ORR Students Teach “A Gladiator’s Latin”

One of the big decisions for students entering Old Rochester Regional (ORR) Junior High School next fall is which foreign language they will elect to study for a year and a half. Usually this decision is heavily influenced by the advice of friends, parents, and older siblings, as the elementary schools do not offer language classes during school hours.

But for the past few years, Latin and Spanish teacher Marcia Ross of ORR High School has been working with the principals of Old Hammondtown School, Sippican Elementary School, and Rochester Memorial School to create after-school enrichment programs through which students can explore the three language programs available at the junior and senior high schools – Latin, Spanish, and French.  This past week, the first four-week session of language classes at OHS ended.

This particular partnership, between the Classical and Modern Languages Department of ORR and OHS, developed from the organizational teamwork of Ms. Ross and OHS Principal Matthew D’Andrea.

From the ORR end of things, Ms. Ross helped high school students create their classes and provided both resources and advice for lesson planning, which the students-turned-teachers accomplished independently. Mr. D’Andrea, from the OHS end of things, made classrooms available after-school for the language classes to use, and the front office of OHS helped the ORR students locate supplies for their pupils’ projects.

Last year, the schools partnered to offer a single eight-week session of after-school language classes. This year, however, it was decided to have two four-week sessions divided by the February vacation, thereby giving the students and volunteer teachers a break to explore other extra-curricular interests. The first classes began the week of January 8 and ended the week of January 29.

This year, classes focused primarily on Latin and Spanish. With the support of sophomore Ruhi Raje and fellow senior Katie Holden, I taught a Latin class to an assorted group of 10 fourth, fifth, and sixth-graders who already had extensive knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology.

The goal of the class, the three of us decided, would be to teach our students about Latin through the eyes of a gladiator. The lesson content was primarily based in culture, as the grammar of Latin is not discussed in full until the upper level Latin classes at the high school. There was no way that Ms. Raje, Ms. Holden, and I could teach elementary-aged students about conjugating verbs and declining nouns without permanently scarring and scaring them.

Besides, we had agreed at our first meeting that the culture of the Romans is incredibly rich and rather weak in the high school’s program of study; it would be an excellent subject for our students to learn.

Ms. Holden and I were novices to this after-school language program; Ms. Raje was not, as she had taught a Spanish class the year before. Our classes were only an hour long, but we always ended up putting twice that amount of time into our lesson planning. We spent the January vacation creating an outline for our four classes and figuring out how to build from one lesson to the next.

In the days leading up to each class, we’d visit the spare room in the language hallway of the high school where Ms. Ross kept books and binders full of readings, crosswords, arts and crafts projects, and games. Using a collection of four books designed for teaching Latin to young children, we’d photocopy pages and arrange them by theme in a packet for our students to complete and take home.  We’d sometimes borrow a box containing whiteboards, dry erase markers, and erasers so that our students could practice their lessons – they were very helpful in our lesson on Roman numerals.

The first week was spent covering Roman mythology and the Latin roots that appear in the Harry Potter series. Ms. Raje, Ms. Holden, and I were pleasantly surprised to see how familiar our students were with the mythology. They had already learned about the gods, goddesses, and myths of the ancient Greeks, so we used that knowledge to teach them about the Roman version. The students were also adept at identifying the Latin roots that J.K. Rowling used for her spells and characters’ names.  Our students were surprised to learn, for example, that Severus Snape’s name comes from the Latin adjective “Severus,” which means “severe” or “stern” in English.

In the second and third weeks, we tackled the ambitious goal of teaching our students the Latin names for animals. Using worksheets, crosswords, a chart, and a game called Vinco, we taught everything from domestic and barnyard animals to the ferocious wild animals that the Romans would import into Italy – such as lions and tigers. We enhanced their vocabulary with a crossword teaching the English adjectives such as “ursine,” which means “like a bear.” The class quickly learned how to take the Latin names for the animals and change the endings to find the corresponding adjectives. The OHS students thoroughly enjoyed the round of Vinco, which is an exact replica of Bingo. Cleverly, “vinco” means “I win” in Latin and the two winners from our class loved shouting it!

In our last class, the three of us taught a variety of cultural facts. We largely focused on the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Roman theater, and the sheer magnitude and importance of the Roman public bathhouses. Our students were intrigued and shocked by revelations such as the Romans’ method for getting clean — using oil and a metal scraper, called a strigil — and the number of participant deaths in the naval battles staged in the Colosseum.

After learning about the different ways someone could end up becoming a gladiator, our class applied their knowledge to an arts and crafts project that required matching pictures of the four kinds of gladiators to their description. The finished product was a pop-up book entitled “The Mighty Gladiators.”

The capstone to this final class was a demonstration of the different fighting styles the gladiators would use in their combats. With the help of Ms. Holden, the pair of us acted out two battles. The first was between a Thracian and a Murmillo, or a lightly-armed gladiator against a heavily-armed one. Our second battle was between a Retarius and a Samnite; the children enjoyed this fight immensely as I entrapped my opponent, the Samnite Ms. Holden, using my “fishing net,” which was really Ms. Raje’s jacket. At the conclusion of our demonstration, the class unanimously agreed that if they were a gladiator, they would have liked to be a Retarius so that they could fight using a trident and fishing net.

It was a successful end to the first session for our class, as well as for the other Latin and Spanish classes. The volunteers from ORR will begin preparations soon in anticipation of the second session.

By Anne Smith

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