By Alison John |

This semester I did something I never thought I’d do – I taught Latin grammar to 30 ten-year-olds.  What’s even more surprising to me is that I’ve loved every single second of it.

Volunteering with the University of Edinburgh’s ‘Literacy through Latin’ (LTL) programme has been an incredible teaching (and learning) opportunity and has enriched my PhD experience.  I got involved in the programme because I whole-heartedly agree with the mission of the Iris Project (see below) and I love Latin.  I had no idea how much I would enjoy it and how rewarding it would be.  It has been an amazing chance to work with staff and students of all levels at Edinburgh to create a curriculum, to develop my teaching skills, and to inspire primary students through learning opportunities they would not otherwise have.


I) Some context: The University of Edinburgh and LTL 

The University of Edinburgh’s ‘Literacy through Latin’ (LTL) programme is part of the Iris Project, an educational charity that aims to bring teaching in classical languages and cultures to inner-city and state schools.  The founders of the Iris Project believe that all students should have the opportunity to learn classical languages and ancient history, regardless of their background and financial concerns. (for more information about Iris click here ).

Strictly speaking, the LTL programme does not teach Latin, but rather literacy through the medium of Latin grammar.  What this means is that we use Latin to show how language works, how sentences are formed, and how English and other modern languages are related to Latin.  Since learning grammar is not explicitly part of the school curriculum (at least at this particular school), this focus on literacy is hugely beneficial to the students; it improves their understanding of grammar, it broadens their English vocabulary and knowledge of how language works, and will be a massive aid when learning any other language.

Liam Gale (PhD student, Classics) and Aaron Pelttari (Chancellor’s Fellow, Classics) have been the driving forces behind Edinburgh’s LTL programme.  Throughout the past year they have collaborated with the Iris foundation and local schools, recruited volunteers from our University, and over the summer Liam created the beta-version of our own curriculum that is tailored to the aims of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence.  This year we are teaching one hour every Friday morning in two P6 classes at Liberton Primary School.  We hope to expand the program in future years (for more information click here ).


II) Why I love it

I think that one of the greatest strengths of Edinburgh’s LTL programme is the fact that it has brought together all levels of the Classics department at Edinburgh.  The LTL volunteer group currently consists of a Classics lecturer, two PhD students (Liam and myself), an MSc student, and two undergraduate students (one final year and one first year).  Since the start of the term we have all been involved in the weekly planning, teaching, and revision of the curriculum.  It has been a great opportunity to work together and I feel that the programme is enriched by drawing on our diverse backgrounds and experiences.

The LTL program has been inspiring and rewarding not only for the P6 students but also for the volunteers.  In fact, it has helped to inspire some volunteers’ career goals.  The positive experiences we’ve had in the P6 classrooms have confirmed for some their desire to become primary teachers and the program has provided an excellent environment in which to develop their skills.

Although this teaching opportunity has confirmed for me that I don’t want to be a primary school teacher, I still thoroughly enjoy it and it has been an instructive and valuable experience.  For instance, teaching the students and helping to create our curriculum is making me a better teacher and I am developing teaching skills that I can apply to my university tutorials.  It is forcing me to take a step back and reflect on how to approach and explain grammatical concepts and how to make lessons effective and engaging.  Working with a large class of students of varying capabilities has made me more sensitive to different learning styles and abilities and I am learning how to strike the balance between challenging the keener students while supporting others.  Having a reason to leave the university campus for an hour every week is also a refreshing break and probably good for my sanity, especially as this is my eight consecutive year of university education (and twenty-first consecutive year of being a full-time student).


Finally, participating in the LTL programme is fun and makes me happy.  The students are unbelievably enthusiastic and they enjoy the lessons, even when we’re talking about something like adjective agreement or subject versus object.  For example, during one of the first weeks at the school the fire alarm went off in middle of the lesson and all the students and teachers had to leave the classroom and line up outside.  As we were leaving the building one of the students said to Liam and me “I hate it when the fire alarm goes off during something fun like Latin”.  The students are genuinely interested and excited about the lessons.  When we ask questions almost all the hands in the room are raised.  During the first lesson one student was so keen to contribute and reached his hand so high into the air that he found himself standing up next to his desk.  And, every week when we come to the end of the lesson there is a communal groaning and protests of “Do you have to go?”, and “Is it 10:00 already?”.  I leave the school each Friday feeling elated.  It is an incredible feeling to share my love of Latin with such receptive and enthusiastic students.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to volunteer with the programme, to Liam and Aaron for their hard work in getting it set up, and to the P6 students who honestly make Friday mornings the highlight of my week.


Alison John is currently in the second year of her PhD in Classics at the University of Edinburgh. Her doctoral thesis is concerned with how Latin literary education and Roman educational culture shaped Gallo-Roman identity in fifth-century Gaul. Specifically, she is exploring how education influenced Gallo-Romans’ relationships, perceived and real, to the Roman Empire, the Christian Church, and the Barbarian Kingdoms, and how this shifted throughout the fifth century.

(cover image and image number 3 © wikicommons, image number 2 © Alison John)