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Extended reviews of The Great Latin Adventure

It's always a help to talk to someone who's used a product you're considering. Three users of The Great Latin Adventure have written extended reviews so that you can hear them describe in their own words their experience with the program. The writing time had to be carved out of their busy schedules, and I am grateful that they chose to share their thoughts with you in this way.

Thinking inside the box

Please note that quotations in boxes are from the same reviewer as the surrounding material, but these boxed quotations do not always duplicate material from the extended review. Some derive from other correspondence. This means you don't want to skip those boxed quotations!

Karen Koehler-Cesa  |  Amy Hastings Olsen  |  Karen Carlson

Karen Koehler-Cesa, MSc, CCC-SLP

"GLA is by far the most comprehensive program of its level, and I feel that many aspects of this program are unparalleled . . . I would not hesitate to recommend The Great Latin Adventure to either the novice or veteran Latin teacher of elementary to junior-high age students."

This review is written by myself, a mom who has homeschooled four children over the span of 14 years, and prior to that, who was an educator. Early in my homeschooling career I investigated various methodologies of homeschooling, and found that I desired a classical education for my children. Like many homeschooling parents of my era, I had no personal previous knowledge of Latin.  My only connection with Latin was the praises my father would frequently claim of the study; he being a product of an educational era that required the study of Latin.

As I embarked on my Latin journey with my oldest child (then just seven years old), I began reviewing the available programs for a beginning, young student. My quest for a complete program never ended!, and the journey introduced me to quite a few Latin programs. In my homeschool circles, I became one of the “resident experts” on Latin, while other homeschooling moms gravitated toward other aspects of classical education. In so doing, we formed a classical co-op that is still running successfully today.

In my personal homeschooling as well as in my co-op homeschooling, I eventually taught Latin over the period of nine years, using as I have said, quite an extensive variety of materials for students ranging from the pre-K level to early High School. After my homeschooling career ended, my relationship with classical education did not, as I continued to tutor Latin students in a conventional school setting. It is from these backgrounds of educator, home educator, and conventional school support that I base my comments on The Great Latin Adventure by Katharine Birkett.

I could summarize all of my comments about The Great Latin Adventure by simply stating, “I wish I had found this first!” However, if that had been the case, I might not be able to appreciate the program as thoroughly as I do now.  The Great Latin Adventure (GLA) is as complete a program for the beginning Latin student as can be found. 

Program overview

The Great Latin Adventure is a Latin program designed for the beginning, young Latin student grade 3 or 4 at the earliest, but which can very successfully be used even with 5th or higher, perhaps going at a faster pace. The program can be used by the beginning Latin teacher, as there are teacher notes throughout, but it is equally valuable to a veteran Latin instructor. There is an introductory “Master Chapter Plan” that lays out the purpose, structure, teaching sequences, and binder organization to prepare the instructor to use the program. Each chapter thereafter provides the teacher with: Teaching Notes on all the aspects of that chapter; the Vocabulary List for that chapter; the Grammar Lesson for that chapter; Study Sheets for review of the Grammar Lesson specifics; Derivative Worksheets to manipulate the new Latin vocabulary within English word contexts; Translation Worksheets to have the student practice skills of translating (chapters alternate in presentation of Latin-to-English drills, then English-to-Latin drills); Pre-Quizzes for test preparation; then, the Chapter Quiz itself.

I think what initially impressed me about GLA, from an educator’s standpoint, was the variety of exercises within the program itself, and within these exercises, the balanced and regular use of “recognition versus recall” activities. Katharine Birkett does a superior job making sure that each concept that is introduced is supported by a number of drills and activities that ensure understanding of that concept. Equal attention is given to drills that reinforce recognition (such as filling in the blanks from a bank of words) and total recall (i.e. completing a declension paradigm). No teachers need to create extra worksheets here, as is the case with many other popular Latin programs for young learners!

Program components

Teaching Notes

Each chapter starts out with Teaching Notes which explain all the components of that given chapter. This section ensures that even the novice Latin teacher can have complete command of the material in the chapter, but there are many tips and comments that are helpful even to teachers who have been instructing Latin for many years, and Katharine Birkett’s easy, conversational style makes the reader feel as if she is directly coming alongside the lesson prep session.

Vocabulary Lists

Vocabulary Lists start off nearly each chapter (review chapters do not present new vocabulary). GLA uses a gentle approach when it comes to the presentation of the new vocabulary. Lists start out small, and gradually increase in the number of vocabulary items, rather than having a set number of new vocabulary words each lesson. This gentler approach helps build the student’s confidence and success from the start.

Grammar Lessons

Grammar Lesson sections are the “textbook” for the course from which each new grammatical concept is introduced. These sections sufficiently explain all new concept information and are written in an easy-to-understand, narrative style that again makes the reader (whether the student or the teacher) feel as if the author is present, and is in essence directly teaching the material herself. The novice teacher, from these thorough text presentations, will know even what inflection to use in the voice and what questions to ask and when, in their own teaching presentation, just by the conversational style of the text. As a bonus, students will certainly gain deeper understanding of English grammar through the careful explanations of the Latin grammar.

Study Sheets

The Study Sheets, which immediately follow each chapter’s “text” material (the Grammar Lesson), are excellent exercises for the young student, and are typically not a component of Latin programs for this age level. These Study Sheets teach the student the necessity of going back through their texts to extract the most vital elements. At the age that these students can begin Birkett’s text, typically third or fourth grade, students may indeed be able to read for textual information, but they are not necessarily skilled at honing in on the salient material. The Study Sheets, however, help teach students how to comb back through their reading and draw out the information that is most important for the newly presented concepts. 

In these Study Sheets, Katharine Birkett ensures that the student will not rely just on rote memory for answers, as she manipulates the same vital question in several ways so that the student must truly understand the concept in order to answer. 

Derivative Worksheets

The Derivative Worksheets are absolutely unique to Katharine’s program—they are simply unparalleled among all the Latin programs I’ve encountered. In my opinion, this element of GLA is one of the strongest components, as it gives the students an immediate use for their Latin study: seeing the connection of Latin to everyday English. Immediately after learning their new Latin vocabulary for the chapter, these worksheets give the student the opportunity to (a) see how many English words can come from a given Latin word; (b) learn to notice Latin roots in English words, (c) see how the same Latin root can provide a variety of English grammatical forms (i.e. nouns, verbs, adjectives), and (d) become more familiar with and aware of how these various English grammatical forms are typically formed (i.e. “-able”, “-ile”, and “-al” endings create adjectives).

As with the Study Sheets, the Derivative Worksheets of GLA force the student to understand the Latin roots and not merely memorize pat answers. When learning the Latin word "discipulus" for example, the student is then introduced to four English derivatives: disciple, discipline (verb), discipline (noun), and disciplinary. The student cannot simply memorize an answer for the worksheet questions that follow these presentations, as they must think about the commonality between the English derivatives and the Latin root, as well as note the “shades” of meaning that come with the English words.

The introductory section of GLA, in the “Master Chapter Plan”, describes how the Derivative Worksheets’ content is really independent of the Grammar Lesson, and it is. Because of this, a teacher with severe time constraints might be tempted to put lesser emphasis on this part of the program, since it is not directly related to the grammatical portion of the chapter, but I would caution any teacher thinking in this direction!, as the derivative benefits to the student are tremendous. 

"I have seen many of my students, years later, recall and use English vocabulary that I know was directly as a result of having been introduced to the vocabulary through their Latin studies in general and by these derivative exercises in particular."

Translation Worksheets

Birkett carefully progresses the exercises in the Translation Worksheets from simpler to hardest, and by the end of the worksheets, students (as young as third grade, mind you!) are accomplishing some very impressive translations! As an extra bonus, the content of vocabulary and translations is often supportive of Christian values, and helps the student in character, beyond just the mere mechanics of grammatical translating.


GLA helps the young student learn how to prepare for tests by providing Pre-Quizzes for every chapter. These quick, short exercises can help the student recognize what areas of his chapter still need work and study before going on to the main Chapter Quiz.

Where the Pre-Quizzes are short and to the point, the Chapter Quizzes are very thorough and test the student in every aspect of the chapter: text material will be covered, paradigms, derivative work, translations and even extra credit are all part of the final chapter quiz. As in other components of the program, GLA provides a variety of question types both in the recognition and recall categories, fully testing the student’s true comprehension of the concepts as versus mere rote memory.


GLA is by far the most comprehensive program of its level, and I feel that many aspects of this program are unparalleled in comparable programs.  GLA leaves no stone unturned: it is utterly thorough and provides unique aspects, such as the Derivative Worksheets, not to be found in other Latin programs for young students.

In my years of using GLA, the students have always benefited from the work and have enjoyed the process to boot! Latin learning is not always easy, but the variety of worksheets, the gradual complexity moving at a reasonable pace from easier to harder, and the consistent use of recognition then recall provides the students with success from the start. And the more that students experience success, the more enjoyable they will find the process of learning!

"My GLA students fared significantly better . . ."

Not only have I found that my students enjoyed their Latin studies using The Great Latin Adventure, but I soon also discovered how well prepared they were for the next stages of Latin learning. In my teaching of upper level Latin (Jr. High and High School levels), there was no comparison between those students who came in “cold” as versus the students from a GLA background. Even amongst my students who approached upper level Latin prepared, but by other means, the GLA students fared significantly better, and I believe this to be due to the varied way that GLA manipulates the same content, so that thorough understanding is gained as versus rote memorization.

I would not hesitate to recommend The Great Latin Adventure to either the novice or veteran Latin teacher of elementary to Junior High age students.  The program does not focus solely on the mechanical aspects of Latin grammar, but supports English grammar, provides truly rich English vocabulary growth, and augments lessons of Christian character. It's equally valuable in a variety of settings: whether in a homeschool, weekly co-op, or in conventional five-day-a week-schooling, GLA is an option well worth considering.

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Amy Hastings Olsen, Latin/Writing co-op teacher and author of Writing Tales

The Great Latin Adventure is the best Latin grammar curriculum I have seen to date for elementary students. Mrs. Birkett takes a unique approach to this important subject, and in doing so, she helps her students achieve great success. 

If you are familiar with beginning Latin grammar curricula, you will know that most authors prefer to teach more than one noun declension and more than one verb declension at a time. By staying with primarily first declension nouns and first conjugation verbs throughout the course, Mrs. Birkett avoids unnecessary confusion for beginning students. The students are able to do more grammatically with their sentences than in other beginning curricula. And with a few less details to think about, the students can enjoy the thrill of translating complicated sentences back and forth into another language. They learn how to translate predicate nominatives, predicate adjectives, direct objects, and objects of prepositions. They learn how to add adjectives to all of the aforementioned, and how to use three different verb tenses. And along the way they learn a wide and varied Latin vocabulary that will help them master their own English language. 

"The Great Latin Adventure is very well laid out and easy to follow. Those already experienced in Latin will appreciate the author’s handy knowledge of the subject. Those brand-new to Latin will love the ease with which they can pick up the materials and begin teaching the program to their students within a short time."

Every chapter begins with Teaching Notes, written exclusively for the teacher. This feature is like having your own private Latin tutor alongside you as you teach! For the students, each chapter begins with a Vocabulary List, a Grammar Lesson, and a Study Sheet. 

Next follows one of my favorite features—the Derivative Worksheet.  This wonderful addition gives the students some time in each chapter to work with their Latin vocabulary words and to learn some English words that have grown directly from them. Just the addition of this derivative work alone will raise SAT scores 20 points in later years!  

After the derivative work, the students spend time on Translation Worksheets, where the students begin working with the Latin grammar that they have learned.  Chapters alternate between Latin-to-English and English-to-Latin translations, ensuring that the students are able to switch back and forth easily. Along the way, Pre-Quizzes and Quizzes test their vocabulary and grammar knowledge. 

"All components combine to make sure the student has a thorough mastery of the subject matter in each
 chapter before continuing on." 

As a homeschooler and as a Latin teacher, I have seen many Latin courses that endeavor to teach the subject of Latin grammar to young students. Never have I seen a Latin course so well thought out, so logical, and so accessible to the growing mind. After completing the course, the students will have mastered beginning Latin grammar and move to more complicated grammar with ease. 
The Great Latin Adventure will remain my course of choice! 

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Karen Carlson, homeschooling Mom

This slowly incremental program is great for the elementary years! It’s not too much, but it gives plenty of good practice with each new concept.

The Teaching Notes are great for someone who has had no Latin experience. After reading through these, you’ll have no questions unanswered!

The author’s great sense of humor readily shines out throughout the entire program!

After working through the new grammar concepts in each chapter, there is then a helpful Study Sheet for the student to fill in. This became a handy reference for my students as they worked through the lesson.

One of the great strengths of this program is the derivative worksheets! My students learned many vocabulary words from this program.

Every sentence the student encounters is God-honoring and family-friendly. Many of the translation sentences encourage strong Christian values such as obedience, respect, and honesty.

"I really appreciate the wealth of translation exercises contained in GLA compared to other beginning Latin programs."

Some of the translation exercises tell a simple story. This helps hold the interest of the student.

We have been among the privileged few who have worked through Mrs. Birkett’s three editions of The Great Latin Adventure before it was published. Each revision incorporated wonderful changes that have only enhanced the program and made it more user-friendly.

It is helpful that the answer keys look similar to the student’s version, except for the answers filled in. This makes for a quick and easy reference for the teacher.

"Although they were harder, my students enjoyed and benefitted from the chapters that focused on translating from English into Latin. This really solidified their skills and understanding of the grammar concepts. Few programs at the younger elementary levels
have this feature!

This program lays such a wonderful foundation for Latin in the elementary years, that my students have had no problem moving on to higher level Latin material. The first several lessons of a junior-high or high-school level program were a breeze for my students after The Great Latin Adventure! I only wish the author would write a program for that higher level!

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