I explore the hero's journey with my students throughout the year by exploring works from Beowulf to Macbeth. This lesson originally appears in a unit for Beowulf on CC.BetterLesson.
My classes are held in 100 minute block sessions. In the lesson outlined below, students engage in review of prior concepts related to the unit and course; reading, writing, and discussion of excerpts from Beowulf: Grendel, Beowulf, and the Battle With Grendel.
Students line up in the hallway along the outside wall of the classroom for a Ticket In (Ticket In.JPG). I tell students that they will stand in my doorway when first in line and I will ask the student a question to review important concepts for the unit and course, which we have explored in prior class sessions. I inform them I may ask questions (Do Now: Sample Ticket In Questions.pdf) about the characteristics of an epic, the journey of the hero, archetypes, literary devices, or the importance of elements in an essay since we will be writing extended pieces. All of these topics were covered in the background lectures in prior classes. I inform them that when called, they must stand at my doorway and must answer my question correctly to enter the classroom. If students do not answer their question correctly, they must proceed to the back of the line and await a new question.
I give instructions that once in the classroom, students must read the background in the textbook Language of Literature (McDougal Littell, 2003) on Beowulf and preview the sections we will be reading today - "Grendel, Beowulf, and the Battle With Grendel" - by reading beige section preview notes about the plot, marginal notes and questions on the text, and vocabulary definitions provided. Instructions are also on my whiteboard. I talk to students about the value of previewing what you read: it frontloads content into the reader's brain and helps the reader get a head start on processing complex text. As a former troubled reader, this is something I continue to use before I read or reread literature on which I will be designing lesson plans for the new school year.
Talk to students about the Big Idea: "Life is a struggle and requires courage." Reference the background on Beowulf, which discusses heroic qualities, such as courage. Ask students why courage is necessary to surpass life's struggles; discuss students answers and whether or not individuals performing heroic deeds must be famous to be labeled heroic. Discuss everyday heroes, asking students to point out heroes in our community (firefighters, police officers, those providing community service; reference "Making a Difference" segment on NBC Nightly News about individuals making a positive impact on their communities (local, regional, national, global) as heroes.
Shift to discussing how Beowulf is heroic by traveling to Denmark to help Hrothgar rid his followers of Grendel, the monster descended from Cain who has been attacking the kingdom. Students take notes on Absolute Good vs. Absolute Evil (Whiteboard: Absolute Good vs. Absolute Evil). We discuss how Beowulf represents Absolute Good from God and Grendel represents Absolute Evil, being descended from Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, who killed his brother Abel. Abel was favored by God, and Cain killed him out of jealousy. Volunteers are able to explain these elements with prompting to outline the events that result in Cain's downfall.
I explain how battle portrays the text's Judeo-Christian view of the world. This allows us to review the setting and characters of Beowulf, the historical background of Christianity vs. paganism in the Anglo-Saxon Period, and the significance of Beowulf as an epic.
I like reading aloud to my students so that they can focus on the complex language and so I can model comprehension strategies.
I read aloud "Grendel" to students, stopping periodically to ask questions (Discussion Questions: "Grendel") to check their comprehension. Questions include:
Next, I have students write a five-sentence summary of the section as a lesson checkpoint for comprehension. Then with a partner, students check the accuracy of their summaries against the text for accuracy and revise as necessary. Through their discussion, they note where the text leaves matters uncertain, writing uncertainties at the top of their papers (Student Work: Grendel Summary and Uncertainties).
Pairs write at least one uncertainty on my whiteboard (Whiteboard: Uncertainties in the Text). I engage students in a strategy I created call a Gallery Walk, where they take time to review the class' input prior to debriefing. This way they can look for similarities and differences among their thoughts and/or another item I ask them to look for and begin thinking about their feedback for all-class discussion.
In an all-class setting, I ask students to identify uncertainties on my whiteboard to see if they can be answered by the text or if they are true uncertainties. Through a process of elimination, we answer the questions based upon what we know from the text; go back to the text to find the answer, stated or implied; or discuss these as questions that may be answered later in the epic poem or could remain unanswered. I plan to return to them as we read.
This activity allows students to collaborate on monitoring and evaluating their comprehension with peers by talking through their interpretations, identifying and filling comprehension gaps in pairs and as a class.
I read aloud "Beowulf" to students, and I stop periodically to ask comprehension questions (Discussion Questions: "Beowulf"), including:
As a class, we review the action in this section chronologically. If students have questions, we address them, and I (1) model going back to a specific section of the text and engage in think-aloud to show my path to interpretation and (2) ask guiding questions so that students engage in hands-on checking back into the text to answer one another's questions in the all-class setting.
I read aloud "The Battle With Grendel" to students after asking them to predict what will happen between Beowulf and Grendel. I stop periodically to ask comprehension questions (Discussion Questions: "The Battle With Grendel"), including
Students have an enthusiasm for this section in particular because they have been looking forward to the face-off between Beowulf and Grendel.
I explain to students that we will view "The Battle With Grendel" clip so that they can get a visual representation of the battle, but I remind them that in film interpretations of literature, screenwriters may take poetic license and change elements from the text. I remind them that they will be held accountable for the excerpts in their textbook. I explain that today's Ticket Out will be to list at least three differences in the section's portrayal of events by the literature book and by the clip. After viewing the clip, students complete the Ticket Out (Student Work: Ticket Out for "The Battle With Grendel"). I think it is important for students to distinguish between multiple interpretations, including visual interpretations since we live in a digital world.