About a year and a half ago I stopped using a textbook. I’m--by far--not the first teacher (or even teacher of Latin) to do so; it’s not as exciting or adventurous as it felt to me. However, I felt scared and vulnerable without the textbook to lean on and help me make my decisions. Now everything that happens in my classroom, the good and the bad, is due to the choices I make. It’s a lot of responsibility, a lot of research, and a lot of work.
But that’s not what this post is about.
A side effect of leaving the textbook behind is freedom; I can choose texts based on either my own or my students’ interests. At the end of last year, I took another plunge and let my students vote on topics we would study in the coming year. I tried to offer a wide variety of topics, because I know that my students’ interests aren’t always my own. After the votes came in, I confirmed that my students’ interests aren’t always my own: one of the top topics for this year’s Latin II was “Battles and Wars”.
This seems shameful to admit as a Latin teacher and general purveyor of all things Roman, but I don’t love studying war. I have grown to love parts of De Bello Gallico over the years and even get so frustrated at Sabinus every time I read book five that I want to shake the long-dead man (he was betrayed by the same man three times! he deserved to die). I have gotten increasingly good at describing some Roman weaponry, battle strategies, and important wars. I honestly loved reading Q. Curtius Rufus’ Life of Alexander and often consider finding a reason to study the work more thoroughly.
Still, I don’t love studying war.
I was unhappy with this topic. I spent the summer trying to figure out how I was going to create buy-in--not for my students, but for myself. I believe that my energy and enthusiasm for a reading considerably increases my students’ enthusiasm and I worried I wouldn’t be able to bring those feelings to a topic in which I am so uninterested.
Then, finally, the clouds parted, a warm glow slowly descended from the sun above and lighted upon me (strangely, since I was in a hall between presentations at ACL Institute), and the muse of teaching reminded me of what I do like: games.
I love games. I love games as much as I love grammar and for the same reasons: both contain detailed rules that can be manipulated to better understand a subject and control the results. I realized this summer that if I created a game to give continuity and relevance to our readings on battles and war, I would buy in. I even got excited about the topic.
The game I made is strategy-based and loosely historical. I kept the rules relatively simple so students could navigate them in a short amount of time. It gives context and purpose to the readings: now students are reading about these ancient battles to learn strategies that they can use in the game. In groups of four, students are officers of a cohort. Each office has different duties (outlined in the instructions and materials I’ve linked below), and together the groups decide what action their cohort takes each session. Their actions need to be historically founded, and they can provide research if they suggest something I doubt is authentic. I require them to judge their movement based on the mileage key on the map of Italy I hang on the wall, and the class as a whole is fighting for the same end result: to keep Carthage out of Rome.
Not only am I having fun playing the brilliant general Hannibal and attempting to crush my students’ cohorts, I am watching students get excited and focus who often check out halfway through class. When we recently read a short passage from Livy in which Hannibal tempts a Spanish army to charge into a river and then demolishes them with his cavalry, one of my students–a student I almost always have to remind to be on task--immediately asked “Can we use this against Hannibal?” Not only was he paying attention, he was taking in the point of the passage and ready to apply it to a ‘real life’ situation! After I said yes, he responded, “Good. Because I really want to kill Hannibal.”
Another student told me last time we played, “I really didn’t get this when we started and wasn’t sure I would like it. Now I really like it and I get it! I get why we’re doing this.”
The game has given our readings wealth and purpose.
The materials for the game have been organized into a Google folder; just in case you’d like more information, they are also linked individually below with explanations. Aside from the game itself, I have two Battles and Wars readings and the activities I did to introduce and teach them included in the folder. Since I teach with a Comprehensible Input style, the materials are focused that direction, but are most likely useful in various applications.
Teacher’s Guide for “Hannibal Romae”: this is the teacher’s guide. I wrote it with the intention that anyone, whether or not a regular gamer, could pick this up and use the game in his classroom. All needed materials are linked within the document.
Hannibal Romae rules sheet: these are the rules I handed out to all of my students for them to follow.
De Bello Gallico Reading: this folder includes the various progressive readings of the selection and several of the activities I created to teach this passage to my students.
Ab Urbe Condita Reading: this folder includes the various progressive readings of the selection and several of the activities I created to teach this passage to my students.