We all know that memorization is a keystone of classical education. Yet somehow this is an area where we sometimes lose our discipline. Maybe it’s because we feel silly reciting out loud or we get more gratification from completing a tangible worksheet. Maybe we relegate memory work to the last item on the agenda because we really don’t know how to tackle a memorization passage. So, how do we restore memorization to its lofty perch on the classical education mountain. We present you with a simple strategy that works!
Present a written copy on the board. A student should have a visual of the entire passage. Be sure to present the complete passage in a way that makes it easiest to memorize, with line breaks at meaningful points or manageable portions. Each line should be a singular goal.
Inspire memorization. Nothing encourages a student more than enthusiasm by the teacher. Though it’s not absolutely necessary, reciting the passage from memory yourself proves that the activity is both possible and worthwhile.
Parse the passage for lessons of all kinds. Who is the author? Where did the passage come from? What is its purpose? What is the theme? Are there any unfamiliar words? Any connections to other subjects? Any Latin derivatives? Any interesting grammatical elements? Any interesting stylistic elements? Attaching meaning to the passage in several ways gives a student many more ledges to cling to when a word or line escapes him.
Begin the disappearing line technique. Read the passage aloud in its entirety. Then ask students to focus on the first line. Give them 30 seconds to commit it to memory. Recite it together once or twice. Then erase it. Say the entire passage again with the first line erased from the board. Proceed to the second line. Have students focus on it and then recite the entire passage with both the first and second lines erased. Continue again and again until the students recite the entire passage from memory staring at only a blank chalk board.
Test each student. Nothing holds a student accountable like requiring individual recitation. This can take some time in a larger classroom but the payoff is usually great in terms of planting the passage in permanent memory. Consider each presentation a lesson in poised public speaking and a fantastic review for the audience.
Review. Designate time each day to review memory work previously learned. You can have students collectively recite all the memory verses that have been mastered or ask each student to present a randomly selected single passage.
Leigh Lowe is the author of Prima Latina, a beginning Latin course.