Engaging your Latin Students: How to Embrace New Approaches

Adam Steele

Looking for inspiration for your Latin classroom? You are in the right place! Here, Dr. Andrew O’Brien shares assessments and assignments to engage your students.

I confess – when I was a new teacher, my Latin classes were boring! Because my own Latin teacher had used very (shall we say) traditional approaches to Latin, I utilized the same methods. This was limited almost exclusively to assigning students a passage to translate as homework, with the next day’s class period spent in a teacher-centered review of their translations. One day, one of my best and kindest students raised her hand, and in the sweetest possible way, asked “Mr. O’Brien, can we maybe do something different today?” The question floored me, but I was devastated to recognize that she was right. My class was boring, and I needed to shake things up.

My dismay deepened as I attended a few North American Cambridge Latin Project workshops and learned all the exciting and innovative things other teachers were doing. Things that I wasn’t doing. It’s taken me many years, but I now offer a variety of assessments and assignments to engage with the material that my students and I both enjoy. Some of these assignments are adapted from resources produced by Cambridge, while others are either wholly my own or adopted from other teacher-created resources. Here are a few types of assessments and assignments I now assign. I think these suggestions will be especially helpful to teachers new to Cambridge Latin.

Dramatic performances

Obviously, many of the stories in the Cambridge Latin Course are specifically written with this in mind, like the Lucius Spurius Pomponianus series in Stage 11 or in apodyterio in Stage 9. Sometimes I have students act out the stories in English, but it’s often even more interesting to have them act out the stories in Latin. They still have to review and translate much of the play beforehand so they’re not just reading the Latin aloud. In basilica in Stage 4 is particularly good for this. Students have to know not just what they’re saying but also to whom they’re saying it and how they’re saying it. I know they’re getting it when one of my young actors shouts out angrily “Caecilius est MENDAX!” Sometimes I also play an audio version of the story, and students have to act out nonverbally what the characters are doing.

Sentence re-arrangements

One of my students’ favorite exercises is to read the story first and then (with the book closed, of course!) put into sequential order a set of sentences taken from the story. Naturally, this reinforces their knowledge of Latin but also aids their critical thinking skills. Sometimes I have to remind them when we do this for artifex that Clara can’t go through the door if no one has opened it! Think about it!


Certain stories really lend themselves to artistic interpretation. I will put selections from the story below empty comic book cells and have the students draw what the Latin text means. I have to tell them not to let too much sanguis fluit when illustrating tonsor, and some of the gladiator fights in Stage 8 produce truly cinematic interpretations!

Reading comprehension

Occasionally, I will assign simple reading comprehension exercises. These allow me to get through a longer story with greater ease. As an added challenge, sometimes I have the students quote a Latin word, phrase, or sentence from the story rather than simply answer the question in English. I also break down longer stories with cloze reading worksheets, i.e. fill in the blanks of a mostly translated sentence.

I do think it’s important for students to practice their translation skills, so occasionally I will still assign a simple translation of a portion of the story, but I’ve found my students and I both enjoy the variety and opportunities for creativity different types of exercises can provide. I’m ever on the search for new ways for my students to engage with the material, so I hope you will share your good ideas as well!

About the author:

Dr. Andrew O’Brien is the middle school principal at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in New Orleans, where he has taught using Cambridge Latin with his 5th – 8th grade students for 14 years. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes College, where he majored in Greek and Roman Studies, and earned a Master of Education and PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of New Orleans.