Fābulae Mīrābilēs (Amazing Stories):Building Reading Proficiency by Creating a Continuous CI Narrative
I am writing this blog post for the CI Posse to share with the greater world language teaching community how I have implemented a year-long class story as my Latin 1 curriculum for the last three years. Generally, I teach my first-year students using a mix of CI/TPRS strategies and high-frequency vocabulary from my school’s textbook (now Ecce Romani, previously Latin for the New Millennium), the Dickinson Core Vocabulary List for Latin, the 51 Most Important Latin Verbs, and other sources. However, the main inspiration is this concept: a large part of the plot comes from the minds of my students. I will give a quick explanation of my modus operandi here.
How have I structured this experiment?
In previous years I began with a modified version of Keith Toda's Week 1 Lesson Plan and added into it ideas I gathered from Justin Slocum Bailey's Express Fluency training in Vermont in 2016. Using basic words like vult, habet, est, and it (wants, has, is, goes), I created the first chapter with these types of details: wanting an animal, not having one, going to a place, etc. The students gave me the answers through Personalized Questions and Answers (PQA) and we created the first layer of the narrative. This year I still used the basic vocabulary and idea, but the script deviated from the original.
The general principle revolves around the following: taking basic textbook vocabulary along with other words I think they should know, and using basic TPRS techniques or One Word Images to get more details about the characters. I pick approximately ten words per chapter from the book vocabulary to use in questioning and surveys to obtain these story ideas.
For example, in the story created two years ago at my previous school, the students gave me this basic info about the characters: Maximus is the son of a sailor and Clarissa is a farmer's daughter. Maximus is a sailor like his father but he loves Clarissa, so he goes to the land. Clarissa takes care of chickens for a living, and Maximus becomes a Latin teacher to the chickens.
We later introduced another character; one of my students volunteered his nickname to be used, because he wanted a part in the story. His alter ego became the antagonist who tries to steal the chickens in various ways. The main idea of the story involved these three people and their adventures. The plot became crazier as it unfolded. Later on we included other characters, including Clarissa’s uncle, who plays an important part in the final quarter of the book. “Maximus et Clarissa” was written with 16 chapters and about 4,000 total words; I later edited the story and published it as Maximus et Caecilia.
How did I inquire so many details in a fairly large class, and now in much smaller classes at my current school? I give students questionnaires in English before a new chapter. Having a written component to the process not only allows me to manage the students’ actions, but also gives me some quality control in responses. Sometimes I ask them how they think the story should go while we are reading the current chapter, as a way to provide feedback. Consistency is key in creating the narrative. In the surveys I target either specific vocabulary words or constructions that I want to include. Sometimes I just ask for quirky details to gather plot twists or SUBITŌ moments (“suddenly…”).
Itinera Līviae et Amīcōrum (“The Adventures of Livia and Friends”)
Last year, my first year in my current school, I had a Latin 1 class of six ninth-grade girls. Our story last year involved Livia, Octavius, their animal friends Antonius the tiger and Laurentius the unicorn, as well as several other characters. Their answers to surveys and random discussions in class led to a very well-developed plot. The story reflects the Itinera (literally “journeys”) in the title very well, as traveling is an overarching motif: the characters are always going somewhere or trying to get someplace. It is a comedy of errors in many respects, borrowing elements from comedic tropes of all ages of literature. It is also a “fractured fairy tale” of sorts with talking animals who sometimes act smarter than the human protagonists. Although Octavius is the one on the main mission, the real star of the story is Livia.
Livia, a young Roman woman in her late teens, solves many of the problems the characters encounter and helps her friends in any way possible. She is strong-willed, independent, and determined. The other female characters are of the same disposition, and through their courage and wisely planned activities the various setbacks get resolved. In many ways Livia and the other non-male characters defy the social expectations of the Roman era and display their freedom of expression and wisdom.
Itinera Līviae et Amīcōrum is composed of about 6,100 total words, one of the longest CI Latin novellas currently written. Some of the chapters are considerably longer because of plot development. There is much dialogue between the characters, which adds to the liveliness and humor of the story. Now in Latin 2 we still quote the story on a regular basis! I will be publishing it as soon as possible, as I cannot wait to share this creation with the rest of the Latin teaching and learning world.
Stories in progress
Currently I am writing two stories using my method: “Aluna et Caelius” in Latin 1 and “Dioclēs et Flōra” in Latin 2. The Aluna story is really just beginning, but it involves Aluna, a girl from Gaul living in Rome, and Caelius, her Roman friend who gives her a pet giraffe named Claudius. Claudius runs away and right now finds himself in Egypt, where he befriends a hedgehog of royal descent named Brutus. Both the animals came from the One Word Image process. That is where we are currently in plot development.
“Dioclēs et Flōra” is my first venture into writing a full-year Latin 2 story, although second-year students last year wrote several of their own fun stories. Diocles is a Greek boy in Rome who while escaping from trouble meets Flora, a sixteen year-old Roman girl who is living independently because her family has left the city for various reasons. Diocles wants to learn about Roman culture, and our aim for the story is for Flora to show him various landmarks around Imperial-era Rome. As an added bonus, students will also learn about Greek culture from Diocles’ perspective. As of now, we’ve learned about Roman inns and the temple to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva on the Capitoline Hill.
So how do I actually teach these stories?
I will keep this simple. Here is my process as outlined in several of my presentations:
You can always contact me if you are interested in seeing further examples of this or have any specific questions. My two published novellas, Iter Mirabile Dennis et Debrae and Maximus et Caecilia are on Amazon, and Itinera Līviae et Amīcōrum is almost ready for publication. I thank you all for your support!
Christopher Buczek, Ph.D.