Serving Up Creativity in Middle School Latin

In Magistra Anne Smith’s class, learning Latin is as much about conjugating verbs as it is about building curiosity and creativity—the two guiding themes in Shipley’s Middle School this year. 

The seventh grade’s Latin Cena dinner menu project perfectly encapsulates this ethos—stoking students’ curiosity through the rigorous research of ancient Latin recipes and developing their creativity through the artistic presentation of authentic Roman specialties at a dinner party perfectly tailored according to each student’s personal style.

As students begin to develop their basic Latin vocabulary in seventh grade through the Cambridge Latin Course, Magistra Smith immerses her pupils in the historical and cultural background of the Romans through multimedia presentations and the exploration of historic texts like the cookbook and guide to Roman dining by ancient chef and author, Apicius.

Students use a modern version of Apicius’ classic text, among others, to complete a Latin Cena (dinner) Menu project. The assignment asks students to create their own dinner party invitation including research, written composition and some self-expression in the generous salutatory inclusive invitation to "Magistra and Classmates" to their imaginary Villa, with a gracious tone and a dash of humor on the entertainment offered (jugglers, poetry reciting, musicians, dancers, et al...), and artistic components. Students also present their projects in class to practice their public speaking skills. 

“The variety of invitations is just beautiful,” commented Magistra Smith on this year’s crop of projects. “These are just extraordinarily excellent.” From scrolls antiqued with tea, to invitations sealed with wax in an envelope that would have been delivered by boat and courier, Smith is proud to put her students’ personal creative expressions on display. 

“I think the students were inspired by the examples I shared with them.” One student even incorporated what she had learned about binding books in STEAM class with Mr. Harris to produce a hand-bound multi-page booklet.

Smith assesses students on the originality of the menu’s gracious greeting, in addition to the successful completion of the research, writing, and artistic components of the project. Self-evaluation is an important part of the process and incorporates prompts from the teacher. Students are asked to reflect on their creativity, the challenges they came across, what they’re most proud of, highlights of the project, and grade themselves on how fully they met assignment requirements, including deadlines.

In their self-evaluations, students shared the following reflections: 
  • "I really loved antiquifying my project with coffee stains!"
  • "Thank you, Mrs. Smith, I enjoyed this project and this combined Latin & Art!”
  • "I enjoyed learning more about Apicius' recipe book. I am most proud of my food selections and efforts."
  • "I loved this project!", "Thank you! I thought it was very interesting.", "Thank you for allowing us to do this project!"
  • "It was fun to make! Thank you"
  • "I really enjoyed learning about this!"
Smith says, "My goal is to inspire joy in my Latin classroom and my students really delved into this research-based project learning with relish, or should I say garum, that ubiquitous fish sauce imported throughout the Roman Empire…. These seventh graders have composed researched menus which demonstrate their critical thinking and learning as creative endeavors. I hope they take pride and enjoyment in their intellectual efforts."


The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.