Make time for modern Classics

15th August 2014 at 01:00
Enthuse pupils with ancient history across the curriculum

Many students (and some schools) assume that Classics, rather like the remains of once-mighty ancient buildings, is slowly disintegrating into irrelevance. The reality is the opposite: the impact of Classics can be seen all over the modern world and it has the power to engage your students.

In recent years, a number of schools have woken up to this fact, but the majority of non-selective state institutions still do not teach Classics as a curriculum subject. And finding room for it on an already packed curriculum is not an easy task: a number of support structures must be put in place if the subject is to become a truly sustainable feature of a school's academic offering.

So perhaps it is more sensible to look at ways of incorporating Classics into other subjects. You can do this in a wide range of creative and exciting ways.

Enrichment projects

A carefully planned enrichment project with an unusual angle is a great way of getting students to engage with Classics - for example, looking at Roman mosaics in design and technology lessons. Start the project by getting an expert to deliver an introductory talk or workshop. This can be followed by a trip to a heritage site to see the remains of Roman mosaics. Working with a local artist who is keen on designing and producing a mosaic alongside the class can be really exciting for students. Throughout the project, they will learn and practise design and craft skills, as well as finding out about an important aspect of Roman art and history.

Pastoral interventions

Such initiatives do not need to be aimed solely at higher achievers. For example, we also run a positive psychology project based around classical heroes as an English scheme for pupils at risk of exclusion. In workshops, the students use classical myths to help them explore difficult situations in their lives. The project is delivered by a specialist in positive psychology and working with young people.

Themed days

Themed events, which take over the entire school for a day or longer, are a very effective way of raising awareness and interest and providing a taster of Classics for a large number of pupils from all year groups and abilities.

An important aspect of running a themed day is building excitement and anticipation; decorating the whole school to fit in with the theme, for example, can really bring an event to life. In terms of structuring the day, connect the theme to the school curriculum and set up a series of talks from visiting lecturers tailored for your young audiences. Freelance and museum-based experts are often willing to bring artefacts and related items into schools, and these can lead to lively and vivid workshops for children.

Break-time, lunchtime and after-school activities on the school site can also help to draw students in and build a sense of community participation. When we ran a Roman medicine day, our activities included Roman herbalist and poison stalls, charm-making and even "wound" painting, all of which helped to enthrall pupils and develop their thirst to find out more about this fascinating topic.

Dr Lorna Robinson is director of the Iris Project, an educational charity that promotes Classics in state schools. David Gimson is head of history and higher attainment at Cheney School in Oxford

Top 10 Classics resources

1 Mosaic maker

Introduce the topic of Roman mosaics with this PowerPoint presentation, which also challenges students to create their own designs.


2 Creepy creatures

Try a set of literacy worksheets that prompt students to think of powerful adjectives to describe monsters from Greek legends, such as Medusa and the Minotaur.


3 Pattern recognition

This detailed introduction uses images of mosaics from different periods of history, including the Roman era, to inspire students to design their own artwork.


4 Myths and legends

This guide to myths, legends and fables encourages students to create new stories.


5 Kill or cure?

In this lesson on Roman medicine and surgery, students must produce a hypothesis based on a historical discussion.


6 Healthy debate

Get pupils to analyse aspects of Roman public health.


7 To the four

A modern take on the four humours of ancient medicine, inspired by television show Embarrassing Bodies.


8 Greek expectations

Help students to understand the Greek origins of English words and identify typical prefixes, suffixes and letter strings.


9 Fun philosophy

This bank of more than 160 randomised philosophy questions is great for quizzing students and building critical thinking skills.


10 Dig up the past

Give students a comprehensive overview of archaeology with this PowerPoint and accompanying worksheets.


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