The Association for Latin Teaching

respice prospice

Advertising Classics

an article by Lynda Goss

Note: This appeared as an article in JACT Review in 1991 and is offered here unrevised. Things have changed in the past few years, and some of the references eg to exams are out of date, but the ideas remain useful and exciting.

With the arrival of LMS, the biggest factor threatening the survival of Classics in many schools is 'the numbers game'. Every stratagem in the book is needed to maintain and preferably increase the numbers studying Latin. This article contains a few tried and tested ideas which have resulted in 500% more Latin pupils in my school, a 13-18 comprehensive, over six years.

I have concentrated on Latin because that is the bread-and-butter for most of us, as well as being an endangered species, but some of the remarks could be applied to Classical Civilization. Selling to pupils primarily, and then to parents, is the main thrust of the argument since, unless Latin were to be made compulsory, without pupils opting for Latin, all national and local initiatives to preserve the subject will be in vain.


A: Initially, at ages 12 or 13


Study the market: what is the competition? How can Latin appear more attractive than any other option? List potential sources of opposition - parents, heads, members of staff with counselling roles, curriculum developers, and prepare counter-arguments for each group.

Ask the consumers: use 'satisfied customers', i.e. current Latin pupils, to assist in the advertising campaign. It is very encouraging to hear reports of younger brothers, sisters, friends and neighbours who have been enthusiastically urged to take Latin. Current pupils are also invaluable m telling you what information about Latin has the most appeal for teenagers. Hardly any writing in lessons and not having to speak the language are the two top selling points, according to my pupils, neither of which would ever have occurred to me.

Define the target area: if your school has a policy of compulsory Latin in the junior secondary years for everyone or for the upper ability range, then read no further. Otherwise, whom are you trying to attract? Anyone and every one? If so, there is no need to say too much about the language, and certainly nothing about the difficulties!

Three years ago I had a beginners' class containing two potential Oxbridge Classicists and two Special Needs pupils, with Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all in between! The two Special Needs survived until the autumn half-term and Christmas respectively. Mixed-ability teaching may be the desired goal of some educationalists, but now that Latin receives an ever-decreasing timeshare of the Curriculum Cake, there is little room for parasites. The system has since changed so that Special Needs pupils who opt for Latin are snapped up by the computer for 'Remedial German'!

Prepare the paraphernalia: dress for the occasion - in Roman costume, if you have the courage. I have worn a pendant with the head of Hadrian, a Roman bracelet and a T-shirt inscribed with the opening lines of Aeneid I. This year my accompanying pupils and I wore jeans and black T-shirts with white lettering which we had had made in Tolon while on our Greek trip (Incidentally, so many pupils bought souvenirs from the T-shirt man, as he became known, that he gave us all 'deescount'!). Theirs are inscribed with 'CHS CLASSICS TRIP GREECE '90' and mine with 'LATIN IS ALIVE AND KICKING POS GAP OY;'. An explanation of our attire, after the goggle-eyed amazement has worn off, leads naturally into talk of trips. A large plastic bag from any Roman site or from shops such as Et Cetera (Bath) or Pronuptia can be filled with Nivea, Bovril, Vim, copies of Alicia in terra mirabili, Fabula de Petro cuniculo and Mars bars, etc.

The sales talk: keep it brief. Outline the course that is used, say whether there is a Graded Test Scheme, mention any trips or activities that occur regularly, perhaps highlighting any recent Classical event in the school, and DISPEL MYTHS. Yes, Latin is a dead language, but many employers give it a rarity value and its literature, written 2,000 years ago and still being published, has as much relevance now as then. Devise your own strategy for conveying the message that Latin is fun, easy and, above all, useful. If at all possible, give a 'taster' lesson. In 15-20 minutes you can sell your particular course and show how easy Latin is in the beginning. It also enables favourable messages to be fed back home about Latin being fun and 'not like you said it was when you were at school'. To have current pupils interviewing each other, one putting forward probable objections to Latin, the other giving the positive response, is very effective. Alternatively, one or two pupils could give an account of why they enjoy the subject.

Questions: allow time for these, since they often reveal a misunderstanding held by others besides the questioner. Two of the commonest are: 'Do you need Latin to be a nurse/ footballer/pilot?'; I always say yes to all professions and explain why; and 'What's the point of doing Latin?' - a prompt answer that a teenager can appreciate is needed here.

Free gifts: always have some: copies of 'Why Latin?' or your own propagandist leaflet or back issues of Adulescens and Minibus.

Follow up: ask how many had made a choice before the sales talk. Who influenced them - parents, teachers, contemporaries, relatives? Beware of grandparents, since they are almost guaranteed to be a part of the 'I did/hated/was useless at Latin and can only remember amo, amas amat' brigade. Their influence is often very strong, if this is all the pupil has heard about the subject. Did any aspect of the sales talk influence the others? What motives prompted the final decision?


Parents fall roughly into three categories: those committed to Latin; those who are happy for their children to make their own option decisions; those suspicious of or openly hostile to Latin. Much myth-dispelling is necessary in order to demonstrate to the third group that Latin is now taught in a lively and imaginative way, whilst retaining its intellectual rigour, and that a Latin GCSE pass is not a one-way ticket to unemployment. Some propagandist hand-outs at a parents' evening - in case the pupils have lost theirs - are also useful.

Open Evenings

The following ideas - all simple, cheap and effective - could be incorporated into more elaborate events, such as Roman Days. Roman costume is a must on this occasion, for you and supporting pupils. The latter can play Orgy, a Roman equivalent of Monopoly available in toy shops, Ecce Roma, Fuga or similar board games. They are thus appropriately attired, have something authentic to do which detracts from any self-consciousness and are available to converse with parents, when required.

Have the room candlelit. It is not difficult to find plenty of ancient-looking candlesticks.

Provide free samples. Safeway's vegetable samosas and falafel are consistent with the ingredients available to the ancient world and are best described as 'the snacks the Romans ate after an afternoon in the baths'. No-one will have the audacity to contradict this, and it makes a good talking point!

Quick and easy Roman biscuits can be made. If, as mine sometimes do, they turn out too crumbly/heavy/dry/whatever, so much the better. For who would expect the diet of 2,000 years ago to seem palatable today?' Pupils can be sent round the school at intervals to distribute these and to entice parents towards the Classics room. The togas and the biscuits soon attract custom.

Invariably, there are the parents who sidle suspiciously into the room and say 'I didn't know they still did Latin nowadays,' looking at you as if you've just walked out of the ark. Respond with a gracious smile, a look of wide-eyed incredulity and 'Didn't you? Have one of these leaflets,' thrusting into their hands a copy of 'Si opus optimum vis, linguam Latinam disce.'2

As well as course books and pupils' work, display Graded Test certificates (these arouse considerable interest) and lots of T-shirts inscribed with Latin or Greek.

B: GCSE Options

The spadework must have been done over the preceding terms or years to make the course so appealing that pupils have a strong desire to continue with Latin. If this is so, all the arguments about the use and benefits of the subject become corroborative rather than just coldly clinical.

Parents may also need further convincing at this stage, especially as we will increasingly be teaching first generation Latinists, whose parents were educated in schools where there was no Latin and who feel that Latin in 1991 is no more than an anachronism.

Include one or two punchy sentences, either verbally or in writing, if your school produces an option handbook, such as: 'The further you go with Latin, the better it gets. Can you afford to miss it?'

How to slip Greek in through the back door

If you have a Classical Civilization course estalished, it is easy to adapt this for Greek and Greek Civilization (still offered by LEAG - I think) or straight Greek, with a little flexibility. Pupils wishing to do some Greek, opt for Classical Civilization with the rest of the class, have Greek tuition for an hour a week in a lunch-time and work on the Greek, with assistance when necessary, while the class studies the Roman Civilization topics.

My first guinea-pigs gained A,B,B in 1990 and were more than happy to sacrifice a lunch-time and to give up French in favour of Latin and Greek. The most amusing aspect of the whole scheme was that it was not until at least half-way through the first year that the majority of the class cottoned on to the fact that three of their number were not following the same syllabus!

C: Sixth form courses

1. Define the resistance to A -level Classics

If pupils have become sufficiently inspired by the ancient world by GCSE, the usual problem is fear that a Classical subject at A-level will preclude or limit a university place, particularly in the sciences. Present them with the facts about which universities accept candidates for science degrees with a maximum of two science A-levels.3 As a result of distributing this information, although only two pupils had taken A-level at my school in twenty years, there are now four Latinists in upper sixth and two in the lower sixth, all of whom are studying only sciences alongside Latin!

2. Explore the possibility of introducing GCSE Latin

MEG, for example, offers a course without any set books. (This is no longer true; a verse set text is compulsary in OCR - Editor)This is a great advantage for pupils who are heavily laden with A level revision at the end of the two years.

Positive points for Latin in general

Modern language teaching now includes only the minimum linguistic structures necessary to achieve the goal of communicative correctness; foreign literature is even optional at A-level. Leaving aside the prescriptions of the National Curriculum until they are implemented, generally, current English teaching bypasses grammar, punctuation and spelling and, at GCSE, often concentrates on lesser-known twentieth century literature. As a result, pupils gasp in delight that with Latin at last they are learning a language which they can get their teeth into; and they are discovering a great deal about English and French which no-one had hitherto thought worth telling them! Latin literature is frequently appreciated because of the wide variety of genres met, even at GCSE, let alone A level. Modern languages cannot begin to compete with that.

One of the brightest pupils I have ever taught told me that, after four years of Middle School French, she sincerely believed that foreign languages had only the present tense until she started Latin and encountered the present, perfect and imperfect within the first three weeks! Implicitly or explicitly, Latin can capitalise on these trends in language teaching, especially when comment is being initiated by the pupils themselves.


Regular appraisal of the classroom 'vibes' is important to the marketing process: has the class gelled as a group? Have the class and I established a warm rapport? How many of the pupils are really coping with the language so far? Is the atmosphere in most lessons one of enthusiastic anticipation? Is the subject-matter, rather than what they did last night, really engaging the minds of the class? What remedial steps can or need to be taken? Final crunch test: has the class ever regretted the bell ringing at the end of Latin?

Extracurricular activities


From a marketable point of view, trips to Roman sites or museums put Latin on a par with fieldwork in the humanities and sciences, trips abroad match the glamour of foreign exchanges and visits to Roman and Greek plays compare favourably with theatre trips run by English and drama departments. Such a variety of excursions is another bonus for Latin.

Also, in many state schools, at least, the pressures of fulfilling the Education Reform Act have sapped the energy of staff to such an extent that there has been a great curtailment of extracurricular activities. My pupils not infrequently remark: 'We never go anywhere except on Latin trips.' The effort involved in organising trips of all kinds is therefore well worthwhile.

To cut down on the cost of a trip involving a overnight stay, an exchange with Latin pupils at a school in the vicinity of a Roman site is an excellent idea which we tried with great success last year when visiting Bignor, Fishbourne, Lullingstone and St. Albans in just two days.

Dinner parties

An easier way to arrange these, particularly if you are the only Classicist, is to combine with another school. Each school provides one course or part of a course and/or one piece of entertainment, e.g. a short play in English or Latin, a musical item, Latin songs, etc. The pupils prepare the food, after you have given them the recipe. They are usually very adept at making their own Roman costume. One of my pupils came as a retiarius, wearing only the most diminutive black swimming trunks and carrying a trident on a particularly cold day in March! Local press and radio are often very happy to give a good coverage to such an event.


The following, called Cricket, is a favourite of mine because it is extraordinarily popular with children, needs no equipment or preparation, can be played by any number of pupils of any age-group, can occupy five or fifty-five minutes and is intellectually stimulating.

Divide class into two teams. One team takes it in turns to 'bowl' a question to the first member of the 'batting' team. A correct answer gains one run. .Question continue to be 'bowled' to the same pupil until he/she answers incorrectly or fails to answer. The question then passes to a second pupil, and the procedure continues, until the whole team is out. The teams then change roles. Any number of innings can be played, the score being announced at intervals. The only proviso is that the 'bowler' must know the answer to his/her devised question. To keep the momentum going, if more than ten seconds elapse without a question being 'bowled', an extra run is gained. Questions can be on vocabulary, morphology, syntax, background, character, set books and so on. Just before exams, if limited to specific topics in turn, the game acts as a good x-ray to reveal areas of weakness.

Pupil allies

One of the secrets of successful selling at my school has been a spontaneous resistance movement on the part of the pupils who keep the flag of ancient versus modern languages flying for the former, shower me with newspaper cuttings in support of Classics and canvass the countryside for Latin candidates.

Once this sort of attitude comes into being, it seems to be self-perpetuating. However enthusiastic and excellent the teaching, the teacher's sphere of operation is limited. Each pupil, on the other hand, has contact with a range of relatives, neighbours and friends who, when multiplied by the number of pupils, mark a considerable amount of influence. Personal recommendation from satisfied customers, be it for breakfast cereals, floor polish or Latin, hits home more deeply than most other forms of advertising.

Finally, I should like to express my thanks and appreciation for their unstinting support to Duncan and Heil - exploratores ministrique mei optimi - my present lower sixth, who not only requested and obtained eleven hours of Latin in the last week of the Christmas term, but who are, on their own initiative, designing a publicity leaflet for this year's 'sell' to the Middle Schools and very kindly agreed to type this article at extremely short notice.


Codsall High School



1 Recipe available on receipt of SAE.

2 'Today', May 23, 1990.

3 Leaflet available on receipt of SAE.