horns. Jacob is the colour blue. Jacob is a strange man. Jacob lives under the water. Jacob has a big house and lives with his wife. They have three daughters. Jacob is the strongest because he lives with three daughters. 

Day 2

On day 2, I took their responses and created this comparison presentation. We circled the descriptions themselves before I asked the question.... quid est.... melior/maior/sapientior? We then debated the reasons why one thing might be better than the other. You can see some student work below as I put it in the presentation*.


* all images used are either my own photos or obtained via google image search with creative commons or public domain status. 

Conclusions

I did this activity at the end of the year, so there was some push back because we had to write. That being said, students jumped into this activity immediately. Students got to choose an approved animal and, since I had gotten a few new ones recently, they were excited to grab one. Students very quickly described the animals and used me to extract the vocabulary they needed. 

I did give an example of what I expected because I wanted them to understand the three parts of the writing: description of the animal, description of where they lived, and an explanation of why the animal is the most whatever. 

Having the students do the writing (when they are ready) gave me plenty of material to pull from for a more formal discussion the next day.

Students REALLY liked this activity. They enjoyed choosing their animal, writing their description, and choosing their "most" adjective. They were visibly and verbally happy to see their work presented the next day and "show off" their skills when describing their animal. They loved having control over which animal was "the most". I think their excitement and pride came from the fact that we did this when I was 100% sure they could do all these things. This is definitely something I will use again.