Latin through Stories: A K-5 Curriculum from the University of Dallas

Do you believe that young children are capable of learning a language, not just word lists? Are you looking for a program that goes beyond the “flashcard approach”?

Curriculum Overview and Objective

Our curriculum is the only near-immersion, comprehensible input-based curriculum in Latin for elementary age students. Students acquire Latin joyfully and meaningfully through songs, nursery rhymes, picture talks about beautiful works of art, our unique “Little Socratic Talks”, oral mini stories (“Gouin series”), and beautifully illustrated picture books, many of them traditional folktales, as well as optional prayers, bible verses, and hymns. The Teacher Guides are fully scripted, so teachers with no Latin background can use it too.

The main objective of this curriculum is to provide a joyful introduction to Latin as a language that has been used to communicate worthwhile ideas for two millennia. We believe a language program should take children seriously as persons who are capable of using language to communicate thoughts and ideas, not just isolated words. We do this by allowing students to hear (and when they’re ready, say) complete sentences in Latin, and by focusing on ideas and stories from Day 1. Students interact with and in the Language in ways that are meaningful and interesting to a young child.

We invite you read about why we want students to learn Latin, and to explore our classical approach to early language learning and our Medieval and Humanist pedagogical inspiration for a fuller explanation of our pedagogy. And you can also see some of our current pilot students in action!

I really cannot even begin to tell you how much joy teaching this Latin curriculum is bringing me and the students of St Joseph. I have to share this with you. Last night, my 4 year old (who is in Kindergarten) told me spontaneously, ‘Mommy, Maya caudam movet’. Maya is our dog. My heart just about exploded. Since I have the privilege of being the teacher and a parent, I can see first hand how well this is working. Not one day goes by that I am not amazed by the joy that this curriculum is bringing to me and my students.  Not a week goes by that I am not enthralled by how much Latin we are all learning.  I say it all the time, but it bears repeating:  this curriculum is amazing!! 

Amy Carrillo, St Joseph’s Catholic School, Killeen, TX

Living Latin Curriculum Distinctives

The main distinctive feature of this program is its linguistically rich approach. This program helps students acquire gradually and incrementally a wealth of full and complete sentences in Latin: in each level students learn over a hundred complete sentences through the Gouin series; they learn to sing over ten songs and nursery rhymes (many with several stanzas); they learn to respond in complete sentences to their teacher’s questions in the guided “little Socratic talks”; and they learn to respond to, fully comprehend, act out, and memorize phrases from around ten picture books and folktales that are read to them in Latin.

Our program presents all words in meaningful sentences, not lists of vocabulary items and noun declensions or verb conjugations in isolation. With our program, young children will not only learn a lot of vocabulary and grammar in context, but they will also naturally acquire an ear for the language and get a natural feel for Latin sentence structures – this is particularly important in a language like Latin with word order so much more flexible than English.

  • Vocabulary and grammar are taught in meaningful contexts (sentences, not isolated words), through songs, nursery rhymes, “little Socratic conversations” and the “Gouin Series” (see “Lesson Components” below)
  • Grammar is not taught through drills but is integrated naturally through learning at the sentence level rather than through isolated words.
  • Instruction is aural, visual, as well as kinesthetic – it includes lots of gestures and movement, as well as visual images. Students will constantly be doing something to interact with the material, so they will be actively engaged with their whole bodies; this is a program that will also work well for ELL and students with learning disabilities

What a great way to use some of the early years of schooling to establish a basic sense of the language. Your stress on known sense-based realities (rather than things like lex, forma, bellum, culpa, consul), and particularly the attention to animals for the youngest ones, are inspired I had never heard of the Gouin series, but I was immediately persuaded by the idea. Your colorful images are splendid. They appeal to the imagination and make the learning of Latin interesting. Congratulations on a brilliant new initiative in Latin pedagogy.

Fr. Claude Pavur, Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies, Boston College

Living Latin Lesson Components

Note: Not all components will be present in every lesson. Lessons are written with the idea that classes meet 3 times per week, 30 minutes per class, which we recommend to get the most out of the program. But we are happy to help you adjust to your school or homeschool’s schedule and needs.

Settling into Latin

This part constitutes the warm-up and review phase of every lesson, as it helps little people settle into the language by reviewing prayers, bible verses, songs, nursery rhymes, and Gouin series previously learned and rotated throughout the semester. Everything studied is kept active by reviewing at regular intervals throughout the school year so that students will fully internalize the vocabulary and grammar structures.

Picture Study

Beautiful works of art introduce new vocabulary and grammar and invite students to wonder about and preview the topic of the new Gouin series or Socratic Talk.

Little Socratic Talk

Guided by the dialogue between Socrates and the little slave boy in Plato’s Meno, the Teacher’s Guide will include model “little Socratic talks” all in Latin. Just like Socrates, the Latin teacher will start from a concrete object and begin with simple yes/no questions to provide a lot of linguistic input for the students. The teacher will gradually move on to short answer questions. In second grade and up, this part may conclude with a short grammar lesson that focuses on the students’ wonder about the language.

Little Socratic Reading

The Teacher’s Guide includes instructions on how to teach for comprehension and how to guide students gradually toward the ability to narrate the story back in Latin.

Gouin Series

Frenchman François Gouin (1831–1896) was a Latin teacher who developed a “series method” of language learning. After repeatedly failing to acquire German despite his efforts in employing a long repertoire of “classical” methods, he realized that his young nephew had acquired his native language French, effortlessly and perfectly in the same amount of time. He noticed how the child was eager to retell new experiences as sequential actions. This led him to the insight that language is learned “sentence by sentence and not word by word.” Based on his observations and insights, Gouin developed the “series method,” also known today as “Gouin series.” A Gouin series is a series of actions that form a logical or chronological sequence. Once a Gouin series is mastered, it is kept active by frequent reviews throughout the school year (during the warm up phase), so that students will fully internalize the vocabulary and grammar structure.

Optional Grammar Extensions

In order to enable teachers to use our curriculum with a range of different grades, we include optional grammar extensions that are ideal for students in 2nd or 3rd grade and up. All grammar lessons are directly based on the language students have already internalized through meaningful memorization, so grammar lessons are likewise meaningful. Throughout Level 1, we focus on helping students understand (not just memorize) sentence components, especially nominative, accusative and prepositional phrases, as well as verb conjugations. Optional extensions also include guided sentence composition in Latin.

A student, a 3rd grader, exclaimed ‘I love learning!’ in the middle of my lesson on Wednesday!  He was so compelled by learning the 3rd person forms of verbs, he just said it. 

Amy Carrillo, St Joseph’s School, Killeen, TX