The Literature and Culture paper: Latin GCSE (Part One)

Judging from conversations on the Classics Library, I am not the only Latin teacher to be questioning my understanding (and less charitably, OCR’s clarity) of the Literature and Culture paper for Latin GCSE. I have taught this paper for five years, and last month was the first examination of it in its new form for the new specification. My last post explored what a Key Stage Three Latin curriculum should look like, and in order to articulate what the cultural aspect of this should look like at KS3, I will start with my efforts to articulate this first at Key Stage Four, in the context of the new Latin GCSE.

The aim of the Literature and Culture module, according to OCR, (page 14) is to “develop learners’ knowledge and understanding of Roman civilisation and culture through the study of ancient literature and other ancient source material.”

For guidance on what to teach: “Learners should study the prescribed ancient source material in the ‘Prescribed Sources Booklet’ for both of the topic areas set in any given year. Learners should also study additional ancient sources covering similar content to help illustrate the topics they are studying and provide opportunities for comparison.”

The following table is then provided: I am not sure what the difference is between what learners should be able to and will be required to do, but overall it is a useful list.  gcse-table.png

Anyone who taught the module in its previous form will know that the quantity of topics and sources has both been greatly reduced, and that there are fewer literary and more material sources. This year is the second time I have taught the module (our school starts the new academic year after the May half-term, so I have started with my new GCSE class), and, having evolved my teaching of the module as I taught it the first time, I am keen to articulate how I teach this before I start, and share this with students, so that they experience the same level of clarity in the teaching of Literature and Culture as they do with their Language modules. This is a work in progress, and I hope that by sharing my practice, others might be encouraged to comment and share what they do, and I hope that it helps anyone new to the course in understanding what it looks like to bring structure and clarity to this module. I have divided the post into two parts: this one is on what knowledge students should learn about the topic and how they can do it, and how to study the prescribed sources. The second post will be on non-prescribed sources, comparing sources, contrasting ancient and modern sources, and selecting, analysing and evaluating evidence in response to a question, through written response.

Each sub-topic is taught in the following order, covering each point:

  • Knowledge on the topic and activities to check understanding
  • Prescribed sources: context; what they tell us about Roman culture, social practices and values; their usefulness.
  • Further sources (literary/ material and inscriptional): same as prescribed sources.
  • Comparison of sources on the same topic.
  • Comparison of sources, ideas, values and social practices from the ancient and modern worlds.
  • Selecting and analysing sources to make an evidence-based response to the material studied.


As an example, I will start with the Roman Gods sub-topic of the Myths and Beliefs topic, and show what this looks like in theory. OCR’s description of the sub-topic is “Roman Gods Jupiter, Juno, Mars, Venus, Neptune, Minerva, Apollo, Diana, Vulcan, Vesta, Pluto, Mercury and their roles.” Prescribed sources are:

spec sources

  • Knowledge on the topic and activities to check understanding

I start this with two resources which I find invaluable for this course: Renshaw’s ‘In Search of the Romans’; and Cambridge Latin Course Books 1-5. I collate a booklet of information on the given topic, read all the information, creating questions and activities for students to complete (with sub-titles or page references), and then create a Knowledge Organiser on what students should know about this topic (read here for an excellent summary on why Knowledge Organisers are so useful for learning that sticks), with an accompanying Quizlet (the software we also use for vocabulary learning). The reading and answering questions would be set as a homework the lesson before we start the topic, and the Knowledge Organiser and Quizlet would be introduced after the first lesson as a homework to learn the information by heart.

There would then be an activity in class to check the understanding of the reading, and to discuss any questions and address any misconceptions. This might consist of: each student writing a question on a post-it and sticking it on the board. Whilst the subsequent activities are happening, I would read these and order them into groups, addressing them at different moments throughout the lesson, starting with any simple fact-based questions, which I would ask other students to help with, moving on to questions which we might hypothesise the answer to, and, for any which I am not able to answer, making a point of this and taking it away to research for the next lesson to provide an answer. The next activity took the form of a quiz, “Guess the God”, where statues and images of gods (from the Classical period where possible) were shown, and students worked in pairs to work out who it was, explaining how they could tell. For this image of Jupiter, questions might include, after students have worked out who it was:Jupiter

  • How did you know?
  • If you took away the lightning bolt, could you still tell? How?

Students were then given scenarios (e.g. a woman trying to conceive) and had to choose who they should pray to and why. These activities help students to apply their knowledge from their reading. At some point during the activities, students would have been asked to close their books and try to answer without recourse to their books: if this turned out to be too difficult at this stage, books could be opened after ten seconds of thinking time.


  • Prescribed sources: context; what they tell us about Roman culture, social practices and values; their usefulness.

I will then take the example of Livy’s ab urbe condita for how to approach a prescribed source. First I would seek a fuller version of the source online  In this case students were given the context of the source type (history); the context (Punic Wars, Hannibal, Rome close to defeat). We then read all of an annotated version of 22.10 (annotated with definitions of e.g. Quirites, Pontifex Maximus) , highlighting the sections where the gods are mentioned, and drew each aspect of what Livy describes as Rome’s ‘Sacred Spring’. We then discussed what the parts referencing the gods tell us about the Roman view of the gods (reciprocal relationship; anthropomorphic; capable of changing outcome of war; directly related to politics). Looking at the fuller source also introduced me to the concept of the lectisternium which gave me (and therefore the students) a greater understanding of this ceremony and its wider context. Lastly, we would discuss Livy’s usefulness, considering his aims; when he was writing; the type of source; and any other pertinent information. Some sources I can draw upon my own knowledge, sometimes it is more likely to be researched from Wikipedia and Livius.

Part Two will consider the second part of teaching a sub-topic:

  • Further sources (literary/ material and inscriptions).
  • Comparison of sources on the same topic.
  • Comparison of sources, ideas, values and social practices from the ancient and modern worlds.
  • Selecting sources to make an evidence-based response to the material studied.



Published by

amo amas amat

Lead Practitioner of Latin and Classics at a comprehensive state school in East London.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s