In Classics courses, we assign a lot of reading (of both primary and secondary materials) packed full of foreign names, foreign places, foreign cultures, and foreign ideas and then we ask our students to discuss the readings in a smart way. One of the most useful ways to help students understand their reading–in English or in Latin–is to make them answer questions. The questions give them a goal–find out how Laocoon died and why–and they help them make sense of the information. If curiosity and goals are not enough, a grade on the questions can add further incentive.
For Reading Comprehension
Growing up, I had many textbooks that asked questions at the end of a chapter. These were all well and good, but I ended up going back and rereading to understand what I was supposed to have learned from the chapter anyways. So, why not prevent excessive rereading and help our students be efficient? I like to give students questions that they can use to guide their reading, or a list of important names and events to look for and understand their importance. As an extreme example, when reading the second book of the Iliad, these ideas can prevent them from becoming bogged down in attempting to use the Catalog of Ships to extract who sailed from where with how many men and memorizing that instead of larger issues about the Catalog. It also helps them keep track of which people and names are important–something that is incredibly important when the names and places are very foreign to most students.
For Latin Grammar and Syntax Comprehension
In Latin classes, these reading comprehension questions are also useful, but I also like to ask questions that help them understand the grammar and syntax of a passage. Usually, I make these multiple choice so that it is more helpful for students. For example:
In line 3, what case is the word matrī and what use of the case is it?
- Genitive of possession
- Genitive of description
- Dative of interest
- Dative with a special verb
In line 5, is quem a relative pronoun or an interrogative pronoun?
These questions regularly address a new topic, a topic we haven’t discussed in awhile, a tricky topic, or a topic that they have been struggling with. Sometimes the questions are a test of whether or not students remember their case endings and the declension of the noun. I want the questions to be like a commentary that they write for themselves–to help them think through the complexities of Latin instead of having them all done for them.
Pros and Cons
- PRO: It helps me think more carefully about what I want my students to get out of a reading.
- PRO: It can help the students understand the material much better and help them work through different stages of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning
- CON: Students may often ignore the questions in order to get through the reading or translation exercise faster. As mentioned above, grading the questions on a worksheet (like for grammar and syntax) could motivate students to complete the worksheet. Additionally, incorporating the reading questions into class discussions are a good way to make students see the benefit of thinking about the material before class, and of seeing the importance of the reading.