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 continue making presentations on their understanding of Beowulf and create tweets on what they learned from the epic poem. Next, we review the hero's journey as a springboard to introduce the Iliad.
My classes are held in 100-minute block sessions.
We have been studying the epic and epic hero through Beowulf, and we will continue exploring the epic with the Iliad and its epic hero Achilles. To activate student background knowledge, I ask students to write a summary of what they know about the epic and the epic hero (Warm-Up: Epic and Epic Hero). I give them about 10 minutes to write.
Then, as a class, we review the characteristics of the epic and its hero, and return to the textbook Language of Literature (McDougal Littel, 2003) to fill in comprehension gaps. You can also use the Epic PowerPoint presentation (PowerPoint: The Epic) provided to do so. On their papers, students list any characteristics they do not address in their writing (Student Work: Warm-Up on Epic and Epic Hero).
I like to use writing as a lesson checkpoint to find out what students know. I utilize this summary activity as a strategy for monitoring and evaluating comprehension. I tell students that this is an excellent strategy to use in any class so that they know what to review for a test or what to review prior to continuing study on a particular topic in any subject area.
Last class, students collaborated in groups (Photo: Group Collaboration) to share their interpretations of and responses to Beowulf (Screen Display: BEOWULF Wrap-Up Group Assignment) and presented their findings (Student Work: BEOWULF Wrap-Up) to the class. I have five groups in my class.
Prior to the remaining presentations, I review with students that theme is a statement of the central message of the text: "Justice is a topic, not a theme. To figure out the theme, ask yourself what the text says about justice. A sample theme is: Justice always prevails." Today the last two groups present. Students return to the text to clarify their interpretations, and their classmates ask questions when necessary with no prompting from me.
I like to use collaboration when studying complex texts so that students can sort through their interpretations and possible misunderstandings by talking them through with someone else. Then we can debrief as a class to share conclusions and reinforce validity of interpretations by returning to the text for understanding or clarification.
Since my students often use Twitter for social media and news purposes, I give each student a small piece of masking tape, "Write a tweet about Beowulf. You can tweet about whatever you would like. Write about what is significant to you." The first reaction I get is, "What? You want us to tweet about Beowulf?".
Our school has Twitter blocked for school use, so I ask students to write about the text, its characters, or to even write about the film clips. I leave it open but reinforce that tweets must be school appropriate. Some students remind or teach their classmates what a tweet looks like.
Students post their "tweets" on my cabinet. Then we do a gallery walk so that they can evaluate similarities and differences among the tweets (Student Work: BEOWULF Newsfeed).
I use this activity to allow students to comment on what stands out most to them in the text and identify what they connect with the most. I think it is important to appeal to their experiences, allow them to evaluate their interpretations, and express their interpretations.
I draw on the background knowledge activated with the warm up. I find that students address the hero's journey when writing about the epic and the epic hero. I ask students to identify the major stages of the hero's journey: The Departure, The Quest, and The Return (Handout: Journey of the Hero); without prompting, students discuss various archetypes (warrior, mentor, damsel, villain) that can be involved in the hero's journey. I delight in the fact that students remember the introduction to course literature work we engaged in by (1) discussing the hero's journey and (2) viewing and discussing Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed to explore the hero's journey, archetypes, and how these apply to prior literary and viewing experiences of students.
To review the hero's journey in detail and fill any remaining comprehension gaps about the hero's journey, I show students the TedEd video, "What Makes a Hero?" (4:34), which is also available directly on YouTube. This video provides a comprehensive review of the hero's journey; applies it to The Hunger Games; and then speaks directly to students, pointing out examples of how it applies to them and reflects the human experience.
Once the video ends, I talk to students about the Big Idea, "The hero's journey reflects the human experience." One of the points emphasized in the hero's journey is that the mentor must die or leave the hero so that the hero can grow up and achieve his goal/fulfill his destiny. I discuss how this was my experience growing up because I needed to learn self-reliance; my father talked to me about it often and provided experiences so that I could practice self-reliance; however, I explain to students that I did not learn self-reliance until my father passed away 14 years ago. The experience forced me to grow up and achieve self-reliance in several ways, but most notably, I have had to practice self-reliance as a parent. I discuss this in detail with students. Then they share their own experiences of the hero's journey.
We transition to the background of Homer's epic poem the Iliad. I connect to students by explaining that they already read the sequel to the Iliad, the Odyssey in ninth grade.
I tell students that Achilles, the epic hero in the Iliad, remains a prime example of how the hero's journey reflects the human experience. Before studying this epic poem, I explain to students that I want them to understand the causes, origins, and major players of the Trojan War. I point out that our literature textbook only exposes them to excerpts from three of the 24 Books of the Iliad. I want to provide context for what they will explore in the excerpts since time limitations do not permit study of the entire epic poem.
We watch a three-part teacher made video, "The Trojan War and the Iliad: Causes, Origins, and Major Players" available on YouTube in three parts. I tell students that we will watch each part and then take notes on what they remember after each video. I do not allow students to take notes during the videos. Since the brain processes content visually, I want students to pay full attention to the content; then write what they remember.
We watch the first part, "History of the Trojan War Part I" (4:43). After the video ends, I give students 5-7 minutes to list what they remember. Inevitably, they ask me clarifying questions, such as (1) What goddess threw the golden apple on the table at Thetis' wedding to cause trouble?and (2) Why does Zeus want Thetis to marry a mortal?
Before I can answer, their classmates answer the questions. As a result, I allow students to compare and discuss notes with a partner prior to the the video for part two.
We watch the second video, "History of the Trojan War Part II" (6:47). After the video, while writing down their notes, students ask me questions, such as (1) Why does Helen fall in love with Paris at first sight? (2) Why does Achilles hide among the women to avoid going to war?
I allow students to compare and discuss notes with a partner prior to part three.
Students watch part three, "History of the Trojan War Part III" (6:17) afterwards writing down their notes then working with a partner to fill comprehension gaps through discussion and additional note-taking.
As a class, we review the origins, causes, and major players in the Trojan War, using a volunteer student's notes (Student Notes: ILIAD Background) displayed on the Elmo. We go through each item, making corrections with distinctions pointed out by the video, such as: No one knows the true cause of the Trojan War, but it may have been over trade rights. However, the Iliad is mythology, and in the epic poem, the Greeks and Trojan fight over King Menelaus' wife Helen, who falls in love with Paris and allows him to take her to Troy.
We turn our focus to Achilles, the epic hero of the Iliad and the primary focus of the excerpts students will read in the literature book. Even though the Trojan War videos explore Achilles' role in the poem, I show students the video, "Achilles: History in Minutes #9" (4:20) posted on YouTube. The video highlights Achilles' family origins, personality, and experiences in the Iliad through music, artwork, and quick summaries. Afterwards, we review information about Achilles, such as:
I ask students why they think Achilles appears so enraged after Hector kills Patroclus. Some students point out that he might feel guilty about not fighting and letting Patroclus fight in his armor apparently in his stead. I explain that we will explore this further when reading the excerpts in the textbook.
Owing to time limitations, I ask students to complete a ticket out, answering the question, "How is Achilles an epic hero?". I want to discuss this question, but I have students write about it as (1) a lesson checkpoint to monitor student understanding and (2) a way to bring the lesson full circle by revisiting the characteristics of the epic hero and providing the opportunity for students to apply their knowledge of the epic hero to new knowledge about Achilles.
I will utilize information on student proficiency from the ticket out (Student Work: Ticket Out) to plan the review at the beginning of next class.