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Postcards from the Ancient World

Invite your students to join you on a journey of discovery by sending them postcards from the Ancient World!

The Grammar School teachers at our school often send a short notecard to their students the first of August to welcome their new charges into their classroom. My kids and I always loved this introduction. I noticed this small gesture put them at ease and often made them feel welcome. And who doesn’t love getting a piece of personal mail?

A few years ago I decided to adopt this practice for my Rhetoric School (High School) students, but with an ancient twist. In addition to teaching Latin and Greek, I also teach Ancient Humanities (history and literature). In August I send my students postcards from Greece or Italy.  The first time I did this, I actually was in Italy on a study tour for teachers with the Vergilian Society. I mailed the postcards from Italy. Unfortunately, I am not able to spend every summer in Italy. I have, however, found Greek and Italian “postcards” online in places like Zazzle. From these online vendors, I select a series of postcards that showcase sites and subjects that relate to what we will study.

postcard prep at my favorite local coffee shop

  • Oracle at Delphi
  • Palace at Knossos
  • Parthenon at Athens
  • Harbor of Rhodes
  • Famous frescoes such as the Minoan Bull Leaping in Knossos or Sappho in Pompeii
  • Famous mosaics such as the Alexander Mosaic
  • Colosseum in Rome
  • Pantheon in Rome
  • Ruins of Pompeii
  • Mt. Vesuvius
  • Medieval art inspired by ancient people or places (School of Athens)

On the back I include a brief note of welcome and an invitation to join me on a journey of discovery through the ancient world. Then I include a small prompt for that journey: “Bring this postcard to the first day of class and share ONE THING you can discover about what you see in this postcard.”

This is not a formal assignment and it is not for a grade. It is meant to be simple. After all, school has not begun. It is simply an invitation for discovery. I am impressed at how students rise to the occasion. There are those who don’t really do the assignment, but most embrace this idea. I am even impressed at how many go above and beyond to really dig in to this first mini lesson and find something fascinating. It is not unusual for the student to offer a new “fun fact” or fresh perspective on the postcard subject.

The best part – the first day of class no longer feels clinical like we are all going through the motions of schedules and syllabi. The first day really feels like we are all embarking together on a journey of discovery. At the end of our “show and tell” time I ask the students what they gleaned from this first task. What might I have aimed to teach them with this?

Answer:  History is not just found in a textbook. Yes, we can learn about History through reading texts and primary sources. But, we can also discover history by engaging with the places, the geography, the architecture, art, and ruins left behind. History is more than dates and wars and famous people, it is about people, places, thriving cultures and what they have handed down to us through time. What can we learn from them? That will be our journey of discovery!

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