Grumio, in the Triclinium, with the Gladius: Integrating Culture

**Updated 12.13 with this clue tracking sheet for teams**

Latin Clue - Roman VillaEvery Latin program has that perfunctory “Roman house” unit in which students memorize the layout and names of various rooms in a vīlla or domus, and then read (or translate) a narrative loosely connected to those rooms. This got me thinking; is there a more meaningful way to learn about the Roman house through a game? To be clear, gamification usually sucks (e.g. playing a board game to teach prepositions), so the key is to align the game objective with a communicative task in Latin. On Episode 42 of Tea with BVP, Bill stated that “we communicate in order to learn, build, create, entertain, and socialize,” so what better task covering at least 3 of those purposes than a “whodunit” based on Clue™?

The basic idea of this game is to determine a) the murderer (i.e. one of 6 teams of students), b) the location of the murder, and c) the murder weapon by making guesses, noting responses, and ruling out possibilities. I recommend ruling out possibilities as a whole class until students get the hang of it and then can keep track and do some thinking in their groups. There are MANY opportunities for meaningful, compelling comprehensible input during this game. In fact, the first time I did this we spent an entire class setting up the details using standard Storyasking!

In the example below, instead of teaching ABOUT the rooms of a Roman house, just make the rooms part of the content—the messages used in the game (e.g. “OK, you want to go to the triclinium; you rolled 7; you have 7; move 7; who do you think killed the eagle? etc.). Throughout the game, ask PQA about the room locations, what’s significant about each, and why or why a suspect would or wouldn’t kill the victim! The purpose is not to learn about the Roman house, but students will end up doing so via the game! N.B. you can do this as-is with ANY culturally significant location with 9 areas. So, aside from having some dice (e.g. 10-sided, two 6-sided?), you’ll need to determine the following:

– 1 building/location
– 1 victim
– 9 rooms/areas
– 6 suspects (teams of 3-4 students)
– 6 weapons

1) Roll & Move
– roll dice, move into room you want to suggest as murder location
2) Suggest & Prove
– suggest murder details while other teams, beginning with murder suspect, take turns proving  your suggestion wrong by showing ONLY ONE card that was suggested (if they have it)
3) Accuse or End Turn
– when confident, make an accusation—check cards set aside, but put back if wrong

I like using VERBA™ cards for details, which requires slightly more prep (see bottom of page for that version), but I like the presentation value and wanted to keep the details more closely tied to Roman culture. By giving students a choice of two random cards while talking about them, the first time we did Latin Clue, students chose an aquila as the victim, the senex, mīles, scrīptor, rēx, barbarus, and deus (Iuppiter) as team names/suspects, and the hasta, fax, os, sagitta, scūtum, and serpēns as the murder weapons (arma). The areas of the Roman house were fixed because that was my cultural topic (e.g. in triclīniō, in culīnā, in tabernā, in impluviō, in ātriō, in peristylō, in tablīnō, and in cubiculō), so I made my own cards and slipped them into the sleeves of 9 random VERBA cards. For the record, this has been the MOST prep I’ve done for an activity this entire year, but I figured we would reuse them for another game, making the juice worth the squeeze.

The game was a blast, and then I typed up this reading using all of our characters to read quickly the following day. The day after we read this Embedded Reading (ER). Follow the different sets of directions below depending on how much prep you’d like to put in:

No Prep Version

  • Elicit details for everything needed in standard Storyasking-style.
  • Write/Project all details on board (used to eliminate possibilities as a class, but have teams make their own once familiar with the gameplay).
  • Write names of rooms, suspects, and weapons on scrap paper/index cards.
  • Stack cards by type.
  • Assign each team a suspect.
  • Shuffle each of the three stacks individually.
  • Randomly select one of each, and place aside, in a box, etc. (these become the details your students are trying to correctly accuse).
  • Shuffle remaining three stacks of cards together.
  • Deal the rest of the cards to each team (it won’t come out evenly).


  • First team of students chooses a room and rolls dice (e.g. roll of 7+ is successful and means that the team can continue, anything else means they lose turn, etc.).
  • After a successful roll, the first team suggests that a suspect committed the murder (in the room they chose to be in) and the murder weapon (e.g. famously “We think that it was X in the Y with the Z,” though you could use another phrase with different verbs like “We think that X killed AA in the Y with the Z” etc.).
  • If the suspected team is holding ANY of cards suggested, they show one (but ONLY ONE) of those cards to the first team. Other teams of students then show a card to prove the suggested details wrong. If a team cannot prove the suggestion wrong, it passes (once students are more comfortable and are keeping track of their own ruled-out possibilities, the team with a suggested detail shows the card ONLY to the suggesting team, and not the full class).
  • Teacher eliminates any possibility from the written/projected list (once students are more comfortable and are keeping track of their own ruled-out possibilities, the team with a suggested detail shows the card ONLY to the suggesting team, and not the full class).
  • First team MAY make an accusation, or end turn.
  • Continue until a team chooses to accuse the murderer, the location, and the weapon by looking at the cards placed aside, or in a box, etc. Each team can only make ONE accusation during the game. If false, they secretly return cards, and continue proving other suggestions wrong by showing cards, but can’t roll, suggest, or accuse for the rest of the game.

VERBA™ & Roman House Game Board Version

  • Project this Roman House Game Board.
  • Use pre-dermined VERBA cards for the victim, teams, and weapons.
  • Print and use these 9 room cards color-coded to the Roman House Game Board (yes, the color is helpful if you can do it once, and then just slide paper into card sleeves of 9 random existing VERBA cards so when the cards are distributed other teams can’t tell who has the locations. Oh, and if you don’t have card sleeves for VERBA…what are you thinking!?)
  • Continue Setup as above.


  • Using the Game Board, teams roll dice and move some kind of token the actual number of squares shown on dice (since I projected the Roman house, I just used magnets on the white board). The first team MUST reach the room they want to suggest as the murder location before continuing.
  • Move the suspected team’s token into the room when it is suggested they committed the crime (e.g. Team Alpha moves to the triclīnium to suggest that it was Team Zappa, so Team Zappa’s token is placed in the triclīnium, and then must move around the board from that room).
  • Continue Gameplay as above.

7 thoughts on “Grumio, in the Triclinium, with the Gladius: Integrating Culture

  1. This is awesome! Thanks so much for your continued creative efforts. They have brought so much to my class and I’m sure for many others. I am getting really into gamification right now and I want to create a DnD style tabletop. The book I stumbled upon recently is called “Explore Like a Pirate” by Michael Matera. Also, while investigating game design theory I am amazed at how similar are the concepts of building an effective game world and crafting effective curriculum. I wanted to share a distinction I recently learned about between gamification and game-based learning.
    Thanks so much again (especially for Discipilus Illustris and Piso!)

    • Fantastic! That comparison chart is great. I can say that most gamification requires waaaay too much prep and coordination during a language class when my attention is already focused on adjusting messages and making languages more comprehensible (perhaps more beneficial in Science etc.)

      I did the Games MOOC years ago and it was fantastic. Talk to Kevin at Practomime on games for classroom and beyond.

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  5. For some reason the link to the game board and the Clue tracker sheet go to the same Google doc. Any chance you could send me the link to the game board? Gratias maximas agam!

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