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 explore their responses to and interpretations of Beowulf through a performance task that involves small-group collaboration and presentation. The activities take the better part of two class sessions to complete.
The lesson below outlines day one of activities.
My classes are held in 100-minute block sessions. This lesson takes one class period.
Today I want students to review the text in small-groups, sharing their responses and coming to consensus on their interpretations and observations, including matters the text leaves uncertain. I also want them to draw on their interpretations to determine the theme of Beowulf. I remind students that theme is the central message of the text written as a statement, a sentence. I talk to them about Aesop's Fables and how at the end of each fable, the moral or theme is provided to the reader; I tell students to go online and read the fables if they need assistance with theme. As there are 25 different readers in my classroom, I suspect there may be just as many themes to Beowulf from their various perspectives.
Since we have been comparing and contrasting the Beowulf film clips on an ongoing basis while studying the epic poem, I also want students to examine their opinions and interpretations of the film in its entirety. I believe it is important to parcel these out to avoid confusion about plot when students take the unit summative.
When students arrive, I ask them to complete a warm-up in preparation for today's group work (Warm-Up: BEOWULF Debriefing) as a way to debrief and sort out their thoughts. At first I think the activity will only take 20 minutes, but then I realize students have many thoughts to analyze and synthesize to write thoughtful, evaluative responses (Student Work: BEOWULF Debriefing).
I take five minutes to set up this activity (Instructions: BEOWULF Wrap-Up). Students need their text-dependent questions and two-page responses to the last three sections of the poem; their two-column notes from last class on the text and the clip; and their warm-up writing from today. After students complete the tasks in their small group, each group will present their work on the Elmo document camera. I explain that not only do I want students to gain proficiency in interpreting texts, but I want them to gain proficiency in making presentations for college and career readiness.
I have students count off 1-5 to randomize groups. All students with the same number work together. I clarify the roles of the group leader, to keep everyone on task, and the group recorder, to write down the group's work, and I point out that each person in the group must take part in the presentation. Once I am done explaining the instructions, I use my Learning Scale as a lesson checkpoint (Learning Scale: Use for Lesson Checkpoint) to see if students understand the instructions. All students but one indicate proficiency or higher. While students get into their groups, I confer with the individual student to rephrase my instructions for his/her understanding and double-check proficiency.
While students are working, I notice that they listen intently to each other's questions and responses; help one another to clarify questions, observations, and interpretations; and best of all, ABSOLUTELY REQUIRE textual evidence to support interpretations.
Due to time limitations, three of the five groups present their work (Student Work: BEOWULF Wrap-Up), and I find that with some groups I need to clarify the definition of theme again, "What is the central message of the text? How do you put that into a statement?". We take one group's topics (what they have for theme) and create a theme statement as a class. If I were to do this activity again, I would remind students to double-check their work beforehand to ensure examples to support the theme are explained with parenthetical citations provided, and to check they spell words correctly.
The last two groups will present next class when we will finish our Beowulf wrap-up and explore background for the second part of the unit on the Iliad.
Since we are running out of time and only have two minutes left, I use a Paper Towel Ticket Out to get students' feedback on the activity. I ask students, "What did you think of the group activity? What did you get out of it, if anything?".
I always have paper towels on my desk; they are accessible and easy to distribute. The students love the fact that this is something different. I explain that I used this one day last year when my class was running out of time and paper was not readily accessible to anyone. Their tickets out appear insightful (Student Work: Paper Towel Ticket Out). I am able to find out if the activity was effective in their eyes. I believe it is important to allow students to provide feedback on instruction; their feedback makes me a better teacher because I can focus on their needs and learning styles.