How to Conduct a Recitation and Why

Why Recite? 

Forget matching, multiple choice, or fill-in the blanks. If you want a child to really know–truly own–a body of information, Recitation is the only way to go. Previously the sole method of testing, Recitation requires mastery of a subject like no other testing mechanism can. With nowhere to hide and no opportunity for charms or tricks, it requires of the student focus, poise, and absolute certainty of the information offered. The child cannot make educated guesses or selectively opt out of questions. Each child is fully responsible for each fact; the “flubbers” are obvious – and usually also encouraged to improve by their peer group. This is a test that is pass or fail only.

Beyond providing an objective demonstration of knowledge acquired, Recitation fosters the kind of confidence we want our children to have–the kind earned by accomplishing a challenging feat, the kind that enables them to humbly believe they can learn anything. This is an invaluable benefit of conducting regular Recitations. This is why we hold them in such high regard.

Frequently asked exactly how we conduct Recitations, we offer you a model for a Latin Recitation that would be appropriate for Latina Christiana students on the next page. But first, the rules of Recitation:

1.) Conduct Recitations with formality.
This is not an opportunity for students to show off, but rather a time to demonstrate their mastery, the fruits of their labors. They should see Recitation as a test and public speaking engagement in one. No slouching, slurring, fidgeting. Recitations can be a group activity or an individual one. Use both to great effect.

2.) Be prepared.
The teacher must be fully prepared for Recitation. In best cases, she also has the Recitation content memorized. Seeing is believing; nothing proves to students that they can, in fact, recite the whole of (fill in the blank here) like seeing someone else do it. Fumbling words or shuffling papers contributes to a lack of rhythm which can kill a Recitation. Peeking down at notes is fine, but not ideal. Without being silly, pick a nice pace and cadence for your group–that’s what makes it fun.

3.) Prioritize the key information.
This is not the time to seek out trivial or obscure pieces of information. Recitation should cover the information that will ideally be remembered for a lifetime. Keep the content consistent and cumulative. The order of facts should always be the same, with new information added at the end. Students who participate in Recitation should eventually be able to conduct it without supervision (not that we recommend this) because they will know exactly what comes next.

4.) Do not underestimate your student(s).
We’ve seen Kindergartners recite 30 Bible verses in a row; sixth graders rattle off 70 stanzas of Horatius at the Bridge; high schoolers recite Latin grammar forms for 20 minutes without pause. There is no greater gift we can give students than to expect the best from them.

Though we are offering a Latin Recitation model here, don’t hesitate to transfer this example to other content areas. For American Studies, recite the presidents, states and capitals, dates of the key wars; for math, recite multiplication tables; for Christian studies, recite Scripture, books of the Bible, the 10 Commandments. The possibilities are truly endless. Take advantage.


Latin Recitation Model

Start by saying, “Salvete Amici Latinae, surgite, oremus.” Students stand and say all of the prayers they know: Table Blessing, Pater Noster, etc. Provide a prayer sheet for them to follow along with at the beginning, but say the prayers aloud from day one. They should fold their hands and be respectful even though their eyes may be open and looking at you or a paper. Eventually the prayer sheet should be banished.

If you are learning music, you could sing or recite music. We recommend using the songs from the Lingua Angelica CD along with the musical accompaniment. Next say, “Declension endings, a, ae.” Students should complete seven sets of declension endings including two each for the 2nd and 3rd declensions. Do not pause to announce each new declension. Simply roll through the 70 endings.

Then say, “Model nouns, mensa, mensae.” Students recite the declensions of seven model nouns: mensa, mensae, mensae…, along with servus, bellum, pater (or lex), flumen, portus, res. No translating here–just the Latin, ma’am. If you have done i-stems and er nouns, you can add ager, puer, vir, pars, mare.

Next say, “Conjugations, voco.” Students conjugate the first conjugation model verb voco in six tenses active voice, then the second conjugation model verb moneo in six tenses also. If you are in Latina Christiana, just use your cue words in the Teacher’s Manual to provide the perfect sequence and structure.

Once you have recited all the Latin forms, you may begin with English grammar.

Recite the eight parts of speech. Do meanings for all 6 tenses in English. Recite pronouns, adjectives, and more verb forms if you know them. List the five cases. What is the possessive case? The to/for case? The direct object case? The subject case? What are the two ways to show possession in English? What are the four attributes of nouns? What are the three genders? What are the six attributes of verbs? And so on.

Then move to Form Drills. Now’s the time to translate. Practice for speed and accuracy. Say, “of girls” and the group or an individual student responds, “puellarum.” Or say, “to or for the men” and the student responds, “hominibus.” You can also reverse it and give the Latin and ask the English of your students. Form drills are difficult for young students but you can start working on them slowly. The idea is if you say, “puellam,” they know that is a direct object, and puellarum means “of the girls”. You want them to know the form instantly, not have to decline the noun in their heads to get to the form they need.

End with, “Finite! Optime! Sedete!” And revel in a job well-done.

Originally published in The Classical Teacher Summer 2013 edition.

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