Most of us pre-read without even noticing it. We pick up a new hardcover at a bookstore to feel its weight and texture, read the title, examine the cover image, and skim the inside flap. As teachers, we know, at least theoretically, that such pre-reading is helpful. I’ll ask students to first make lists of what they know about Julius Caesar before sharing it with a partner and then brainstorming as a class. We pinpoint what to look for based on what we know.
Yet as my own student of Latin, I need structure, patience, and time to slow down. Pre-reading may take more time at the beginning of a text, but the time spent up front more than pays off as you go as ultimately, the whole process of reading is more efficient.
So to start, I made a list of some of some common best practices in pre-reading. Some may seem obvious, some may be in butchered Latinitas, but all of them are reminders to prepare for reading with the same intentionality we have about actually reading. Some of them will be explored later in the blog, so for now, let’s just look at three:
I don’t know about you, but usually I’ll make a family tree only when I start feeling overwhelmed by the characters of a text. However, why not make it at the beginning and refer to it as you go? Many books will include family trees, and although I knew Orberg’s edition included one, I nevertheless wanted to make one of my own so that I’d remember it better. This is something easy to do with students of any level, and by adding a short Latin description (relative clauses are great for this), you can work some Latin composition into the activity as well.
This is a brainstorming strategy: a “mind chart” that maps topics in relationship to each other. Instead of seeing pre-reading as full of isolated pieces of knowledge: the author, the time period, the texts, etc., this activity highlights the interconnected layers of contextual knowledge needed for exploring a text.
For a great youtube introduction to Mind Mapping and why it works, click here.
Sententiae a discipulis scriptae:
After doing the first pre-reading activities, look for a summary of the text in Latin, or a Latin biography of the author. Aim for easy texts, since this is usually just the first step to reading something a bit more challenging. Yet even with these, you may encounter words you don’t recognize. For each word you don’t recognize, put it on a piece of paper. At the end of your pre-reading, circle five of those words you listed and use them in sentences. If possible, share them with someone whose Latinitas is at a higher level, to receive feedback.
I’ll do one example for each of these three pre-reading strategies, and invite you to do some as well and post your assignments below. I also welcome: any nit-picky feedback about Latinitas, information about yourself, or that joke about a Roman soldier walking into a bar. We’re all nerds here.