A Journey into the Ablative

Today’s Feature Post is brought to you by Sara Cain, who teaches at Monomoy Regional Middle School in Chatham, MA.

Practicing the ablative case is an excellent opportunity for student movement. In Grade 6, on our 8th class meeting, we do an activity called “The Longest Journey.” The classroom is set up with about 12 different Roman place names taped on walls and windows around the room. Students, in groups of 2-4, are told that they must get their group (and their Magistra!) from Africa to Roma, making as many stops around the Imperium Romanum as possible. To make a stop, the group must simply write a grammatically correct Latin sentence. The first stop is the same for everyone, so I give them this model sentence: Marcellus, Clara, Tullia, et Magistra in Africā sunt. The group, of course, does not need to stay together while travelling (an opportunity to practice est and sunt), and some groups even choose to leave Magistra alone in Africā for the entire trip.
I usually give 10 minutes for groups to plan their journeys and then we get up in front of our peers – who are anxious to count and beat the number of stops each group has – and travel around the classroom to the places taped up around the room. See the Final Product in action on YouTube. For Grade 6 Latin, I read the scripts in order to fix mistakes as we go. In upper levels, I might insist that group members read their scripts while audience members listen to mistakes and earn extra points for raising their hands and offering helpful edits to their peers.
This activity can be tailored to fit upper levels of Latin by increasing the complexity of the sentences that the students must write. When we revisit the activity, we add in second declension places (in Aegyptō, in Nilō, in Rhenō, in opppidō Brundisiō) to practice the second declension ablative. Teachers could also choose places that are plural in nature (Athenis, Bruxelles) to provide practice of singular and plural. Another step up would be to use sentence formulas with different prepositions in them: Marcellus ex Aegyptō (ad urbem) Romam venit. The focus could be anything from the locative to verbs of movement to the deponent (vehor) with ablatives of means (nāvi, raedā, equō, etc).
This is an engaging, controlled way to practice Latin composition with students at any level. The assessment of the activity can be as simple as participation points or as complex as using a writing rubric and giving each group a score on indicators such as comprehensibility, mechanics, variety of vocabulary and use of the grammatical structure(s) identified.