Latin Learning Scenario:
Building, Roman Style

Authors: Randy Thompson & Laura Veal
Level: Intermediate

In this lesson, students become “architects” who learn major architectural terminology and the classical orders. They practice identifying selected ancient Roman and American monuments. After learning to recognize and categorize the architectural elements in these structures, students familiarize themselves with some modern applications of these elements. Based on their experiences, students then create a proposal for the design of a temple for a Roman client.

ACTIVITY SET 1: Learning Basic Architectural Elements
The following context is provided to students as a backdrop for the learning scenario:

Trimalchio, a wealthy but uncouth Roman merchant, has just celebrated the successful arrival of his huge cargo ship from Alexandria. The sale of his merchandise has made him fabulously wealthy and inspired him to dedicate a new temple to the deity who protected his ship, Neptune. Trimalchio, tragically uncultured, has truly wretched preliminary ideas in mind for the temple. Your job is to politely guide him into a fuller, more appropriate understanding of architectural decorum and to devise an appropriate plan for the temple.

In order to advise Trimalchio intelligently, students are introduced to the basics of Roman architecture. Working in groups, they receive blank diagrams illustrating the classical orders and various temple structures which they label and define using dictionaries, handouts, and the Internet. Next, using drawings or pictures of ancient and modern monuments, students label the classical elements found there and categorize the monuments by listing the appropriate order and style. Later, to review, students use laminated flashcards depicting examples of the various orders and structures, discriminating between the styles and quickly separating the cards into stacks: doric, ionic, corinthian. Finally, students take laminated cut-outs of clear examples of capitals, architraves, columns, etc., in each of the major styles, which they assemble on their desks. This is not mix and match! A correct version is waiting on the overhead for instant checking.

ACTIVITY SET 2: Laying the Foundation
As a warm-up and review, groups label blank diagrams to practice the terms learned in the previous lessons. Students begin expanding their notes on the classical orders (proportions, even numbers of columns, etc.) as these activities continue. The groups then draw—from a list determined by the teacher—the name of the monuments they will research: four ancient (e.g., the Arch of Titus, the Colosseum) and two modern (e.g., the Lincoln memorial, the U.S. Capitol). They download pictures or drawings of their monuments and find enough background information about them to compose a simple description in Latin using the subjunctive. For example, they might say of the Colosseum: “Aedificatum erat a Flaviis ut multi cives viros pugnantes spectarent.” (“This was built by the Flavians so that many citizens might watch men fighting.”) Or for the Arch of Titus: “Imperator arcum aedificavit ut victoriam fratris sui laudaret.” (“An emperor built this arch to praise the victory of his own brother.”) Groups share their visuals and descriptions with the class; the visuals can also be used to make a bulletin board. Independently, students continue their learning log, discussing their favorite orders and monuments and why they prefer them, as well as initial ideas on their temple for Trimalchio.

ACTIVITY SET 3: Designing the Temple
Next, groups take turns reading aloud their Latin descriptions of monuments as classmates listen and identify the monuments by name. Then, in preparation for their presentation to Trimalchio, students create a “pattern book” to which they refer in designing their temples. Each page of the book is a collage that contains a drawing or picture of an element of classical architecture, a label, a one-sentence description in Latin, and the name of a familiar monument that has a good example of the element. Using the pattern book, students design a preliminary sample of their temple and share it with their groups for feedback. In their next learning log entry, students evaluate their personal progress in designing the temple.

ACTIVITY SET 4: Developing a Proposal
In addition to the research conducted on classical elements of architecture, learners also interview an architect about the importance of classical elements and about how to deal with clients. In preparation for the interview, students each submit five questions they would like to ask. The questions are consolidated into a single list that is distributed to all students so that everyone can participate in interviewing the guest speaker. After the interview, students finish their monument’s design and begin a proposal to Trimalchio, taking into consideration what they have learned from the guest speaker. In their proposal, the students are to educate Trimalchio on the basics of Roman architecture by using familiar monuments as examples, then showing how “his” temple would be exemplary.

ACTIVITY SET 5: Presenting Proposals
The culminating activity for this learning scenario is the presentation of the proposals. Each student turns in a written proposal and accompanying drawing, but not every student makes an oral presentation to the whole class. Instead, students present their individual proposals to their group, and each group chooses one to present to the whole class. The winning proposal from each group is then presented to the class, which votes on the best overall proposal. That proposal is awarded Trimalchio’s contract to begin construction.

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Targeted Standards

  • Communication: Interpersonal, Interpretative, & Presentational Modes
  • Cultures: Practices & Perspectives, Products & Perspectives
  • Connections: Access to Information, Other Subject Areas
  • Comparisons: Concept of Culture, Influence of Language & Culture
  • Communities: Within & Beyond the School Setting, Personal Enrichment & Career Development

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  • An unlabeled diagram illustrating the major elements of classical architecture such as pediment, capital, frieze, etc.
  • A selected list of ancient monuments to be identified, such as the Colosseum, Pantheon, Arch of Constantine, Temple of Vesta, as well as American monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Supreme Court Building, the U.S. Capitol
  • Visuals of the above-mentioned monuments (i.e., slides, videos, photos) to practice identification and evaluation.
  • Magazines and other visual media for creating collages
  • Computer with Internet access

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Reflections on How the Standards Are Met


Communication: The interpersonal mode is used in small group activities; the interpretive mode, in translation activities and application of terms. The presentational mode is used as students present both to groups and to the whole class.

Cultures: Students become familiar with important ancient and modern monuments and learn to identify classical elements in everyday architecture.

: Students gain access to information through technology and in interviews. They gain a better understanding of the discipline of architecture.

: Students compare modern architectural elements with those of Imperial Rome. They recognize the influence of Roman architecture on modern architecture.

: Students recognize the influence of Latin on the specialized language of architecture. Students connect the past to the present as they interact with the architect who comes to speak to the class.

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Expansion Ideas

  • During activities, students listen to Latin-based music (Gregorian chants, various eclectic music collections).
  • After Activity Set 3, students create songs/ditties to help memorize architectural terms.
  • Some students may be inspired to build models – of a simple free-standing arch or even a recreation of a favorite monument.
  • Many students have visited the Vietnam Memorial or the Jefferson Memorial and can write journal entries about their reactions to these very different sites (or others).
  • After presentations are complete, students write about which presentations they felt were the best, and what improvements could be made to their own presentations.

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Chitim, R. (1985). The classical orders of architecture. New York: Rizzoli.

Ward-Perkins, J. B. (1981). Roman imperial architecture. New York: Penguin Books.

Fleming, J., Honour, H., & Pevsner, N. (1966). The Penguin dictionary of architecture. New York: Penguin Books.


NOTE: These Internet resources may have changed since publication or no longer be available. Active links should be carefully screened before recommending to students.


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