Latin stories

Today’s post is a guest post from T. J. Howell.
Advanced Grammar Activities
It’s that time of year again. Time to introduce the ablative absolute to another generation of Latinists. Dreams (nightmares?) of “nouns having been verbed” and cheap alcohol jokes spin wildly in your head. You’ve reviewed ablative forms and the laundry list of participles. You’ve looked at sentences full of hoc facto, his verbis dictis, me auctore, vice versa, and all your other favorites. But how to get it to stick?
Here’s an idea that I’ve been playing around with recently in my classes. While it uses an active method, you can easily turn it into a composition or even a reading assignment if that’s what you prefer.
The idea is to make up a story. But you won’t be doing it, your students will. Each sentence should be simple and short – a noun, a verb, an object. Maybe a prepositional phrase if you’re feeling plucky! The vocab could be based on whatever you’re studying at the time or, if you have a class like mine, there’re sure to be lots of dinosaurs, pickles, butterflies, and awkward turtles. There should also be multiple actors and objects, since grammar laws frown on ablative absolutes sharing nouns with the rest of their sentence.
ludamus! Your first student says (or writes, or whatever, or maybe you start it so you have some control over vocabulary and theme) “olim miles per silvam ambulabat.” Ooh! Mysterious! What could happen? That’s the next student’s responsibility! Maybe that student suggests “subito miles sonitum in silva audivit.”
BUT – and here’s the ablative absolute part – they’ll have to start their sentence by refering to the one that was just said, i.e. “milite per silvam ambulante…” Naturally the second sentence in our example will now have to change a bit. Here you can talk about what “absolute” really means and why you can’t share nouns and all that. In the end the second sentence might be “milite per silvam ambulante, sonitus auditus est.” or “milite per silvam ambulante, aliqud in silva sonitum fecit.”
Then the story continues around the room. “sonitu facto, miles effugit. milite effugiente, arbor trans viam cecidit! via obstata, miles revertit. milite revertente, monstrum apparuit et dixit “me paenitet!” hoc dicto, miles constitit.”
And so on. You’ll have to do a little work to keep it on track, and it will help, as I said above, if you have a few people or items so the sentences can wind back and forth between them. I’ve found that it’s helpful to write the story on the white board or over a projected computer screen. That way, everyone can better keep track of the story and the weaker students have increasing numbers of grammatical models to lean on when making their own sentence.
T. J. Howell has been teaching at Belchertown for 13 years, and is a graduate of the MAT program at UMASS, with extensive conventicula experience.