Scaenae–Alblative Absolutes in Targeted Communicative Activities

Goal: students help create a list “scaenae” (literary backdrops that Latin does with Ablative absolutes).  Then, they vote on their favorite. Teacher uses the top picks in “one phrase images” in the same way as one word images.  This is where a chunk of Latin words acts as one. They may also be used as story starters for small groups to devise.


Class Activity

Tell the class that we are going to create some “scaenae” together, that a scaena is a staging backdrop for a play to happen against.  Latin does this all the time in what are usually two word phrases known as ablative absolutes.  They can end up in several forms, but here are a couple of formats they represent most of these literary “backdrops” (write these on the board):

With ___________  ___________ing


With ___________ ____________ed


Ask students to generate these word backdrops.  You might give some examples in English first. Ask them what such a backdrop scenery suggests to the reader before going any further.  They will see that these scaenae can foreshadow what is to come. 


With the sky burning

With pigs flying

With everyone crying

With the forest burned up

With the nest built

With the monster slaughtered


They can go completely from their imaginations, or you may have a list of verbs for them to consider.


For this Latin 3 activity, I listed these recently new and brand new words:

iungere–to join

Mirari–to be amazed

Mutare–to change

Occupare–to seize, to fill up

Pati–to suffer

Premere–to press, hold down

Queri–to complain

Solvere–to loose

Subire–to go up under



With the teacher’s help, they make as many scaenae (ablative absolutes) as possible out of their imaginations or from listed verbs or both. The teacher then creates a google form with the Latin and English equivalents.  The invitation is to vote on the scaenae that they like the best.  If you teach more than one section of the same level, put them all into the google form and better crowd source the possibilities. 


One Phrase Images

The google form will show which were the top pics.  Over the next several days or weeks, you can choose one of the top pics as the starting point (the background) of a one word/phrase image story.  Do all the usual things:

  1. Pick an artist who sits apart from the whole to draw what you create.
  2. Ask who, what, where, how, why questions of the orginating scene.
  3. Since this is Latin using ablative absolutes, make it clear that the noun in the scaena cannot be mentioned in the rest of the opening sentence.  It can, of course, thereafter. You might give them an example. If the opening scaena is “caelo ardente” that is the backdrop to the story. Caelum cannot be mentioned in the remainder of the first sentence.  After that, of course, we can talk about the sky all we want.
  4. Continue until you have a story or until time runs out.  
  5. Have the artist show the picture.
  6. Perhaps take photos of the pics and pull one out for a timed write later.
  7. In this sort of thing, they are free to add in some more scaenae if they want as the story progresses.

Small Group Generated Stories and Pictures

  1. Put the most popular ablative absolute on the board, and invite the class to use it as a story starter and help you create the opening line.
  2. Once you have the first full sentence of a story on the board, divide the class into small groups.  Each group is to write the first sentence on a piece of paper.  They must then create a micro story with the following elements.
  3. 5 more sentences to tell the whole story.
  4. Story must have a problem and a solution.
  5. Story solution best if it comes as a surprise.
  6. Picture in color on card stock depicting the the micro story.

Any stories generated from the above can be edited and prepared by the teacher very quickly for use as warm ups, brain breaks or other activities in the classroom.  One use that I have in mind is to use two per week to read and discuss together (20 minutes) and then have them write for 20 minutes about the story and adding to it.