Track The Characterization Of…

During a meeting with the Director of Curriculum & Instruction, also an ELA teacher, I noticed on the board that students were to read & analyze Book 9 of The Odyssey and track the characterization of either Odysseus or Polyphemus. “Track the characterization of…” got me thinking…

Historically, Latin teachers haven’t really had many texts of substantial length that their students can also read with ease (i.e., in order to then do the heavy lifting of tracking characterization, etc.). This combination hasn’t been possible for centuries, yet novellas have changed that quite a bit. The continuous narrative and character development of even the shortest novellas contain enough information for students to do a “track the characterization of…” task.

So, just before the holiday break, we spent a few classes reading Poenica purpurāria. At the start of the second day, I had this on the board:

This was not an easy task. Students really had to think beyond the statements. For example, classes thought Poenica must be determined since she immigrated, has her own shop, and already dyed many togas purple. This was a very straightforward task that engaged students in all that higher-order thinking gold.

My thoughts have wondered further. What are some other ELA teacher reading tasks that I could now implement in my own classes when reading novellas (vs. translating passages)?

DEBATE: Support The Statement (Sneaky Novella ReReading)

I’ve done “support the statement” activities in the past, but none quite like this debate version that student teacher Caroline Spurr suggested. I highly recommend giving this a try. No, there are no points awarded. Just one side reads their quote (& page #), other side gets rebuttal, then repeat.

How do you find the argūmentum?!

Good Q! I’ll be on the lookout for specific debate topics from now on when we read every novella, but here are some general tips:

  • Come up with a question (e.g., Do the Romans and Egyptians value Marcus?), then one team rereads to find statements supporting a “yes” response, and the other “no.”
  • Go with something from the book students are already talking about (e.g., you hear “ugh, I hate Terrex. He’s the worst!” so you set up something like “Terrex is terrible vs. Terrex is not terrible”).
  • Turn qualities into a comparison (e.g., Who’s stronger?).
  • Compare two characters (e.g., Who’s more responsible, Piso’s mother or father?).
  • Choose a statement that falls under a theme found in the book, then one team rereads to find statements supporting it, and the other its negative.

Critical Thinking
Almost every student thinks that Olianna‘s family is cruel, with good reason since the book states that explicitly in several places! However, this novella debate builds evidence-seeking skills. We just told one half of the room to put aside their own thoughts and instead scour the pages for anything used to support the position that the family is not cruel. Although the unpopular opinion, every class was able to find at least some evidence, and they spent time rereading. This goes back to communicative purpose. Why did students reread? To prepare for a debate they found compelling to participate in. This was pure entertainment.

That particular debate topic of Olianna’s family being cruel was certainly stacked in one direction. However, the book ends with several prediction questions about the future, which is a common way I end my novellas to promote discussion. For the second debate, we had students vote on one of the questions. Half the class looked for quotes to support “yes” and the other half “no.”

The format is basically think | pair | share, with students a) spending time on their own rereading (sneaky, right?) and writing a quote and its page # in notebooks (FYI, notebook pics are great evidence of learning for gradebooks), b) pairing with group to discuss what they found, and then c) the debate.