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Text Only Cases: Wise Practice Database

(items to be linked by IU in blue)
Case Lesson
Topic: Rome: Marcus Aurelius Thinks Aloud
Persistent Issue: What actions are justified in the interest of the welfare or security of the community?
Central Question: What actions should Marcus Aurelius take to preserve the empire?
Grade Level: 8 (World History to 1500)
Case Type: Think Aloud
Physical Location (URL) of Folder containing Lesson Files:
Current Location on PIH Site: CommunicationPublic Folder2008-2009 Lesson Study - Rome
Lesson Summary and Narrative: (extract from materials on PIH Network; use blue for items IU needs to link)


Enable students to be able to:

1. Empathize with Marcus Aurelius during the period in history when he had to determine the best way to preserve the Roman Empire from foreign threats.
2. Recognize the potential impact a leader can have on the course of history through an analysis of Marcus Aurelius’ actions as emperor.
3. Discuss how the personal beliefs and philosophies of Marcus Aurelius influenced his decision making.
4. Weigh the pros and cons associated with various courses of action for dealing with the Germanic invaders.
5. Predict the cause/effects of decisions made by Marcus Aurelius.

Lesson Summary:
This lesson is an analysis of Marcus Aurelius and his decision-making as emperor. In this activity, students receive a Think Aloud document that provides a window into Marcus Aurelius’ mindset as he wrestles with the dilemma of what to do about the threat of invasion from various Germanic tribes on Rome’s extended borders. After reading this background information, students break into expert groups to more closely analyze the advice of one of Marcus Aurelius’ advisors. The students move in jigsaw fashion into decision-making groups where the perspective of each advisor is represented. The groups attempt to predict the decision Marcus Aurelius is most likely to make given the available options. The lesson ends with the instructor telling the students what really happened.
Lesson Narrative:

Introducing the Lesson (1 day)

Pass out map.

Gladiator grabber: The teacher will show a brief clip from the movie Gladiator. The clip illustrates the threat Rome is experiencing from Germanic “barbarian” tribes along the frontier of the empire. It is used to introduce students to the situation facing Marcus Aurelius in 172 A.D. This situation should be set within the context of the previous material covered in the unit.

Foundational Knowledge: Powerpoint
The intro powerpoint provides students within background knowledge about Marcus Aurelius. It explains his Stoic beliefs and provides additional information to help students understand his mindset during this period in time. Students are made aware of the many different challenges Marcus Aurelius is facing as he seeks to preserve the welfare and security of the Roman Empire. Students should complete the Marcus Aurelius bubble-head scaffold during the powerpoint.

Pass out timeline with the powerpoint.

Day 2

Marcus Aurelius Thinks Aloud
This document is a first person account of Marcus Aurelius thinking through the situation facing the Roman Empire in AD 172. This document will help the students understand the advisor letters. It also should help them begin to assume the character of Marcus Aurelius.

Ask students: what do we need to know about Marcus Aurelius? Review a couple of the questions students have on their bubble scaffold. Have students note the dilemmas facing Marcus Aurelius on the back of the scaffold. This step should help prepare students to more effectively read the think aloud.

The teacher will read the document out loud with the students. As he/she reads the document, the teacher will prompt students to highlight key passages. Upon completion of the first "whole class" reading, the students will read the document independently and click on the various hyperlinks to gain additional information related to the scenario. After students complete this task, the teacher will check for student understanding and respond to questions before moving to the expert group phase of the lesson.

Group Activity (day 2 or 3)

Expert groups: {Can start on day 2 - most likely part of day 3}

[Note: No laptops]

Provide students with an initial overview of each of the advisors. Then, divide them into small expert groups of 3-4 students. Each group will receive a specific advisor letter to read. Some groups will receive identical letters. Students are to become experts on the course of action being recommended in their advisor letter. They should complete the guiding questions and discuss them as a group.

Advisor 1: Claudius

Advisor 2: Senator Didius

Advisor 3: Commodus

Advisor 4: Fronto

Jigsaw Groups: {Day 3}
Students will move into new groups that include at least one representative from each perspective. The students introduce themselves (as their advisor role) and explain what Marcus Aurelius should do to provide security for Rome along the northern frontier. After all advisor perspectives have been adequately explained and understood by all the group members, the group should deliberate as Marcus Aurelius. They should use the decision making scaffold to review the alternative courses of action and develop a group consensus regarding what Marcus Aurelius should do.

The groups will prepare a one slide presentation that they will use to argue their position during the next segment of the activity. [template]


Group discussion - Students present their group's conclusion (as a single slide powerpoint presentation)

Have the class vote on what they think Marcus Aurelius should have done.

Then, have students attempt to predict what actually happened (may be different than above) – [Informal process]

Transition to What Really Happened presentation.

End with a return to the focus CQ – should the legacy of the Roman Empire be praised or condemned?

Lesson Materials: (list items in order of use here; title clearly; provide electronic copy)

  1. Map (RomeTAMap.jpg)

  2. Intro Powerpoint (RomeTAIntro.ppt)

  3. Marcus Aurelius Bubble-Head Scaffold (

  4. Timeline (RomeTATimeline.doc)

  5. Marcus Aurelius Think Aloud (RomeTAThinkAloud and annotations.doc)

  6. Advisor 1: Claudius (RomeTAClaudius.doc)

  7. Advisor 2: Senator Didius (RomeTADidius.doc)

  8. Advisor 3: Commodus (RomeTACommodus.doc)

  9. Advisor 4: Fronto (RomeTAFronto.doc)

  10. Decision Making Scaffold (RomeTAScaffold.doc)

  11. What Really Happened presentation (RomeTAConclusion.ppt)

Student Work Samples: (list items if available; provide electronic version or photo)

Case Background
Teacher Biography: (cases in which one teacher was main creator: write or extract from PIH Network)

Additional Materials: (link to unit related materials)

Unit Overview : CommunicationPublic Folder2008-2009 Lesson Study - Rome
Further Reading:
Birley, A. (1987). Marcus Aurelius: A Biography. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.

Boatwright, M.T.; Gargola, D.J.; Talbert, R. (2004). The Romans: From Village to Empire. New York: Oxford University Press.

Burns, T.S. (2003). Rome and the Barbarians: 100 B.C.- 400 A.D. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

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