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06.5.Francese

This paper describes how a core ancient Greek vocabulary list can be used in the context of a pedagogy that emphasizes sight reading. Major, Rachel Clark, and others have argued for the usefulness of core lists of high frequency vocabulary in ancient Greek instruction at the beginning and intermediate level. But the focus in pedagogical discussions so far has been on selecting which words to emphasize in a particular introductory textbook, and which to add when the textbook falls short.

At the intermediate level, a sight reading regime something like the following can leverage the high frequency core list to improve student motivation to acquire vocabulary. Lists are created for the text to be read in class; those lists are separated into high frequency (HF) and non-HF groups. Students are asked to learn ahead the HF words, and quizzed on them (orally or in writing), with equal credit given for definition(s) and full dictionary form. These quizzes are cumulative, working toward a gradual mastery of the whole core list. Larger tests include sight passages (all new and non-HF words glossed) with comprehension questions and grammatical analysis, with limited translation tasks (e.g., the finding and translating of participial phrases, syntactically related pairs of words, or identifying and translating subjunctives); a HF vocabulary section; and the reproduction of memorized Greek passages.

In class, non-HF lemmas are provided as glosses. Sight reading develops the skill of syntactical analysis and identifying word groupings. Since students are not preparing passages ahead, out-of-class time is freed up for whatever the instructor desires: grammatical reviews, easy Greek reading with comprehension questions and grammatical analysis (to accustom the students to the test format), or cultural readings. Class begins with a quick review of the previous day’s material, then moves to the fresh text. Such a routine minimizes student use of the dictionary, cultivates the skill of sight reading for comprehension, and shifts the learning goals toward vocabulary acquisition, notoriously the weakest part of intermediate Greek and Latin courses. But it also emphasizes grammatical concepts, especially syntax and morphology. Faced with a sight passage some of whose words are unknown and cannot be looked up, students are thrown back on the information available in endings, and any grammatical weaknesses are highlighted, rather than camouflaged as they often are by prepared translations.

Students see every day the benefits of mastering declensions, conjugations, and syntactical constructions, and focus more on patterns than on individual words. The notion of HF vocabulary makes sense to students as a way to prioritize the bewildering profusion of lemmas; the empirical “grammar-you-can-use” approach also helps students and instructors prioritize grammatical review. Intensive study at test time takes the form of vocabulary acquisition, rather than the memorizing of prepared passages in English.

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