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


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.

Teaching Online iPad Only

For the first time, this week I taught a formal online class using only my iPad. By “formal online class” I mean not a one-on-one teaching environment. This class was for an accredited institution with multiple students all over the country. They see a live stream of me teaching, and each student has a microphone they can use when I call on them.

I normally run the digital classroom on my laptop and use my iPad as a white board. The reason I did the class on my iPad yesterday is because my car transmission is shot. It’s not drivable. This means I get rides to work, and on this day I couldn’t get a ride home until after my online class. I happened to forget that all this meant I “needed” to bring my laptop.

The normal workflow was out the window, and it didn’t take long to figure out that I wasn’t going to be able to use the white board in the Adobe Connect iOS app as a normal classroom white board. More on that in a minute. I improvised. Instead of writing everything on the whiteboard, I took screen shots of the key paradigms and exercises in the Logos version of Croy’s grammar and cropped them. In the Adobe app, instead of sharing a whiteboard, I shared the pics. The only problem was that each time I wanted to share a different pic, I had to stop the share and then initiate it again picking a different pic. Each time I selected a pic it had to upload, but the upload was fast. Sharing the photos worked really well otherwise. I could hit a ‘draw’ button and lightly annotate them with no problem. The students seemed to like seeing the paradigms in the way they actually appear in the book, and I might actually shift to doing something like this regularly instead of just writing on the whiteboard.

Even after this overall good experience, if I am able to be home I will use my laptop to run the digital classroom because writing on the white board within Adobe Connect is really, really bad. You write for a couple seconds fluidly, and then it’s like it has to process that writing to actually get it on the board. Whatever you are writing during that processing period isn’t recorded.

The definite take away is that this is yet another scenario I have discovered where I can leave the laptop at home. Now, whether I am doing online private tutoring — for which I use Zoom and it’s amazing — or a formal online class, I can leave my laptop at home. There is no situation when my laptop needs to leave my desk except when (1) I am working on a paper or (2) writing multiple quizzes.

A High School Student’s First GNT

A parent, who wants to purchase a GNT as a Christmas gift for his son, emailed me and asked what I would recommend. I recommend one of two options.

Reader’s Greek New Testament

There are several of these on the market, but in my opinion this one is the best. It is absolutely beautiful and provides both vocabulary and some parsing helps. There is no English translation, however.

The UBS Greek New Testament: Reader’s Edition with Textual notes, Flexisoft Leather Black

Greek-English New Testament

Again lots of these on the market, but this is the best. On one side of the page you have the Greek New Testament beautifully typeset to line up well with the NIV on the facing page. No parsing or vocab helps, but it’s a great Greek-English edition. I would not recommend an interlinear. If you want something Greek-English, this is the ticket.

The Greek-English New Testament: UBS 5th Revised Edition and NIV

I own both of these and love them. The first time I read through the GNT it was with a reader’s Bible, the first edition of the one listed above. When asked for a recommendation, this is always the first thing out of my mouth. If, however, the plan is not necessarily to chip away at reading through the whole GNT and mastering the most frequent vocab but to simply have the Greek and English accessible in church, option 2 would be the way to go.

On Teaching Greek

I did a three hour talk today on teaching Greek in a middle/high school context. This was a part of the the Classical Latin School Association teacher training conference.

Here’s a portion of my notes, the online handout.

I wrote the handout in Ulysses‘ iPad app and exported it to PDF using a customized version of the Rough Cut style. Here’s a link to the Ulysses PDF style sheet. You’ll need to download and install the Brill font.

Reflections after Four Years of Teaching

School is out, and all that remains is grading. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve jotted down some thoughts I want to remember.

  • Students must be able to say, “I’m sorry.” You have to convince them how important this is. Being willing to say those words is the most important thing in the world. Preach it often. They need to hear it at least twenty times, which mean you need to say it at least fifty times.
  • During the course of a 9 month school year, character issues will crop up even in the brightest students. You can’t let things slide. You have to address the issues as they arise.
  • I’m more convinced that ever that for students to learn a language, they need to be quizzed frequently — i.e., more than once a week, more like every day.
  • You have to quiz principal parts early and often. Even if you haven’t covered all the principal parts, you can do quizzes on the first two or three principal parts for common verbs like ἔρχομαι and λαμβάνω.
  • Frequently remind students not to make any extra marks on assessments graded in class. Otherwise you will end up with all manner of comments and nonsense. Quiz art is good, but you’ll mostly get nonsensical silliness.
  • No matter what, never take out your frustrations on students. Never.
  • Be yourself. Relax in the classroom. Laugh and have fun.
  • Be professional. You are not hanging out with buddies.
  • Get more sleep. Everything is better when you go to bed by 10 or 10:30.
  • You must have high expectations for your students. Hold them to high standards, and they will excel.
  • The more time you can give to in-class recitation, the more they will memorize stone cold. Grading exams this year proves it. Which principal parts do they know the best? The hardest ones we memorized, those of φέρω. They also are nailing the pronoun paradigms because we chanted those paradigms incessantly.
  • Don’t forget how much they love chanting paradigms when you do it rhythmically and have fun with it.

Last Day of Greek 3, Year 4

We finished Greek 3 this year by reading Revelation 21. Last year we read Acts 27, which was fitting because some would call it the most difficult Greek in the New Testament. Revelation 21 was nice, however, because the vocab is more familiar. It’s a beautiful picture of the “last day” on the last day of class.

Revelation 21

Several aspects of Revelation 21 reminded me of passages from the beginning of the book.

  • There is another appearance of τὸ ἄλφα καὶ τὸ ὤ, the Alpha and the Omega (Rev 1:8; 21:6; 22:13).
  • The description of Jerusalem in chapter 21 reminds me of the description of Jesus in chapter 1. Both are bright and shining and full of glory, and both are characterized by precious metals and stones.
  • Jesus is associated with living or rushing water in both chapters. In chapter 1, it’s his voice that sounds like rushing water (ὑδάτων πολλῶν), and in chapter 21, he says he will freely give living water to those who thirst (21:6).
  • John is ἐν πνεύματι in Rev 1:10, 4:2, 17:3, 21:10.
  • The apostles are mentioned (Rev 2:2; 18:20; 21:14).
  • Several precious stones and metals are mentioned in the first few chapters and are a significant portion of chapter 21 — for example, ἴασπις and σάρδιον (Rev 4:3; 21:11).

Thoughts After Four Years

This class is a highlight of every week, but I’m not sure I’ve figure out the best way to do it. It is an elective that meets only once a week for 45 minutes to an hour. This hour is likely the only time throughout the week that students look at Greek. To me this is understandable in light of how much math and Latin homework they have. I’ve tried giving quizzes every week, but this makes shorter the already short hour we have to read. I also don’t think the quizzes helped very much.

My plan this year has been to improve the 9th grade Greek 3 class by requiring more of the 7th-8th grade Greek 1 and 2 classes. If I can help them to better internalize the basics, the hope is that they will will enter 9th grade better able to read and parse, even after the three month knowledge leak called summer.

I spent the last five minutes of the Greek 2 classes encouraging the students to purchase a reader’s Bible as soon as possible. If they read a couple verses a day over the summer, I think they will retain most of what they learned over the past two years. It would be nice if we required Greek 2 students to purchase a reader’s Bible at the beginning of the year. There are good online resources, but they are far less likely to use those than a physical book.

Another year in the books. I’m looking forward to next year, but I think we are all tired and ready for a break.

Raging against the Machine

After an hour of “PC Load Letter” moments, the students marched in and the classes began. I had successfully exorcized a couple of the demons and was able to extract copies of two Greek quizzes, but the Logic test copy/print job was firmly in the clutches of Legion.

So I wrote the test on the board old school style.

Then I took a picture of the board and had the school secretary print a copy of the board to pass out to the next class.

This is a victory for the iOS camera, Readle’s PDF Converter and Printer Pro, and all of humanity.

Brill Font Wins

I’ve been using the Brill font for all my Greek and Latin quizzes this year, and I couldn’t be happier with it. I’ve used various Gentium fonts and SBL in the past, but Brill wins for a few reasons.

First, it includes regular, bold, italic, and bold italic for all the characters, including Greek. So if I want to make a bold heading with a Greek word in it, I can do so with the Greek being true bold.

Second, it has characters for all your Greek, Latin, and English needs so there is no reason to switch between fonts and keyboards. Furthermore, it offers comprehensive support for transliteration of all-the-languages.

Third, I like its design. It’s seriffed and styled without being too cursive looking (leaning to the right). And when I say that I like its design, I mean I really like the way both the Greek and English look — like a lot. It’s beautiful.

The only drawback to using Brill is that because it’s designed to be used for transliteration of all the classical languages the letter characters are a little smaller than what you see in a standard font like Times New Roman. The extra space for diacritics, however, leaves plenty of room for underlining a word without breaking too far into the Greek letters that extend below the line.

Syllogism Basics Illustrated

During the past two weeks of Logic, we have been talking about rules that help students determine whether or not a syllogism is valid. We’ve covered the first four:

  1. A syllogism must have 3, and only three, terms.
  2. The middle term must not be in the conclusion.
  3. A term that is distributed in the conclusion must be distributed in the premises.
  4. The middle term must be distributed at least once.

To understand these rules a student must be able to identify a syllogism’s major, minor, and middle terms. Last week, I made a big deal in class about how “if you go shopping for major or minor terms, you must go to the conclusion!” I tried my best to channel my inner Tom Haverford as I emphasized that it’s in the conclusion — not the premises — that one finds the major and minor terms.

This morning, as the students were filing in and I was hurrying them to their desks so we could start a quiz, I was presented with with this gem:

Scene by scene, the wisdom of shopping at “Conclusion” is beautifully illustrated. Thanks, Emmy!

The Word Order Hurdle

Seventh graders at HLS start their first year of Greek having already taken a few years of Latin, so they are used to seeing subject-object-verb word order in translation exercises. They are not accustomed to seeing sentences that start with a verb, often a third person verb. For example, given a sentence like ἔχουσιν ἀδελφὸς καὶ ἀδελφὴ γῆν, students would likely begin their translation, “They have …”
It seems like I spend a large chunk of the first trimester shaking a sign like the one pictured below over their heads and chanting along with them, “When I see a third person verb in a sentence, I’m going to look for a nominative subject!”

Every class makes a poster board with this mantra, but I thought this one was particularly cool.

But this one is charming, as well:

Chant it till you dream it!