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Teachers: Literacy: Text

Last Updated: Tuesday July 12 2005 16:37 GMT

Potter spells

English / KS 2&3 / En2 Reading
2a. How and why texts have been influential and significant
2c. The appeal and importance of these texts over time
6. Using a knowledge of grammar and language variation to develop understanding of texts and how language works
(The numbers refer to the KS3 National Curriculum Programme of Study for English)

The children's UK cover of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is going on sale at one minute past midnight on Saturday 16 July.

Harry will no doubt be learning some new spells in his latest adventures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Students decipher the meaning of Rowling's magical words by looking at their Latin origin and write their own spells.

Learning aims

By the end of the lesson, students should understand:

  • The influence of Latin on the English language

Potter spells
The children's UK cover of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Spell quiz

Students test their knowledge of Harry Potter spells with this printable quiz.

Answers to the quiz:

1c, 2b, 3b, 4a, 5c


Spells and their meanings
Children reading Harry Potter books

Match spells and definitions

Using this printable worksheet, students match Rowling's spells with their definitions.

Top tips for working out what the spells mean:

  • Think of other words with the same beginning.
  • Think of other words with the same ending.
E.g. Silencio (number 1 on the worksheet) has the same beginning as silence. Students can guess it means to force the target to make no sound (letter F on the worksheet).


1F, 2K, 3B, 4I, 5G, 6H, 7J, 8C, 9D, 10E, 11A

Ask students:

  • Could you guess some of the definitions? How?
  • Pick one spell. Name some words with the same beginning.
  • Pick one spell. Name some words with the same ending.

Explain to students that most of the magical spells performed at Hogwarts are in another language - Latin.

Latin is the language of ancient Rome and its empire. The Romans ruled Britain from 43AD until 410AD (over 1,500 years ago).

Before the Romans arrived, many people in Britain didn't know how to read or write and most knowledge and stories were passed on by word of mouth.

However from Roman times onwards people in Britain could write things down.

Many words in English and Welsh have been borrowed from the Latin language.

JK Rowling uses Latin to name several characters and objects in her books.

Harry's enemy is Draco Malfoy. His first name means dragon in Latin. It describes his evil personality.

The Hogwarts motto is Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus which means Never tickle a sleeping dragon.

Harry flies a Nimbus broomstick which means swift in Latin. It describes Harry's speed in his Quidditch matches.

Ask students: Can you think of any other Latin based words in the Harry Potter books you have read?

Main activity


Potion poem
Actress playing a witch in Shakespeare's Macbeth

Students read this passage from Shakespeare's Macbeth. Three witches are creating a magic potion in a cauldron.

The passage, together with the following activities are available as a printable worksheet.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,-
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

Ask students:

1. What are the ingredients of this potion?

2. What do you think the witches might do with the potion?

3. If you were to give the potion a Latin name what would it be?

4. Chose one of these Latin-based spells from the Harry Potter books:

  • Protego
  • Apparate
  • Flagrate

Or make up your own Latin-based spell.

5. What would you use the spell for? Remember to compare it with words which have similar beginnings and endings.

6. You are making a potion which puts this spell on someone. Make a list of the ingredients you would use.

7. Use these ingredients to make a potion poem, like the one from Macbeth.

8. Write the Latin name of the spell above the poem, as a title.

Definitions of spells in question 4:

Protego - Latin for protect. It creates a magical shield to deflect spells.

Apparate - Appareo is Latin for to become visible. The spell is used to move instantly from one place and appear in another.

Flagrate - Flagrantia is Latin for burning. It makes the spell-caster able to draw lines of fire with their wand.


Ask students: Why do you think JK Rowling bases a lot of her spells on Latin?


In history, Latin is widely used as a language of scholarship.

Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, Latin continued to used by educated people throughout the Middle Ages in Europe and elsewhere.

It remained the language of the Roman Catholic Church until the 1960s.

It is still used for scientific names in biology and astronomy.

Many languages, such as French, Italian and Spanish are derived from Latin.

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