Pop Ups on Verbs

Most people already do this but just to say it anyway.

When I do pop-up grammar in R & D or in Reading Option A, if it’s a verb, referring to the ending of the verb, I ask the class:

What does (ending on the verb) mean?

When they respond with the corresponding subject pronoun, I say, “That’s correct! _____ means _____.”

So if it says “We want” in French, it’s “Nous voulons”.

So, I ask:

What does “ons” mean?

They respond, “We”. I say, “That’s correct! “ons” means “we”.

Sometimes I add, “That’s because “ons” goes with “we”.

It’s odd for me, a grammarian, to do this, but this kind of explanation of grammar, where we do the explanation in less than four seconds, makes sense to the kids. It is odd to me but is the only thing they can grasp.

If I said, “This irregular verb form is part of this boot verb. Here let me write the whole verb out (because I am smart and I know it and you don’t know many irregular verbs at all do you you little losers but I do because I am smart and we need to test you on this on Friday don’t we?). Notice that the subject pronoun is in first person plural form.” This simply does not work for the vast majority of kids.

Using grammar terms in this old way is a complete fail. Notice the hydra headed ego involved here, as if our goal is to exalt our own knowledge and on some level use words that keep good hearted kids in the dark by making them learn (read memorize) stuff that is extremely unpleasant and unwieldy and not at all in the arena of sound, but wedged in the left hemisphere of the brain and therefore useless unless our kids will one day walk around France with a small whiteboard and a marker to communicate with the French people.

But the way we train them this way, when they read “ons” on the end of a verb, their minds are trained to go right to the “we” subject pronoun, which is what we want them to do, to know that “ons” goes with “we” and so on.

The key to this is for the kids to get the expression “This GOES WITH this” as in “ons goes with nous.” That is what they can understand and that is therefore the terminology we must use. We don’t use terms they can’t understand.

When Anne Matava, never, not once, having conjugated a verb on the board for her fourth year Hogs in the previous three years, the famous Hogs, all now in college, one of them (the Dancer, I think) said, “Oh, Frau Matava, thank you for the neat filing system.”

The kid knew every verb form from almost four years of constant German stories, and so when she saw them in a verb conjugation chart, she thought it was a clever filing system and it struck her fancy as something “neat”.

She completely knew all the information in it, so the filing system, of course, wasn’t necessary, but to this student it was kind of cute. Just the opposite happens when students are made to memorize the filing system but can’t actually use the verbs for shit in speech.

To simplify: when we do pop up grammar, we only use the terms “means” and “goes with”. The kids get that.



10 thoughts on “Pop Ups on Verbs”

  1. “…words that keep good hearted kids in the dark by making them learn (read memorize) stuff that is extremely unpleasant and unwieldy and not at all in the arena of sound, but wedged in the left hemisphere of the brain and therefore useless unless our kids will one day walk around France with a small whiteboard and a marker to communicate with the French people.”

    Ben, will you please run for president? We in the PLC will team-mangage your campagin.

  2. I just learned to do this this year. It has been GREAT! It makes me so happy when my kids know that adding the s on the end of tiene means you have.

  3. Jeffery Brickler

    I just expressed this today to many of the Latin folk on this blog. Here it is below.

    what you say is very true and I have heard this come out of the mouths of students. “I can say attacked the Gauls, but I don’t know the word for bathroom.” Do our students really care about the Gauls? No. Is it important, yes. However, we do need developmentally appropriate and we have to show them we care. This is the hard work for me. It is emotional for me because the years in school under classicists turned me into quite the jerk who wanted to beat students down and lord my smarts over them and over my colleagues. I remember reveling in being so much smarter than everyone else. What crap!?

    I am ashamed of the man I was. I can’t tell you how cathartic this work is for me. I need to cleanse myself of these old attitudes. Why do they do this to us. I wanted their acceptance. I wanted their money and I had to play the game. All the while, I lost myself.

    1. “the years in school under classicists turned me into quite the jerk who wanted to beat students down and lord my smarts over them and over my colleagues. I remember reveling in being so much smarter than everyone else.”

      Jeff – this comment struck home. Thank you for the honesty. Shame on those who would make Latin an elitist club and get their kicks out of making kids feel worthless. Enough getting angry and yelling at the kids because they don’t understand what a passive periphrastic is. What a miserable way to go through life…

  4. Jeff we ALL have lost ourselves. This is one big reclamation project. It’s all such a big mess now. The way they used to teach languages – how fucked was that? We love and hate this work. We suffer so much every day in this work. Mostly silently.

    I say bring on the new! For the mess to end, a few teachers like you will have to start to articulate more and more, in different places, something that no one has stated before. They will start to boldly go where no one has gone before, as you have done above Jeff.

    These teachers, who may not even realize the level of their courage, preferring to think of themselves as crazy, will finally come out and state that this big mess is very much about taming rampant professional ego on behalf of kids, to help those kids feel more free when they learn, so that they can learn more, and thus be happier.

    By writing the above, you – and everybody who read it, I would guess – gets to feel better for a little while, today anyway, because what you wrote puts a face onto an aspect of our personality which now must be made to step down, to make room for the gentler aspects of ourselves so that real teaching may finally emerge. That quality of kind inquiry, so necessary in a teacher, has been gone for so long from schools!

    The kids notice these changes in us, even without saying anything, so who cares about who else notices it? That’s what this work if REALLY about. Do I really think that all this drama is about teaching? Not really, I don’t think that at all. On the surface, maybe, but how interesting is the surface?

    In my opinion the work we are doing is just a front for something far greater, far more beautiful, a train of goodness coming elegantly down the tracks into our classrooms. Pete Seeger sang about this principle of goodness, this train that is ever new and ever old. And Woody Guthrie. And others whose music meant something real.

    Nice little rant there, Ben!

  5. A query to those who have been doing this for awhile –

    How do you explain tense distinction in a manner like this? I’m wondering especially about imperfect/perfect distinction. Any suggestions for addressing this by not using those terms. For instance:

    ambulabant (impf. “they were walking”)
    viderunt (perf. “they saw”)

    both “bant” and “erunt” mean “they” in the past, but do we leave it at that?

    Correct, class, “erunt” means “they” in the past…
    Correct, class, “bant” means “they” in the past…

    1. If you can isolate the common features and attach meaning to those, it goes a long way.

      In Spanish pop-ups, I ask my students: How do you know ‘corren’ means ‘they run’? and they tell me it’s the ‘n’ at the end. Luckily, all ‘they’ forms end in ‘n’, in every tense. They know that ‘ía’ or ‘aba’ towards the end of the verb tells about action in the past so they can then tell that ‘corrían’ means they ran/were running. They know that ía/aba expresses ongoing action and -ó expresses one-time action. (A wonderful MS Spanish teaching friend, Irene in Allentown, taught me her “Past tense” mnemonic, delivered as though each ending is a sound to accompany a karate move: ía! – aba! – ó! and then bow with hands to heart center and say “Past tense”.)

      It looks like you could do something similar for Latin, where they learn that the ‘nt’ tells that ‘they’ is doing the action (for any active verb form..?), and the -eru- or -aba- infix distinguishes perfect from imperfect meanings.

      Another amazing Spanish teacher, Kate in Dee-troit, even does this for tú forms in Spanish, which end in -s except for in the preterite, where the -s- comes in the middle of the -aste/-iste ending. She gets her students to notice the -s- by pointing it it every time:”bebes– hear that -s? Who’s drinking? You! That’s right!” and “saltaste– hear that -s-? Who jumped? You! That’s right!” It’s brilliant!

  6. I don’t teach Latin, but we have the same thing in Spanish. I use the distinction you mentioned above…” XXX means “they were ____ing” YYY means “they ____ed”

    If I go into it in any further detail it just causes that cognitivie shift into trying to analyze. I know that when they keep reading / hearing everything in context it will sort itself out. I try to remember that for my level 1-2 the kids don’t have to “know which one to use” because I’m not making them “use” anything. They just have to understand. Later on it gets trickier and I admit I am fumbling with my level 4s. But when kids have questions about this even at the upper levels I still always refer them back to context. I often answer the questions with “it depends….” It only gets more complicated I think, because native speakers in different regions of the world have their own colloquial uses that vary.

  7. Right, I’m currently reading some research and I found that many modern language researchers now say that grammar is what comes “after” proficiency. So when you know it works, it’s nice to briefly reflect on it and see why it works.
    I also let my students translate into German, as in
    T: “why does it say GOES and not GO”
    S: “Because it means GEHT und nicht GEHEN”
    But I think the “goes with” is a lot more efficient. I’ll use that from now on.

  8. OK – the grammarian in me just kicked in to overdrive with Charlotte’s post!!!
    My husband always uses the term: Wie gehts. (how’s it going?)
    So, above Charlotte just used “geht” (no “s”) — it was driving me NUTS!
    so I asked my husband what geht means and what gehts means — he didn’t know (he was 5 when he moved to this country, so he never learned German grammar)
    Thank goodness my daughter was home (she’s a grammarian like me and is fluent in German) She explained it (it is really “Wie geht es ____” and the geht and es are merged together like a contraction) WHOA!!!! I loved the grammar explanation.
    My husband on the other hand, when I explained it to him, he said, yeah, it’s like “go” and “goes”, “where” and “where’s”, “it” and “it’s”. they’re all contractions. I then explained to him that ‘goes’ is not a contraction. he then said that to him it’s all the same!!! that he hated learning English in school, he had no use for it and all its rules and explanations!!!!
    and you know what? He is a very well-read*, well-educated man in a very high profile position at a power plant and writes technical procedures on a daily basis, as well as letters to the execs at other plants throughout the world — he knows what sounds right, he puts the apostrophes in the right places and all the other punctuation. AND…he had a stroke two years ago and got it all back!
    Now think of our students……they do NOT need all that grammar instruction, they will absorb it over time – and retain it!!! (and get it back if it’s lost!!!) We just have to trust the brain! and let them READ*

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