"Beowulf" Station Rotation: An Epic Activity

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SWBAT construct meaning from various grammatical, historical, and literary connections to Beowulf by working through a station rotation activity.

Big Idea

Stations work in secondary English classes and emphasize student choice.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Overview and Context

This is lesson 7 of 8 in the Beowulf Unit. 

Although I taught the lesson in one class period, it is a lesson designed to take two periods for those who want their students to complete each station. 

In this lesson students 

  • Are introduced to each station in the rotation;
  • Rotate among five of the nine stations during one class period or among all nine stations in a two-day rotation cycle.

Classroom Set-Up:

To make this lesson work, the teacher must have all materials prepared in advance, must have the desks set up in small groups (I had three students in each group, although 29 are enrolled in the class), and must have materials placed on the desks when students enter the room. 

Sections in the Lesson:

I have put a section for each station in this lesson plan for a couple of reasons: 1. It's easier to keep each station organized separately; 2. Each of the stations is easily adapted to a separate day's work for those choosing to use them that way. 

Stops Along the Route

5 minutes

Students' entrance ticket into class is the handout Station Rotation Activity that explains today's activity and lists the nine stations. 

At the bell, I briefly explain each station, although I have put directions at each station. 

  • First Stop: Blood Feuds in Beowulf and Beyond: I tell students that they will explore the top 15 blood feuds in our nation's history and draw parallels to Beowulf.
  • Second Stop: Beowulf: Christian vs. Pagan: Students read lines from the epic and create a T chart that identifies the diction referring to pagan ideas on one side and those referring to Christian ideas on the other.
  • Third Stop: “Did Britain Wreck the World?”: This is a Newsweek article excerpt that lists some legacies from British Imperialism. Students discuss and respond to the question the article poses in a short paragraph.
  • Fourth Stop: Beowulf: The Case of the First Three Lines: Students determine which translation they prefer and explain why. Additionally, they compare and contrast the various ways three translators translate various phrasing from the epic. Students complete graphic organizers for each of the activities. 
  • Fifth Stop: Translating Old English into Our New English: Just Write It!: On one side of the paper is Old English, but before looking on the back for the English equivalent, students "translate" the Old English based on their "educated guesses"!
  • Sixth Stop: Who or Whom? That is the Question: This is a grammar exercise not directly connected to Beowulf, but it is important that students understand grammar for both reading and writing purposes.
  • Seventh Stop: Alliteration Application: Students review alliteration by identifying alliteration in W. H. Auden's poem "The Age of Anxiety."
  • Eighth Stop: Positively Groovy Appositives: From the Purdue Online Writing Laboratory, students read about appositives and appositive phrases and complete a short exercise. The exercise is important to Beowulf because the epic is written in appositional style, meaning it is full of appositives and appositive phrases. 
  • Ninth Stop: Good Night, Brave Beowulf: Eulogizing a Fallen Hero: It's only fitting that we end our journey through the stations with the final tribute to Beowulf as students learn about the eulogy, lamenting, and elegies. 

The automatic slide presentation here shows both students working together and some of their work during the activity:

Following this section is a detailed section about each of the stops listed above. Within each section teachers will find"

  • A detailed explanation of each stop. 
  • Resources for each stop.
  • Student examples and and images.

Remember: The teacher can use each section as a stand-alone lesson or in combination w/ any of the others. This is a very flexible lesson!

Blood Feuds: Beowulf and Beyond

12 minutes

I found a website with "The 15 Deadliest Blood Feuds in United States History" and put them into a document for students to use. Because the document is long, I made only one copy for students to share, which worked just fine.THE 15 DEADLIEST BLOOD FEUDS IN UNITED STATES HISTORY. I did make enough copies of the instructions for students to each have a copy when the station was full.Blood Feuds InstructionsA Student Talks about Blood Feuds in "Beowulf"

Beowulf: Christian vs. Pagan

12 minutes

I have used the Christian vs. Pagan activity as a stand-alone lesson. This time I included it in the station rotation and advised students that the concept would be on the traditional assessment. Beowulf Christian or Pagan. presents the lines that I put on notecards for ease of use both in the station and as a line-tossing activity.Student Notes: Christian vs. Pagan Students Discussing Christian vs. Pagan Diction in "Beowulf"

"Did Britain Wreck the World?"

12 minutes

The study of Beowulf isn't too early for students to begin considering the impact of British Colonialism on the rest of the world. Did Britain Wreck the World. Students, however, tended to think they could only base their response on the document I provided. "Did Britain Destroy the World" Student Response I asked several groups if they could think of any positive contributions from Great Britain. They gave me a "deer in the headlight" look. I suggested that they think about the British Invasion. Nothing. I then mentioned music--The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Lorde--and they begin to see my point. I suggested that we owe the Brits much for their contribution to music, theater, and literature.

"Beowulf": The Case of the First Three Lines

12 minutes

This is another activity that works as a stand-alone lesson. It is also one that's easy for students to do in the station rotation activity because the directions are straight-forward. I enjoy seeing students wrestle with the translation they like best and compare the various ways translators interpret language. Beowulf 3 Lines translations  Student Work: "Beowulf": The Case of the First Three Lines

Just Write It: Translating Old English into Our Modern Language

12 minutes

This activity really stumped students. They actually thought I expected them to know Old English! Ha! I had to confess that I don't know Old English but that they could figure out some of the words and just have fun creating. They liked that idea. I gave them Translating Old English Directions. And the document Beowulf_old_english with the beowulf modern on the back but instructed them not to look until after they tried to translate the OE.Translating Old English

Who or Whom? That is the Question

12 minutes

I decided to weave some grammar into the lesson, which I do in brief vignettes in class from time to time if it is supported by the literature, which is the case with the "Who or Whom" assignment. The station activity allowed me to work with students in small groups and make the grammar low-key. Students had a chance to talk to one another about their responses, too. Who vs. whom.

Alliteration Application

12 minutes

Since alliteration is so important to Beowulf and a relatively easy rhetorical device to use when playing with language, I wanted to see if students could work with alliteration in a text other than Beowulf. Some needed a brief refresher about alliteration referring to sounds and not letters, and I was able to share with them the idea that college professors will often talk about vowel sounds alliterating in Old English as well as consonant sounds. I used the Auden poem "Age of Anxiety, The" because it is packed with alliteration. Alliteration Student Work shows one student's coded text. 

Positively Groovy Appositives

12 minutes

Beowulf is written in "appositional style," meaning the appositives and appositive phrases function both as a formulaic device in the poem and as a mnemonic for the Anglo Saxon poet, the scop. Thus, having students work with appositives and reading about them is very fitting to Beowulf. The students actually work well in small grammar groups. The document with the colored arrows is from the Purdue OWL. I like the way it color codes and visualizes appositives. APositivelyGroovyWorksheetonAppositives. I asked students to complete a short exercise Appositive Exercise independently and to work together to build sentences with appositives Students Creating Sentences with Appositive Phrases.

Good Night, Brave Beowulf: Eulogizing a Fallen Hero

12 minutes

Rather than defining the terms eulogy, lament, eulogize in a lecture. I gave students the terms in the station rotation and noted that this station is important because of the upcoming summative assessment. It's easy for students to learn the terms when they can associate them with the short passage from the epic. Eulogizing BeowulfLament and eulogizeElegy

I made this the final station because the event that is its focus is at the end of the epic. Eulogizing Beowulf Student Work