Pliny and the Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius
The purpose of this lesson is to use earth science concepts--from volcanology--to explain to students studying the letter of Pliny the Younger to the historian Tacitus how Mt. Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. Students will study and demonstrate mastery of the eruption and its historical impact through a webquest on Pompeii, reading of an articles with appropriate content-area reading support, participation in interactive lecture, writing of a journal entry about life in Pompeii at the time of the eruption, oral presentations on life in Pompeii, reviewing of the grammatical functions of all tenses of participles, and using a rubric to evaluate a video on Pompeii to be used for instruction.
A lesson plan for grades 9–12 Second Languages
- describe with scientifically accurate vocabulary the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79.
- identify patterns of daily life in Pompeii prior to the eruption as well as observations on the place of Mt. Vesuvius in their culture.
- analyze the letter of Pliny the Younger, in Latin, to find evidence of attitudes toward the eruption and the destruction that it caused.
- create a journal entry in Latin detailing several observations of daily life from the perspective of a community member of Pompeii prior to the eruption and at the beginning of the eruption.
- analyze the use of present, past, and future participles in Pliny’s Letter to Tacitus.
- evaluate the accuracy of a video by the Discovery Channel entitled “Pompeii: The Last Day” by use of a rubric.
Time required for lesson
- Volcano Anticipation Guide
- Video Clip on Volcanic Eruption (any will do — see an earth science teacher)
- Copies of webquest sheets.
- Copies of the Mt. Vesuvius Article and accompanying questions.
- Copies of the letter of Pliny the Younger to Tacitus on the Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius
- Copy of Pompeii: The Last Day (Discovery Channel)
- Copies of Video Evaluation Rubric.
Internet Connection for webquest (see above).
Presentation equipment and software (see above).
- Anticipation guide on volcanoes.
- Preview video clip on modern eruptions. Use any video clip from the school video library (or borrow one from an earth science teacher that shows an eruption such as Mt. St. Helens or Monserrat).
- Ask students to imagine and share what it must be like to experience a volcanic eruption. Tell them that there is no word in Latin for volcano--what does this say about Roman culture?
- Students will complete a webquest on life in Pompeii and Herculaneum.
- Webquest will list the websites students will visit. Students will visit two websites and answer questions. Webquest can be completed on paper.
- Students will present information to the class orally. Each student will be given 3 minutes to discuss one aspect of life in Pompeii. Each student will be required to ask one question from each short presentation.
- Teacher will give an interactive lecture on the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius accompanied by an article on the eruption with accompanying questions. Students will take notes on the lecture, read the article, and answer the questions.
- Teacher will hand to students a copy of Pliny the Younger’s letter to Tacitus in Latin (relevant sections of the letter may be used if the entire letter is deemed too long). Students will sight read the letter with teacher aid in order to construct an understanding of the letter content (focus will not be on translation, but on comprehension and sight-reading skills). Give students an opportunity to read the selection in small chunks. After each chunk, call upon various students to note their observations; ask other students to agree/disagree and clarify until the observations are accurate. At the end, ask students to reconstruct a general picture of Pliny’s emotions toward the eruption.Questions for students to consider:
- What is the attitude of Pliny the Younger’s uncle toward the eruption? How does this prove to be his downfall?
- How did Pliny describe the eruption? What metaphors did he use to explain it to Tacitus?
- How did the people react to the eruption?
- Why did people think that this was the end of the world?
- Students will create a journal entry in simple Latin noting at least five observations about life in Pompeii just before, and during the early stages of the eruption. The journal entry will be based on the webquest information and observations garnered from reading Pliny’s letter. Students having difficulty may want to write in English first in order to get their ideas on paper.
- Review the concept of Participles-- Ask students to define and explain the function of each of the participles in English. Then ask students to review the identification of each of the three participles (present active, perfect passive, and future active) by creating a chart on the board that shows the identifying characteristics of each participle in Latin. After this review, have students return to the letter of Pliny to Tacitus and ask them, in groups of 3 or 4, find all of the participles in the letter and classify them based on tense. At the end of the activity, review the answers with the students orally, or collect a paper from each group for evaluation. To extend this activity to attain higher level thinking, ask students to pick an example of each tense of participle in the text and to analyze how the participle impacts the tone of the story. For example, does Pliny tend to use present participles as a tool for increasing the pace and speed of the story line? Do the future active participles convey a sense of what is to come? Does Pliny make effective use of participles? In sum, how do the participles affect the tone and structure of the letter?
- As the culminating activity, you will be asking students to become evaluators of media’s accuracy and portrayal of content. Give students a rubric to evaluate a documentary and explain to them that they will judge not only the accuracy of the documentary, but the choices the filmmakers made in recreating the disaster at Pompeii. The documentary is from the Discovery Channel and is entitled Pompeii: The Last Day. If this particular video is not available, there are documentaries on Pompeii from the History Channel and National Geographic.
- Anticipation Guide on Volcanoes
- Student Webquests
- Student Oral Presentations on Webquests and questions.
- Review Sheet from article on Mt. Vesuvius
- Teacher Observation of Student Sight Reading of the Pliny Letter.
- Student Journal Entry on Life Just Before the Eruption.
- Student Evaluation of the Pompeii Documentary.
Text of Pliny the Elder’s Letter to Tacitus:
- Fifty Letters of Pliny (ed. A.N. Sherwin-White)(pages 37-40)
- Third Year Latin by Charles Jenney (pages 313-316)
- Wheelock’s Latin Reader (ed. Richard A. LaFleur)(pages 255-265)
The webquest can be done on paper or electronically. If the teacher creates a webquest survey by using Zoomerang’s software, he or she can post the webquest online and ask the students to complete it online. The teacher can then download the results electronically.
The major purpose of this lesson is to get students to see the connections between science, history, and Latin. The experience at Mt. Vesuvius in AD79 was the first studied volcanic eruption in the world and shattered Roman perceptions about their world. Pliny was privileged to record that event for us to study.
North Carolina curriculum alignment
Second Languages (2005)
Grade 9–12 — Latin IV
- Goal 1: Communication - The student will read, understand, and interpret Latin developing oral, auditory and writing skills as part of the language learning process.
- Objective 1.01: Read and demonstrate comprehension of a variety of adapted and authentic Latin texts.
- Objective 1.02: Demonstrate the ability to move beyond literal reading comprehension by interpreting, making inferences and analyzing a chosen author or authors orally and in writing in English.
- Objective 1.03: Demonstrate knowledge of vocabulary, inflectional system and syntax appropriate to a chosen author or authors.
- Objective 1.04: Recognize, interpret and explain content, stylistic features and meter of a chosen author or authors.
- Goal 2: Cultures - The student will gain knowledge and demonstrate understanding of the relationship among practices, products, and perspectives of the Greco-Roman culture.
- Objective 2.01: Analyze and discuss variations of patterns of behavior or interaction within the Greco-Roman culture.
- Objective 2.02: Make inferences about the Greco-Roman culture and its people by participating in and experiencing customs, traditions and celebrations.
- Objective 2.03: Analyze and discuss Roman literature and the arts in order to understand the cultural practices and perspectives of the people of the Greco-Roman world using print, non-print, electronic resources and media, and cultural artifacts.
- Objective 2.04: Examine the geographical features of the Greco-Roman world and explain their impact on its peoples and cultures using print, non-print, electronic resources and multimedia tools, and cultural artifacts.
- Objective 2.05: Evaluate the impact of influential people and events, and their contributions to Greco-Roman culture using print, non-print, electronic resources, and cultural artifacts.
- Objective 2.06: Form and support opinions about daily life in Greco-Roman culture using print, non-print, electronic resources, and cultural artifacts.
- Goal 3: Connections - The student will relate Latin and the Greco-Roman world to other disciplines.
- Objective 3.01: Determine the different technical meanings of specialized vocabulary in the context of other disciplines using the knowledge of Greek and Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes.
- Objective 3.03: Analyze similarities and differences in ancient and contemporary cultural products and perspectives using methods employing print, non-print, electronic materials and cultural artifacts stressing readings of original texts.
- Objective 3.05: Apply information, skills, and learning strategies from the Latin class to other disciplines.
- Goal 4: Comparisons - The student will develop insight into the English language and their own culture through the study of Latin and the Greco-Roman world.
- Objective 4.01: Determine the meaning of the vocabulary of English and other languages based on knowledge of common Latin and Greek roots, prefixes and suffixes.
- Objective 4.07: Analyze similarities and differences in Greco-Roman culture(s) and the student's culture(s), discovered through independent research and reading of original texts.
- Goal 5: Communities - The students will use and apply their knowledge of Latin and of Greco-Roman culture in a diverse world.
- Objective 5.01: Share, exchange and present information about the influence of Latin and Greco-Roman culture to others in the school and extended community using presentational technology such as power point and various multi-media resources.
- Objective 5.02: Evaluate Greco-Roman influences throughout the global community using print, non-print, electronic resources, multi-media tools and cultural artifacts.