Vocabulary Driven Curriculum

You will find along with this post, four Latin level specific high frequency vocabulary lists.  I have been asked to share them, and I have do so with the following backstory on where they came from, how they were created and for what purposes. Every published Latin textbook (and other languages as well) that I know about structures itself around a grammar syllabus.  This, unfortunately, defies what we know about language acquisition–that it has a natural order in which learners who are given understandable messages in the target language with compelling material and a low stress environment will acquire language structures when they are ready to and not according to what is explicitly taught to them. 

Because our district (Gwinnett County Public Schools) is one of the largest in the country requiring some forms of equity and “quality assurance” between its many schools and programs, a team was assembled a few years ago to create district resources for Latin teachers to use.  These include semester exams and one district assessment used as a pre and post test for the entire year–for all levels of Latin, 1, 2, 3 and 4.  (Our program also includes Latin 5, and other programs include AP Latin. Those courses create a vocabulary specific to what they are reading at that level all built on these four vocabulary lists). 

Some in our district use CLC, and some are untextbook, some very grammar based, others frame our programs with CI principles and some are doing some sort of hybrid of the two. We all follow the district standards which are built off of the Five C’s of ACTFL. 

The driving goal for the team was to create resources that would be a benefit to ALL teachers, students and programs and in which none could be proverbially thrown under the bus.  The way we achieved this was to build a basic vocabulary list for each level that consists of highest frequency words. In doing that, we had to establish some working principles:

  1. There are many high frequency vocab lists for Latin, and the great difference in all of them is the question of which authors are included.  We chose to work with the broadest of such lists, the one done by Mark A.E. Williams, Essential Latin Vocabulary. His work catalogs vocab by frequency in over 200 Latin authors.  Almost all of the others that we consulted focused on a much narrower set of authors from the classical period. Since our driving motivation was to support and not hinder, we went with Williams’ work.  His work has been criticized for some typographical errors, but otherwise, we found it to be very helpful, and we strongly recommend it. There were moments when we all scratched our heads–really, THAT word is more frequently used than THIS word?  We created the lists word by word with discussion around each. We learned so much from spending our first hours for each level doing this work.
  2. We wanted to create a bottom line kind of list–that is, students at this level will know these words, and teachers are free to teach any others they like.  However, all district materials, assessments, etc, will be based on these words. That assures that there are no vocabulary surprises on district materials. We arrived at 150 words per level. We chose to identify which words would be taught first semester and which second, but there is no magic to that, and those who use these lists should make such decisions locally.
  3. We agreed that since we do not all follow a grammar syllabus, but that grammar is important to us all, our assessments would make use of any grammar needed for good writing, but adhere to the words for that level and below (e.g. Latin 2 assessments could make use of vocab for Latin 1 and 2). If we used a grammatical construction that did not communicate easily even with known vocabulary, we offered a gloss in district materials.
  4. Again, to guide our assessment writing, we agreed that we would only assess comprehension.  There were no explicit grammar, history or culture questions, though the stories we wrote based on the vocabularies were always set in ancient Roman settings that conveyed history and culture.  So, while grammar, history and culture were present, they were not explicitly tested.


In our untextbook, Comprehensible Input Latin program at Parkview High School, we determined some years ago that with 52 minute classes meeting 5 days a week, and accounting for the kinds of predictable interruptions that happen, we could reasonable teach for acquisition about 100 words per semester to all kinds of learners.  These lists provide 75 words per semester toward that goal for us leaving room for “above and beyond” locally in contrast to the district assessments. 

You will find all four lists attached here as PDF documents. Our committee began as a group of 6, and has remained a group of 4 of the originals over the last three years. I strongly encourage collaborative work like this specifically on vocabulary at whatever levels Latin teachers are able to work.  Because we chose to begin and be motivated by work that would serve and support ALL teachers and programs, it has created a deep sense of good will among us. I am grateful for the opportunity to do this work, and while our creation of district materials continues, I look forward to each meeting. To save us all the trouble, I must tell you that the district created materials are not items that I can share.  But, with these words lists, you can create your own and build a curriculum around vocabulary that you know is high frequency across a wide array of Latin authors. 

Bob Patrick

Latin 4 Latin 3 Latin 2 Latin 1