Dicta: bellringer and discussion starter

I start almost every Latin class with a discussion of a dictum or, as I end up calling it in student comments, ‘the Latin saying of the day.’ This works well as a bell ringer, a way to make students apply their Latin knowledge outside of the textbook, and as a chance to make connections with other areas of life.

My students know that, at the start of class, they are to come in, sit down, open their notebooks, and copy the dictum from the board onto their dictum sheet. Once everyone is in class, I take volunteers to talk about words in the dictum, and then we move on to a discussion. Most of the schools where I’ve taught haven’t had class change bells, so this lets me have a soft open as students come in from other rooms with different clocks. I can also choose to give a longer dictum if I know students will be late coming from another class or will need some time to settle themselves.

When the volunteers talk about words in the dictum, what I ask them to do depends on what level of Latin or Classics they are taking. I usually give the same dictum to each class, although I occasionally choose one to tie in specifically with what one class is doing. My students in introductory classes will try to deduce the meaning of words from derivatives they know and will identify simple words such as ‘non,’ ‘et,’ or other familiar words. In classes with more experience, they may identify the words, talk about the grammatical forms (“I don’t know what the word means, but I think it’s a third person singular imperfect form.”), or come up with derivatives from the Latin words. The dictum also gives me a great way to preview grammar and vocabulary in a low stress situation (“This is a passive form. You don’t know it yet, but you’ll learn it next year.” Or “Lex is a pretty common word in Latin; keep an eye out for it in the readings.”) and lets students apply what they know.

After the dictum is translated (by me in the lower levels, by the students themselves in higher levels), we’ll discuss it. For example, we recently had the dictumde minimis non curat lex.*” We talked about examples from the students’ lives, why the law might not be bothered about small things, and how some legal ideas come from Rome. When we had a *dictum about Cicero, I took the chance to talk about Cicero with the class studying Roman history then and told the other classes some interesting things about him to look forward to.

I get my dicta from the Bolchazy calendar (the link is at the bottom of the page). I’ve gotten them from other sources in the past; Laura Gibbs. I don’t like the page a day Latin calendars; they tend to have a lot more made-up sentences that don’t really spark discussion. If I have a projector, I have the dictum projected on the board. If I don’t, I write it out as the last class leaves.

If I want or need to assess the dicta, I usually check or collect a single page at random. When I was in seventh grade, we had dicta and were given quizzes on ‘translating’ them. Because we didn’t know much Latin, we had to memorize the list of translations keyed to the dicta. We’d then recognize the key word and write down the translation. Please don’t do this; we just memorized them for the quiz and got frustrated.
I really enjoy using dicta to open my class; they tend to get my students into a good frame of mind to think about Latin.

What do you use for bellringers?

Links for the Week of 28 October

General advice on bellringers: (via @NEAToday)
Link to an article about differentiation in the Classics classroom (scroll down the page; link is to a pdf): (via @classicslibrary)
A dictionary of mythology (each letter links to a pdf): (via @classicslibrary)
Spoken Latin in Middletown, CT, USA on Nov 23 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Brewbakers. (via @KatyReddick)
A new dig will be taking place at Troy: (via @Nihil_Novi_Net)
The Golden Sponge Stick writing contest for students age 8 and up: @
“Snowboarding in the Circus Maximus? @” (via @CloacaMaxima2)
An article about the Etruscans: (via @Nihil_Novi_Net)