Strategies for vocab and paradigm learning

It’s been three months since my last post, which I think shows how tough remote teaching has felt. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what teaching and learning mean to me though, and I am now coming back to this blog with a few posts on the topic. I’ve written something on vocab learning for somewhere else (I’ll link in once it’s available 🙂 ) so thought I’d restart with a post about vocab learning.

I have many thoughts about teaching, learning, using, and assessing vocab. It remains true that the environment most of us teach in requires students to learn decontextualised vocab. With this in mind, students often need some help getting started, or trying out new things once they reach saturation point using their original method. I’ve put together a list of ideas. If anyone has more ideas (or feedback on these) then I’d be delighted to hear from you. My next post on the topic will reflect on vocab lists and frequencies, and some of the work done by James Tauber on this (

1.) Look cover read (say) write check (this is what I used to do, but find unproductive now).

2.) Make flashcards with the English on one side and Greek on the other. Add notes where appropriate. Add in phonetic spellings to Greek to help you, and any friends you talk into testing you.

3.) Use a vocab testing program such as is available at  for languages including NT Greek. See also . People may like to investigate Anki  for flashcards. These can be made ‘intelligent’ to support vocab learning in a spaced repetition fashion. See this article for more information. The Eton Greek Project is also useful (temporarily to be found here:

4.) Make links between words and English phrases e.g. ‘servus’ is someone who ‘serves us’.

5.) Learn vocab to a tune and endings to a rhythm. Recite verb paradigms in time with your footsteps / while on aerobic machines / while washing up.

6.) Make a list of English derivations, e.g. βαπτιζω > baptise.

7.) With verbs, make sure you learn all principal parts. Often the English derivation is based on the irregular parts.

8.) Write out words lots: write a list and fill in each line.

9.) Write lists and stick them on e.g. washbasin mirror / loo door / fridge where you have to look at them mindlessly.

10.) Put words on slips of paper and pull them out of a hat / cup to test yourself in random orders.

11.) Write lists in alphabetical order / unit order / part of speech order, so that you don’t only learn the words in order (and can then only remember them in that order!).

12.) Try to memorise the page as a picture (take a mental photograph), and then you can read off the meaning from the picture in your head.

13.) Try to focus on half a dozen a day so that it is a cumulative effort.

14.) Write lists of the words you don’t know, and as you learn them, write increasingly smaller lists. A sense of achievement is important! Once you’ve used them for a while, write out new lists of the words you still don’t know so that a.) you see them in a new configuration and are not just remembering them in context and b.) you can focus on the words you need to learn.

15.) Sometimes just stare at a page for five minutes. BUT NOT LONGER – IT’S NOT REALLY PRODUCTIVE.

16.) Write out paradigms with the stem / ending in different colours to help you see the pattern.

17.) Work out the rules for e.g. forming imperfects / changing adjectives to adverbs and try to learn them as rules / equations. These can be condensed to one line notes on cards / slips of paper etc.

18.) Try not to learn vocab with distractions on in the background, or you may find that you can only remember the word when prompted by the same stimulus.

19.) Where possible, put words on post-it notes and attach these to items that have something to do with the word.

20.) Record yourself reciting vocab lists and paradigms. Just doing this makes you focus. Listening back to it can help.

21.) Try learning words in groups of associated words, e.g. family terms together, so that you can see the relationships and patterns between them.

22.) Associated with pictures. For concrete nouns and action verbs this is easy, but can you make more interesting pictures too?

23.) Create a story to go with a word.

24.) Create a mnemonic to explain a word, e.g. γαρ (gar, meaning ‘for, because’) might be ‘give a reason’.

25.) Play a game like ‘matching pairs’, using word + translated meaning or word + picture as the two different cards / numbers on a list.

26.) Learn an example of the word in use so that it doesn’t feel decontextualised.

27.) Make up a song about a word, or appropriate a well-known song and change the words to be about the language (e.g. ‘a spoonful of sigma helps the future tense go down’).

28.) Take a really long word and see how many other words you can make out of it.

29.) Take two words of the same length and see if you can get from one to another by changing just one letter each time.

30.) Use an online wordsearch generator to create wordsearches of the words you need to learn, then solve the puzzles. You could swap these with your friends. This works for English characters (try transliterating Greek words): (Links to an external site.)

31.) Try playing something like Boggle / Wordz / Scrabble / Upwords in the target language. For some languages the letters need very little change. For others you might need stickers to change letter shapes / frequencies.

32.) Ask someone (or use an online generator) to make anagrams out of words. Solve them.

33.) For any word you are given, try to give another word starting with its last letter, and define / translate it.

34.) Think like Sherlock Holmes. He uses the mind palace technique to remember vocab. See if you can take a picture of a house, and put two or three words in each room. Do an imaginative exercise walking through the house and creating a picture in your head from each of those three words.

35.) Take a set of words you’re struggling with. Create a story which incorporates each of these words and helps you to remember them. Maybe create characters whose names incorporate the words and have something to do with how they speak / act / think / look etc.

36.) Link words according to their lexical fields, so that you understand groups of e.g. colours, family terms, animals.

37.) Write a dictionary entry for a word. What meanings are you giving? Why? What morphological information are you giving? Why? What examples are you using? Why? You might want to bring together 2-3 different existing dictionary entries and compare the different elements.

Student experience of remote learning


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Over the summer, the Centre for Teaching and Learning has hired some student interns to work on the experience of remote teaching. They gave a webinar to start disseminating their thoughts, findings, and recommendations.

Here is a summary of the top points I took away from the seminar, and some of my reflections on them. There’s no point working ourselves into the ground as teachers if it doesn’t translate into a good learning experience for the student, so having some sense of the student perspective will help inform my preparation. Some of this is clearly discipline-specific, but even if the suggestions won’t work for me in particular, they’ve helped me think more carefully about why I am planning my specific strategies, which is a good thing.


  1. Students liked it when lecturers talked as if in a 1:1 scenario.
  2. Some lecturers have used two windows / screens, one to show them and want to show their slides. That is helpful in theory because it helps keep a personal touch. This echoes what I’ve read about students learning well when they can see the lecturer in a video in various ways. It does cause some issues when you’re on a small screen though. Delivery style is important beyond recording style.
  3. The research has generally suggested that 6 to 9 minutes is a good window of video length. Students certainly found long lectures tiring to listen to online. They appreciated clear design and chunking. What this meant was things like:
    1. Lecturers appreciating that they could not cover as much material in a lecture but using pre-reading and so forth to help bring everything together.
    2. Lecturers marking out pause points in a lecture. The lecturer knows when a natural break is occurring, which students might not be able to pre-empt. Breaking a lecture into say 20 minute blocks, with slides to show breaks, or even encourage them, was deemed useful.
    3. Some follow-up in a live session after a lecture to answer questions might be appreciated.
  4. Students differentiated between note-making and note-taking. Having recorded lectures allowed them to participate in both activities, pausing lectures to make better notes and reflect on these. We as tutors may be able to improve scaffolding for notes and student study habits by encouraging this (I’m working on a small course helping students to read and write effectively for academic purposes – I’ll write more about that another time).
  5. Some form of interaction does help students engage, even simple things like a poll.

Seminars and tutorials

Some of these points are very similar to lectures. In addition, there are ways we can improve engagement with seminars and tutorials.

  1. Consider giving students five minutes before session starts for general chitchat without a tutor present so that you can build a sense of group cohesion.
  2. Icebreaker activities such as those found at
  3. Training a camera on to a whiteboard was not as easy to follow as using an online whiteboard. In addition, students liked having the record of an online whiteboard for follow-up work. I am considering using freestanding whiteboard, and I think it may have a part to play in remote language teaching, but I will only do this with the agreement and cooperation of my students.
  4. Interactive activities might include the following:
    1. Students giving PowerPoint presentations
    2. Students being given time to look at objects and respond to them and then come back for discussion. This was with specific reference to Cabinet but might also apply to other kinds of activities.
    3. Polls.
    4. Using the response buttons in Teams or Zoom to get a broad class response.
  5. Smaller groups worked better. Students found the online sessions were often more focused and consequently shorter, which might allow for multiple smaller groups in place of one bigger group. This of course depends on your concept of what constitutes efficient teaching.

Technological and practical issues

We discussed problems students faced, such as loneliness, lack of motivation, time management problems, caring responsibilities, space for home learning etc. There are also problems such as Internet connection. The interns suggested that having a good microphone or headset should be recommended but I do wonder how costly that might prove. Setting up study groups and buddies might help, but could need some guidance on structuring to be productive. We aren’t here primarily to teach students study skills, but I do think that transition pedagogy is important, and building these kinds of things into our teaching will benefit students.

It was agreed that setting good ground rules helped remote learning work better. Much though I don’t like the idea of the prescriptive student contract, some kind of code of conduct and FAQ has a very specific place to play here. The students suggested that agendas might help remote sessions run more smoothly. It is worth having practice sessions and induction meetings, just as we might in person.

Apparently there will be podcasts to take things further, from 24th September 2020. They will published at but also available via Oxford iTunes U . I will certainly be listening to them.

Teaching for recording and editing


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Today I had a meeting about editing in Panopto and discovered that I was doing the best I could but that there were significant problems with the process. This has made me reflect more on the relationship between teaching, recording teaching, and editing. Most of this will have been said elsewhere, but drawing on media training and my role as a Skill at Arms instructor, I’ve found I have developed a particular approach to the situation. The majority of videos I’m making are ones which require me to annotate a text / use an online whiteboard, which brings particular challenges.

When I teach Skill at Arms, we work on a basis of Explain, Demonstrate, Imitate, Practice. It is important that, as far as is possible, these phases are done independently. This is formulaic and awkward, but when I was preparing for my qualification course last year, my local cadet sergeant advised me that it was the most important skill to develop if I wanted to do well.

In weapons terms that means I talk through the rifle point without doing it / touching the rifle (E). I then do the relevant drill without talking (D). I then ask cadets to do the drill alongside me (I). Finally, I stand back and talk them through practices with decreasing levels of prompts (P). In order to this not to get too complex or boring, skills are taught in very small steps. How does this relate to language teaching? Sometimes it feels facile to break up teaching into such a drill, but it’s a chance for students to learn by listening, watching, and doing, which is a good combination.

Key points I have drawn from this are the risks of ‘chalk and talk’, and the important of chunking and scaffolding.

  1. If I talk then do, will students switch off in the quiet time? I’m trying to balance out the need to ‘talk and do’ in order to illustrate my points and help orientate students’ attention on a screen, with the need to split explanation and demonstration for ease of editing.
  2. Chunking is needed. Various studies show that not only does student attention drop off after a short time (variable by context and content), but that students switch off sooner in longer videos.
  3. Scaffolding comes as the layers of imitation and practice in EDIP. What practice looks like on a video is a challenge. Do you tell students to pause a video? Do you talk them through with ever-decreasing prompts? How do you then offer the end-point of the example when it feels like practice leads to an ‘answer’ and you want to work on the process not the output? Designing a range of tasks to be done asynchronously is important, and may provide the point at which you end a video and look forward to the next one, rather than pausing something.

Early on in teaching I learned not to talk when facing the board. It would mean students trying to look and listen in tandem, but also the board is partly obscured by my stance. In addition, my voice goes into the board not to the students, nor can they see my face and the movement of my lips. One adjustment was to stand at an angle, and to the side of a board. How does this transfer to digital classes?

Some research suggests that students engage better if they can see a tutor engaging with the material, for example moving their gaze as they write / check material. If this isn’t possible, then videos showing a teacher’s hand work better, as they give students a chance to identify themselves as participants in the learning process.

I haven’t managed to do either of these things using my tech setup yet. I don’t want to be a talking head in the corner, nor do I want to install a whiteboard at home. I need to consider if and how I can mitigate these problems in making my videos accessible in other ways.

The quality of the recording is appealing to my perfectionism. Not only do I want things to be good, but, more importantly, I want them to be good so that they are accessible for my students. A car goes past my window with music blaring. I mumble and correct myself. My Apple pencil taps noisily on the screen as I annotate the text. It’s all extra noise and distraction. I try to edit these things out. Panopto has some serious limitations though, and the technological tail is in danger of wagging my pedagogical dog. How can I reverse this?

When speaking, I employ my media training, speaking in shorter bursts and leaving gaps, which makes things easier to edit. Then I look for the flat line as a guide on where to start and end cuts. I worry that abrupt edits might be disconcerting for student listeners. The primary stream is the audio, tied to any slides. What happens if you edit one but not the other? How do you make these sync up? I’m finding it hard to work out precisely what to rub out when redoing something, or how to make something look like it’s been written the same as before you accidentally rubbed out a bit and had to touch it up.

image for panopto blog

They might not want to feel as curated as the edited process makes the films. What place does a natural approach have in the premade digital classroom?

Students have commented that they’re watching videos multiple times, and pausing them to consume them more slowly. They referred to them in open-book exams, in a way they wouldn’t have referred to a class as a source. This might mean they even checked them as a permitted resource (we had agreed the videos could be on the list). Editing them into the best things they can be is vital.

I’m not going to be a sound engineer, but it is important that I do develop a good set of editing skills. These videos might be useful for many groups in the future. They need to be good. I’m working with our IT support teams to improve some of these editing issues, but it’s a steep learning curve and not part of any teacher CPD I’ve ever had. I haven’t explored captions and tagging much yet, but I will.

What would I like from Panopto?

  1. Being able to use buttons to scroll along a track in order to choose the bits to cut precisely.
  2. A time box to choose the timings of where I want to go to (or what I want to cut).
  3. A way to scroll along the wave which isn’t the same as the cutting tool (i.e. not all mouse clicks) so I can’t accidentally cut things.
  4. A customisable rewind time (or at least an option of 1, 2, 5, 10 seconds rather than just 10 seconds).
  5. A customisable choice of playback speeds.
  6. Some way of re-recording a section (like I can with screencast-o-matic, which I also use).

Videos are only providing part of my planning for next year. I’m not a digital educator. I don’t have the skill or time to learn to teach group work entirely using video and asynchronous tasks. I want discursive teaching with my classes. I want space for topics to take more than the 8-12 minutes I usually aim for (and even that’s probably too long). Thinking about how to edit, in a practical sense, and in the impact of editing on the style and content of what I present in a pedagogical sense, has helped me to take my planning for next year to a new level, hopefully with a positive impact on my teaching in general. Teaching for editing, filming for editing, and teaching for replay are things we’re having to get used to. It’s a new way to interrogate teaching skill, which might not be a bad thing.


CPD in the time of Coronavirus

The long summer is not ‘time off’, as any academic knows. This summer in particular it has felt important to reassess teaching as a craft, and our growth as teachers. I thought I’d reflect on that process. I remain restlessly excited about pedagogy, and want others to be so too.

Continuing to reflect on our professional practice and develop this is an important part of being teachers. Over the past few months, this has been about rapid adaptation to new circumstances. On this theme, I’ve done a FutureLearn courses on teaching online and psychological first aid related to Covid, which have helped me to adjust to the teaching I needed to do last term. I’ve attended webinars on recording lectures, or teaching via Teams and Zoom.

Treating the crisis as a research project with seminars and books to engage in feels like an obvious academic response though. It will only be of use, however, if it brings about the necessary and appropriate changes in attitude and practice required to make next year (and the next, and the next… things aren’t going back to ‘normal’) a good one.

This is an ongoing situation of change. We need to learn to change our teaching practices to adapt meaningfully to the new situations. We also need to be ready to be flexible, and not simply settle into new patterns, as the situation is going to be changing again, potentially rapidly.

We mustn’t, however, forget the background need to develop our professional lives. Crisis management and learning to respond rapidly to new teaching modes is a new arm of that. It adds a different trajectory to the ongoing career development plans any of us might have had, but it needs to be integrated into these and not replace them entirely. What then of the longer-term professional development?

We have focussed so far on the immediate practical challenges posed by remote teaching, although I have tried since the start to take a more reflective angle on this, assessing what I hope to achieve and what I want students to achieve. The first essay I had to write on my PGCE had a title along the lines of ‘is it true that a sensible system of education would be elitist and irrelevant to the immediate interests of the students and life in society?’, and the reading list started off with Plato and Rousseau. I was struggling with Y10 boys having punch-ups in class, and really couldn’t see how this was going to help me get through the day any better. Nearly 20 years later and I do get it. The thinking and doing need to be done in tandem. We need to have some kind of understanding of what we’re trying to achieve, and why, otherwise the how won’t make sense either. Going through the motions doesn’t allow for the reflective practice that is so important for personal and career development. It’s no wonder the EEF talk about metacognition as one of the most important factors in effective student feedback, or that the ‘A to Z of creative teaching in Higher Education’ I’m reading has a chapter ‘M for Metalearning’. I’m writing a reflective learning journal for students next year, and hope that this will improve language learning, something students are often worried about when they start with me. This situation is asking us to re-evaluate our lives in so many ways that there is great potential to improve teaching and learning, and build greater reflection into it.

The most recent university training session I attended was on flexible inclusive teaching. We are moving towards preparing for the new year rather than a more reactive crisis management. There is fear that the need for rapid adjustment and for reinventing teaching is going to lead to burnout. We’re in for the long haul now and need to think about what that means for teaching and teachers.

There are lots of possibilities. From my perspective, I’ve re-orientated some of my research plans to focus on teaching and learning. I’m on a teaching-only contract, so I’m lucky to be able to do this. It feels like a pragmatic response to the situation, and it certainly means that both I and my students could in fact benefit from the situation insofar as my teaching practice should improve.

I’ve always been interested in student welfare (and indeed staff welfare).  We need to adjust psychologically and build a new kind of resilience, both as teachers, and with our students. One of the privileges of being an HE teacher is playing a part in supporting students to become independent adults, and this is a new aspect of that. Integrating pastoral care with subject teaching has always been important, and now it’s more explicitly so.

CPD isn’t about fulfilling an obligation, or about the presenteeism of attending courses to tick boxes and gain letters after one’s name. There needs to be an impact, where CPD is the start of something new. This summer feels like a great opportunity to demonstrate how it is about ongoing change and growth. We need to be humble about our teaching and ready to grow. We need to be optimistic about the value of this, and about our ability to cope. We need to be excited about the joy teaching can bring, and the wonder of increasing that (see J is for Joy in the A-Z book). There’s limited time, limited energy… everything is limited, but being reflective and open to change can make a big difference. I know I’m an idealist. I have my own significant constraints, but find little ways to build all of this into my life, if not daily, at least periodically.

(The Times Higher Education ran a disparaging article on the proliferation of Higher Education journals. Being good at sifting and browsing efficiently is clearly important. I still think browsing is better than searching, given that searching implies you know what you’re looking for!).

  • Start up a teaching ideas journal. I’ve only just done this, as suggested by a friend. All the random ideas I have are going in here, indexed, which will make it much easier to put together new ways of teaching when I have time.
  • Find some podcasts to listen to while commuting / in the bath / exercising / doing housework. I search YouTube, but also periodically look at the list from the Department of Education at Oxford, or (more recently) Teaching in Higher Education.
  • Create a Twitter list for HE people whose ideas you admire. I’ve started one… work in progress. @CressidaRyan
  • Build occasional books on pedagogy into your reading schedule.
  • Observe colleagues. Remote teaching sessions may make it easier to do this (whether live or recorded, both with permission), and could be a great chance to increase peer engagement in teaching development.

Reflecting on a first term online

Eight weeks of online teaching later… I’ve learned a lot about computers, and about teaching. My term went well, but there’s lots to work on for future remote teaching. This is a reflection on the technological aspects of teaching, and the changes to assessment that I made to work with that.


I know it is good practice for students to mute themselves, but it is very eerie when they are muted, with cameras off, and you’re talking into a vacuum. Some kind of negotiation is needed to keep students engaged with the tutor, and to build on sociability and group cohesion,

Zoom has breakout rooms. These are yet to come on Microsoft Teams, which is what we were asked to use. Even if they are possible, however, there remains a question as to how useful they are. I’m trying to reduce the fully synchronous time spent with students, as it puts the greatest demands on them in terms of time and technology. If I can seed the ‘breakout’ activities as pre-class or between class things to do, with appropriate followup, then it may be more useful. It might mean having smaller live catchups with individual groups rather than with whole classes, and then whole group live sessions as well.

Writing with a stylus on an iPad has been a godsend for preparing annotated texts and screencasts, and for marking student work. It changes the way one has to write, however, and this can become very painful on one’s arms. Getting the pressure consistently accurate, without leaning bits of your hand on the wrong part of the screen and generating more squiggles is hard.

Talking loudly so that my bad computer microphone heard me quickly left my voice ragged. I’m now using a headset. I also wear glasses. The combination of the things is very painful, and would be exacerbated for those wearing hearing aids. Too many things are meeting on or over my ears. I’m sure there have to be better accessibility options, but for most of us in the general public, we’ve never had to use this combination enough for it to become a problem.

The amount of admin setting up endless meetings, chats, email distributions, online quizzes etc. takes is enormous. Microsoft systems generate huge numbers of automatic emails, which are filling my inbox so rapidly that I’m losing sight of the ‘real’ emails.

I made 8-15 minute screencasts to talk through texts or textbook content in advance of class. This helped make my shorter live synchronous sessions more focused, and more about the student voice. The flipped model made classes more productive and student-centred. This very much helped outside of the normal classroom, although it did create a slightly artificial barrier between what I thought they might want to know and their engagement with that, rather than letting my comments and approaches respond more to the class as it unfolded. Students cited them as resources they were going back to. If I script them carefully, they should be reusable.

Editing videos takes ages. I don’t know if I’m using it badly, but the ‘click and drag’ cutting tool in Panopto is quite imprecise, as I struggle to get the cursor into precisely the correct space. I’ve learned when making a video, that if I made a mistake, I pause, erase what needs changing on the screen, and start again after a clear break. The gaps make it much easier to see where the edits need to be made at the end. The army works on a model of instruction ‘Explain, Demonstrate, Imitate, Practice’. I’ve tried to follow this more thoroughly in making teaching videos, because ‘chalk and talk’ can be confusing to follow, and if I make a mistake, I have to work out how to edit both the chalk and the talk.

Typing Greek causes problems for students, despite a lot of advice. I agreed to work with transliterated Greek if they could not type Greek (although all students were sent guidance on this in preparation for term and were asked to practise). Despite being skilled users of computers for daily life, under the pressure of any timed exercises they made lots of errors in their English typing, sometimes making it hard to read their work properly. If they continue to need to submit typed work, some study skills support in effective typing will be needed. We had issues over submitting work. I had set up Microsoft Forms, but this limits the number of pages in a submission, and if students were scanning / photographing written work, they often exceeded page numbers and file sizes, as they didn’t have the programs or skill needed to condense things. I will have to put together more advice on ways to handle this.

I had set up Class Notebooks in Canvas, but we didn’t use them. They were too clunky and reliant on technology working. I might need to in future, but we only used prerecorded online whiteboard materials (using Doceri) or GoogleDocs. When my pdf system crashed, I edited the GoogleDoc directly using track changes. This was much harder to read than hand annotations, although it did allow for student responses to my responses, unlike the edited pdf, thus keeping a dialogue going rather than claiming to be a ‘finished’ task.

If microphones / speakers did not work, we continued to use the chat box to communicate. This was also useful for putting in technical terms, Greek examples, or links to resources. It then offered a summary of the class, which helped students with their consolidation. Slowly students started using the chat to send messages between classes too, checking up on points to do with both Greek and administration. I was glad to get email alerts about these messages, because I wasn’t always signed in to Teams. I wish that replying to those emails could have reached students though, as signing in to Teams all the time got tedious. I tended not to stay signed in, because of the pressure it put on my computer’s operating system; I had big issues with my computer overheating after a morning of teaching.

My initial problems with schedule meetings continued. Each meeting might end up generating its own chat, and students invariably ended up calling from the wrong channel. After two weeks we agreed just to use the one chat space per group, and run all classes through unscheduled calls.



The written work students gave in was brilliant. I set two versions of an assessment, one ‘traditional’ and one ‘open-book’. Both included the same translation comparison. The open-book students wrote much more insightful and interesting pieces of work. It wasn’t just about being able to look up ‘answers’, but they checked Greek references, looked at what translations were aiming for, used references from literature about translation, and covered a more nuanced and varied range of points. Students found guided composition tasks more rewarding and less intimidating than standard prose composition (i.e. translation) tasks. Consequently, they chose to do these more, and their Greek improved. Mocking things up for teaching gave students a chance to explain points as carefully as they could. This in turn showed up issues in understanding really well, which gave me a great chance to pinpoint exactly where they needed help. It also generated some very useful peer teaching / revision resources, which we shared between the class.

Perhaps the best task I set was to translate a passage into contrasting styles, with a short introduction explaining the approach. Students sometimes tried for an excessively ad verbum approach (especially when they considered this ‘literal’). In fact, this often showed up misunderstandings most quickly, allowing for some good discussion about where things had gone wrong. Sometimes students had trouble writing translations that were sufficiently contrasting, which led to good discussions about what they understood by translation as a process. Often students would vary vocab (i.e. not using the word dropsy) but not syntax. The best work discussed the cultural references in translations, and how best to convey those; stylistic elements and good English comparisons; linguistic register and accessibility for different audiences; what was lost and gained in ad verbum / paraphrase styles.

Students like the tiered readings in the workbooks I made. They were less intimidating than the unadapted texts, and students did comment that they were able to get a feel for a passage in order to then approach the unadapted text more intelligently. Preparation tasks included working on two verses each, and putting these into a GoogleDoc, with a deadline of half an hour before the class. I then converted this into a pdf, annotated it on my iPad, and sent it back to students for us to use in class. This worked very well. Some students used it as a space to ask questions about the text as they were writing their notes, which I could answer on screen or in person. Sometimes students covered the same verses as another student, which gave us a good chance to compare different approaches, and use peer to peer comment for improvement, rather than me ‘correcting’ them. Students had very different translation styles, so the overall document represented a good range of voices, and students appreciated being able to reflect on how many different ways of translating there were; we agreed that this document did not represent a translation I would expect to see in an exam, but a framework to support their own individual work.

We agreed a list of websites they could access in advance, with a promise not to use a search engine. This helped alert me to more useful resources that I hadn’t been aware of. I also asked students to declare which resources they then did use for their assessments. This was fascinating and gave me an insight into what might be then most useful for teaching in the future. They did find my notes and screencasts useful, but also had clear favourites in terms of websites. They were still referring back to the textbook, but not as much as I had expected. Next year I’ll be able to do some exercises on how to use these resources to best effect.

Overall, I was really pleased with how the term went. It felt like a frantic hamster wheel of activity trying to get materials ready in time, and firefighting various technical troubles. Maintaining group cohesion is going to be difficult, especially with groups that have never met face to face in the first instance. There were, however, lots of elements which enhanced teaching. I do want to draw on a more blended approach in the future, whatever happens. A return to face- to face-teaching will benefit from blending in some elements of the remote learning package. Redesigning assessment to work in context also makes it clear where more meaningful, effective, and authentic assessment tasks could be used for both summative and formative purposes in the future.

I’m participating in an online summer pedagogy workshop, which is adding context and background to the various issues I encountered. I’ll write shorter posts next on the issues raised there.

Summer Schools 2020

The summer school situation is very different this year. Here’s a roundup of what looks like the bulk of virtual offerings in Latin / Greek, with some extra information.


  1. Madrid.
  2. Cyprus.
  3. King’s College London.
  4. Lucian Blaga University.
  5. Erasmus Academy.
  6. Belfast
  7. JACT (JSST)

7a. Greek – Bryanston.

7b. Latin – Harrogate.

7c. Latin and Greek – Durham.

  1. Berkeley.
  2. Sankt Georgen.
  3. Polis.
  4. Paideia.



A summary of some of these (and others including Classical Civilisation and Ancient History) is available here:

Inclusion here is not an endorsement. Information is correct as of July 2020.


1. Madrid

Complutense University (Madrid)

Intensive course in Latin

Complutense University (Madrid) offers a 3-week online course (6 July – 24 July, 2020) in Latin language, giving intensive training for undergraduate, master’s or PhD students, researchers, or simply lovers of the Classical World. The main aims are to achieve a sufficient knowledge of Latin to enable the students to apply it to any field, to handle the basics of Latin grammar, and to acquire translation techniques by reading and commenting on texts adapted from different genres in Classical and Medieval Latin. The whole course will be taught in Spanish.

Timetable: Monday to Friday, from 4 pm to 9 pm.

Course fee: €780. Tuition waivers are offered until 21 June: 30% tuition waivers for early requesters, 50% tuition waivers for students and UCM staff, and 75% tuition waivers for disabled persons.


The application form and further details can be found at



2. Cyprus


Online Classical Languages Summer Courses: last chance to register!
Due to some last-minute cancellations, there is now a limited number of places available on the following courses of the the Classical Languages Summer School (CLaSS) organised by the Theological School of the Church of Cyprus (TSCC).


All courses will be taught entirely online with both synchronous and asynchronous options available and course material will be provided. Instruction for each course will be 30 teaching hours, spread over two weeks, from Monday to Friday, approximately three hours per day.


Available courses and timetable – all times are on GMT+3 time zone (i.e. Cyprus time; time slots include break/s)

Classical Greek I:                                 6-17 July 2020, 18.00-21.30

Latin I:                                                   6-17 July 2020, 18.00-21.30


Classical Greek II:                                20-31 July 2020, 18.00-21.30

Latin II:                                                  20-31 July 2020, 18.00-21.30
Byzantine Greek (reading class):         20-31 July 2020,  17.00-20.30


Tuition fees:                                         360 euros  (for one course)     670 euros (for two courses)
Places will be offered on a first come, first served basis. If you are interested in attending any of the above courses, please send your application form the latest by Monday 15 June 2020 to

Please note that, if your application is accepted, you are expected to pay the full amount of fees by Thursday, 18 June via bank transfer.
The application form and further details about the courses can be found at


CLaSS is primarily aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students in any discipline of the Humanities (e.g. Classics, History, Theology, Byzantine Studies, Philosophy) but it is also open to postdoctoral researchers, academics, teachers, or any other interested individuals (18+) who would like to learn Greek (Classical/Byzantine) or Latin from scratch or improve existing skills.


The CLaSS organisers.


3. King’s College London


King’s College London Summer School

Intensive courses in Ancient Greek and Latin


There are still places available for these courses which will be taught online this summer.  Some brief details are below, with links to further information.


King’s College London offers two 6-week courses (29 June – 7 August) in Ancient Greek and Latin, giving students who have not previously had the opportunity to study Greek or Latin intensive training designed to bring them from complete beginners to a point where they are able to read simple texts.  It is also possible for complete beginners to take just the first half of the course (29 June – 17 July), and for those who already have a basic knowledge to take the second half of the course (20 July – 7 August).  The course fee for each three-week session is £800.


The deadline for Session 1 is 15 June and the deadline for Session 2 is 6 July.
Information about this summer school is available here:



Dr Fiona Haarer, FSA

Director, London Summer School in Classics

Department of Classics

King’s College London

4. Lucian Blaga University

Online courses in Ancient Greek, Latin and, respectively, Old Slavonic are offered in July and August 2020 within the The Dan Slușanschi School for Classical and Oriental Languages, by the Institute of Ecumenical Research, Lucian Blaga University.


Each course comprises of 10 days of language training, with an overall training of 60 hours/course. The aim of the courses is to provide enough practice as to ensure a functional acquisition of the taught languages. The instruction language for all courses is English. Enrollment is possible for one course alone or for two consecutive courses.


Old Slavonic
Beginners – July 6-17

Beginners – July 13-24, 2020
Lower intermediate – July 27-August 7

Ancient Greek
Beginners – July 13-24
Lower intermediate – July 27-August 7
Intermediate – July 13-24

Upper intermediate – July 27-August 7
Advanced – July 20-July 31
Applications consisting of a cover letter and a CV should be sent to by June 1, 2020.The course fee is 150 Euro. For further information please refer to More details on the contents of each course as well as on the instructors for each group is available on the website or on the Facebook page:—beginners-level-online-learning



5. Erasmus Academy

~ Learn Classical (Attic) Greek this summer online at the Erasmus Academy~

The Erasmus Academy will be offering an 8-week course that provides the equivalent of one year of college Attic Greek and prepares students to study at an intermediate reading level in the language.

The course is taught in real time: Students log in at specific times (Mondays & Thursdays, 6:15 pm – 9:15 pm EST) and interact directly with the instructor and other classmates. All assignments are submitted online. The textbook used will be Introduction to Attic Greek by Donald J. Mastronarde (University of California Press 1993; ISBN 978-0520275713)

Graduate students in the Arts & Sciences, any motivated college or high school student, or other individual desiring to read Classical Greek are all welcome. The course instructor, Dr. Kristina Chew, is an experienced online instructor in the Classics Department of Rutgers University who has been teaching Greek, Latin and Classics for over twenty-five years. She has been teaching online for several years and with the Erasmus Academy since 2016.

The application deadline is May 1, 2020 and the course fee is $1050.

Early Bird Registration Option: full payment by 4/15/20 ($950)


For more information, go to

Please contact Kristina Chew directly or also the Erasmus Academy office with any questions:
Erasmus Academy:


6. Belfast


In response to the unusual times in which we presently find ourselves, the Belfast Summer School in Latin and Classical Greek is pleased to announce that for 2020, it is moving online.


Online classes will begin on Monday 20th July and conclude on Friday 24th July. Lessons will be conducted on Zoom each day from 10:00-11:00 & 12:00-13:00 BST, and work will be set for independent study.


Students may choose from Beginners Greek, Intermediate Greek, Beginners Latin or Intermediate Latin.


Beginners classes will assume no prior knowledge although students of Greek will be asked to learn the alphabet in advance, for which a worksheet will be provided.


Classes in Intermediate Greek and Latin will begin with a revision session, while successive lessons will be tailored to the needs of the students. Those registering for an intermediate class should inform the co-ordinator of previous courses attended and which textbooks have been used.


All course material will be provided by email.


Email with questions or to register. You should include in your email which course you wish to register for, where you are from, and whether you have studied classical languages before. The fee for the week is £70 and this may be paid by bank transfer, Paypal or sterling cheque. You will be given payment instructions when you register. Your place on the course is guaranteed once payment has been made.


With best wishes,

Helen McVeigh

Summer School Co-ordinator




7a. Greek – Bryanston

7b. Latin – Harrogate

7c. Latin and Greek – Durham


8. Berkeley



9. Sankt Georgen

The Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt am Main (Germany) offers in August and September a New Testament Greek Summer School.

The course will take place in Sankt Georgen from 3rd August to 25th September (7 weeks + a self-study week) or, more probably, due to the restrictions related to Covid-19, it will be taught online. It is open to (undergraduate and post-graduate) students and non-students alike who want to learn New Testament Greek from scratch. By the end of the course, student should be able to translate texts from the Bible and its environment, especially from the New Testament.
Course leader will be Dr Giada Sorrentino.

The course will be held in German. Registration is open until 15th July. The course costs 450 € (420 € for Sankt Georgen students).

For more information and registration see:


10. Polis

11. Paideia


Teaching Greek remotely for the first time – successes and points to note.

Today I ran my first proper virtual language teaching lesson(s). It was largely positive, but certainly thought-provoking. Here’s what I did and what I learned.

I discussed options with students in advance, canvassing information about their setup, timezones, and constraints. I then designed activities and meeting times / formats to take these into account as far as possible.

In advance of class I circulated a workbook on the text. Students were given vocab, a streamlined / simplified version of the text to read (written by me), and a couple of comprehension activities to engage in thinking through the text. This could all be done offline and asynchronously.

I also gave them a short online quiz to assess understanding of the previous chapter, and vacation rustiness.

I asked students to prepare their own translation of just 1-2 verses of the text, and to add it to a group GoogleDoc, working out between them how to cover all the verses set. This could be done mainly offline, and asynchronously.

I made a screencast. This was me talking through a text based on the normal kinds of points I’d made as we went along. I added material from commentaries on the basis that students can’t get to these, and a basic commentary on the grammatical shape of the text.

Before the class I made a PDF of the GoogleDoc and saved it to my OneDrive. I then used an iPad and stylus to ‘mark’ this and add commentary about different translation approaches. I shared the document back with the students five minutes before class was due to commence. I had reminded students in advance that they would need to be signed into their email before our Teams class, as links would come that way. I checked with them all at the start of the class that they had received it, and dealt with small practical problems.

We had a 30 minute class instead of a 60 minute one. In my instructions I outlined how much time I expected them to put into preparation as normal, and what was in lieu of the other 30 minutes of class, in order to demonstrate that they need not be spending more time that usual on their Greek. I made some checks as to how long students had spent in preparation, and the workload did seem to have been fair.

Class then covered the following topics:

  • General start of term setup not already covered by emails.
  • Picking up questions they had. These were generally well-formed compared with usual, given the level of preparation they had put into class.
  • Working through the annotated GoogleDoc. Each person explained their verses to the rest of the class as needed, and we collectively talked through my annotations, discussing options. Where there were problems, I put a commentary in the chat window, so that they had a record of how we sorted them out. I could also add links to further resources here, looking these up as we spoke. This worked really well, and we agreed to continue it as a strategy for following classes. Students gave me feedback about what had / hadn’t worked in the screencast, so I can play around with both the technology and the content to meet their needs better. I am always firm in class that we are not aiming for a class translation / dictation. I reiterated this point with the GoogleDoc version. This was not to be a class translation, but a scaffold for people to use to help guide and build on their own reading of the text. To that extent, my comments on it (on ‘paper’ and in person) were not ‘corrections’ so much as comments about things which might need further thought / reworking. I have two parallel classes. We also agreed I could swap the two annotated GoogleDocs so that they could get a more rounded view of ways of approaching the text. If I had a bigger group, I would try splitting the text within the group, but with 6-8 students per group, one document worked for each.

We read ten verses of Luke, which I think is pretty impressive for a class who have only studied Greek for 48 hours in their first remote class.

In my other class, I had recorded a screencast about -μι verbs. I set up an online whiteboard in Doceri with some text, and some tables / images from grammar books, ready to annotate ‘live’ when I recorded my screencast. The screencast then taught the topic as I might have done in class, including worked examples. Students watched this before the class, and I supplemented it with a further handout. We then worked through further exercises in class together, and dealt with any questions which arose from the topic.

Morale seemed broadly high. Timings went a little awry, and several people experienced minor problems, but the classes worked. For a first go, this was good news.

Things I’ve noted for next time…

  • Sending invitations to meetings with some instructions about the class, but emails outlining the whole process, might feel like it’s being helpful, but the doubleness proved confusing, especially as students also received the meeting invitations by email.
  • The online quiz had not worked. Despite my doing everything correctly, only one student had been able to access it; this told me I’d not done anything wrong globally, but didn’t tell me how to solve the problem. With the best will in the world, relying on tech too much isn’t going to help.
  • Not all students are yet good at navigating the VLE. Sending students direct links to things on the VLE helped, and I should have done this at the outset.
  • Despite all my checks, my own microphone failed on the first class. I had to type while students spoke to me. It was very hard work, but they followed, talked well together, and having me as a more virtual presence possibly even made them better integrated as a group. It also meant we had in essence a transcript of the class, which was helpful for those who didn’t quite catch everything to refer back to. When, in the parallel class, other students then had problems with their audio, it also gave me ready-made material to help them.
  • It might have been sensible to have delegated a class scribe in the class where it was students who couldn’t hear, as trying to listen, respond, and type became a huge challenge.
  • Planning what I wanted to say in my screencasts meant that I probably gave a more coherent account of the topic than if I was teaching less scriptedly in class with  notes / textbook to hand.
  • One student was very enthusiastic and started the meeting early in Teams. This created a new channel, and meant not everyone was able to find the meeting. I should clarify to students that I really need to start the meetings to ensure everything starts up correctly.
  • Some students used video, some just audio. Both worked fine. It is annoying that you can’t see more than four people in Teams at once (my classes were 6-8) but I gather a fix is coming.
  • I had set up Class Notebooks through OneNote to use in lieu of a whiteboard during class, but didn’t actually need it, given the screencast, and chat together. I’m glad to have the tool to use another time.

Day one done. Now for the next thing.

(Pre)-Reading strategies for remote text teaching

Terms is upon us and I’m thinking hard about how to ‘chunk’ teaching to ensure the most meaningful activity over the next few weeks. One of my strategies has been to consider what tasks I can set students AROUND their set texts, to help us make the most of time spent online together with the texts. The first set of ideas concerns (pre)reading strategies (more will follow on other ideas!).

I had already been putting together workbooks on my students’ set texts. As part of this I set them a variety of tasks around a text to do in preparation for class. This is in lieu of ‘straight’ preparation. We don’t try to establish any kind of translation of a text until we meet.

Extending this approach gives me a toolbox of asynchronous and offline activities which students can engage in during the week, limiting the amount of time we need to spend in a ‘virtual classroom’ while hopefully maximising their engagement with the text.

Some of these activities are easier to plan when teaching the Bible, that’s true, but they can be adapted to other texts.

A. Overall meaning / interpretation

Skim read a text and:

  1. Draw a sketch of the scene
    1. Try writing a cartoon version of the story. How many boxes do you need? What scenes do you represent? What words do you put under the pictures? What words do you put in the pictures?
  2. Write a list of participants and add relevant words and phrases about them.
  3. Write a bullet point summary
  4. Read this passage and make a note of any features which are now feeling more familiar, including vocab, phrases, grammatical structures.


B. Links with the Bible (or other relevant intertexts)

  1. Read cross-referenced passages in English.
  2. Make a list of key vocab and look it up in Greek.
  3. Write a bullet point summary (later compare this with a summary of your text and consider the differences).
  4. Consider why there might NOT be any cross-references for a section. Why might this be? What does it tell us about the author’s writing?

C. Vocab

Provide students with a list of vocabulary which. This might include:

  1. Not in the textbook you use
  2. Not in the top 1000 words by frequency
  3. Not in the top 90% of words by frequency

Then add these questions:

  1. Add in any points which might help you to remember these words.
  2. Match these words to the places where you need them in the text, and work out what form of the word is used in context.
  3. Read the passage and make a note of any words you don’t know. Check this list against the one below. If there are more words you need to look up, look them up now, but also make a note of them somewhere else as they are core words you definitely need to know.
  4. Which of these words do you think are really important to learn, and which do you think might be very specific to this passage?


D. Textual Criticism

Write out an apparatus criticus entry as a narrative, explaining what each element means. Make a decision about which text you would print.

Look at a much fuller apparatus criticus. What points aren’t included in a basic one? Why not? What kinds of differences are mainly represented and how do / don’t these affect understanding?

E. Grammar

  1. Are there any oddities in this section which remind you of elsewhere in your author? Make a note of these.
  2. If there is anything you didn’t understand, make a note of where you will find the answer in the textbook.
  3. What is the hardest phrase to understand in this passage?
  4. What useful examples of grammatical features that you have learned in the textbook crop up in this passage? Make a note of three (e.g. specific case usages, parts of the verb, clauses). Put in the page numbers for where you find this in the textbook.

F. Deliberately bad translation of a text.

I write a deliberately bad / awkward / stylised / typically error-ridden translation and ask students to mark it:

What would they change about this translation to correct / improve it?


G. Translation comparisons

1.     Which translation do students prefer of a passage, and why?


  1. Mix up several translations in one passage.
    1. How many different translations are represented?
    2. Which verses belong to which translation?
    3. Can you identify any of the translations?
  2. Give students a range of translations of a short passage. Can they group them? Criteria might include:
  • archaic vs modern
  • American vs not American
  • Literal (ad verbum) vs literary
  • Denomination (Catholic, Protestant, other…)

H. Streamlined versions

Write a streamlined version of the text, or perhaps 2- tiered versions. Students read these to prepare for class, only reading the ‘main’ text once in class, by which point they know the outline of the story and the key ideas from reading the streamlined / tiered version(s).

Ask students to reflect on what features of the Greek made the original harder to read than the tiered text?


I. Comprehension and cultural relevance questions.

  1. What culturally related points might need explaining (e.g. weights and measures)? Ask students to look these up and write a short explanation, or do some calculations to get equivalents they understand. Comment on this process, and on the advantages and disadvantages of different strategies.
  2. Where is a passage taking place?
  3. What has just happened?
  4. Give two or three different ways to translate a phrase (talk to others!).
  5. Write down at least one question or interesting point about the text that you would like further information about.





Assessing Languages part 3: commented translation

One task I have tried is a commented translation. Students have to write their own translation of a short chunk of the text, and then write a discussion of the factors which had influenced their translation. The translation took up about 20% of the word count, and the passages are chosen because they are good examples of a range of linguistic and literary features which posed interesting challenges.

This kind of task works well as a ‘take-home’ language exam idea. Students often surprise me with their translations, and even if I don’t like what they write, I can be impressed by their justification of it, and consequently can award high marks. It’s not about how much students read, but about how well they process that reading and what they can do with it. It challenges their understanding of Greek, because the more they understand the language and its structure and nuance, the more thoughtful and elegant an English version they are likely to achieve.

Here is a modified brief to show the kind of thing I’ve done. It’s designed around teaching the New Testament, but would work for other texts. I’ve not included grade boundary descriptors, but have suggested marking critera in general.


Your task involves writing 2500 words on XXXX. This should include a translation of passage, and a discussion of the choices you had to make in coming up with that translation.

A lengthy bibliography is available [APPROPRIATE LOCATION]. You are unlikely to need to do much extra reading for this task, but might need to think about the process of translation more carefully, and use commentaries particularly critically. You need to demonstrate that you can analyse a text yourself, applying some of the critical tools you have been developing, but also synthesise and evaluate the ideas of others.

Your process should involve:

  • Reading the Greek of your selected passage, carefully, and repeatedly.
    1. Make notes on things which occur to you while you’re reading it.
    2. Translating the Greek, trying out different ways of going about it, until you get a feel for what expresses your thoughts best.
    3. Read it out loud to get a feel for it as a phonetic text.
    4. Write it out in Greek and see what slips you make, what patterns you notice, what ideas you have.
  • Reading about XXXX in a variety of texts including:
    1. Grammar books
    2. Other handbooks and lexica
    3. Commentaries
    4. Broader thematic studies
    5. Books on the process of translating the New Testament.
  • Distilling your notes on your reading into points relevant to your selected passage, which might include:
    1. Annotating your text
    2. Diagramming your text
    3. Trying to draw a flowchart or picture representing your text
  • Working your annotated text(s) into some kind of narrative, which might be a more ‘notes-like’ strategy favoured by some commentaries, but might be a more coherent narrative with a grand unifying idea, or somewhere inbetween.

Resources available to you

1. Grammar books

Take a book such as Daniel Wallace Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics and use the index locorum to see anywhere your text has been cited. Is it used as a general ‘this is also an example of a standard Greek feature’, or ‘see how significant this grammar point is in this context’? Both approaches give you an insight into the Greek of Hebrews as both ‘excellent’ and ‘difficult / idiosyncratic’.


2. Dictionaries and other lexical tools

Look up difficult words in a number of places, e.g.

  1. UBS5 Readers Edition
  2. BDAG
  3. Liddell and Scott (available on TLG without a login):
  4. Montanari’s new dictionary with Brill, available online through SOLO:
  5. An analytical lexicon, e.g.

What differences are there in the ways they gloss / define / exemplify the words? Is XXXX ever an example? What other examples are there?

Use a wordsearch tool (TLG will give you all of Greek, as well as the Septuagint / New Testament,, full corpus, text search).

Where else does the word appear? Is XXXX the first to use it? (commentaries might help here)/


3. Commentaries

Choose 3-4 commentaries on the passage. Read what they have to say, and try to summarise it into annotations around the text.

  1. Where do the commentaries echo each other?
  2. What is the unique content given by each?
  3. Do you agree with them?
  4. Can you tell how they might be using each other?
  5. What is their overall agenda / method?
  6. Does it make a difference who wrote it / for what series or publisher / from what academic institution?
  7. What text are they using? Does this make a difference?

4. Texts

Check the textual critical notes for the passage in a text such as NA28. Where do the UBS5 / Tyndale editions differ from the NA28 in what they print or prioritise? How do subheadings and layout affect your reading of the text?


5. Technical manuals on Greek in general / XXXX in particular

There are books on the grammar, text, style, rhetoric of XXXX etc. Some of these take a commentary style, while some are more narrative. Look up your section, using an index locorum where needed.

How helpful was the volume in clarifying what was going on?


6. Translations

Take three translations and compare them. Use the notes for translation comparison given on the VLE (developed from first year tasks).

Where are the points of divergence?


7. Wider reading

When you’re taking notes from books for essays etc., try to keep track of examples cited, e.g. by typing them in bold, or in a different colour, or hand-drawing a box around them. Go back through your notes and apply those example comments to the Greek of your selected passage.


8. Creative receptions

Look for images, spin-off verbal texts, or music inspired by your passage. What insights into it do they give you? Useful places to look include Artstor, or Grove Music Online (you could add discipline-specific resources here, like the APGRDfor Greek tragedy).

The mark scheme I used was:

Linguistic understanding:

  1. Relationship with different forms of Greek
  2. Relationship with other languages
  3. Relationship with the language of the Bible more generally
  4. Language and style
  5. Depth, precision, and detail of evidence cited
  6. Range of material deployed
  7. Accuracy of facts
  8. Relevant deployment of information

Immediate context of the extract:

  1. Relation of the extract to the wider text from which it is drawn
  2. Representativeness / distinctiveness of the extract within the wider text
  3. Precise meaning or significance of terminology or points of detail
  4. Identification of key ideas, individuals, or events

Clarification of the extract:

  1. Authors, authority, and purpose
  2. Audience
  3. Conditions of creation, transmission, reception, and preservation


  1. Incisiveness of engagement with the passage
  2. Range of issues addressed
  3. Depth and sophistication of comprehension of issues
  4. Relevant engagement with secondary literature

Organisation and presentation of answer:

  1. Clarity and coherence of structure
  2. Clarity, fluency, and elegance of prose
  3. Correctness of grammar, spelling, and punctuation

Commentaries may be structured as notes on individual verses, phrases, or words, or as a continuous narrative. Both styles are valid, but will result in very different styles of writing.


Assessing Languages part 2 – Translation Comparison

I really enjoy working on translation comparison with students. When I was an undergraduate, I dimly remember it being an option on the first year paper, but certainly not one I would have thought to take. As a teacher, I’ve come to realise how much it helps students understand both a text and the nature of translation as an interpretative process.

Teaching biblical languages make it even more important. A student once said to me ‘I checked the passage we read in class and that’s not what it says’. This made me very aware of how fundamental translation was to understanding the Bible, and made me feel that it was a vital part of my teaching.

Here are the guidelines I’ve put together so far. It’s a work in progress, as I read more about translation theory, about biblical translation, and as I read more translations of the Bible.

1.) How does the choice of vocabulary compare between the translations? Is a translation consistent in its translation of certain words? Does it use multiple English words for one Greek term, or the same English word for multiple Greek terms? What is the ‘baggage’ that word carries in English? Is this the same as the Greek (if you can tell)?

2.) How closely does the translation stick to the form of the Greek? Where it departs, does this clarify or obscure meaning? Why has it departed from the Greek? How does it change the meaning?

3.) Are pronouns replaced with nouns, or vice versa? How does it change the tone?

4.) Are there any textual problems in this verse which are reflected in the different translations? Which version of the Greek is each translating?

5.) What is the purpose of each translation? Literary beauty? Clarity? To get the message across? To “stick closely to the Greek”? What does ‘closely to the Greek’ mean?

6.) Is there anything missing?

7.) Is there anything added?

8.) How easy is it for you to understand?

9.) Has the grammatical structure of the sentences changed? E.g. have clauses been broken up? Are participles expressed more ‘naturally’ as finite verbs / infinitives, or kept as they were?

10.) Is the translation of prepositions consistent?

11.) Does the translation make use of footnotes / endnotes? How does this affect the experience of reading it (e.g. making it more accessible, academic, nuanced, balanced, or indeed the opposite of any of these things)?

12.) What are you looking for in a translation? How might this differ from other readers?

13.) How well does the translation achieve its stated aims?

14.) Is there a translation ‘voice’ you can hear, or does ‘translation by committee’ flatten that out? What is the difference between a translation by one person and by a team? What kind of team would you want doing a translation?

It’s worth thinking about what you mean by ‘best rendering’, or indeed being faithful / accurate / close / literal. You need to think about the interpretative impact of the points made.

The kind of marking grid I use is:

40-49%: makes facile / superficial comparisons at the lexical level which demonstrate a lack of understanding of the Greek, and little thought about the process of translation as interpretation. The student has some insight into the text, but is using the translation as a crib rather than starting with the Greek.

50-59%: showing greater awareness of the Greek, but still mainly stuck at the lexical level, starting with discussion of the English translations rather than what’s interesting / difficult about the Greek. Limited thought about interpretation and impact. Likely to be stuck in discussion about literal translation of the original Greek. Too few specific references to the Greek to merit a higher mark.

60-69%: starts making points that demonstrate they are starting by thinking sensitively about the Greek, about the aims and audiences of different translations, and how those differ from their own viewpoints. Makes points from angles other than the purely lexical (e.g. considers tone, syntax, formatting [if well-put]) and begins to analyse the theological impact of the differences. Probably makes 6+ references to the Greek itself.

70+ does all of the good things, well. May make reference to broader reading and knowledge of the text. Expresses a clear line of thought which sustains the points into an argument about different translation approaches rather than a collection of disconnected points.

To get over 80% something would have to be sensitive and insightful and display brilliant and clearly independent reading of the Greek.