Friday, 10 August 2018

Classics in Primary Schools? It's All Relevant!

The following blogpost by Amber Taylor was first published on the Classical Association in Northern Ireland Blog in July 2018, and is reproduced here by kind permission of the CANI.

When I left high school a few years ago, having studied Latin and Classical Civilisation to A level and progressed to study Primary Education at University, I made a promise to myself that I would teach Classics to children in whatever way I could. But more importantly, I would try to stoke the same passion and excitement for the subject in the children I would teach as my own teachers had in me. On my second block placement with Stranmillis University College at Whitehouse Primary School, Principal Frazer Bailie (whom I would like to thank immeasurably for allowing me into his school and having the chance to bring Classics with me) kindly gave me permission to host a Classics club for Key Stage 2 children every Tuesday afternoon for five weeks. Suffice to say the classicist in me was elated.

I should explain that I am a student primary school teacher, and so the idea of running an entire club from start to finish was a bit intimidating, even with previous experience of working with children in extra-curricular activities. So as I sat down to plan my five-week scheme of work I thought “how do I make this relevant?” Because that’s the key in teaching, isn’t it? Make it relevant, make it fun and the learning will follow. At the time, I realised that the chances were that the children I would be teaching would never have had any formal experience in learning Classics, and so it was up to me to make sure they formed a love for it.
In my training at Stranmillis we are told to make topics as cross-curricular as possible, meaning you can teach Music through Literacy or Numeracy through World Around Us (History, Geography and Science and Technology) topics. I am of the opinion that Classics is the perfect cross-curricular topic and so that is how I set out in planning my Club – not only was it going to be fun, it was going to be as enriching as possible.
Five weeks, five lessons and a whole lot of Classics to cram into my short time-slot, but I was determined to make the most out of my time at Whitehouse. Week One started with a brief introduction to Classics. An exploration, if you will, of the topic as well as the beginnings of Latin. Over twenty Key Stage 2 children involved in the Club seemed enthralled that their first taste of Latin was casting Harry Potter spells – certainly a deviation from the routine Numeracy and Literacy! This not only captured their attention straight away, it meant that from the very start of their Classical education they were expanding their vocabulary (a statutory requirement in the Northern Ireland National Curriculum). “Expecto Patronum!” shouted eagerly throughout the halls of Whitehouse Primary School quickly turned into a discussion of what a patron was and how the word ‘expect’ comes from the Latin verb expecto.

Moving on to the first few pages of the Cambridge Latin Course (Book I), the children got a taste of some of the first stages in learning Latin when they reach post-primary. With some background to Pompeii and an interesting family, the children were able once again to explore the Latin language. They especially enjoyed the flash card pop quiz at the end, with the all-important Haribo on offer should they get a new vocabulary word correct.

The Classics Club was off to a roaring start, with some new children joining the following week, having heard of the fun already had in the early stages. Week Two proved a challenge to plan. Do I follow the Cambridge Latin course for the next four weeks or do I vary what parts of Classics the children should experience? I decided, for the time being, to continue with more of the Cambridge Latin course so that the children could begin to formulate simple sentences in Latin. So we moved on to Roman houses. Some background and context started us off, generating a comparison of Ancient Roman houses and houses today and so another way in which Classics can be used as a stimulus for the Northern Ireland National Curriculum. The young classicists then moved on to learning the Latin names for Roman rooms using flash cards (and an exaggerated Italian accent!). Using an A1 poster of a cross-section of a Pompeian Villa and some laminated character and word cards, the children solidified their knowledge of Latin words and phrases. If I said “Caecilius est in horto” they would have to place Caecilius on the correct place on the board. A competition began, sweets were given out and the next generation of classicists began to see that Classics really was worth learning (hopefully because of more than just the promise of sweets!).

For Week Three, the Classics Club took a flight from Ancient Rome to Ancient Greece, and rolled up their sleeves ready for what I had in store. So far, I had managed to link Classics to Literacy, Drama and World Around Us in the Northern Ireland Primary Curriculum, but now it was time for some Music. And what better way to do this than to learn to rap the Ancient Greek alphabet? Through the YouTube video above, the children were soon able to rap the alphabet on their own, knew where our current alphabet came from and even managed to write out all the Greek letters. Out of all the sessions we had together, this was the most fun for children and teacher alike. It allowed us to let go of our inhibitions and learn a song we could impress our friends with later. I’ll forever cherish the memory of walking twenty children out to the front gates to meet their parents whilst singing the Ancient Greek alphabet!

Week Four continued in Ancient Greece with Drama and Theatre.  Incorporating both Art & Design and Drama into one lesson was no small task, but the children delighted in the great variety Classics was providing, decorating Greek tragedy masks and trying on togas and stolas. It was certainly quite different from their normal school-day activities!
Week Five finished the Classics Club with a return to Ancient Rome, specifically its dining-table. If time and culinary skill were on my side, I might have served a banquet of dormice, flamingo tongues and garum but alas, there was just a selection of peach juice and iced buns on offer. I sat down and discussed with them the food served at the dramatic parties hosted by Caligula (a P.C. version!) and took the opportunity to answer questions on Classics at post-primary level, with many students taking a keen interest in the possibility of continuing the subject. Perhaps this was an indication of the success of the Classics Club.

All in all, my wonderful experience at Whitehouse Primary School showed that Classics can not only be brought into the minds and hearts of primary school children in a meaningful way, it can also be linked to the Northern Ireland Primary Curriculum through a variety of class subjects.  However, the most important thing was the joy that Classics brought to the children I taught. Their engagement and excitement at each new topic gave me hope that there is a future for Classical education in Northern Ireland, and reminded me of just how important it is that this versatile subject is considered to be relevant to the children of today.
Amber Taylor

Friday, 20 July 2018

'The Song of Arms and a Man' (The Latin Qvarter)

by Vaughan Webber

The performance of 'The Song of Arms and a Man' at the Ivor Gurney Hall in Gloucester on 9th June was a very unusual experience because it was the first time that I had ever heard Latin used as the language of a public performance. It turned out to be a fascinating and stimulating recital of great poetry and drama.

I am a former teacher of modern foreign languages and a translator, and I studied Latin at school to ‘O’ level in the sixties. Although I have, of course, always found Latin to be invaluable in understanding my own language and in learning other languages, I did not continue any direct contact with it.

However, in recent years I became interested in getting more closely acquainted with Latin again, and my current level of competence comes from having have studied a variety of texts, and poetry from Virgil and others, at Gloucester in recent years on Latin Qvarter courses. I have always enjoyed contact with other languages and this includes, on occasion, novels and poetry.

The recital was therefore of a text with which I was familiar to a certain extent, but which I would not have been able to read or listen to without preparation.

In the audience the text was available in a booklet. It was difficult to decide whether to look at it or not during the performance itself though. In the end I tried not looking at it, and found that I could be carried along by the language and follow the action. I tried to use it as a quick guide, but not get distracted by reading. Of course, there is some loss of comprehension to be taken into account if this is done, and so I had to strike a balance.

The readers and audience in the Ivor Gurney Hall
© Edward Gillespie

The readers were real actors in their presentation. They projected their voices very clearly and resonantly with plenty of expression, and it was a delight to be able to pick up whole phrases at a time without having to try hard. I am interested in how Latin must have sounded, and I felt that a great effort was put into making it as lively and natural as it could be. As a result, we really felt that we were sharing in something across a very long span of generations and across a great cultural distance!

Turnus (Steve Wright) showing his resolve to resist the Trojans.
Others behind L to R:  Emma Kirkby, Matthew Hargreaves, Elizabeth Donnelly and George Sharpley.
© Edward Gillespie

Overall, the performance was a little like seeing a well-performed Shakespeare play. That is, the language is difficult but we are carried along by the drama of the situation all the same, and we enjoy the language, imagery and turns of phrase as the play moves forward.

If a person in the audience had no knowledge of Latin at all, they might well still find it very interesting to hear it brought to life in such a way. Besides, so many elements of the tale have been handed down to us and form part of the common stock of our understanding about the past. The course of the story was explained between the readings, so the audience could follow the dramatic thread. The readers provided plenty of facial expression, gesture and intonation to help the audience along.

Venus (Elizabeth Donnelly) and Juno (Emma Kirkby) stalking each other like cats ...
© Edward Gillespie 

It was an excellent event and I would like to thank the performers and organisers for all the preparation and hard work which must have gone into it.

Vaughan Webber
10th July 2018

Friday, 23 March 2018

Artefact to Art (University of Leicester)

by Naoise Mac Sweeney

Every object tells a story. Indeed, behind each artefact lies not just one but a complex web of many untold tales – about the people who made it in antiquity, about those who used it over the ages, and finally about those who discovered it in modern times. As Keats mused in his famous poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn, sometimes an object can tell “a flowery tale more sweetly” than either poetry or prose.

In Leicester, we decided to put this idea at the heart of our latest engagement project, Artefact to Art (click here to visit the project website).  The A2A project (as it is affectionately known) encourages young people to take inspiration from classical artefacts, using this inspiration to create new and innovative artworks of their own. Over the last year, we have run workshops in schools and museums, produced teaching resources, and organised a competition for poetry and visual art.

The competition proved to have a wider appeal than we had dared to hope. We received submissions from four different continents, with the number of entries in some age categories running into the hundreds. We are delighted to be publishing sixty of these outstanding pieces in the forthcoming Artefact to Art book, as well as displaying them in an accompanying exhibition.

Especially exciting have been the original, and sometimes surprising, ideas that have sprung from artefacts that we in the classical community might dismiss as overly familiar. Our artists and poets have used Attic black figure pottery to think about colour in the natural world; gladiators’ helmets to ponder the nature of fear; and Roman mosaics to reflect on the recent “me too” campaign against sexual harassment.

The book launch and exhibition are part of the programme for the upcoming CA conference, which Leicester will be hosting for the first time in two decades. We felt that it was important for the conference to connect with our outreach and engagement work, and wanted the new project to reflect the nature of the department as a combined School of Archaeology and Ancient History. The Artefact to Art project, with its emphasis on the material traces of classical antiquity, emerged out of these two ambitions. 

We are grateful to the Classical Association for their help with setting up and publicising the project, to Routledge books for their generous donation of prizes, and to the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies for their generous support of the schools’ programme.

Dr Naoise Mac Sweeney is Associate Professor of Ancient History at the University of Leicester

Monday, 19 February 2018

Spring Books 2018

by Philip Hooker

Once again, we have studied the Bookseller’s Buyers Guide and picked out the books on classical themes which publishers believe will be of interest to the general reader.

Among the highlights is Circe, by Madeline Miller, whose Song of Achilles won the Orange Prize in 2012 and is one of their top ten in literary fiction.  In paperback, there will be The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes, House of Names by Colm Tóibín and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.  For the Immortal, in hardback, is the ‘triumphant finale’ of Emily Hauser’s Golden Apple trilogy.

More popular works include the latest from Lindsey Davis, Robert Fabbri, Adrian Goldsworthy, Conn Iggulden, Harry Sidebottom, Ben Kane, Ian Ross, Anthony Riches and Simon Scarrow, who all seem to sell very well.   Lesser known, but more intriguing, is Alessandro Barbero’s The Athenian Women: A Novel, set in 411BC, the time of Lysistrata, with oligarchs oppressing the democrats (which is claimed to be very contemporary).

Adrian Goldsworthy is also highlighted for Hadrian’s Wall: Rome and the Limits of Empire, in the highly illustrated Landmark series.  Mary Beard has one of the two books based on the new BBC Civilisations series, describing ancient representations of the human body and the interface between art and religion.  We must also include Edith Hall, whose Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life is described as a self-help book.  Troy is also topical, which makes Naoise Mac Sweeney’s Troy: Myth, City, Icon particularly timely.

Non-fiction paperbacks include several acclaimed works from 2017: Paul Cartledge’s Democracy, Guy de la Bédoyère on the Praetorian Guard, Bijan Omrani’s Caesar’s Footprints: Journeys to Roman Gaul, and Catharine Nixey’s polemic on the Christian destruction of the Classical world.

There are a good number of new scholarly histories for the general reader:  Josiah Osgood’s Rome and the Making of a World State, 150 BCE - 20 CE, Robin Waterfield’s Creators, Conquerors and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece, Jeremy McInerney’s Greece in the Ancient World (illustrated), Angelos ChaniotisAge of Conquests: The Greek World from Alexander to Hadrian (336 BC – AD 138), Philip Matyszak’s The Greeks: Lost Civilisations  (all about Greeks abroad from India to Spain),  Peter RhodesPericlean Athens, and Richard BillowsBefore and After Alexander: The Legend and Legacy of Alexander the Great.

More specialist works come from Walter Scheidel, who has edited The Science of Roman History: Biology, Climate and the Future of the Past, on how the latest scientific advances have changed our understanding, Robin Osborne with The Transformation of Athens: Painted Pottery and the Creation of Classical Greece, based on the Princeton Martin Classical Lectures, and Judith Swaddling with An Etruscan Affair: The Impact of early Etruscan discoveries on European culture.

Then there is Iain Ferris with Cave Canem: Animals in Roman Civilisation, David Weston Marshall with Ancient Skies: Constellation Mythology of the Greeks, Jeremy Mynott with Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words, Carolyn Roncaglia with Northern Italy in the Roman World: From the Bronze Age to Late Antiquity, Simon Elliott with Septimius Severus in Scotland: The Northern Campaigns of the First Hammer of the Scots, and Roger White and Mike Hodder’s Clash of Cultures?: The Romano-British Period in the West Midlands.

Among reception works we note Ian Jenkins and colleagues’ Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece, the catalogue of the British Museum exhibition running from 26 April to 29 July, and Edgar Vincent’s A. E. Housman: Hero of the Hidden Life, about his poetry and academic life, aided by 81 newly discovered letters.

New texts and translations include two translations from Pamela Mensch: Plutarch’s The Age of Caesar: Five Roman Lives, and Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Eminent Philosophers.    The latest Oxford Classical Text is Antiphon and Andocides: Speeches (Antiphontis et Andocidis Orationes) edited by Mervin Dilts and David Murphy.  The latest Loeb Classics include EnniusFragments, edited by Sander Goldberg and Gesine Manuwald, Galen’s Hygiene edited by Ian Johnston, and Volume X of their new Livy.    New Oxford World Classics include two from Aristotle: The Art of Rhetoric (translated by Robin Waterfield) and On the Soul and Other Psychological works (translated by Fred D. Miller, Jr.), as well as Anthony Verity’s version of Homer’s Odyssey, which must compete with those of Emily Wilson and Peter Green.    Virgil’s Aeneid also appears in a new version from poet David Ferry.    AeschylusLibation Bearers, edited and translated by Andrew Lyon Brown, is the latest in the Aris & Phillips Classical Texts series (now part of Liverpool University Press).

For those with short attention spans, Matthew Nicholls has edited 30-Second Ancient Greece: The 50 Most Important Achievements of a Timeless Civilization, each Explained in Half a Minute (300 words and one image).  Cath Senker has a juvenile version: Ancient Greece in 30 Seconds: 30 Fascinating Topics for Kid Classicists Explained in Half a Minute.  Similarly, there is Charles PhillipsThe Ancient World in Minutes.

Among children’s books we note, for ages 7-9, Museum Mystery Squad and the case of the Roman Riddle by Mike Nicholson (illustrated by Mike Phillips) and a new Asterix and the Chariot Race by Jean-Yves Ferri (illustrated by Didier Conrad and René Goscinny).  For ages 9-12, we note the latest from Rick Riordan: The Dark Prophecy and The Burning Maze in the Trials of Apollo series, the latest from Caroline Lawrence: Return to Rome in the Roman Quests series, and a new time-travel from Ben Hubbard: Roman Britain and Londinium.

Philip Hooker is the Hon. Treasurer of the Classical Association, and writes regularly for the CA Blog on Classics in the Media.            

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Cymru Wales Classics Hub INSET Day at Lampeter (December 2017)

by Matthew Cobb

On the penultimate Saturday (16th) before Christmas, when many schools and sixth forms were finishing up for the (calendar) year, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David hosted a teacher training day for Classicists. This event was part of a series of INSET days organised by the Cymru Wales Classics Hub, the first of which was hosted by Swansea University, and the second by Cardiff University. This third INSET day, organised by Dr Matthew Adam Cobb, was held on Lampeter Campus.

A range of workshops were run by Classicists and Ancient Historians from the Faculty of Humanities, including Dr Cobb, Dr Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen, Dr Fiona Mitchell, Dr Ruth Parkes and Dr Kyle Erickson. Closely allied to the OCR Classical Studies syllabus, these workshops covered themes as diverse as ‘heroic masculinity in art’ to the ‘portrayal of the Julio-Claudian emperors’. The sessions were designed to explore creative and interactive ways of engaging with pupils/students – a particular focus of the sessions run by Dr Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen and Dr Kyle Erickson – as well as means of getting them to think in a more nuanced and critical way about the source material.

A number of teachers and aspirant teachers from across the UK attended the event. All present were keen, engaged and had very constructive experiences (as can be judged from the very positive feedback). Thanks to the kind support of the Classical Association, we were able to offer the attendees a free lunch, and teas and coffees, as well as a modest travel reimbursement. 

The fourth in the series of CWCH INSET days is expected to run later in 2018.  

Dr Matthew Cobb is a Lecturer in Classics at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, whose research interest lies in the cultural and economic interaction between the Mediterranean and Indian spheres.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Classics in Communities resources for ‘non-specialist’ teachers of Latin and/or Ancient Greek

by Arlene Holmes-Henderson

Background to the Classics in Communities project

The Classics in Communities project is a partnership between the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and the Iris Project. It was set up in response to the primary curriculum reforms which were implemented in England from September 2014. In the Key Stage 2 (KS2) Languages curriculum, for the first time, Latin and Classical Greek can be chosen for study by pupils aged 6-11. The project particularly targets schools which might not otherwise consider the option. It has twin aims: to equip teachers in primary schools with the skills and knowledge necessary to teach these languages; and to conduct parallel research to determine the impact of Classical language learning on children’s cognitive development.

In collaboration with project funders and supporters, we are pleased to launch two new ranges of digital resources.

How to get started with Latin guides

In response to requests from ‘non-specialist’ teachers of Latin, we produced simple guides to inform teachers how they might begin to introduce Latin into their school curriculum. The primary guide explains ways in which Latin fulfils language policy requirements in England and Scotland for pupils aged 7-11. It also combines, in one document, various suggestions regarding funding, resources and training.

The guide for secondary teachers details possible approaches to the introduction of Latin either on-, or off-timetable. Step-by-step instructions for discussion with school leaders and governors are provided. Furthermore, the document contains an overview of the funding available to state schools, as well as some suggestions regarding resources and training.

Pedagogy videos

Non-specialist teachers often ask how to introduce key topics or language concepts in Latin/Ancient Greek to pupils. With the support of the Oxford Classics Faculty Media team, we recorded six videos featuring experienced practitioners discussing effective teaching strategies and offering suggestions for classroom activities:

(a)   Teaching the Greek alphabet
(b)   Teaching the definite article in Greek
(c)   Teaching the Latin cases
(d)   Teaching Latin verb tenses
(e)   Teaching the Ablative Absolute in Latin
(f)   Teaching the Indirect Statement construction in Latin

The Latin films can be accessed here and the Greek films here.  The skills progression grids for primary Latin created in 2014 are still available here.

To learn more about the Classics in Communities project please contact our administrator at

The Classics in Communities project would like to thank the Classical Association and the A.G. Leventis Foundation for their generous support in helping the project generate these resources.

Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson is a language education specialist who conducts research and provides training for schools and universities, in the UK and worldwide.  She is an academic at both King's College London, where she is working with Professor Edith Hall on the AHRC-funded 'Advocating Classics Education' project, and at the University of Oxford, where she leads research into the impact of Latin and Greek on children's cognitive development for the Classics in Communities project.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Ancient World Immersive Classroom Project

The Durham Sixth Form Centre was awarded a grant of £415 by the CA earlier this year towards the resources required to create an immersive classroom, with the aim of inviting primary schools to take part in lessons about the Ancient World.  Now that the project has been firmly established, it is hoped to hold the sessions more frequently and to run them at local primary schools.

by James Miller

We have twice approached our local primary schools to offer to take their studies on Greece and Rome very much further with an immersive and interactive experience. Costs and time meant that we have to cap this oversubscribed option at 4 classes (c.120 students).

Students came in and did a quick session connecting labels to parts of a temple. They also listed the things they needed in a modern classroom to be a point of comparison with the ancient.

The students were then divided into two groups:

The first – suitably dressed in costumes - went into our classroom and did a series of activities: chanting the Greek alphabet, chanting the Latin numbers, writing on ostraka, writing on cerae with styli, watching (and counting in Latin) our volunteers being beaten, in line with evidence from pictures such as the one above and reading texts in scriptio continua on papyrus.

I would like to acknowledge a massive debt to Professor Dickey who shared ideas and a chapter of an unpublished book to help with this aspect.

The other half of the group made use of their new facts about temples to build these from confectionery.  Although we did encounter sacrificial octopuses and unicorns (!), it was clear that ideas about what a temple was for and how it was used were involved in their decisions, and some groups had a go at a Pantheon-style domed roof using some impressive round-biscuit corbelling:

Students then swapped their roles (Temple ↔ Classroom). At the close students identified the differences between what they had listed about classrooms and what they had found, and also filled in coloured stars describing one thing they had learned about Temples, one about Education, and the thing they had most enjoyed. No students struggled to identify things learned and all had enjoyed themselves (quite stickily).

Sadly, after the final group left, the gazebo caught the wind and took off in a suicidal bid for freedom, but this has been replaced.

We would like to thank the CA for the funding and (again) Professor Dickey for some of the ideas.

James Miller is Head of Department in Classical Civilisation, Philosophy and EPQ/Lead Practioner at Durham Sixth Form Centre