Alexandrian Pleiad

I want to keep the Latin discussion front and center. I am beginning to see that there is some unique stuff going on right now. Churning beneath the waters. In a small part of the ocean. That few have noticed yet. But will.

There are about seven vocal Classicists in our group and they are impacting how people view and relate to the Classic writers and the Classic languages in ways we cannot know yet, in my opinion. They are gadflies. Pucks.

About twenty five languages disappear each year on the planet. I find it interesting, however, that when we say disappear, we mean simply that no one is speaking it. It didn’t disappear, it’s just asleep. We have talked about this in relation to the Sauk language, which is a category here, if you want to pick that up. Languages cannot die, in the above sense.

Latin never died. It’s waking up from life support. Those seven EMTs of language discuss stuff all the time but I can’t seem to fit in all their discussions here in our list of articles due to other articles in the cue and so much time and space cramping. They have their own online Latin forum where most of the heavy lifting takes place.

John Piazza gave me a hearty laugh this morning when I read something he had written in a recent thread (cibum capere) which I will publish in its entirety in the comment fields below – he called himself a “Recovering 4%er”. That is a very accurate term for many of us and describes why many of us have to gnash our teeth so hard every day just to make this change. Thanks for the term John – I think it’s going to make its way into our lexicon.

I just think it is beyond exciting that the most well defined language group in our PLC in terms of articulation (read “fighting with teeth bared and knives out”) of the change toward CI is a bunch of Latinists. Rebirth of the Roman Army. Third coming of the Alexandrian Pleiad. The Latin rumbling.

In that spirit (and also because the more we mention and stay focused on Krashen’s ideas in this war, the better we fight), I republish this thread from when I recently (in February) asked Krashen about Latin and CI. Here is his response:

…Latin: Oh yes. The problem is finding easy and interesting texts. Cambridge Latin Course latest edition is a big improvement over earlier ones, but not nearly enough. It’s a job for TPRS. Thanks to the internet, Latin teachers can create and share lots of interesting texts they create with their students….




38 thoughts on “Alexandrian Pleiad”

  1. He is so right. This is something that we may want to start doing to provide a respository of interesting readings. We so need something good. I am going to start using Cambridge next year. I am hoping that with the stories and Cambridge, I can make some headway.

  2. If you want you guys can keep build a Latin Readings bank here. Let me know and I will set up the category.

    Diane I agree that there are too many categories. I use them to find things like jGR faster than using the search bar. But I will go through and delete some of the unused ones.

  3. I know I would be interested in creating a bank of stories and readings here. It would save a lot of time I currently spend composing the stories myself. Would we email them to you ben?

  4. How about this summer we each pick a character from Mythology and write a 6000-8000 word novel about him/her using 200-300 core vocabulary words? lol asking too much? 🙂 Seriously, though, how far could you stretch a few words with the 12 Labors of Hercules? Talk about an opportunity for good repetition.

    1. I agree. This has been a discussion that Bob Patrick, David Maust et al have had. I hope they chime in. I was thinking that maybe it would be better to take a text already in existence and rewrite it for simplicity. For example, Ritchies Fabulae Faciles is awesome, imho, and I think if we take it, we could certainly rewrite it for simplicity. However, time is a factor as always. The hardest thing is to decide on the 250-300 words. This would then be a good second year novel. We desperately need this. If nothing else, maybe a repsitory for class stories. The problem with class stories is that they are so personal that they don’t resonate with everyone. Personalization is powerful but not portable.


      1. Ritchies does look awesome. I would love to take it and make it feel more like a novel by adding in a lot of dialogue and whatnot. At least that’s what I had in mind for a Latin 2 novel/reader. I think with dialogue you can make stories (like in Ritchies) interesting and long (i.e., with lots of reps) and use a small, repetitive vocabulary. One reason CLC does work is its use of dialogue. It all feels a lot more like an actual book.

      2. Class stories may be more portable than you think. Since I am now tutoring individuals or very small groups, 2,3, 4 students, it’s not always easy to get them into creating their own story. So I’ve been using stories from last year’s classes to get them started, to kind of give them the idea of the possibilities. Now I have 2 or three groups that manage to make their own stories and they enjoy reading what others have come up with, using the same vocabulary.

        Another thing I’ve tried with individuals is to give them the basic story written out but with blanks for the details I want them to add. I question them, “What was the boy’s name?” and they answer, then we fill in the blank and then I circle. If they’re stuck, I give them several choices.

      3. First, what awonderful thread to find on the PLC tonight! Second, hell yeah. Guys, we just need to pick something and start writing. We have ideas galore. A story in existence, a mythological character, or something that some of our students raised. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we write in Latin, interesting stories, that are comprehensible to our beginners. Let the writing games begin!

  5. I haven’t seen the fabulae faciles but they sound interesting.

    All of us who are trying to use CI in the Latin classroom recognize the fact that the lack of interesting reading material is a huge impediment. I work out of cambridge because i have to and because it is the best of the textbook lot, and I think at least early on Cambridge is usable (or adaptable) for CI purposes. Part of the issue seems to be (correct me if I am wrong) that legally we cannot publicly share any adapted material from Cambridge without incurring their wrath. Nonetheless, I find it good to use and modify as a classroom text.

    Where I really feel the lack is in FVR reading materials, or novels for class study. That is a huge, as my Spanish students spend time at least 2 times a week doing FVR, or weeks doing work out of a novel. That is so much exposure to the printed word that the Latin students aren’t getting.

    Jeff, your comments are spot-on. I have all kinds of great extended stories that I write up on a weekly basis, but they are personalized, and especially in Latin, not very comprehensible to a student who is not in my class.

    I also agree that adapting a text is muuuch easier than creating a new one from scratch. But when exactly is that going to happen? and how?

      1. That can be tricky. It needs to be compelling. Which is easier in Spanish than Latin. I have sports magazines, teen magazines, little kids books with lots of pictures, novels for more advanced readers, etc… Even still some kids don’t make good use of that time, but they know that they need to be quiet and appear to be reading.

      2. I’m not a big fan of FVR in schools. Not enough time, no materials to read and, as Daniel says, hard to get them involved even when you have the materials. I think with the Latin talent here y’all could come up with something pretty cool – it would be a coup of sorts. But it’s y’all that have to work out what it would look like. If we can hear from Maust, Piazza and Patrick and any others, you can all make enough comments here to come up with something real, whether it happens here or on some other site. The main thing is to not lose this energy. Hundreds of hours of class prep time are at stake for future years, and that’s per teacher.

  6. Here’s an idea from Jason Fritze. Get a children’s Big Book. Re-write the text in Latin (or Spanish or French or German or . . .) on a large sticky-back paper and place it over the English text. If you got several of the same story, you would have to translate the story only once. The advantages are that the vocabulary and sentence structure are already simpler, students may already know the story in English, and you can re-use the book as needed. This might be a way to save yourself some time and energy.

    1. I have done this. Students love it. Labor intensive, but we might even get upper level students to help us.

  7. I’m just gonna say it– there’s NOTHING more bad-assed than teaching people to actually speak Latin. Props and salwe to all you magisters.

    Can’t you do some simplified Caesar? He writes pretty straightforwardly. Austria provincia Romanum erat, veni vidi vici etc.


    1. Could you read some Yellow Submarine? Ad hoc loc and quid pro quo, so little time, so much to know! says the Nowhere Man. Just kidding. Nobody would remember that anyway.

      What Chris said. It’s badass. What is badasser?

  8. To be specific, I think we need, for starters, four 6000-8000 word novels which ALL have the same core vocabulary of 200-300 words. All of our levels could read them next year, and that would give another year to make/adapt additional simple novels and make/adapt some novels of greater difficulty for higher levels. Just my 2 cents.

    1. And, to be completely frank, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to teach to the potential of the method–or to my own potential–without these reading materials. It’s a big deal in my opinion. I don’t see levels 2-4 working 100% otherwise.

      1. I understand completely, James. I am in total agreement with you. The lack of interesting things to read is crushing us. I think that you are correct that levels 2-4 will struggle without tons of stuff to read. My kids love to read. The want to read, but they don’t have things that they can read. This is so frustrating. I am willing to help, we just have to decide on the 200-300 words. I really think that we should use the Dickinson vocabulary frequency to guide us. I have broken it down by frequency and part of speech. Maybe we can use that to make a decision on the 200-300 words.

        I also think that there is so much in Google Books. We should be able to find things that we can adapt, especially once we get the vocab decided.

        I would really like to see the big hitters on this. Robert Patrick, John Piazza, David Maust.

        1. I like the perameters of 3-4 “libelli” of 6-8000 words, limited to the same core vocab. And then, on any topic, as long as its interesting.

          The Latin guys know that I have some student writing projects in mind that may help produce some of this. And, of course, we have some organizing to do.

  9. Hi all,

    Wow, I’ve never though of myself as a “big hitter,” especially since I only weigh 130, but thanks Jeff!

    I appreciate the discussion on this topic. It’s one that the Latinists have been wrestling with for a long time and has been talked about frequently on Latin Best Practices. Here are a few of my initial thoughts that have germinated a little when I saw this topic come up again:

    Core Vocabulary – I agree with those who cite this as an important place to start before we can adapt or create what I will call “extensive readings” (after seeing this term from a Foundation that Bob had brought to the attention of LBP some time back. )

    Extensive readings are what we are talking about here – easy readings that have much repetitive vocab and that students after a year should be able to start reading independently to ENJOY the language… as distinguished from “intensive readings” that need assistance from a teacher and what most textbooks contain, that are texts geared to TEACH the language. Jeff, John, Bob and I talked about this a lot over the past summer and for me it still is an important question, and in many ways a first priority as we look at how to create extensive readings.

    – – –

    FVR – I just don’t see FVR as something that is a priority for Latinists right now. We don’t have all the stuff like David Talone talks about and I just don’t see it as something that we will be able to have soon. For my students at least, I don’t know if I would even do FVR that much even if I had the resources. Most of my kids are not very mature to be that self-directed, and I feel like the other stuff I do is a more productive use of class time (in terms of getting reps). I would agree that FVR could be a nice break from the more intense stuff, but for me it just is not a big priority right now.

    – – –

    Embedded Readings – James, you mentioned that you don’t see yourself as being able to teach to the full potential of the method without having extensive reading resources. I think you make a good point, but I think we can teach NEARLY to the potential of the method without extensive readings for the following reasons:

    This year I’ve used embedded readings as a key component of each of my levels and have been impressed by the results. Embedded Readings are: highly personalized and compelling, there is a high level of comprehensibility among the students, kids are learning to read better with them, they provide high reps of essential vocab while building confidence with more difficult reading because the base version is always embedded in the subsequent versions, and for this last reason they are particularly well suited to building up students to actually READ short portions of classical texts.

    I do agree that having some extensive readings based on a core vocab of 200-300 words would be wonderful and I think that in time we will be able to develop them. But in the meantime I think we still have a lot to work with, even without the extensive readings.

    It seems to me that much of the heavy firepower of CI lies in personalization and making truly compelling readings for the students, and that’s hard to do for ALL students with ANY extensive reading. (I remember that the other language teachers have mentioned this sometimes – extensive readings that are perceived as extensive drudgery by their students.) I just see extensive readings as being somewhat watered-down in their potency when compared to personalized language (oral or textual). I know it can be hard work to make these embedded readings and create personalized stories for our students, but it is well worth it since it is actual, contextual, compelling, face-to-face language for them.

  10. I’ve been thinking some more about this topic of readings for Latin and a few things occurred to me:

    -I would have so much appreciated having a storyline of readings like Cambridge (but with sheltered vocab) when I was starting out with using CI, because I really relied so heavily on the textbook to guide the class in some way; and of course I would use this now too, especially in Latin 2 and up.

    Also, I think that if Latin teachers had a text like this, they would be able to begin using CI methods more easily because the vocabulary hurdle would be removed – it would help novice Latin TPRS teachers teach better because the sheltered vocab would help them keep things simple and be in alignment with CI pedagogy.

    -I realized that the readings, especially when they have a cultural component built into them help keep the class anchored in the ancient world. The TPRS stories alone are great for personalization, but don’t lend themselves to keeping to Latin’s cultural connections so much. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that we really NEED this piece. Latin is the language it because of it’s cultural and historical background. Having a text that preserves this gives the whole experience of learning Latin more meaning.

    And that’s one thing I’ve always valued about Cambridge – it’s well researched and has meaningful cultural connections in the stories – and it’s actually the fact that most of the characters and settings are based on actual ancient sources that make them more significant and believable. It’s always cooler when your reading about something that “actually happened,” even if a lot of details have been added to it.

    -I have like the characters in Cambridge and the illustrations too. I think that Cambridge does a good job of creating some characters that have some complexity and personality, especially from Unit 2 on. Also, I use the illustrations all the time for talking points in Latin and they help give kids a picture to associate with the character. The illustrations are a central part of the text that really helps it come alive.

    -And of course I like Cambridge’s humor and innuendo too – these elements give them life and humanity.

    So… I was thinking that if I could have a “dream-text” to use (just thinking big here), it would have to have all the following components:

    -connected storyline
    -interesting, memorable characters that drive the storyline
    -humor and comedy relief
    -good illustrations
    -cultural and historical connections and setting
    -sheltered vocabulary of 200-300 words depending on the level it’s intended for
    -sound Latinity
    -not under copyright

    Okay, I know that to have a text like this would be awesome and also a lot of work to create – but I think that a text that lacks any of these qualities is just not going to be effective for the goals we have for teaching Latin. We know it is important to have this connection to Latin’s historical and cultural context – it’s what makes Latin what it is and we know that we ourselves and kids will be bored with flat characters and no humor or comedy.

    The more I think about this, the more I think that Cambridge really has set a standard that we should follow if we are able to – there is a reason why in spite of it’s problems with vocabulary that the stories endure and are memorable.

    The thing that keeps coming to my mind has been John Piazza’s idea that he has shared before of setting a text in Roman Nimes, France. He has a good, general idea of a plot too. I know this involves creating a whole text and not merely adapting one, but I think that the text has to have the above stuff in order to really connect with a critical mass of students. I suppose we could adapt some of the texts like Ritchie, but I don’t know if the characterization, historical setting or humor would come through like they do in Cambridge, and that’s the kind of text I would want in my classroom – one like Cambridge but with sheltered vocab and no copyright.

    So, I don’t have a plan, but we’re brainstorming here and this is where I’m at with my thinking right now.

    And I hope I didn’t come across as a downer on my previous post – it’s not that I think creating or adapting more readings is a bad thing – but rather that the personalization piece for me has been the part that really seems to make the language come alive and it’s been hard for me to justify the thought of undertaking the creation or adaptation of a text in favor of the time I already put into personalizing the class.

    But… I think that the language would ALSO come alive with a really dynamite text that addresses the specific needs of what Latin needs in a text and what we as humans need to connect with it (believable, lovable characters and COMEDY!). And I know we COULD do it – but it yes, it is a lot of work and I know we are already maxed out. So if this is a route to explore, how would we go about it? Does this resonate with anyone?

    1. Calling Robert Harrell…

      Robert, I recall that you have been writing a German novel. Do you have any tips for us Latinists who might be thinking about embarking on creating a novel or series?

      Thanks! David

      1. First of all, I think you guys are amazing. (BTW, when I was in college I took Latin and used the Cambridge Latin Series when it was a set of paperback booklets; I still have them. Later I read the Aeneid, Germania, some of The Georgics and a few other things.)

        Second, I think your project has a huge chance of being successful because 1) you are writing out of a felt need – in essence you are writing for yourselves – and 2) as TCI advances further and your students become teachers, the need for this is going to be even greater.

        The rest of this is going to be a bit of a ramble. 🙂

        Writing is the easy part. Proofreading, editing, revising, illustrating, formatting, etc. are the hard parts. A couple of summers ago I attended a workshop with Karen Rowan. She said that most people never publish, not because they don’t write, but because they never finish the editing, etc. Even with writing, it is harder to write for a lower level than for a higher level. I intended for my first book to be level 3/4 (closer to four), and it is there. I intended for my second book (the pirate story) to be level 2, but it’s really level 2/3.

        One thing that Karen said with which I disagree – and it’s about the only thing with which I disagree – is that if you find the book interesting, it is too hard for your students. Perhaps it is because I enjoy language so much that I find the complexity and sophistication of the language less of an issue than the compelling nature of the story. I can enjoy a children’s book – not as a steady diet, of course – as much as an “adult” book. David’s list of elements is a good one, especially the connected storyline and interesting characters.

        For what you guys are envisioning, I think you need an Editor in Chief who oversees the project (and perhaps doesn’t write much). Writing by committee will be more complex than writing as a single author, but it can be (and has been) done. I would suggest deciding on the main character(s) and what qualities he/she/they possess. Then lay out the plot line and divide it into chapters. Within the constraints of your vocabulary, each person can write one or more chapters. You might want to start with something fairly short just to get an idea of scope, working relationships, communication, etc. If you can have a unifying theme that will help. For example, when I wrote the medieval book I named each chapter for a knightly virtue and included one or more events or people that illustrated that virtue or its lack. The pirate story is not as “tight” in this way, but I was working with a compelling legend. Also, I thoroughly agree with Tolkien: a piece need not be an allegory or morality tale to have elements from which we can draw lessons – it just needs to be part of a “real world”. You are sub-creators (Tolkien’s term), and your creation needs to be cohesive and coherent.

        Karen said that another reason many people never publish is that they don’t stick to the task. You should set as your goal to do something with the story every day. You won’t achieve that goal, but it will keep you from putting the story aside and never coming back to it, or from working on it only when the mood strikes you.

        It will take longer to get this done than you think. Don’t let that stop you.

        Proofread, proofread, proofread. And then do it some more. And remember that even after all of that, you will spot errors in the published work. That’s what second and revised editions are for.

        Ask your proofreaders to comment on everything, including inconsistencies in plot, ambiguities in text, logistical issues, reasons for including or excluding something. I had good dialogue with my proofreaders, and they improved the text tremendously. One reader in particular would tell me if there was a connection she missed or didn’t understand, if something seemed overly redundant, if there was a way to use the limited vocabulary or not, etc. (Of course, it helped that she was a native speaker of German – not too many native Latin speakers available for you guys.) Sometimes her comments prompted me to add something; sometimes I deleted something; sometimes I left the passage in question alone and changed the lead-in or follow-up. Sometimes I would explain why it needed to be what it was, and she would tell me if my argument was compelling or not; often we wound up with something different from what either of us had originally suggested. In all of these cases, having the book read by people who were not part of the writing was invaluable.

        Write about something you know. The medieval book was very easy to set because I was familiar with the area and the time period. I still did a lot of research to make certain I had various aspects of things correct, and I used disparate sources. For example, I used Google maps and other atlas and photographic sources for the land and terrain; I looked up weather and climate (for the pirate book I even researched the temperature for the North Sea in 1400 and how long someone can survive in water at various temperatures); I checked on rates of travel in varieties of terrain, weather conditions and modes of travel (Dungeons and Dragons books were helpful here, interestingly enough). Not everyone will want or “need” to go to the same degree of exactitude that I did, but since I wanted to use my book as a springboard to investigation, I didn’t want to have to keep saying, “Well, this wasn’t accurate, but . . . .” Since the pirate book was based on legend anyway, I didn’t worry as much about the minutiae of historical accuracy. Since John is already familiar with Roman Nimes, France, that would probably be a good starting place – but he would have to bring the others up to speed on the information.

        I chose to do a time-travel historical fiction book so that I could begin with a modern setting with which my students were familiar and then move them to the Middle Ages. It helps, I believe, to get them hooked from the beginning. Yesterday as we were reading the first chapter one of my students laughed. We were reading about the main character and three friends who had just finished playing pick-up basketball. “Geoff” put his shoes away and put on a pair of flipflops over his socks. My student was laughing because this what all the jocks on campus do. He said, “You stand at the door and watch students, then you put it in your stories, don’t you?” Yes, there is a lot of that in the stories.

        Which leads to another comment. Be an observer and write about “real” people. Take three or four people and combine them into one new person, but make sure the new person is real.

        Also, work on finding the right balance among narrative, description, action and dialogue. If you can “show” it rather than describe it, that’s the better way to go. Instead of saying that your main character is generous, describe him doing an act of generosity. Of course, you can’t do that with everything; sometimes it is better to just say someone is honest. Another possibility is the use of epithets. You see that in the epics all the time. In my medieval book, one of the characters in the modern setting is “der kleine Jamaal” (little Jamaal); it sets him apart even though he is a minor character.

        Try to find the right balance between detail and overview. There has to be enough specificity to make the place and people real, but too much detail soon starts reading like a 19th-century paid-by-the-word author.

        Extremely important! Check your ego at the door. You have to choose between making the writing the best it can be and being defensive. Do it for your students and make it the best it can be. The payoff will be bigger than holding onto something because it’s your writing.

        Be prepared to pare. You will be more likely to write too much than too little.

        I’m sure there’s more, but that will have to do for now. It is an incredibly rewarding process, and you will learn a huge amount.

        Oh wait, I just thought of one more thing: Copyright. Speaking of copyright, don’t be so self-effacing that you simply give away your hard work. People generally do not appreciate that which costs them nothing. Work out an arrangement that will bring something back. Chances are that any money “earned” will simply go into funding the writing and publication of the next book. You will never get rich off of this, but the labourer is worthy of his reward; and in ancient Israel they were warned not to muzzle the ox. If at some point you wish to release to a wider audience, you can always do so under GNU or Creative Commons licensing.

        It will cost money. You also need to decide on publishing. Do you want to self publish or go through a publisher? Self publishing is more expensive, but you lose control going through a publisher. You should look into e-publishing. One of the things I keep hearing and reading about is the desire/need for reading material that can be accessed by e-readers like Kindle.

        Okay, now I’m finished.

  11. Wow Robert, thanks so much! You brought up a lot that I had not even thought of and are helping me put the scope of a project like this in better focus. Thanks for the honest, candid and thoughtful reflection, and encouragement too – you’ve given us great wisdom for a journey like this and it’s much appreciated.

    1. Glad to help out, David. Other people helped and encouraged me as I was getting started.

      I thought of one more thing about storytelling, and that is the idea of a “hook” at the beginning of the book. This is one of the things that bothers me about Blaine’s books. They all begin with a description of the main character and his or her family and setting. For my books, I chose to use the “in medias res” approach and start with some kind of action. In the medieval book, it’s just an activity in a classroom during a German lesson, but it’s action and dialogue rather than description. In the pirate book, I began with a retelling of the execution of Stoertebeker by beheading, only I wait until several paragraphs in to reveal that it is just someone telling the story. (This also gave me a very nice way to “bookend” the book with a variant narrative of the beheading in the penultimate chapter.)

      I hope you guys can carry this through to completion and start providing other Latin teachers with material. Summer is a good time to write for longer stretches if you don’t have to take a summer job.

      1. I find Robert’s story and suggestions very helpful. I think we could stand to use what he has offered as a guide and get started!

  12. Here is the most recent thread by Jeff and John of the Alexandrian Pleaid 3. You don’t have to be a Classicist to appreciate the discussion, because it bears heavily on what we do as well, while also revealing unique aspects of what they as a group face in bringing CI into their classrooms. Read the entries from the bottom up:


    You hit the nail on the head with Cicero’s letters and Plautus and Terence and Martial. These are definitely the authors of common things. Maybe these are the ones we should think about? I appreciate this conversation. There is so much to think about as a newcomer. So much of this work is also work on my own mental health. I can admit this among you guys. It is very hard work and there are no right answers. It is very human. Great discussion. Thank you.


    On Wed, May 1, 2013 at 12:08 PM, John P. Piazza wrote:

    If there was a heavy balance in favor of Plautus, Terence and Martial in there, as well as Cicero’s letters, then the list might reflect everyday Latin a bit more, but I doubt that those works got much attention. Reggie Foster uses Cicero’s letters as a central part of his curriculum, because it is both literary and everyday. Kind of a 4%er compromise. But Reggie, whom I love as a teacher and person, is not doing CI. It’s his personality that is compelling.

    As for reading high literature for fun, I agree that probably only about 4% of 4%ers actually do this. My sister in law re-reads all of Proust and Austen almost every year, for fun, but she is a 0.0001%er and doesn’t have kids. I do delve into some pretty obscure stuff, but more because I always need a project to be working on, rather than relaxing.

    It’s incredible to see families that don’t read expecting their kids to be like my sister in law. Her parents were voracious readers–but she has a brother who hates reading. So we have a culture of language education in which the 4%ers in charge have fooled non-reading parents and admins into this illusion that everyone should want to read high literature for fun and relaxation, when even the few people who have the vocab to enjoy it rarely do so.

    And just practically speaking all those frequency lists are built on the likes of Caesar and Virgil, not transcripts of everyday conversations around the forum.


    On May 1, 2013, at 10:49 AM, John P. Piazza wrote:

    You are right about wanting to use high frequency words, but our philological culture has been wrong for centuries, which is why the most common Latin words on our lists have nothing to do with everyday life, whereas a frequency list in a modern language will have all sorts of useful everyday words. We need to be very suspicious of all the authorities in our broken tradition, be they professors or the texts and resources they have produced. It is all broken, and we are the only ones who are trying to do anything to fix it.



    Thanks for that reminder. The letting go is hard for me and as the year closes and I struggle to close a very difficult year, I begin to revert to my desire for control. This is such a good reminder. It’s hard to find the “right” thing to do. One of the prefaces of CI, correct me if I am wrong, is the use of high frequency words. Like many teachers, I want to do the best thing for my kids. Maybe I should think about it more in terms of them and not Latin. I teach kids first. Making it powerful, compelling for them is what I need to remember.

    Thanks John. Nice use of the spreadsheet. I came up with that. Glad it was useful.


    Looking over the top 300 is a reminder that the “official” literary Latin is very removed from the everyday life of most Romans. When a word for “Eat” does not even make this list, we know we are not looking at the language of the people and their everyday activities, needs and desires. Literary Latin was not even compelling to the 96% back then. This is why I take this list with a grain of salt when it comes to useful vocab for my students. I use comedo and consumo somewhat interchangeably. They are in CLC, and the cognate connections are strong. Many of my students know Spanish, so comer comes to mind for them. And the perfect consumpsit really resonates with English vocab–though I still have to point it out because only about 4% can make this connection on their own.

    For me, if there is easy overlap with the top 300 list, I go for that word. But I will not let this list dictate what my students can and can’t communicate in the classroom. Remember, beware of trying to push an ulterior motive like this list too hard. It can easily backfire. Do what works to get your kids understanding Latin, and don’t worry about the rest.

    Okay, random thought. I know that we talked about creating a set of vocab that was limited. Capere is very common in Latin and so is cibum. Both are are the top 1000 word list. Capere is in the top 200. Maybe this is the best way to express to eat. Yes, I know. My brain can’t get off this word list. For me, it is something that can give us ground to stand on. I think it is very powerful if we can establish “the way” to express certain ideas with very common words, we will be all set. Maybe it’s just me and my need to organize. I did learn Latin through grammar/translation. Can you say 4%er.

    Have a good day!


    1. Robert Harrell

      I really enjoy reading as you guys hash out some of the issues involved in teaching Latin. During my college days I took Latin and thoroughly enjoyed it, even though it was grammar-translation. During one semester I had private sessions with the professor. Officially the class was on humor (I think), but the professor knew that wasn’t where my interests were, so she volunteered to meet with me one on one. We read the Aeneid, the Germania and a couple of Georgics. It definitely reminded me of the English system. Were I not a 4%er myself, this would have been a disaster, but I genuinely enjoyed it. Now I wish I had had the opportunity to truly acquire Latin in the way that you guys are teaching. It goes on the bucket list, I guess.

      What I wanted to add to the conversation is the idea that, just as we need to ask the question “Comprehensible to whom?” when we talk about CI/ci, we also need to ask the question “High frequency for whom?” when talking about word lists. The division is perhaps more distinct in Latin, but even modern languages show a difference in frequency between spoken and written language (I nearly wrote, “an oral and a written corpus”). Furthermore, different communities exhibit different rates of frequency based on what is important to them. If I were teaching in rural New England or the Midwest, I am certain my students would be much more interested in hunting terminology than they are living in suburban Southern California. A couple of days ago one of my football players asked me to teach some vocabulary for physical training – “lifting weights”, “sets”, “reps”, “training”, etc. are high frequency words for athletes.

      So, I agree wholeheartedly that we have to teach students the language that is useful to them, not a predetermined set of words that are useful for reading “great literature” or accomplishing some other task that is divorced from the real life of our students. That means we have to know our students and their interests and settings.

      BTW and OT: I am finally finishing up the “Tournament of Awesomeness” project and showing the PowerPoint presentations. All of my students are enjoying it greatly.

  13. Bob and I are currently engaged in a Twitter conversation with a few other Latin teachers. One of them is looking for a change and a few others are offering their suggestions. Of course we are chiming in as well.

    Our “competitors” have recently betrayed their ignorance of what CI and TPRS are really about. They basically dismissed us in less than 140 characters by stating how absurd it is to prepare students for Caesar by doing stories about basketball and Kary Perry.

    I’m really starting to feel the indignation I’ve sometimes sensed in Bob’s voice, and which is always present in Ben’s. Language must be about the students. If it isn’t, if you choose to make it about Caesar, you are being an elitist.

  14. Ben,

    Thank you so much for posting this again. We do have so many obstacles. It is difficult to know what to teach. I am trying to think about best practices and what we have and how we weld those together. We know reading is powerful. We have very little students can read that shelters vocabulary. We have tons of information about the ancient world, but no one to ask. This proves difficult for me to get my mind around.

    For example, I speak Italian. I learned Italian over the years by going to Italy and finally taking some classes and getting a tutor. I will be certified to teach Italian as well as Latin (Ancient Greek too, but who’s counting). I know exactly how to say “I want to eat,” voglio mangiare, but in Latin the word for to eat can be 3 or 4 different verbs. Which one to I choose? I guess I should ask: “Does it matter?” Choose one and go with it. I guess I just want to have something set down so that we can develop reading for it. I can’t get my mind past that concept. Maybe someone here can explain it to me.

    Robert, you are quite the wise gentleman, what say you? How do we overcome the lack of comprehensible readings and how do we share them if we don’t have an agreed upon set of words. This is where I struggle. I want us CI Latinists to work together, to help each other, to build the network so that others will take the leap and do it. However, based on how hard this work has been for me (while I am so pleased that I have done it) I doubt others will leave the textbook behind. I feel the pain now because it is the end of the year and my students don’t have anything to read that would be easier for them.

    I’m sorry to admit it, but I am tired and I struggle now at the end because the apathy is rampant among the kids and their willingness to create a story is gone. Getting them reading is the best thing, but I don’t have anything to work with. I have done some Look and Discuss and that has worked. I guess I am feeling very tired now after a difficult year.

    jeff (who tends to be far too honest here) 🙂

  15. Jeff, we are all facing the end, and it looks strikingly similar. Right now, my aim is to show up, engage kids however I can, encourage them to hang in, and do a little CI in whatever way I can. Right now, that’s embedded readings, R and D and timed writes. Pretty much in that order. I’m looking for troubled puppies in the crowd who need extra personal words of encouragement and trying to give it to them, AND I am monitoring my own reactions toward the daily stupid things that some of them pull. I don’t need to be the exploding bomb going off, and I so could be. Breathing helps, as does walking outside every chance I get.

  16. Robert – You stated that “different communities exhibit different rates of frequency based on what is important to them.”

    It seems to me that what is important to any given community is also that which is most compelling for them to discuss (or read/write about). And for us, that community is our students: their worlds, their lives. What they find compelling is not what I find compelling (at least, not most of the time). And what one student may find to be the most interesting topic in the world is not what another does.

    I think you are right to point to personalization (“language useful to students”) as the key. But it seems to me that personalization is a process more than a product.

    We come to know our students and their personalities in class through things like PQA, CWB, etc., and outside of class by taking the time, however brief, to engage them in a conversation about their lives, showing them that what they think and care about really matters.

    It seems, then, that in order to provide comprehensible and compelling input to our students in Latin, we must completely redefine our notion of “high frequency.” A high frequency list will be something organic, continually developing through years of personalization with different groups of students. It should help guide the shape of our input, but it cannot become a shackle that prevents the CI from being compelling.

    Does this mean no exposure whatsoever to the timeless Latin literature of ages past? Not necessarily, but it does mean that if I want to expose them to certain authors, in a limited way, during their 3rd and 4th years of Latin, then I must be sure that the selections I choose connect to their own lives in a way meaningful (read: compelling) to them (whether or not it happens to be compelling for me).

  17. This by Kevin is deep and will require a few readings. This in particular resonates:

    …what is important to any given community is also that which is most compelling for them to discuss (or read/write about). And for us, that community is our students: their worlds, their lives….

    When we fail to personalize our classrooms in the fall we pay a price. But in reading what Bob and Kevin said above it struck me that this month, May, offers us a chance to get a head start on the personalization process for next year if indeed the student will be back with us next year.

    May can be a time when we build relationships for the next year – we should profit from this opportunity. The academic part may be naturally deteriorating right now, but the personalization part doesn’t have to.

    An example: today is a Cinco de Mayo celebration in my high school with basically no instruction possible – it’s one of those kinds of days. A boy – three years here from the African wars and a recent transfer into Lincoln bc of racial issues in his last DPS school – was warmly embraced by my French 3 Latino kids.

    It happened as class was starting. I had an agenda for even that small group (many kids were ditching 9th pd.). But I told the CI Dude in me to DROP IT and develop and be a part of and watch this invitation that was happening to Josbert by his new classmates.

    We ended up doing what I can only call a kind of acting class, with trust exercies. Josbert, a brilliant kid but only a 9th grader who has learned to paste his face on in schools, became more himself today, because of the unique kind of kindness and acceptance that my Latino kids showed him.

    As I think of their expressed kindness, writing this now just after they all left for the Cinco de Mayo festivities outside, I feel so happy that Josbert could be more Josbert today.

    That class was an investment in our class next year, but with it conflict happened between the part of me that is thinking 90% Use all the time and the part that wants to build of a web of connectedness between me and my kids. The part of me that is pissed bc I didn’t get to stay in the TL with that class is my mind. The part that is happy bc I saw this love shared between kids from Mexico and Africa in my classroom is my heart.

    I know something. This work of teaching is about building relationships first, before we can teach the language. Think about it this way – when we learn our first language, we are meant to learn it in the context of loving messages from our mothers in a safe environment. Then only can learning the language happen well.

    As Krashen says it should be pleasurable and not painful. If there is conflict with our students it can’t be pleasurable.

    Now all I have to do is figure out how to stay in the language 98% of the time next year (my own personal goal) and get to know each of my kids as people at the same time. The math doesn’t add up, but then, I was never a math person anyway.

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