Those Middle Years in Language Class

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about what my first year students and I are doing. Today’s post is instead about my second and third year students. Those students are frequently the ones who end up forgotten as I plan activities and lessons. They are my “oh, darn” last-minute idea classes that resemble a semblance of how I mean for them to actually be.

I have more first year students to worry over and since they are the future of my program I put a lot of focus on building a strong foundation with them. My year four and five students are the complete opposite. I’ve really gotten to know these gems over the years. We no longer panic about the “stuff” we NEED to get through, we just enjoy the year: the subject, the language. Those students and I can have the long, in-depth conversations and discussions that make a language (a communicative) class worthwhile.

Today, though, I’m going to share two great moments I’ve had with my Latin II and III students, as well as my plan for their class over the next quarter.


It has been a very long three day week back from winter break. Monday was a teacher workday – a day I used to organize my class plans away from the day to day and week to week, to the quarter and semester long – and Tuesday was a snow day. Which means, with only three days this week and an A/B block schedule, I only got to see my Latin II students once. Usually, especially after a break, that means we get little to nothing done worthwhile. They are a tricky bunch of mixed motivations, mixed personalities, and mixed grade levels (all the way from 9th to 12th grade).

Not this time!

According to our curriculum, this time of the year should be spent on Hannibal and the Punic Wars, but I’m behind. Instead of that, we are on the Roman Republic and specifically the Roman heroes. As I cogitated over winter break on what exactly to do with them – in the past we have historically translated multiple readings on the heroes and done some kind of project in English – I decided I wanted to read a novella with them. Cloelia by Ellie Arnold was a perfect choice. And, since I’m also planning a class-wide novella with my first year’s this quarter too, I’ve already been collecting plans on how best to approach a novella from beginning to end.

With the idea in mind, I knew I needed to prepare students before jumping into the novella cold turkey. I searched the shared folder of resources Ellie Arnold has gathered for some kind of preparatory activity or, at the very least, an idea to jump start my own creative powers. What I found was a short story by Ellie called “Tobius Miles” and a list of Roman virtues compiled and defined by John Piazza. Perfect!

We started our one class this week with a blank sheet of paper. I asked students to look through the list of virtues. On one third of the paper, they were to illustrate one of the virtues they believe they have (they could lie if they wanted). On another third, to illustrate a virtue they wanted to have. And on the third third, to illustrate one of the virtues they were confused about (Gravitas = Gravity… as in what keeps us on the planet?). They turned these in – next week I’ll be reviewing virtues with the students by sharing their illustrations and talking about the drawings in Latin.

Next, I handed out Tobius Miles. Then, I completed my very first Story Listening. Story Listening was first developed by Beniko Mason. In its basic form, it is telling a story. What I did was tell the story of Tobius Miles to my students in Latin, as I drew it out on the board. I added captions and words as needed to my drawing to help students connect the meanings. As I drew, I added extra details to the story – further refining the basic premise of the story. I also circled complex parts (new vocabulary for instance or an important event) as needed to make sure the slower students had caught up and the faster processors had a chance to make sure they were right in their guesses. Lastly, I stopped every once in a while to ask a quick comprehension question to check for overall comprehension.

I’m just going to admit it here: I suck at drawing, but my students and I loved this activity. It was so much fun and the chaos on the board at the end just made it all more exciting as they completely understood the story despite all the crazy lines, circles, stick figures, and random words.

After listening to the story, I handed out the story to the class and had them read through it and identify a few keys vocabulary words: once again, I have to thank John Piazza for already finding and pulling those words out for me to use.

Then, and finally, we sat down as a class and discussed which virtue Tobius had shown by the end of the story and was therefore being praised for. I asked students to raise their hand as I read down the list of virtues. Whenever a hand was raised, I asked the student what part of the story supported their choice of virtue. We did all this in Latin. It was the first time we really connected as a class this year. They felt comfortable sharing their opinion and then supporting their opinion as well. It ended class on a positive note, with all the students eager to share and listen.

Next week, I am looking forward to working with some more stories about some other Roman heroes – real ones – and following up with the same talk about virtues. All this before we get into Cloelia, the novella.


This quarter is supposed to be on the Roman Emperors. In the past, I’ve filled this quarter with Powerpoint and Prezi presentations – one after another – while students take notes, followed up by boring and repetitive translations and open-note quizzes. I’m exhausted and bored just thinking about doing that again. Yuck!

Instead, this year, I’m going to take a page from Content-Based Instruction and Practices and my class and I are going to choose a deeper look at one or two Emperors over a cursory glance at a bunch of them. It isn’t like we aren’t going to see the others again elsewhere…

Chris Buczek inspired this plan – we are going to co-write our own Latin novella! I’m creating an on-going Powerpoint to map our progress. You can find it here if you’d like to take a look and adjust as necessary for your own classes.

We began class on Wednesday by discussing their own likes and dislikes when it comes to reading (I should mention that this class has already spent a semester with FVR so they have some definite likes and dislikes established). Then, moved onto general genres of novels. After a brief discussion and vote, the students chose a mystery/crime to write. Next, we moved onto a general overview of the Julio-Claudian emperors (and I mean brief) and I assigned each student or pairs of students an emperor to research. They needed to find some kind of mystery or crime which happened to the emperor, happened around the emperor, or happened at the same time as the emperor’s rule to “sell” the class as the basis of our novella.

I’m not going to lie – this part of the activity did not go quite as well as I had anticipated. This class has a bad case of the do-as-little-as-absolutely-necessary no matter what we are doing. Thus, some students literally typed into Google: mystery about Augustus and then expressed to me that they couldn’t find anything. All this, even when I gave them four resources to use… UGH!

Anyways, today, we took those “sales pitches” and, after I polished them a bit, the students ranked them based on six characteristics that make a good mystery/crime novel. We then collected the data to determine what plot we would be working with.

Despite the iffiness of their do-as-little-as-absolutely-necessary mentality, we actually decided on a great mystery: the multiple mysterious deaths of Augustus’ heirs. So, now we are dividing up among the students, once again for more and better research, the 5 w’s of storytelling: who, what, where, when, why, and how in order to create our basic plot.

Step by step, I’m letting the students make the decisions. I’m giving them the reins. And with each decision, I’m turning their choices into Latin text, which we are then reading together. Over and over until we have a complete novella. It is my ultimate goal that through this process I can create a student-driven curriculum built on student-interest that can be used in future classes, as those new students create a novella of their own.

I hope this works!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s