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Lesson Plans and Ideas

Leap Year and Julius Caesar

2,057 years ago the first leap year was celebrated.  It was the year 45 B.C. (or  608 A.U.C.) and Julius Caesar had been named Pontifex Maximus.  As the high priest of Rome he gained control over the Roman calendar; a very powerful office indeed as the High Priest had the power to interpret the omens and decide on which days public meetings, votes, and even declarations of war could be held.  The Roman calendar by this time, however, had some major problems.  The seasons were off from their assigned months.  The original calendar had been created by Romulus and was based on the phases of the moon and a ten month agricultural cycle.  Later rulers had added two more months, but by Caesar’s day they did not fall in the proper seasons.  Caesar hired Sosigenes, an Egyptian astronomer, to help him create a new solar calendar for Rome and for the world.  Caesar moved the first day of the year from March to January.  He balanced the lengths of the months with alternating days of 30 or 31, but left February with only 29.  He then gave February the Bissextile, which was the first leap day.  The bissextile came once every four years.  In these leap years, February had 30 days.  This gave the new Julian Calendar, as he called it after himself, 365.25 days.  The seventh month, the month of Caesar’s birth, was renamed July in his honor. After his adopted son and heir, soon to be known as Augustus, took control of the empire he decided to follow the lead of his predecessor.  Augustus renamed his own birth month August.  At that time, however, August had only 30 days.  It was not fitting for the emperor’s month to be shorter than July, so he took another day from February, leaving it with only 28 and giving August 31.

The calendar has remained relatively unchanged from Caesar’s day until this.  February is still shortchanged, with a little redemption only once every fourth year.  There has, in fact, been only one significant change since Caesar’s leap year decree.  In the 16th century A.D. the Church began to realize that something was terribly amiss with the calendar.  The Easter Holiday, whose date is determined by the equinox, was off by ten days. (1600 years later and only a ten day error!)  At the Council of Trent in A.D. 1545 Pope Gregory XIII commissioned the astronomers Christopher Clavis and Luigi Lilio to determine the problem and reform the calendar.  They discovered that the Julian Calendar was off by 11 minutes and 14 seconds.  That is a difference of just .0078 days!  Amazing.  In order to better align the calendar with the rotations of the heavens, they created the Century Leap Year Rule.  Three out of every four centennial years ( a year divisible by 100) are “common.”  That is, they are a leap year.  No centennial year, however, can be a leap year if divisible by 400.  For that reason the year A.D. 2000 was not a leap year.  Did you notice?  That centennial rule will not come into play again until A.D. 2400, unless another ruler decides to reform the calendar again before then.  For now, Pope Gregory’s mandate to tweak the Julian Calendar earned him the right to rename our calendar after himself.  But remember, while the modern Calendar may be called Gregorian, it has Roman written all over it.


Nota Bene:  If you find this post interesting check out the other calendar post titled “Happy New Year!

Latin Alive Book 1 offers a lesson and activity on the Julian Calendar in the appendix for the Teacher’s Edition.


The Christmas Story

As we enter the season of advent and the school calendar moves ever more quickly towards the holiday break, I like to introduce some readings that relate to the season at hand.  I find offering a break in the routine with material relevant to the holidays really helps to maintain the interest and enthusiasm of students growing restless and anxious with anticipation.   Many years I have often given students old Latin hyms to translate.  Traditional hyms such as Veni, Veni, Emmanuel and Adeste Fideles are still widely popular today.  The students seem to genuinely enjoy learning the meaning behind the words they sing each year.  The first verses of the latter are wonderful for even younger students due to their simplicity.  The former is a little more complicated, but the poetry of the verses is powerful and moving.

Having read through both of these in years past, I gave my advanced students the Christmas Story: Luke 2 from the Vulgate Bible.  The New Testament, including all four gospels were originally penned in Koine Greek for this was the common language of commerce in the Mediterranean world.  In the late 4th century Anno Domini Jerome translated the entire Bible into Latin.  It was known as the versio vulgata, the commonly used version.  Today it is called the Vulgate.  This translation served as the authoritative work for the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.

This resource provides a wonderful opportunity for student work.  For Christian students there is certainly a caveat against relying to heavily on their memory of Bible stories or peeking at their own Bibles for too much help.  It must be emphasized that they need to understand the words and their meanings for themselves, otherwise they are short changing themselves.  At the same time, the familiarity of words and story allow a great opportunity for reading at sight.  Perhaps most valuable of all, in this time of shopping, decorating, and celebration overload, it reminds us all of the true meaning of Christmas.  God most high descending to earth in lowly human form, a seemingly helpless babe in a manger who would become our savior and redeemer. 

 gloria in altissimis Deo et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis  

(Luke 2.14)

The following are two links for online versions of the Vulgate.  The first is a great resource for teachers and parents as it provides a side-by-side English translation.  This allows you to move through the text more easily to find the passages you want to use.  It is difficult, however, to cut ‘n’ paste text from this site.

Latin Vulgate with King James Translation:

(It should be noted that the King James translation is based off the original Hebrew and Greek, not the Latin text.)

 The Vulgate:




In Honor of our Soldiers

Veterans’ Day is fast approaching.  With it comes a growing desire to find ways to recognize and honor those who have served our country and defended our freedom.  I cannot pass up the opportunity to offer you a way to do so through your Latin classes.  I have mentioned state Latin mottoes many times on this blog site.  Did you know that each branch of our armed forces, and even many divisions within those branches, have their own Latin mottoes as well?  Most have heard of the famous motto of the U.S. Marines – Semper Fidelis  or Semper Fi!  Have you heard of Semper Paratus, motto of the U.S. Coast Guard?

Each day this week and perhaps even in weeks to come write one of these military mottoes on the white board of your classroom before class begins.  As students file in ask them to translate this motto as a warm-up.  Then begin class by reading the motto and discussing which branch of the armed forces it represents.  Ask students why they think this motto was chosen to represent this group of soldiers.  Then end your Latin warm up with a prayer for their safety and thanksgiving for their service.

Here are a few of my favorite military mottoes to help you get started.  You can find an extended list in Latin Alive Book 1, chapter 20.  An internet search is sure to find many more.  Ask students if they have a family member or friend in the service and see if the class can find the military motto for the branch or unit for that soldier.

Fidus Ultra Finem (Faithful Beyond the End) – 2nd Air Defense Military Regiment

Non Cedo, Ferio (I do not yield, I strike) – 3rd Air Defense Military Regiment

Videmus Omnia (We See Everything) – 55th Wing, Airforce

In Cruce Mea Fides (In the Cross My Faith) – 30th Medical Brigade

Pro Deo, Patria, Vicino (For God, Country, Neighbor) – 104th Medical Battalion

SCRIBO – A Latin Writing Contest

SCRIBO, an International Latin Composition Contest designed to — 

  • spur interest and excitement in using Latin for creative writing,
  • provide teachers with high quality materials in Latin that they can read in their classes, and
  • honor and recognize top work in Latin creative writing!

Entries: Original short stories, comics, and poems are accepted. Illustrations are encouraged but not required. Entries have a maximum of 1,000 words and a maximum of 10 pages. See our website for sample entries.

Eligibility and Levels: 
Students of Latin in any grade, from kindergarten through college, may participate. Entries will be sorted into the following levels, which are based on length of time studying Latin and content of the course: exploratory, lower, and upper.

Classroom Integration: SCRIBO is designed to be as flexible as possible for easy classroom integration. You could offer a contest, assignment, or project from which you could choose and submit the best entries. This could be open-ended, connected to a cultural unit, or connected to your text’s storyline! See our website for sample project ideas!

Benefits: Participation in SCRIBO has the following benefits —

  • high quality certificates for all participants
  • medals with ribbons for the top 20% of scorers
  • press release plus letter to the principal recognizing medal winners
  • free CD of the top entries, including multiple entries per level
  • ability to purchase full-color bound books of the collected top entries (plus inclusion in a raffle to win a free copy of this book)
  • knowledge that your school is supporting the mission of Ascanius to bring Latin and Classical Studies to our youngest scholars

Scoring: All entries will be judged by Latin teachers and professors who have training in Latin composition and/or oral Latin, using the following categories: grammatical and syntactical accuracy, choice of vocabulary, quality of work, audience appeal. Entries in the running to be in the top 20% will be scored by at least one additional judge.

Cost: $5 per student (max of 25 students per school) plus a $20 school fee. Discounts for Title I schools, home schools, and teachers paying out of pocket.

Registration & Submission: Once you register for the contest, you may pay (online via PayPal or by mail) your registration fee. You may also submit your students’ entries (electronically, in PDF format) at that time. Note that your school must register, pay, and submit entries no later thanJanuary 15, 2012. Entries must be submitted within three days of registration. Results, awards, and CD’s should be in the mail by April 21, 2012!

Visit for samples of past entries, detailed rules, and to register!

Latin Letters

My 9th grade Latin Literature class read a letter written in Latin on September 20, 1947 by C.S. Lewis.  Lewis carried on a correspondance with an Don Giovanni Calabria, an Italian priest, for a number of years during the WWII era.  C.S. Lewis did not speak Italian and Calabria did not know English.  Their common tongue was Latin.  This collection of letters has been published for Lewis enthusiasts as The Latin Letters of C.S. Lewis. They make a wonderful reading source for classes.  The 9th grade is currently studying the modern era, so this letter, which makes mention of Hitler and the atrocities of the day, is a perfect opportunity for lateral integration of subject matter.

After reading one of these wonderful letters I then assigned the students the task of writing their own Latin letter to one of our Grace Academy alumni.  Writing Latin letters is a perfect opportunity to help students begin composition and conversational Latin practice.  The subject matter can be short and simple and great fun.  Moreover, our alumni, now away at college, were delighted to get a Latin letter from home.

Phaedrus Latin Composition Contest – 2012

Year three of the Phaedrus Latin Composition Contest is officially underway. Teachers can sign up now and incorporate the contest into their lesson plans for the year.
The Phaedrus Latin Composition Contest is for high school age students, typically 13 to 18 years old. Student entries will be due Feb. 1, 2011. A top prize of $500 will be awarded for first place. Other cash prizes will be given to the second- and third-place winners, along with honorable mention recognition for other deserving entries.

Participating students will submit a 100- to 200-word original fable in Latin, along with an English translation of the submitted piece. Compositions will be graded based on the student’s ability to accurately use Latin vocabulary and forms of speech, the student’s creativity in subject matter and writing style.

The Phaedrus Latin Composition Contest is administered entirely through the internet and allows willing teachers to take part in the nationwide judging. Thanks to the support of their sponsors, there is no cost to you or your students. Getting started is easy:

Visit to find out more and to sign up!

Note: Participants who registered last year must still reregister anew each year.

If you have any questions, please contact Christa Blakey


phone: 208-882-1566.

Tips for Learning Latin with Less Stress


As we prepare for the new school year students and parents and teachers ought to consider ways to manage their studies so that Latin can be a successful adventure and not a stressful or overwhelming test of endurance.  Recently a colleague shared a set of tips listed on the classics page for Cornell University.  This is a fantastic list!

Cornell is a private 4 year liberal arts  college situated in Mount Vernon, Iowa.  This prestigious school was awarded a place of honor among the 40 Colleges That Change Lives.  Check it out.

General Guidelines

  • Do your studying in relatively small chunks (ca. 40-60 min).
  • Do take breaks while studying.
  • Be an active and interactive learner.
  • When studying, use as many senses as possible: speaking, listening, writing, and reading.
  • Spend 45 minutes each day reading.
  • Practice with a friend.

Specific Suggestions

  • Practice saying new words out loud (or writing them).
  • Study vocabulary several times a day for 5-10 minutes at a time.
  • When learning vocabulary, practice conjugating new verbs or declining new nouns and adjectives.
  • Practice using new vocabulary in simple sentences so that you get used to seeing the word in context.
  • Practice with a friend, making up sentences about the pictures, asking questions about the story, creating short questions and answers, and quizzing each other on grammar and vocabulary.
  • Imagine a specific context (e.g., the home, the market, the tavern, the forum) and create sentences that describe what is happening in that setting.
  • Review old vocabulary and grammar before doing the written homework.
  • Study new vocabulary and grammar before attempting the written homework.
  • Re-read an old reading passage to get you thinking Latin before attempting the homework.
  • Read a new passage for content first, guessing at words that you don’t know, looking for key words to help you unravel the meaning of the paragraph.
  • Read a new passage quickly on the first try while listening to the tape, trying to get the gist of the passage (aural and visual reinforcement).
  • Read the passage aloud, trying to speak the story in phrase groups that belong together (recognizing sense units).
  • Better to read through the passage several times rather than just once.
  • Rewrite a paragraph or two of a reading passage by changing the time (tense) or the point of view (person and number).
  • After reading the passage carefully, try listening to it on tape without looking at the text (testing comprehension).


  • Don’t panic. It’s normal for language students not to master new grammar or vocabulary on the first try. Language learning is a cumulative process.
  • Don’t study for several hours in a row without a break. You’ll go nuts, and it will be less likely to become part of your long-term memory.
  • Don’t be a passive learner. If you use all your senses, if you use the language to create new sentences, you will learn it better.
  • Don’t just read an assignment to yourself: say the words or write them.
  • Don’t study vocab for more than 15 minutes at a time, preferably no more than 10 minutes at a time.
  • Don’t begin your written homework without first reviewing old vocabulary and practicing old grammar (you’ll end up having to look up too many words and forms and you’ll feel like you are spinning your wheels).
  • Don’t begin your written homework without studying the new vocab and grammar (ditto).
  • Don’t refer to grammar charts and vocabulary lists as you do your homework. If you have already reviewed the material, try to work from memory. Then go back and check your work after you have completed the entire exercise.
  • When doing a reading passage, don’t read the passage just once. This is a foreign language, not your native language. Give it time to sink in.
  • Don’t write out a literal translation of a reading passage. Better to spend the time re-reading the passage.

Bonam Fortunam! Learning Latin can be fun if you make it fun!

The Art of Latin

Vergil and Ovid each began their epic work with an invocation to their muse. Each of these poets has in turn played the muse to countless artists throughout the ages. Bringing this artwork into the classroom will breathe new life into ancient texts. Read the rest of this entry »

Pompeii Project

Few events in Roman history captivate the imagination as that of the eruption of  Mt. Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii.  Perhaps it is because such epic tragedy strikes the chords of human emotion across space and time.  Perhaps it is because the hot ash from Vesuvius ironically froze time that fateful day – preserving for us a glimpse of antiquity rarely seen elsewhere.  When we pair the stunning visual sites that still await us in that city with the vivid descriptions Pliny left us, detailing his escape and the city’s destruction, the imagination is awakened with horrific shivers.

I believe one of my students’ favorite readings from LA is Plinty’s letter to Trajan.  I often couple this this a virtual field trip to Pompeii via googlemaps.*  Recently another fabulous lesson plan on Pompeii was shared in the New York Times, “Eruption and Destruction: Curating an Exhibition on Pompeii.”  In short this lesson plan walks students through putting together their own Pompeii exhibit for their school or online viewers.  This project would be a wonderful way to integrate Latin, history, art, and even science in one project.  For a detailed description of this exciting project please click on the article title above.

*For more info on the virtual field trip please visit the post titled Field Trip to Pompeii.

Low Ham Mosaic

The Low Ham Mosaic is an absolute treasure for its attachment to art, architecture, and classical literature.  This is a complete mosaic found while excavating an ancient Roman villa in England.  The mosaic tells the story of the tumultuous love affair between Aeneas and Dido as told in Vergil’s Aeneid. I often introduce pieces of artwork such as this in my advanced reading classes.  Such artwork causes the story to leap from the ancient pages and take on new visual dimensions.  Through the medium of art we are able to cause students to engage with literature through another of the senses – sight.  This also inspires them to use their visual imagination more as they read through the text.  After a few such lessons my class will often pause after a particularly descriptive scence to muse, “if we were artists or movie directors, how would we portray this scene?”  The study of art alongside literature also shows students how these pieces of ancient literature are able to transcend time as they inspire artists from every period.   I will speak on this very topic at the conference for the Association of Classical Christian Schools in June, 2011.  This mosaic is just one of my subjects.  I also look at paintings and sculpture from the Renaissance and the modern era that I use in my Latin literature courses.  Some of these examples you will find throughout this blog site.  (see end of post)

The scenes in this mosaic depict the arrival of Aeneas and his men in Carthage, Aeneas meeting Dido with little Ascanius, the hunt scene in which Ascanius gaudet equo iamque hos cursu, iam praeterit illos [rejoices on his horse and passes by these in the course, and now those], and of course the famous cave scene (here depicted with trees).  The following youtube video tells the remarkable story of this mosaic and offers a little insight into the tragic tale of a love gone horribly wrong.  For the story of Aeneas and Dido, you will have to refer to Vergil’s tale.   But be forewarned, this tragic tale of star-crossed lovers may not be the best read for Valentine’s Day.  Unless, of course, your goal is to warn young people of an ill-made match too hastily undertaken.  That certainly may well have been Vergil’s message to a young emperor, particularly if tempted to take interest in an eastern queen as a lover (as did his uncle).


AP Latin Tip:  This mosaic provides a wonderful review for Aeneid Book IV.  I like to ask students to put captions from Vergil to each of these scenes. This requires them to review the text of Book IV to find the most fitting captions.  Results may vary, but the effect of the work upon the student should be the same.

For more suggestions on integrating art study with Latin please view: Art as a Poetic Interpretation.