Weaving Language & Culture in Latin Class

Latin might be a dead language, but you’d never know it by the activity and animation in Samantha Cassidy’s first level Latin language class. Her 11 students just completed a unit on ancient Roman houses that wove the language and culture together in a hands-on activity.

The students constructed accurate models of an upper-middle-class ancient home that feature several notable characteristics. Each home consisted of an atrium (entry hall), an impluvium (a  sunken part of the atrium designed to carry away collected rainwater), a tabernae (rented shops next to the front door), a triclinium (dining room), culina (kitchen), and a tablinum (home office for the master). Cassidy said the students reflect upon the ancient social structures when they create these particular homes since the lower classes lived in apartment style buildings called insulae (island) and not in free-standing houses.

Half of the class opted the create the home by employing traditional means of foam core, popsicle sticks, and other props. Other students used the video game Minecraft to construct their homes. Cassidy said many of the students related that their parents were dubious that they were actually working on a school project while on their computers and had to assure them that they were indeed working. She said, “The students had total ownership of how they achieved the model. Kids love the novelty of Minecraft, and you meet them where they are to generate excitement about the learning.” The project also included a five-minute presentation and writing sentences about the tasks that would be performed in each room.

Cassidy believes that a Latin foundation is useful in learning other Romance languages. But more than just a language lesson, Latin impels students to explore deeper questions that are germane today.  “Latin still has so much relevance to our culture. Who is considered a member of the household because even slaves were considered family members? It’s about the expansion of power and empires. It’s defining social status. Who is a citizen and who has the right to vote?”
 
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