On Daily Recitation

This is my fifth year teaching Greek to middle and high schoolers. Each year I figure out how to do this a little better. We are five months into the school year, and this year’s big take away is clear. Daily recitation is essential in the grammar stage.

Worth the time

For us, the grammar stage takes two years. Seventh grade is the first seventeen lessons of Croy’s grammar; eighth grade is the last fifteen. That means we have around thirty-five weeks each year to cover about sixteen lessons. If you start reciting everything you know on day one and keep doing this every day you meet, the forms soak in deep. Even at this point in the year, where in Greek 1 we are reciting all the forms for lessons 2–12, reciting all the forms takes less than ten minutes. Giving ten minutes out of our seventy minute class periods to form review is totally doable and worth it.

Modeling Memorization

But what is this like for the students? When I first started teaching, I thought it would be miserable and monotonous. I didn’t learn the forms via in-class recitation. I don’t think hardly any one teaches Greek this way in seminary. Maybe daily classroom recitation is thought to be beneath adults. This is odd because even though I didn’t learn the forms through classroom recitation, I did learn my paradigms by reciting them to myself. I remember my teacher encouraging us to do this.

If you do not know your third declension forms, it is because you are not chanting them enough. Even in the shower you need to be saying, “Mmm, os, ee, ah, es, ōn, sin, ahs!”

I remember reciting those forms in class, and at the end of that semester the third declension paradigms stuck better than any other. I suppose the reason we do not give more time to recitation in seminary is because of the pace at which Greek is taught. The exact grammar through which I take middle schoolers over the course of two years is the same grammar we went through in seminary in fifteen weeks. Whatever the reason we do not do recitation in seminary, I think we should consider it. Daily recitation models how most of us learned our paradigms. Learning to read Greek and Latin is not about being smart. It’s about perseverance.

Student Experience

Now that I have I have given daily recitation a try, I see that it is any thing but boring for the students. They love it. You can make recitation boring if you do it in a monotone, sluggish way, but you can also make it fun. I say the label, they repeat the label, and then we say the forms together. I don’t make songs for the paradigms, but we always recite rhythmically. Every declension has it’s own unique rhythm. Even if the difference is subtle between the way we recite first declension endings and the way we recite second declension, having that rhythmic difference in place breaks the noun paradigms into chunks.

For pronouns, we recite down the columns, instead of across. Each demonstrative starts with a long hold on the nominative, and then like a rollercoaster coming down the big hill we zip to the bottom of each column. We always emphasize the genitive plural, τούτων, because it is the same across all three genders. For the definite article, we start slow with the masculine singular, speed up with the feminine singular, and then by the time we get to the neuters we are saying them as fast as we can. For infinitives we say each letter of the ending. In Greek 2 classes, we alternate one day of doing all the Greek 1 forms, the next day all the forms we have learned in Greek 2 up to that point.

After typing that paragraph, I realize that this is something better heard than explained. Please pardon our Erasmian pronunciation and my absurdly southern accent (de-CLIN-sion). Here is my seventh grade Greek 1 class from today:

Greek Recitation Lessons 2-12

Conclusion

This is my one of favorite parts of the day, and the students enjoy it, as well. If you haven’t given daily recitation a try, go for it. I think it would be worth a shot in graduate programs, too.