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«How to Teach Latin (A Guide to Using Latin for Children) • By Karen Moore N OTA BENE: This guide is intended for the use of teachers in various ...»

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Classroom assessments are important, but extra-curricular assessments can be just as telling and a lot more entertaining. The diligent student will work hard toward the prize of the coveted ‘A.’ However, providing a new goal for students, apart from grades, can be an incredible motivator. The National Latin Exam and the Exploratory Latin Exam can be such motivators, particularly for competitive students. These exams are available each year from an association of classicists committed to promoting the study of Latin amongst students across our nation. The Exploratory Latin Exam is tailor made for students in grades three through six. The National Latin Exam is generally thought to be for older students. However, students nearing the end of Primer B should be able to successfully complete the intro exam, and students of Primer C may be ready for the Latin I exam. All exams must take place during a designated time in the Spring.

Afterwards, students’ scores are ranked and awards are mailed according to achievement level. For those of you who choose to home school your children, the NLE is able to provide for you as well. Interested teachers should visit the NLE website at http://www.nle.org for details.

Another great motivator is the National Junior Classical League. This is a phenomenal organization, sponsored by the American Classical League. The NJCL has more than 5,000 members across the United Sates. Membership is open to students in grades six through twelve. Students must join a local chapter of the NJCL in order to obtain membership and participation in events. Creating such a chapter is extremely easy to accomplish. Members are eligible to participate in the area, state, and national Latin conventions.

At each convention students are able to compete in a wide variety of events including academic testing, oratory, creative arts, and even the olympika. These conventions have been the source of great excitement and anticipation each year our Latin Club has participated. For more information regarding the NJCL and how to learn about state and area chapters visit http://www.njcl.org.

ROMAN CULTURE: Bringing language to life.

It is impossible to study a language effectively without taking the time to learn something about the culture and livelihood of those who spoke it. The Romans were a fascinating people. The years of the Republic reveal a people that are hard working and cunning, a people with a strong sense of honor and piety. The years of the Empire reveal the great heights they are able to reach in engineering, art, literature, and of course their military might. No other nation in history has been able to achieve the, “grandeur that was Greece and the glory that was Rome.” (Poe, “To Helen”) Of course, they were also a people that became utterly corrupt – a prime example of the depravity of man.

While the focus of Latin class should most certainly remain on the language itself, teachers should take time every now and then to set the context for the language by teaching students something of the people who spoke it. I plan a cultural project once toward the end of each quarter, and sometimes a mini Classical Academic Press • www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com lesson following the end of a chapter or unit. Each year we study the Julian Calendar, the names of the months, the numbering of the days. Students are then asked to construct their own calendar, according to the Roman system. We use these daily in class. Students are amazed to find how similar the Julian Calendar is to the Gregorian version we use today. In fact, the difference is only a fraction of time. The study of Roman art is always popular. Most craft stores carry the products necessary for creating mosaics and frescoes. We host an annual Romana Epula (Roman Banquet). Prior to the banquet, we hold lessons in Roman dress, food, and table manners. Students sign up to bring their favorite Roman dish – no American items allowed! In all the years I’ve hosted these, I have yet to see anyone sign up for the honey-roasted dormice. Not long ago we learned about the various types of gladiators, their training, and fighting styles.

We then held a carefully choreographed gladiatorial exhibition for the whole school, complete with sports announcer.

Many area universities, libraries, and museums are only too glad to help young classicists explore the ancient world and the language that defines it. If you have a college or university in the area, I would exhort you to contact its classics department. Often the faculty can direct you to upcoming lectures, events, or exhibits on campus and in the area. You would be pleasantly surprised at the professors who are happy to serve as guest lecturers for your classes. The professors at the University of Texas have spoken to our students on Roman law and music. One of their Egyptologists became a fast favorite with our second grade class and has returned multiple times.

Contact area museums to find out when they will host exhibits featuring antiquity. Children are visually inspired. Take them on a field trip to see replicas of ancient statuary, frescoes, or mosaics when they are available. Let them feast their eyes on paintings inspired by mythology. Let them guess who the characters are, citing the clues that reveal their persona. The museums are generally able to provide a docent to guide your class. If a suitable docent is unavailable, local universities often are happy to provide a graduate student to provide such tours.

Do not forget your local library. Call ahead and ask the children’s librarian to schedule a Roman day for you. Librarians are often eager to encourage children in their love for books. Use this field trip to begin a book report assignment for young students. For older students let this be a research project in preparation for an oral report on some aspect of Roman culture. The local library is another place where you can often find information on area events that may be of interest. Contact these places not only before the school year begins, but occasionally throughout the year. Finding ways to weave such explorations into your lesson plan will greatly add to the effectiveness of your classroom by capturing the students’ interest and their imagination.

Students perceive these projects and field trips as a “fun” deviation from the rigors of study, a reward for their hard work. I view this as another means to prepare them to read and construe the great literature of antiquity. Students cannot truly appreciate reading Cicero’s orations on the Catilinarian conspiracy until they understand the manner in which the court system worked, or the volatile time period in which Cicero and Catiline lived. They can appreciate Caesar’s Gallic Wars and the battle scenes of the Aeneid much better once they understand the military tactics and fighting styles the Romans used so effectively. Many have misunderstood the meaning of Horace’s exhortation, “carpe diem,” for they do not understand the Roman code of honor. Language is most meaningful when placed in the appropriate context.

Classical Academic Press • www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com INTEGRATION: Making Latin relevant.

Most young children are still quite egocentric. Their number one question, “but what does this have to do with me?” The best way that I have found to win the students’ interest and gain their attention is to make Latin relevant to their modern lives. Fortunately, Latin has provided such a broad foundation for civilization as we know it today that this is really not hard to accomplish. It does require a little outside preparation and some creative thinking. To accomplish this I begin each class with a warm-up called Latina Dicta (Latin sayings). The purpose accomplished here is three fold. First, this exercise will “warm-up” their Latin minds. It engages the class immediately on a Latin lesson, causing them to begin recalling the skills they have acquired. Second, it gives me time as a teacher to set out whatever materials I need and prepare to begin the day’s lesson. This is invaluable time for those of us who must travel from one classroom to the next, often with only a few minutes between classes. Lastly, this exercise will demonstrate how “Latin is relevant to me.” At the beginning of the week, I pass out a worksheet with a large horizontal box for each class day of the week. In modern times schools vary widely in the number of days that classes meet, so construct yours appropriately. Each morning I write the date on the board according to the Roman Calendar using Roman numerals. You can purchase Roman Calendar from various classical websites, or you can have students create their own following a culture lesson on the Calendar of Julius Caesar. This daily exercise will keep the numerals they learn in Primer B fresh and incorporate math as you add and subtract days. I often begin class by asking the questions, “Quid est hodië? Quid erat herï? Quid erit cras?” Students must respond in a complete sentence, “Hodië est....” After the date I write some example of a modern use of Latin that students must identify and/or translate. There is a great wealth of these depending upon the subject that your class is interested in.

Anatomy: The nomenclature of bones are either Latin or Greek, and always in the nominative case. Students can look up the name of the bone using a Latin dictionary and then guess which bone in the skeletal system it refers to. You can hang a large picture of a skeleton on the wall to give students a picture of where that bone is, then have them find it on themselves. You can also use the muscular system.

Solar System: Each of the planets in our solar system, with the exception of Earth, bears the name of a Roman god. Have students look these names up in their dictionary to find out about the god and guess why the name might be appropriate for that planet.

Astronomy: The names of the constellations are Latin and often are associated with a GrecoRoman myth. Star charts and inflatable star globes are easy to find. Have students look up the name of the constellation using their dictionaries. Most dictionaries will give a brief definition for important heroes and deities.

Medicine: Medical terminology is often crystallized in Latin. Write phrases such as post mortem on the board for students to translate. After they have learned a few, challenge them to use them when talking to their doctor (they love this!).

Law: Most legal terminology stems from the Roman court system. List terms still used today by lawyers and ask students to translate them. Then, discuss what the phrase means and how a lawyer would use it. These are usually 2-3 word phrases. Many contain the demonstrative pronouns taught in Primer B.

Literary abbreviations: Abbreviations such as i.e. (id est) and etc. (et cetera) are used widely today.

Many who use them have no idea that they are speaking Latin!

Geography: Many of the cities and states in our country as well as nations around the world have Classical Academic Press • www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com Latin mottoes. Ask students to translate them and discuss why that motto is appropriate for that region. A caveat, some of these mottoes can be quite challenging and are best saved for upper level students.

As you might imagine the list could go on ad infinitum, and include numerous branches of science, government, art & architecture, and much more. Find out what other teachers in your school or co-op may be covering in their classes during the term. Those who are teaching their children Latin at home should take into consideration the other subjects they have chosen to study at that time. Above all, consider what topics your students are interested in. While you demonstrate how relevant Latin is to them, you will captivate their interest.


I purposed in this article to share some of the strategies I employ in teaching Latin to grammar students. I have not ventured into the lesson plans I use for the upper level students, although some of what appears here is certainly applicable. We must however consider them as we continue to perfect our lesson plans and daily routines for the grammar students; for it is they who will soon fill the seats in the schools of Logic and Rhetoric. We must always keep before us the vision that we wish to accomplish. Is our goal to produce students filled with a wealth of words and paradigms? Do we wish them to hold a colloquial conversation, or read through a story?

Our goal is to begin training students in such a way that they will be able to construe the original texts that make up the Great Books of antiquity. Our vision is to train students in the structure of language that they may apply that knowledge as they use it in the days to come. Above my desk I have framed a quotation from Plutarch that states, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” My desire is to kindle a love and appreciation for the art of language through Latin.

APPENDIX: Supplemental materials for Latin for Children

The DVD and CD, sold together as a set, are ideal for those teachers new to Latin. The DVD features author, Chris Perrin, as he instructs his own daughters at home using the Latin Primers. The CD rehearses all the grammar chants contained in its companion primer. This is a great resource for those who feel less than confident with their Latin pronunciation. This tool will keep students chanting their grammar paradigms long after the teacher’s voice has succumbed. Even if you are a seasoned Latin teacher, this dynamic duo can cone to the rescue of your substitute teachers. Often times Latin subs are noble volunteers who know little about the subject they are to take on for the day. They will be happy (or relieved) to have these tools ready at hand. The students will enjoy a fun deviation from the normal routine, and regular Latin teachers have less work to prepare for their absence.

The activity book provides a diverting way to review the vocabulary and grammar paradigms featured in each chapter of the Primer. This book, a fast favorite in the curriculum for many students, Classical Academic Press • www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com features approximately three different puzzles or games per primer chapter. These range from the traditional crossword and word search to “Latin on the High Seas!™” The multitude of online worksheets provide exercises to help students fine tune their grammar skills. Latin teachers using Latin for Children in their classrooms have donated many of these worksheets.

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