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Vindolanda letters

One of my favorite projects to do with students is a Vindolanda simulation. I start out by giving groups copies of letters from Vindolanda (favorites are the birthday letter and the care package letter.

I teach them about the signs for missing letters and lines, we look at the originals, and we talk about why letters are written. I then have each student hand write a letter on a subject of his or her choosing. Most of the time, I require them to make at least one mistake in spelling or grammar.

The students give me the letters and I run them through a copier or scanner. I then rip up the originals into pieces, throw out some of the pieces, and package up each letter into the envelope. I give each student a different envelope, and have them reconstruct the letter into a stable format, transcribe it with the symbols used in the actual Vindolanda letters (dots, brackets, and so one), and then try to figure out the text. Finally, they get to compare the letters to the copied original and see how well it could be reconstructed. They see that it’s harder to reconstruct the parts with mistakes in them, and that cliched letter parts are easy to figure out.

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