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How and Why to Use Graphic Organizers in a Latin Class

Today’s post is a guest post by Shelly McCormick-Lane.

The more I watch my students, the more I realize how little they know how to take notes.

I am not sure whose job it is (or was) to teach note taking skills, whether someone should have done this when the students were in elementary school, or if it is just expected to be a skill they will develop over time. While it often seems obvious to me, as a teacher, that if the teacher has written something on the white board, the SMART board, or put it into a power point, then it is probably important enough for a student to write it down as well, yet it is often not as obvious and apparent to the students themselves. How often do they just sit and stare at you as you are writing something down, assuming they will remember it tomorrow?

I worry about my students when they get to college – if they haven’t mastered the art of note-taking in an environment where people generally care, how will they do when they might be in a large lecture class where no one cares how well you do (or don’t do)? One day, years ago, I realized that it was part of my job not just to teach Latin, but to teach the survival skills my students would need to find success in academia. And the more special needs students I have, who sometimes lack organizational skills, the more I try to provide them with a means to find that success. Don’t get me wrong – even your best and brightest, who will often remember almost anything you say or write, will still sometimes need a little help in their organizational educations.

A teacher friend distributed graphic organizers for a few things to his students – noun and verb endings, to help his students keep them organized. What a great idea! We used lots of graphic organizers when we were in elementary and middle school – Venn diagrams, organizational charts to prepare essays, etc. How often are they seen in a secondary setting, however? I now use them for almost everything.

The easiest graphic organizers to create are those for noun and verbs endings – have a page with your declensions on it, your case names, and have students simply fill in the charts.


I even sometimes have my students write in the margins the uses of each case, e.g. “nominative = subject”, so if they are referencing their charts, and their memories need that little nudge, it’s right there in front of them.

This is a handy method for verbs, also; however, I add a few things there to help them keep track of the stem vowels, and the translations of each type of verb as well:

But I have taken the use of graphic organizers further, and use it for almost anything grammatical you can teach students today. I have students keep “running verb lists” for each conjugation. This helps them keep track of third and fourth principal parts, especially. How often do they forget that “egi” is related to “ago”, as is “actus”? And how often do Latin teachers get tired of hearing “egisiti isn’t in the dictionary in the back of my book!” A running verb list, filled with every verb they’ve ever learned, provides them an easy way to figure that out. Most students generally realize that egisti is perfect tense, so they can just run their fingers down the third principal part columns until they find the stem.


These can also be helpful to keep track of the different forms of irregular verbs:


These can work for all types of pronouns as well, not only relatives but demonstratives and personals also:


Graphic organizers are merely directed note taking, helping students to better organize the information that they need in an easily accessible manner. And it does not matter which Latin teaching method you ascribe to for these to be helpful. I taught out of Latin for Americans for 15 years, in which these were a perfect way for students to be able to remember the paradigms so frequently presented in that textbook. For the past couple of years I have been teaching from Cambridge – there is nothing that says that you need to fill in an entire chart at once – if your students are only responsible for the nominative and accusative, then complete the genitive forms when you get to them, the dative when you get to that, etc.

Almost any grammar that you teach can be put into a directed note-taking form and given to the students to help them determine what is most important to be sure to remember. I use many of these to help the students learn how to take notes themselves – what is necessary to write when a teacher / professor is speaking, what can be omitted.

Please feel free to download some of these, if you’d like to use them, from my web page:
They are mostly located on the “Handouts” page, although they will sometimes show up on the individual class pages (e.g., “Latin I”) if they are only applicable to one class in particular. I’m trying to make the learning of Latin for my students easier than it was for me ☺. This is one way to help them be successful.

Shelly McCormick-Lane is a Latin teacher at Clear Lake High School in Houston, TX. Prior to that she taught at Westborough High School in Westborough, MA (where she was also department chair), Bel Air High School in El Paso, TX, and Terry Sanford Sr. High in Fayetteville, NC.

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