Upper Level Work: CI and Communicative Tasks

Perhaps the most common question that I hear from attendees at CI workshops that I facilitate–beyond the basics–is about using CI and Communicative Tasks at the upper levels.  At the high school, that means Latin 3 and above in my opinion.  In this post, I am sharing some observations and a set of tasks that I have designed for a fourth year class (though it is called Latin 5) that I am currently teaching.


In all of this work, I think it’s is crucial to keep reminding ourselves of what “upper levels” and “more advanced students” really mean.  If these are students with 2-4 years of Latin behind them, they are in general at the intermediate level of reading and listening proficiencies.  Their ability to speak and write (output) may not be that advanced.  That’s a sobering realization, or it should be.  It means that even with our advanced or upper level students, they still cannot really read unadapted texts from most ancient authors.  They can read and understand texts and conversation that fits the description of the intermediate.  You can get the complete set of descriptors for all levels and all four modes here.   I have lifted out those for intermediate reading:

Intermediate High
At the Intermediate High sublevel, readers are able to understand fully and with ease short, non-complex texts that convey
basic information and deal with personal and social topics to which the reader brings personal interest or knowledge.
These readers are also able to understand some connected texts featuring description and narration although there will be
occasional gaps in understanding due to a limited knowledge of the vocabulary, structures, and writing conventions of the

Intermediate Mid
At the Intermediate Mid sublevel, readers are able to understand short, non-complex texts that convey basic information
and deal with basic personal and social topics to which the reader brings personal interest or knowledge, although some
misunderstandings may occur. Readers at this level may get some meaning from short connected texts featuring description
and narration, dealing with familiar topics.

Intermediate Low
At the Intermediate Low sublevel, readers are able to understand some information from the simplest connected texts
dealing with a limited number of personal and social needs, although there may be frequent misunderstandings. Readers
at this level will be challenged to derive meaning from connected texts of any length.

In my Latin 5 class which is made up of 9 senior girls all who chose this class to be taught more as a university level course than our Latin 4 classes, I have given them choice about the kinds of things we read.  They expressed interest in comedy, and we settled on some reading from Plautus’ Mostellaria.  I did a lot of work on vocabulary with them in the usual CI fashion with PQA, Communicative surveys, One Word Images, and then embedded readings of texts.  For them to understand and for us to communicate as much as possible in Latin about what we were reading, we did not read much, to be honest.  We read the Argumentum (which was added some in subsequent centuries but provides a quick overview of the play), and Act 1, Scene 1 in which Grumio and Tranio, two slaves, hurl invectives against each other.  Grumio is the sort of faithful house slave, and Tranio the one who has befriend the young master.  They are out and about enjoying the debauched life while father is away on business.  Hence, the argument between the slaves.  Finally, I moved us to Philolaches (the son) and his speech in Scene 2 where he muses on what it means to be a human being and likens it to a new house.

That’s hardly “reading a play of Plautus,” and yet, it’s plenty for their ability to read and enjoy something of the play.  It has also pushed me to think of ways to keep these excerpts meaningful and compelling to them.

We have done the following toward that end.

  1. Students in pairs re-enacted scene 1 of act 1 using the approach of “same scene.”  That is, I told each pair which emotional quality had to characterize their scene.  4 sets of two did a reader’s theater of Grumio and Tranio arguing: one done sadly, one done ridiculously, one done happily, and one done seriously.  The ninth lone student performed the argumentum as reader’s theater, and because she was the lone actor, she was allowed to choose the emotional quality that would characterize her reading. I created this rubric to assess their performances.
  2. As I write this, they are coming into this next phase.  I have identified a list of 18 maledicta or insults that the two slaves have hurled at one another.  Each of the 9 students will choose two of them out of a bag (typed up and cut into strips).  The entire plan is outlined here, but I will summarize our steps.
    • Find ways in Latin to explain what the word means–periphrastic explanations.
    • Draw a picture which illustrates the name, color, titled in Latin and English, with sentence in Latin describing what the word means, laminated for hanging on the wall.
    • Present their pics and explanations to the class
    • Survey of which names each would find themselves most likely to use in the “right” circumstances. For this, I have in mind the simple list of the 18 maledicta which by now they will all know well and have reference to on the wall, and have them decide which of them they can imagine themselves using in certain circumstances.  That should give rise to some interesting conversatins in Latin about them, their lives, and these words.  In the next bullet, I have in mind some starter sentences that we might use to enter into this. 
    • Aliquem (nomen) vocares, quod illa/ille esset . . . Cur aliequem (nomen) vocares? Vocarem aliquem (nomen) quod illa/ille esset . . . (use periphrastic explanations with pictures to help.
    • Finally, I have in mind some further discussion and writing prompts:
    • Quae qualitates communes sunt inter maledicta?
    • Quae qualitates volumus invenire apud homines cum nomina turpia vocemus.

With the last question, I have in mind a thought that came to me in my own reflection on the readings we have done and our exploration of them. Why do we use invectives against others?  Doesn’t that happen because we are hurt, disappointed and angry because what we really wanted or expected was missing?  If so, what are the missing qualities or the qualities behind an invective that we wish to see?  For me, being able to talk a little about these qualitates (another list of which we have been working on for the last two years) raises this to a different level than one would find in Latin 1 or 2.

With these last two questions, we can have some class discussion in Latin followed by some writing in their composition notebooks to bring this to a close.

By the close of these activities, students will have then read a little of the Mostellaria; discussed the use of invectives in the story and how we might use them and why we use them in our own time.  That means cross-cultural competency at work.  We began this whole unit with some research in the media center on Plautus, Roman comedy, and the Mostellaria.  We might return at the end and ask ourselves why these stories still seem to work by examining the seven elements of story (familiarity, organization, meaning, intention, missing elements, perspective and struggles). My own experience at this level is that I feel like I am always on the edge–the edge of asking students to do more than they can do and the edge of not doing quite enough.  For my own part, I think I must guard against the former.  The traditional program that I was trained in always asked far more than we were really capable of.  Even at the upper levels, the work must be comprehensible, compelling and caring.

Bob Patrick