Monday, October 26, 2015

A Snake of a Different Color: A Review Game

Not too long ago, I posted about a worksheet I gave out to my students named "Serpens" due to the way I wanted students to choose their activities.

This time, this is a game called "Serpens," named for the snake I draw on the board; I got the game from the beauteous and sagacious Caroline Miklosovic, one of my colleagues at my school.

The game is called Serpens and it requires little preparation on your part, though it should review material that students are very familiar with.

The serpens before the game starts.
  • Create a list of questions concerning your material. For my most recent game, I used vocabulary students would see in the reading we were working on and comprehension questions about the story. I created a list of forty questions, and I think that is a good number--we never ran out of questions but we didn't leave too many questions unanswered.
  • Draw a snake on the board. Or have a student do it. The snake should be divided into two and segmented into twenty sections on each side.
That's it!

Game Play

The class is divided into two teams (Red vs Blue in my class).
The finished snake!

I ask the first student in the Red team a question. If that student gets the question right, his team gets to color in a segment. If that student misses, the Blue team gets to try to steal the question. I let anyone who raises his hand on the Blue team answer. If the Blue team answers correctly, they get to color in a segment.

Then I ask the first student in the Blue team and the pattern repeats. If the student on the Blue team gets the answer correct, he colors in a segment. If he misses, the Red team gets a chance to steal. The final segment is the head, and that may have inspired me to suggest to the class that they are actually battling for control of the snake's mind and their future survival (the losing team is subsumed into the will of the winners). Just to up the stakes a little.

The game is quick; I paired it with a Kahoot to finish up the class. But it's a nice, relaxing way to review a story and another way to create repetition without being repetitive!

Miriam had her students draw the snake and had them fill in their own segments. Some cool art followed!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The fault in our plans

I have the awesome privilege of working with three other amazing Latin teachers. As we continue on this journey of untextbooking and Standards Based Grading, we are documenting a lot. We document everything from amazing lesson plans we fall in love with to assessments that really speak to what we are doing to student feedback to lesson plans that fail. Today is a post about a plan that failed.

Robert Patrick and I administered a Latin I midterm. What we discovered after the midterm was that we, as teachers, had not prepared students for the skill we needed them to have for the midterm like we thought we'd had. In this post, I am going to separate things out as follows: What we did, what we learned, and how we fixed the issue.

What We Did

The idea for this midterm's format was based on a great assessment in another teacher's classroom. The midterm would consist of a listening section where characters we'd been reading about were read to students and students had to identify the character. In preparation for this, we gave student a list of descriptions and asked them to identify each character listed and make a picture for them. We also created a series of kahoot games to help them review shorter descriptions. Below is the script made for teachers at the very beginning.

For the midterm, we read the shorter descriptions and students were to write down the name of the character. We provided a character bank, but while there were 9 characters (Chaos was left out), there were 20 blanks, providing for multiple examples of each character.

What the midterm looked like for this section

What We Learned

It became very apparent to us that students were not prepared for this portion of the exam. I think a lot of things ran through our minds: Did they not study? Did I misread their comprehension? Did we not spend enough time discussing in Latin? What we discovered was that while this skill is necessary and is one we thought we had been preparing for, it differed from what we are doing in class enough that students needed more practice specifically in this skill.

Listening vs. Listening with visuals

I realised after our first of (honestly) about four discussions on this that we had been speaking Latin, regularly, to our students, but each time we provided some kind of visual:
  • teacher created images
  • student created images
  • text
  • cloze passages
  • parallel universe passages
  • questions
  • false statements
Even when we do TPRS stories and TPR, visuals accompany listening skills. Students perform actions, demonstrate items, hold stuffed animals, watch the teacher for visual clues, and have vocabulary written on the board and referenced. All of these things are great activities and help build skills, including listening comprehension, but they do not prepare students for listening without visual aids. 

Fixing the Issue

The solution to this issue, we determined, is two-fold. First, we must re-administer the midterm. Second, we must prepare students better for this skill in the future.

The Midterm

We decided to re-administer this portion of the midterm. Students had the option, if they scored 16/20 or better to retake. If they scored less than 16/20 they were required to retake. In preparation for this retest we decided on two days of review to build the skill, in group levels, and individually. Robert Patrick put together my descriptions into their long form again, but only what was on the midterm, and recorded audio of these descriptions. On day one, students were placed in groups randomly and told that by the end of the period, they should be able to complete this activity on their own. We played the audio one by one and told students how many indicators each set of audio had. The audio played the description three times. Students identified the character and all of the indicators/descriptors each character had. On day two, we'd repeat this activity, but students would do it individually. On day three, we'd re-administer this portion of the midterm.


  1. Play recording (created by Robert Patrick)
  2. Identify character - Saturnus
  3. Identify 9 indicators
    English - Titan king, his mother was Gaia, his father was Uranus, he had a sister, his sister's name was Rhea, he had six sons and daughters, he feared his sons and daughters, he ate five sons and daughters, he ate one rock
    Latin - rex Titanius, mater erat Gaia, pater erat Uranus, deus sororem habebat, nomen sorori erat Rhea, sex filios et filias habebat, filios et filias timebat, quinque filios et filias comedit, unum saxum comedit

Preparing for the Future

We are still working on ways to foster this particular skill in the future (and are putting an all call for ideas!) So far, we've come up with some ways to practice this skill daily, weekly, or every once in a while.
  • extended TPR (longer instructions)
  • review of previous day's story (what kids remember happening)
  • character/item descriptions (much like the activity in the midterm)
  • listen and draw (teacher reads description, students draw what [s]he says)


This, I feel, was an important process for me. I am already seeing my thought processes change because of Standards Based Grading, and for the better. While this plan was, originally, a failure, it has really guided my thought processes even more to be even more critical of what I am teaching and how. It also points to a skill that, often as Latin teacher, we overlook. We are really good at using readings and visuals, but we miss the listening part by itself. Robert and I have discussed ways to ensure that our students are proficient in this skill. I know that I am now looking for ways to incorporate it into my daily practice. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

PBP announcing: Plutonis et Petri Book Review Promotion!

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First, read the free preview versions of each book here. Then follow the directions below to enter the contest.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Everyone needs a little R, R, and R

I am very excited to write this post. This is something that I've been working on since we decided to switch to Standards Based Grading: R, R, and R, or, Review, Reach, and Relax.

My original idea was that every once in a while, we'd give kids a chance to get some review, do some extra work that they needed or wanted, and connect with each other in a way they may otherwise not. Since then, we've all been working on ways to make this work well inside a classroom.

What is it?

What it isn't:

  • a free day
  • a day to work on other classes' work
  • a day to check out
  • a sleeping day

What it is:

  • an opportunity to get extra work and prove proficiency
  • an opportunity to make up missing work
  • an opportunity to get tutoring
  • an opportunity to go beyond requirements and prove proficiency
  • a brain break

Set Up:

We began by creating a document with each standard at the top of a page. Then, as we go through activities and content, we add possible review, and reach activities to help students demonstrate proficiency. Here's the Latin I list of activities.

For relaxing activities, we all offer whatever we have. Rachel has more games than I, but what I offer is: card games (regular cards and Crazy 8s), various puzzles, the lego Minotaur game, or books in Latin, on history, and on culture to read. I am trying to expand this whenever I stop by the dollar store or Target and look at the simple game and puzzles they have. I also bring in books, and am looking at games made for Latin as well.

How it works in real time:

We've so far done this two ways. Rachel gave an entire day to Latin II to work and I gave half a day to Latin I. I'm breaking these down a few ways: procedure, observations, changes.

Latin II - Full Day


Rachel and I posted all the standards we had activities for on the board and asked students to check their grades. If they had less than an 85% proficiency rating overall, they were required to work to bring up this grade. If they had better than an 85% proficiency rating overall, they could choose to better their grade or relax with some activities. 


These are observations of my own:
  • Most, if not all students met the requirements.
  • Because of their grades, few students chose to better their grade.
  • Students chose a brain break and really got into it, making for a great bonding experience
  • Because of the variety of activities, everyone had an opportunity to do something.
  • Students seemed to appreciate the opportunity, and were very open to this new way of doing this.


Rachel and I discussed a few things and I am making these changes for next time.
  • More activity options for each standard
  • More relax activities to make smaller groupings
  • More time between R, R, and R days instead of the planned once every two weeks.
  • Take students to a computer lab and go over how Active Grade specifically works so that they can use it properly and not just as a "viewing" of their grades.

Latin I - Half a period


We began our day with a review of a story we'd read. I was out the previous day and so this was a great way for me to see if students understood. Then, I explained R, R, and R day and my requirements. The main difference here is that I did not offer all standards or activities and I added a requirement. Students must have a proficiency grade of 85% overall and if they had a 0 or 1 in any standard (50-60%), they had to work on that standard, or a similar one. If they met both requirements, they could better their grade, or choose a relaxing activity. The other difference is that, in these classes, I did review grades and pulled students who were missing grades and asked them to complete an assignment.


  • Most students met at least one requirement, if not both.
  • Students were very open to completing or re-doing assignments, more than I've seen in the past where make up work or tutoring is extra and outside of class.
  • Students found assignments easy to complete quickly.
  • Students chose a brain break and really got into it, making for a great bonding experience.
  • Because of the variety of opportunities, everyone had an opportunity to do something.
  • Students seemed to appreciate the opportunity, and were very open to this new way of doing this.
  • Half a period seemed like an appropriate amount of time to do this in for Latin I.


These are changes that I either wanted to do this time, but couldn't, or things that I noticed as the day went on. Between the Latin II day and the Latin I day, I did have time to bring in a few more books, Crazy 8s, and a new puzzle, so I even could implement the smaller group change.
  • Take students to a computer lab to go over Active Grade so they feel more comfortable using it.
  • Schedule another R, R, and R day in 2 weeks or so. 

Final Thoughts

I am really happy with this activity. I think, after doing it twice, and typing up this post, that it serves a lot of great purposes. My hope is that the more we do this, the more benefit the kids get. 
  1. Allows me to check in with students
  2. Allows students to really understand grades and proficiency levels
  3. Allows students to have a brain break.