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8 — How ancient Romans have been characterised in fiction

The cover of 'The Assassins of Rome' by Caroline Lawrence from The Roman Mysteries series, depicting a hooded person with a sheathed sword on their back, crouching on a high parapet overlooking a Roman city square

Above: Cover from The Assassins of Rome by Caroline Lawrence, Orion Children's Books, London, 2002 reproduced with permission of Orion Children's Books.

This is the second sequence in a series of three focusing on the novel The Assassins of Rome. This sequence focuses on the author’s use of different levels of ancient Roman society as a basis for a range of characters in the book and gives students an opportunity to explore the characters through hot-seating. They then move on to identify the range of techniques the author has used to develop one of the main characters.

Introduction: How can we use example settings to edit and improve our own writing?

Recap the last sequence’s focus on the use of descriptive language in narrative settings. Read three further extracts from the text that describe areas of ancient Rome: pages 62–63 (Flavia and Nubia travel through the city on a litter), pages 120–21 (racing at the Circus Maximus) and pages 155–56 (the Golden Palace in the Palatine). Refer back to the students’ jointly constructed descriptions from the last sequence and jointly edit and re-write the texts to improve them. ACELY1726

Activity 1: Which aspects of ancient Roman society has the author drawn on to create characters?

Tell the students that now they have examined the settings in the text, they will move on to look at how the author has used characterisation to help imagine life in ancient Rome. Split the class into small groups and assign each group a character from the text, but do not assign anyone the main character Johnathon as they will be studying him in depth in Activity 3 (suggestions include the main characters Flavia, Nubia and Lupus, and the more minor characters Mordecai, Aristo, Miriam, Simeon, Sisyphus, Susannah, Rizpah or Titus). Groups complete Character profile worksheets to analyse their character. ACELT1619ACELT1620ACDSEH038,   ACDSEH039

Activity 2: What can we infer about these characters from our reading?

Assign each student the name of a different character from the one they have just studied. (Each character will end up being assigned to three or four students.) Each student creates three questions they would like to ask the character that should be related to events in the text and life in ancient Rome but not already covered in the character profile. Students from each original group take it in turn to dress up as their character and be hot-seated by the students who have developed questions for that character. ACELT1619ACELT1620ACDSEH038ACDSEH039

Activity 3: What techniques has the author used to develop a character?

Re-read the first chapter. Ask the students to identify the techniques and devices the author uses to characterise Johnathon and to provide quotes to support their ideas. Ensure that the students focus on how these techniques and devices enable the reader to learn more about Jonathon’s character. Record these on an interactive whiteboard using the Study of characterisation worksheet. Refer to the worksheet and ask students to identify the ways in which the author revealed Jonathon’s character; for example, through dialogue. What have the students noticed about noun groups in reference to characterisation? (Hint: They are not really used!) ACELT1621,   ACELT1622

Student reflective journal

Students should spend 5–10 minutes responding to the reflection questions for this sequence, either in written form or orally, and then assess their responses against the success criteria using the rubric provided.