dktcalogo.jpg (8364 bytes) archtext.jpg (24291 bytes)
>Home Page
>What is the TCA?
>Officers and
>Fall Conference
>TCA Scholarships
>Journal Excerpts
>New Teachers
>JCL Activities
>Latin ExCET
>AP Latin
Greek Too!

TCA's Journal Excerpts

All articles are copyrighted. However, articles may be reproduced for educational purposes with the permission of the editor. Please contact Ginny Lindzey at, 2321 Westrock Dr., Austin, TX 78704 for authorization.

return to menu of articles

What I Teach & Why & How

by Rose Williams
Texas Classics in Action, Winter 1999

I have mentioned in other writings that teaching Latin in high school is like teaching butterflies to knit in that one must first get the students off the ceiling, then keep them concentrated on the subject when their natural tendency is to fly off in all directions.

Teaching in university has challenges a bit different, but in either scholastic atmosphere my goals are much the same, and my subject matter and approach differ only slightly. What I teach to the best of my ability is a) basic and widespread Latin grammar, spelling, and pronunciation for a grasp of the language, and b) Roman culture and literature for a better understanding of that language and of the Romans because of the great impact both had on their world and the modern one.

Having outlined the what and the why, let us boldly advance to the how. Many different grammatical and linguistic approaches have their ardent supporters, and I have tried most of the well-known ones. The success of any method depends upon two things: the motivation of the students and the enthusiasm of the teacher, which contributes to that motivation. I use a blend of approaches in my classes, because every student is different, and one will grasp one method best; another, another. I like to have all students keep a Latin notebook in which they gather grammar and cultural notes they have taken, copied material I have handed out, a basic vocabulary list with all principal parts, marked papers I have returned, and special material they or their fellow students have brought in for extra credit. For a new teacher or one settling in to a new textbook or a new level of teaching, those student projects, which can bring in everything from derivatives to cultural information, are almost as helpful as they are to students.

A critical factor in any class is time, so I break the grammar concepts that I feel must be covered into weeklong segments and build around them. These segments vary slightly according to the book we have, but for Latin I or the first university semester they include these: 5 complete declensions of nouns, including the five traditional cases; adjective and pronoun (hic, ille, is, qui, quis) declensions subordinated to these; comparison of adjectives; the six tenses and four conjugations of verbs and the verbals. In university I try to take a quick look at the subjunctive mood, but in both high school and university I tend to take that in the second course or level. The horizontal method is very useful in presenting the varied forms of the most-used cases, but, especially as Latin dictionaries tend to use only the genitive case to indicate the declension of such nouns as status, once the students begin to write or speak Latin and need more vocabulary, the vertical method is very useful. Therefore I use both, emphasizing whichever my book uses and giving the other to my students in their notebooks to use as a reference.

I have them memorize three basic noun charts—1st, 2nd, and 3rd declension (regular) and then use these to help them create the adjective and pronoun charts. We do the same with the six tenses of the first and third conjugations. From these they obtain a grasp of the language’s structure and learn how to look for other things they need in reference tools. The basic concepts mentioned above are taught by old-fashioned grammar tests as well as oral exercises (see Oral Exercises, pp 4-5). We use real Latin literature as often as possible. The more grammar they learn, the more literature they can understand.

Vocabulary, like grammar, is somewhat closely tied to the book one is using. The older books pointed toward the traditional course of study involving Caesar, Cicero and Virgil, and the vocabularies were a bit heavy with words relating to ancient warfare. Some of these, such as signum, have a varied and important life to the present day; some are a bit esoteric. The latest texts tend to teach Latin words suitable for the daily-life stories they love; some of these are basic and important; some of them are also esoteric. I like to teach about 500 words in a year—that is, include them in the notebook vocabulary section, have them memorized, and use them for reading, writing, and derivative work. I choose these according to several guidelines—what my textbook offers, what will be useful for the literature I hope to teach, and which ones have many derivatives in Latin, English and other languages (see sidebar, Derivative Work, on this page). The American Classical League offers a Basic Latin Vocabulary booklet as well as running vocabularies for major authors. There are various study guides for standardized tests as well as the vocabularies at the back of the book used to teach upper level literature. I consult all of these, then draw up my yearly vocabulary list. An important part of the students’ vocabulary list is English derivatives. We usually put these in the margin in front of the vocabulary word entered in the notebook so that students will not confuse them with the English definition, as they are very prone to do. A derivative such as "portable" helps students remember the meaning of porto; a derivative such as "vulnerable" helps the students remember both the spelling and the true definition of the English word.

We learn these words in dictionary form: principal parts, English meaning, special credit for derivatives (see below). One method used is an old-fashioned vocabulary test: I call out words in English and they must write the Latin word, give its parts and meaning. I teach numbers on such a test by giving the numbers in Latin and having them write sometimes Roman numerals, sometimes English ones. (If one has ever wrestled with Egyptian currency, one knows that the numbers we use are not the Arabic ones. Fibonacci calls them Indian numbers.) For review tests I often give them some study time, then have them clear their desks and give them each a Latin word with which they must make a short oral sentence. They get credit for making a sentence and credit for orally translating someone else’s. Also effective is the use of pictures which I put on the overhead or opaque projector and have them name objects, actions, or descriptions in Latin aloud or on paper.

Mottoes, or Latin phrases used in English, can be taught in the vocabulary study. They enhance the students’ understanding and give them a major boost when found in such places as newspapers and other textbooks. Language study should be as complete as possible a cultural experience, so I employ sense-related study. On special days, we have one or two Roman foods, some music and some small art objects to touch and see. Oral work (see below), letters written in Latin, singing, reading poetry aloud, and crafting of Roman-type objects all have their place. No one said all this was going to be easy, but bright voices saying, "Look where I used my Latin," make it very worthwhile.

Rose Williams is a veteran Latin teacher at both high school and university levels. She is the author of two computer textbooks for intermediate Latin: Latin Through the Ages and The Other Latin Poets.

For more information on activities mentioned in this article, contact Rose at or write to her at 2601 South 38th, Abilene, Texas, 79605.


dkblueline.gif (859 bytes)

Oral Exercises

A. The teacher holds up a penny, saying "Habeo pecuniam." He/she then hands it to the first student, saying "habebam pecuniam." The first student says "habeo pecuniam," a second student says, "habebo pecuniam," a student beside the first students says "habet pecuniam," and so forth.

B. Students love singing the conjugations or declensions—we have class contests to see who can make the best tune, then all use it.

C. Questions phrased and answered according to the gender of the speakers and subjects practice the use of gender inflections, question structure, and the present of sum.

(Teacher/leader to first student) Sum defessus(-a). Esne defessus(-a)? I am tired. Are you tired?

(First Student) Sum (non) defessus(-a). I am (not) tired.

(First Student to Second Student) Sum (non) defessus(-a). Esne defessus(-a)? I am (not) tired. Are you tired?

(Second Student) Sum (non) defessus(-a). I am (not) tired.

(Second Student to Third Student) Sum (non) bonus(-a). Esne bonus(-a)? I am (not) good. Are you good?

(Third Student) Sum (non) bonus(-a). I am (not) good.

(Third Student to Fourth Student) Sum non stulta(-us). Esne stulta(-us)? I am not stupid. Are you stupid?

(Fourth Student) Sum non stulta(-us). I am not stupid.

(Fourth Student to Fifth Student) Bellum est malum. Esne malus(-a)? War is bad. Are you bad?

(Fifth Student) Non sum malus(-a). I am not bad

(Fifth Student to Sixth Student) Templum est pulchrum. Esne pulcher (pulchra)? The temple is beautiful. Are you beautiful (handsome)?

(Sixth student) Sum (non) pulcher (pulchra). I am (not) beautiful.

(Sixth Student to Seventh Student) Tempus est celere. Esne celer(-is)? Time is swift. Are you swift?

(Seventh Student) Sum (non) celer (-is). I am (not) swift.

Continue with the adjectives suggested below or others, changing the adjective often enough to keep interest but not too often to allow the students to develop confidence in speaking out.

hirsutus, -a, -um: hairy
tardus, -a, -um: slow
callidus, -a, -um: clever
benignus, -a, -um: kind
magnus, -a, -um: great
altus, -a, -um: tall
malignus, -a, -um: evil
parvus, -a, -um: small

D. Objects in classroom—give names on board or overhead

camera: room
liber: book
mensa: table
fenestra: window
libellus: notebook
: eraser
ianua: door
creta: chalk
demonstra: point out
sella: chair
pictura: picture
da: give
scrivinium: desk
carta: paper
ambula ad: walk to
penna: pen
tabula: chalk or writing board
tange: touch
pone: put

Have students act out commands: Da librum puellae. Ambula ad fenestram. Demonstra cretam, etc.

dkblueline.gif (859 bytes)

Derivative Work

There are ten Latin verbs that have many hundreds of Latin and English compounds made from them.

Exercise in compounding verbs: Compound each of the ten verbs with four of the prefixes to create new Latin verbs. Give and define English derivatives. Notice that English verbs are often made from the present stem of a Latin verb and nouns from the fourth principal part.


ab: away
in: in, not
ad: to
inter: between
con: with, together
prae: before
contra: against
per: through
de: down
pro: for
dis: away
re: back, again
ex, e: out
trans: across

Base Verbs:

1. duco, ducere, duxi, ductum: lead
2. cedo, cedere, cessi, cessum: move
3. mitto, mittere, misi, missum: send
4. pono, ponere, posui, positum: place, put
5. fero, ferre, tuli, latum: bear, carry
6. eo, ire, ii, iturum: go
7. porto, portare, portavi, portatum: carry
8. venio, venire, veni, ventum: come
9. scribo, scribere, scripsi, scriptum: write
10. verto, vertere, verti, versum: turn

return to menu of articles

dkblueline.gif (859 bytes)

ginnyfx.jpg (12724 bytes)

Home Page | Main MenuT

Last update: May 9, 2000.  This site was re-created August 1998 by Ginny Lindzey, Webmistress, Texas Classical Association. All text and graphics are copyrighted. Original photo of arch by Roger Robison. To report problems and to get permission to reprint articles, please contact Ginny at