Exploring Beowulf's Anglo-Saxon Culture via the Sutton Hoo Exhibit at The British Museum: A Virtual Field Trip

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SWBAT synthesize their learning about Anglo-Saxon culture in "Beowulf" and the Sutton Hoo Exhibit by analyzing the poem's relationship to ancient artifacts.

Big Idea

A virtual tour allows students to experience an exhibit from the comfort of the computer lab.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Overview and Context

How should ELA teachers approach informational texts?

This question informs the lessons in this unit, which emphasize approaches to teaching informational texts in the context of literature study. Rather than replacing or superceding the study of literature, I see informational texts as ways to amplify literature so that students see it as relevant to their lives.

Thus, rather than a shift away from both the literary canon and contemporary imaginative texts, the CCSS offers teachers a unique opportunity to embrace innovative approaches to teaching both informational texts and the imaginative literature that led us to teach English.

In its original context, this lesson is part of the unit We Need a Hero: The Anglo Saxon Epic Beowulf. 

This is lesson 6 in the Epic of Beowulf unit. In this lesson students 

  • Take a virtual tour of the Sutton Hoo exhibit at the British Museum.
  • Analyze the artifacts to determine who made and owned them by completing a graphic organizer.
  • Determine who is or is not buried at Sutton Hoo by analyzing information provided at the British Museum.
  • Analyze the relationship between Beowulf and the artifacts in the exhibit. 
  • Prepare to discuss the tour when they return to class the next day or after completing the tour. 

Take a Little Trip: Introducing the Assignment

5 minutes

As students enter the lab, I have them logon and access the doc via our schools learning management system, My Big Campus: Sutton Hoo.

The document is a synthesis of resources from the British Museum that I have used over the years and material I have developed specifically for Beowulf. 

Once students have accessed the materials, I review the assignment, knowing that I will need to provide additional assistance for some and simply get out of the way for others. 

Travel at Your Leisure: A Self-Guided Tour of the Sutton Hoo Exhibit

50 minutes

For the remainder of the period, I let students work on the project. Importantly, I move around the lab and assist students in several ways:

  • Look to see that students have found the right place at the museum.
  • Observe students completing the graphic organizer that asks who created each object, who owned each object, and what's interesting about each object. 
  • Answer questions and address concerns.

Some students asked, "What do we do if it doesn't give us the information?" 

I explained: "Put a question mark to indicate it's an unknown or say N/A. Just don't leave the space blank because a blank space suggests you just omitted that part of the work."Student Response to Part 1 of the Virtual Tour

The most difficult part of the assignment for most was the "Who was buried at Sutton Hoo." This requires student to "channel their inner Sherlock Holmes," as I tell them, and use "your powers of deduction." To assist students with this, I reminded them that Beowulf is a transitional work moving from a Pagan to a Christianized culture and suggested they consider the Christian ideas about whether or not "you can take your stuff with you to the afterlife." That helped them apply what they know about Beowulf to the text from the tour. Student Working on Part 2 of the Virtual Tour

Back on the Bus: Ending the Tour

5 minutes

At the end of the period, I tell students that they will compose the paragraphs in class tomorrow so that they can access the classroom set of Beowulf. Those who have not completed the tour may finish at home. 

I remind students that a follow-up discussion awaits them in class the next day.