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Getting on Target: An Analysis of a Middle School Classroom

Getting on Target: An Analysis of a Middle School Classroom

(The original version of this paper was presented at the Classical Association of the Middle West and South – Southern Section, November 9, 2002. Forthcoming publication in Texas Classics in Action.)

In Latin for the 21st Century, LeaAnn Osburn points out that middle schools students undergo a host of developmental changes: physical, social, emotional and cognitive (Osburn, 71). Often the physical changes—the tremendous growth spurts—are most easily identified and “treated” with full doses of TPR or Total Physical Response, hands-on activities, and a multitude of games. Keep changing activities, we are told. Make sure they have opportunities to move around.

This only addresses one of the developmental changes. Middle school students are more than pre-high school students with major growth spurts and hormonal surges. Their socio-emotional development requires peer interaction and the security of working in a group as opposed to the insecurity of individual performance. Cognitive development requires that the teacher clarify the purpose of each lesson instead of assuming it is obvious, not to mention providing motivation, setting goals and providing structure for the students. Students are in great measure still stuck in concrete thinking and need assistance in moving to abstract thinking. Teachers will also find that they need to help students connect with prior knowledge.

As teachers we need to address the full spectrum of issues, especially cognitive development, in order to more effectively teach Latin to this age group. In addition, we need to consider that we are teaching more than Latin to these students. Middle school students are still developing verbal and reading skills in English, and we should pay particular attention to these in the written work.

A good place to begin when searching for information regarding the teaching of Latin to middle school students is Latin for the 21st Century, edited by Richard A. LaFleur. The chapter entitled “Latin in the Middle Grades” contains a wealth of information including an interesting list of recommendations from the Council on Middle Level Education of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. This list is as follows (p. 79):

a)      include a variety of instructional approaches;

b)      be organized to match the attention span of the adolescent;

c)      accommodate individual student learning styles;

d)      maximize time on task with an emphasis on intellectually challenging activities, not trivial tasks;

e)      center on learning tasks and activities, not merely content coverage;

f)       stimulate creative problem solving and productive thinking through group interaction;

g)      emphasize cooperative learning activities rather than competitive tasks, thus enhancing time on task and improving the quality of the intellectual activity;

h)      use textbooks as organizers rather than as the sole core of instruction;

i)        utilize hands-on, involved, active learning as the preferred mode of instruction to capitalize on the students’ natural activity levels.

After reading this list myself, I pondered whether I cover each of these items in my own classes as well as how each of these items relates to physical, socio-emotional and cognitive development. These development levels, as discussed above, can be critical in determining how receptive students will be to different learning activities. Then I decided that as long as I was going to take the time to analyze my classroom activities that I should consider two more things. First, was I meeting national standards for classics? The five C’s—Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons and Communities (see the table below)—provide a useful framework for language learning for any level of Latin. Second, was I insuring that my students, when “in Rome,” wore their “SANDALS”? This refers to LaFleur’s acronym, a reminder of the language learning skills essential to the Latin classroom (LaFleur, xv): Spectate, Audite—Nunc Dicite, Agite, Legite, Scribite!  The SANDALS acronym reminds us that Latin is not only meant to be read, but also spoken, listened to, and even acted out. Each of these skills utilizes different parts of the brain and in combination makes a whole language experience, which in turn enables the student to more easily internalize the language and progress in his/her studies.

*Standards for Classical Language Learning


Goal 1: Communication

Communicate in a Classical Language

  • Standard 1.1  Students read, understand, and interpret Latin or Greek.
  • Standard 1.2  Students use orally, listen to, and write Latin or Greek as a part of the language learning process.

Goal 2: Culture

Gain Knowledge and Understanding of Greco-Roman Culture

  • Standard 2.1  Students demonstrate an understanding of the perspectives of Greek or Roman culture as revealed in the practices of the Greeks or Romans.
  • Standard 2.2  Students demonstrate an understanding of the perspectives of Greek or Roman culture as revealed in the products of the Greeks or Romans.

Goal 3: Connections

Connect with Other Disciplines and Expand Knowledge

  • Standard 3.1  Students reinforce and further their knowledge of other disciplines through their study of classical languages.
  • Standard 3.2  Students expand their knowledge through the reading of Latin or Greek and the study of ancient culture.

Goal 4: Comparisons

Develop Insight in to Own Language and Culture

  • Standard 4.1  Students recognize and use elements of the Latin or Greek language to increase knowledge of their own language.
  • Standard 4.2  Students compare and contrast their own culture with that of the Greco-Roman world.

Goal 5: Communities

Participate in Wider Communities of Language and Culture

  • Standard 5.1  Students use their knowledge of Latin or Greek in a multilingual world.
  • Standard 5.2  Students use their knowledge of Greco-Roman culture in a world of diverse cultures.

 So, altogether do I address the items in the above list, do I account for the different developmental levels of this age group, do I meet current national standards, and do I address the foreign language teaching concepts embodied in SANDALS?  After all, to be a good teacher, one should always be questioning and evaluating what you do.

So let us look at the list again.

a)      include a variety of instructional approaches;

READING AND PREREADING: I teach from the Cambridge Latin Course and I feel that I do use a variety of instructional approaches.  Writing out translations for each and every story would be tedious. Sometimes we do pre-reading activities in which I read the whole story dramatically and see what they comprehend. I follow this with reading and translating it together one sentence at a time for detail, allowing the students in mass to call out answers. We then take some time to discuss the storyline, plot, and character development.

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – guidance in helping to make connections with the previous story, current vocabulary and syntax; Socio-Emotional – comfort zone of group translation; non-threatening.

ü      National Standards: 1.1, 1.2, 3.2, 4.2

ü      SANDALS: audite, legite

PROGRESSIVE READING: Sometimes when I want a participation grade, I draw names at random, have the student repeat the English of the last sentence translated, then read his or her sentence in Latin and translate it. I have discovered that this does indeed improve participation and focus both because the students do not know when their name will be drawn and because they must know what the previous sentence meant. I am pleased that most of the time they do not just repeat what the last person said verbatim, but demonstrate that they are looking at the Latin.

ü      Developmental Levels: Cognitive – clear expectations of what the assignment is; Socio-Emotional – the pressure of performing individually is tempered by clear expectations.

ü      National Standards: 1.1, 1.2

ü      SANDALS: audite, dicite, legite

READING CARDS AND METAPHRASING: Occasionally we slow down the pace and use a reading card. This is not my own creation, but from Deborah Ross at the University of Michigan.  My reading card is a 5 X 8 inch index card with a 0.5 X 2 inch rectangle snipped off the left-hand corner so that when it is placed over a Latin text you can only see the words you have read but not the words ahead thus preventing “hunt the verb” or any other such anti-reading techniques.  When we use the reading cards we also practice metaphrasing, saying things like “the slave verbed the merchant” when all that is seen is servus mercatorem….

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – making connections with prior learning, demonstrating the purpose of reading in word order; Physical – handling the reading card, even though a very low level of physical activity.

ü      National Standards: 1.1

ü      SANDALS: legite

TRANSLATION: I do require written translations of the model sentences and at least one or part of one of the stories in each stage of CLC. In CLC Unit 2 particularly, where the passages are longer, I often assign only the last 10 lines, which is long enough for me to check understanding of grammar and new vocabulary, and yet short enough for the students to think that the assignment is manageable.

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – written translations demand a complete synthesis of their knowledge of Latin; Socio-Emotional – keeping the assignment at a manageable size so all students are willing to try it.

ü      National Standards: 1.1

ü      SANDALS: legite

READING COMPREHENSION QUESTIONS: Often the students do reading comprehension worksheets in English and sometimes in Latin, though the Latin comprehension questions are frequently done orally. I keep the questions simple for this age group, rarely asking for more than what they can directly find in the text, such as “Where is Caecilius? What is he doing?” Latin comprehension questions are kept equally simple and provide reinforcement of grammar in the target language. With a question like, “Ubi est Caecilius?” the student must understand that the whole prepositional phrase “in tablino” is the answer and not just “tablino.”

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – developing reading skills, making connections with context clues.

ü      National Standards: 1.1, 1.2

ü      SANDALS: audite, dicite, legite, scribite

CLOZE EXERCISES: I also occasionally use cloze exercises for longer stories in order to move through them more quickly. Cloze exercises are basically a fill-in-the-blank translation in which you control the focus, whether it be on a new grammar construction or new vocabulary. Here is an example from CLC Unit 2, Domitilla cubiculum parat (3rd edition, p. 25):

necesse est nobis cubiculum parare,” inquit Marcia, “domina nobis hoc mandavit, quod familiarem exspectat.

“It is necessary ________________ ________________ the bedroom,” ________________ Marcia. “________________ has given this order ________________, because she is expecting ________________.”

This exercise focuses on datives, infinitives and new vocabulary (inquit, familiaris, domina).

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – guided translation; Socio-Emotional – daunting longer passages are made to seem more manageable.

ü      National Standards: 1.1

ü      SANDALS: legite

ACTING IN LATIN: When the passage is suitable, we act out the passage. CLC frequently has passages in the form of a dialog which beg to be acted out, but do not fail to overlook other equally suitable passages with lots of action or characters.

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – connecting actions to language; Socio-Emotional – group work; peer interaction; Physical – movement associated with acting.

ü      National Standards: 1.1, 1.2

ü      SANDALS: spectate, audite, dicite, agite, legite

DICTATION: I also include dictation in my curriculum. Keenly aware that dictation often has negative connotations for young students, I have developed a dictation sheet to make it relatively painless to do and easy to grade. Instead of a set of sentences, I only dictate one sentence at a time in order to keep it non-stressful for the student while reinforcing the importance of vowel length.

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – the assignment is designed to force students to focus on vowel length; Socio-Emotional – the assignment is reduced in size so as to be non-threatening.

ü      National Standards: 1.1, 1.2

ü      SANDALS: audite, scribite

COMPOSITION: For simple composition work, we do “build-a-sentence” using large index cards, on which are words in various cases, etc. After using teams to compose sentences in Latin for a game, the same original English sentences are put on an overhead for the students to compose individually on paper.

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – difficulties of composition are reduced by having choices of word forms; individual accountability for learning is required; Socio-Emotional – comfort of a group in composing original sentences; Physical – movement involved in group participation.

ü      National Standards: 1.2

ü      SANDALS: spectate, scribite

GAMES: We also play a variety of games, including flyswatter for vocabulary, which involves having a player from two teams race to slap the appropriate vocabulary item with flyswatters when the English meaning is called out. Add to that the occasional transformation and substitution relays at the chalk board, plus quot sunt and micare with numbers.

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – motivation for participation and learning from games; Socio-Emotional – peer interaction, learning via games; Physical – movement involved with relays and such games.

ü      National Standards: 1.2

ü      SANDALS: audite, dicite, agite, scribite

ACTING OUT CULTURE: Sometimes for the culture sections in the Cambridge Latin Course we act out the topic, such as the activities that make up a day in the life of a Roman citizen. Another popular active culture topic is our living map of Pompeii, consisting of the students forming the city walls and gates, etc. I find this helps them to visualize what is in the text and makes them truly think about and absorb what they read.

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – helping students to connect with material in the textbook; Socio-Emotional – peer interaction; Physical – movement.

ü      National Standards: 2.1, 4.2

ü      SANDALS: (not directly applicable because this is a culture lesson and not a language lesson)

HANDS-ON PROJECTS: In addition to topics covered in the cultural sections of the text, we occasionally explore items mentioned in the Latin text itself. For instance, the 7th graders make signet rings when we are reading the story about Hermogenes. The 8th graders construct (and then eat) a chocolate road before Salvius and Quintus venture to the palace of King Cogidubnus.

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – helping students to connect with material in the text; Socio-Emotional – peer interaction and the fun of a creative project; Physical – hands-on learning.

ü      National Standards: 2.2, 3.2, 4.2

ü      SANDALS: legite


b)      be organized to match the attention span of the adolescent;

I move my classes from warm-ups which are often Latin mottoes to vocabulary flashcard reviews and discussions of derivatives, then to grammar reviews and drills, and finally to a chance to put it all together when reading a passage. This allows them to work from the more concrete, one-on-one relationships of vocabulary to the more abstract passages which combine all the different pieces of vocabulary and morphology to make a complete language experience. Such a pattern of instruction not only meets their attention span but also helps them to draw together all of the elements involved in language acquisition. I try never to have long lectures on grammar nor to read long passages in the text unless we break it up to discuss character development, plot, and/or aspects of Roman culture.

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – shorter segments of learning allow students to focus on critical information; Socio-Emotional and Physical – shorter segments meets the attention span of the adolescent as well as their need for breaks and physical movement, even if that movement does not amount to anything more than clearing their desks or getting out their book.

ü      National Standards: 4.1, 1.1, 1.2

ü      SANDALS: spectate, dicite, legite, scribite


c)      accommodate individual student learning styles;

I use a variety of approaches, as mentioned above, including oral, visual, hands-on, and written activities to try to meet the individual learning styles. Some students are clearly more visual learners, some are more oral/aural, and others would rather just read silently. What I think is equally important is reconsidering the amount of work that can be assigned at one time. From my observations, it is not that students at this age cannot do the work, it is that they are daunted by the length of an assignment and would rather not try it for fear of failure. Smaller assignments—translating the last 10 lines instead of a whole story of 45 lines, half the vocabulary list at a time (no more than 15 words) rather than the complete list—can make all the difference in their attitude towards the work.

ü      Developmental Level: Cognitive – different learning styles are addressed; motivation increased by the more manageable size of assignments; Socio-Emotional – self-esteem and confidence is boosted when assignments are shortened.

ü      National Standards: (not specifically applicable)

ü      SANDALS: (nothing specifically addressed but would theoretically encompass spectate, audite, dicite, agite, legite, scribite if all learning styles were covered)


d)      maximize time on task with an emphasis on intellectually challenging activities, not trivial tasks;

I would like to think that the majority of what I do does emphasize intellectually challenging activities; after all, what is Latin if not intellectually challenging? And although I hear all of the time that students at this age enjoy singing, my students never have—they find it too embarrassing. If we do “projects,” there must be a point to doing them. For instance, when we choose names and make bullae out of foil at the beginning of the year, the activity is strictly guided. We learn about trinomina and naming conventions of the time. My vocabulary practice quizzes could be considered busy work; the trick is to explain exactly why you are assigning such a task, mentioning that it is a learning technique that could easily be used in other classes.

ü      Developmental Levels: Cognitive – providing specific, guided instructions; clarifying the reason for particular assignments; Socio-Emotional – respecting their desire not to do childish activities such as singing.

ü      National Standards: 1.2, 2.1, 2.2, 4.2

ü      SANDALS: scribite


e)      center on learning tasks and activities, not merely content coverage;

DEVELOPING STUDY SKILLS: This, I think, is the key to middle school education and is often overlooked.  Some students will naturally make the transition to high school, but others truly need guidance. I tell my 6th grade exploratory students that my goal is not only to teach them a smattering of Latin, but also to help them develop some study skills. For instance, when learning numbers, I have them write unus through viginti on small white boards. We chant through the list, erasing one word each time though saying all 20 numbers, until all of the words are gone. This technique can be used in memorizing any sort of list. In addition, I give extra credit points for vocabulary flashcards and discuss how useful they would be for studying all sorts of vocabulary and terminology in other classes.

ü      Developmental Levels: Cognitive – clarifying instructions as well as the reason for assignments, developing study techniques; Physical – using white boards.

ü      National Standards: 1.2

ü      SANDALS: dicite, scribite

DEVELOPING WRITING SKILLS - Mechanics: Because students are also developing their writing skills at this age, I put great emphasis on work being completed with a heading, title, punctuation, capitalization, paragraphs, and correct spelling. This would seem obvious to most of us, but for many students these rules only apply in English class.  I repeat my expectations with each assignment as well as having them posted in my classroom, insuring that there can be no cry of outrage when they lose 20 points for failing to put a period on the 20 sentences assigned for translation.

ü      Developmental Levels: Cognitive – clarifying instructions as well as the reason for the instructions; developing academic skills; Socio-Emotional – by clarifying and posting consequences students never question the fairness of my grading practices.

ü      National Standards: (not directly applicable)

ü      SANDALS: (not directly applicable)

DEVELOPING WRITING SKILLS – Being Exact: When we do reading comprehension questions on Latin passages, I emphasize the importance of looking for context clues in the questions and of finding the exact answer in the Latin. This is a skill students need to develop for all of their classes and for the many standardized tests they take, not just for a future AP Latin class.

ü      Developmental Levels: Cognitive – helping students to develop an awareness and connection between context clues and the answers, etc.

ü      National Standards: 1.1

ü      SANDALS: legite

DEVELOPING WRITING SKILLS – Sense of Structure: Occasionally I assign creative English writing assignments. While to the student it may appear that the point of the assignment is to think critically about some aspect of Roman culture, I am attempting to develop in them a sense of structure in writing and as well as an understanding of the necessity of supporting examples for an argument.  I make my assignments as detailed as possible with guiding steps and even the occasional writing sample so that there can be no question about what is being assigned.

ü      Developmental Levels: Cognitive – helping students develop writing skills; Socio-Emotional – providing enough details and guidance to prevent writing anxiety.

ü      National Standards: 1.1, 3.2, 4.2

ü      SANDALS: legite (if based directly on a text)


f)       stimulate creative problem solving and productive thinking through group interaction;

Build-a-sentence, which I mentioned previously, is an effective exercise in productive group thinking. Three students on each team have to pick the right words on cards to form a complete sentence and put them in appropriate word order. Another problem-solving activity which the students enjoy is trying to determine, after reviewing Roman numerals, how to write 1999 in the most acceptable fashion. And recently my 8th graders and I discussed how old Rufilla was and what in the text led us to believe that perhaps she was quite young. Part of teaching this age group is simply teaching them how to think and how to reason. By working through such problems as those mentioned above, students stretch themselves and learn to make connections with details.

ü      Developmental Levels: Cognitive – helping students to apply concrete knowledge to more abstract thinking, learning to support arguments with examples; Socio-Emotional – working with peers, valuing their opinion in discussions.

ü      National Standards: 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 3.1, 3.2, 4.2, 5.1

ü      SANDALS: spectate, scribite


g)      emphasize cooperative learning activities rather than competitive tasks, thus enhancing time on task and improving the quality of the intellectual activity;

I do not fully agree with this statement. Students are by nature competitive creatures and will do almost anything if it is in a contest format, especially if candy or free time is the reward. The trick here is de-emphasizing individual bests and emphasizing team bests. Build-a-sentence is competitive, as is the game flyswatter or any game we play.  Students are more focused on a review done in the Quia website, where the games are designed to have direct feedback to students, than a similar review done orally in class or on paper. They want to compete against the computer and each other for the highest score.

ü      Developmental Levels: Cognitive – providing guided computer reviews instead of telling students to study; Socio-Emotional – use of games to increase motivation and interest; Physical – movement when playing games, walking to the library to use computers, the physical activity involved with using the computer.

ü      National Standards: 1.1, 1.2

ü      SANDALS: spectate, audite, legite, scribite


h)      use textbooks as organizers rather than as the sole core of instruction;

The late Gareth Morgan once wrote, “Any teacher can use any book in any way, if he really wants to. The good teacher may well make his selection by asking, ‘Which of these books least gets in the way of what I want to do?’” (Morgan, 6). That is, Gareth was reminding teachers that textbooks are merely tools—that you and not the textbook decide what is at the core of instruction. For instance, I try to include in my curriculum material that will be on the National Latin Exam or topics that I think are important to my students, such as taking time to discuss Spanish derivatives as well as English ones. I am guided by the need to get through the textbook each year, but it is not the only thing I consider.

ü      Developmental Levels: (not directly applicable)

ü      National Standards: 4.1

ü      SANDALS: (not directly applicable)


i)        utilize hands-on, involved, active learning as the preferred mode of instruction to capitalize on the students’ natural activity levels.

Many of the games previously mentioned—build-a-sentence, flyswatter, transformations—certainly meet the needs of active students. Using whiteboards for drills and reviews keeps otherwise noisy, drumming fingers busy with Latin. Even the physicality of working with reading cards or just pointing their fingers at the Latin text as we read helps to keep them actively engaged in the activity. When we learn verb endings, I always teach them with gestures appropriate for each personal ending, which we then practice with new vocabulary until the endings are ingrained in the mind by the gestures. The creative projects of making signet rings, Roman roads, and bullae, as mentioned above, also capitalize on hands-on learning.


ü      Developmental Levels: Cognitive – making connections with language by using TPR; Physcial – movement from games, gestures for grammar, using reading cards; working on creative projects.

ü      National Standards: 1.1, 1.2, 2.1, 2.2,

ü      SANDALS: spectate, audite, dicite, agite, legite, scribite

How did I do?  From my SANDALS tally I seem to be low on agite and dicite activites specifically. However, not addressed in this list from the Council on Middle Level Education are the many opportunities to use oral Latin for giving simple classroom directions. Additionally, I do not push oral conversational skills, even in the form of transformation and substitution drills unless it is accompanied by the security of a text of the drills, because of the intimidation factor that perhaps is stronger at the middle school level than with older students.

Regarding National Standards, I am admittedly weak in the area of Communities (Goal 5)—a difficult standard, I think, for classicists to meet. Students have “Latin Moments” which demonstrate a recognition of Latin used currently in society, whether it is a phrase, a Latin spell in a Harry Potter book or a Latin abbreviation from the periodic table of elements. In addition, I do occasionally hear of students presenting information about their language experience within their social studies classes as well as parents reporting that their student was teaching them Latin at home. Though not directly related to what I do within the walls of my classroom, I do maintain a bulletin board in the main hallway entitled “Latin in Your World,” which has included such topics as binomial nomenclature in the biological sciences.

Even still, there is always room for improvement and perhaps more analysis next year.

In the introduction to Latin for the 21st Century, LaFleur states that “Good teaching, like good poetry, requires both passion and planning, a touch of madness as well as a good bit of method” (LaFleur, xv).  Nowhere could this be more true than at the middle school level, where students perhaps put the highest demand for creativity upon the teacher.

If we do not find a way to make what we teach relevant to the developmental levels and needs of our students while incorporating national standards and good foreign language teaching practices, we will miss out on the opportunity to bring Latin to a wider audience and maintain their interest in the classics.

Ginny Lindzey, Porter Middle School


Gascoyne, Richard C., et al. Standards for Classical Learning. Oxford, OH: American Classical League, 1997.

LaFleur, Richard A., ed. Latin for the 21st Century. Glenview: Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley, 1998.

Morgan, Gareth. “Textbook Analysis: A Refresher Course.” Texas Classics in Action, summer 1997, pp 5-13. Online at

Phinney, Ed, Patricia E. Bell, and Barbara Romaine, ed. Cambridge Latin Course, Unit 2. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1988.

6th grade Exploratory Latin Quia website:

7th grade Latin (CLC Unit 1) Quia website:

8th grade Latin (CLC Unit 2) Quia website:

copyright, Ginny Lindzey, 2003

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August 28 , 2003

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