This is the fifth day of our Mythology Reading Plan and students are ready to read the third myth chosen by their group. They check the form and then quickly settle down to business. Each person must read the myth and independently complete the comprehension questions and fill in a Common Characteristics of Myths workshet in order to demonstrate understanding of the story and the genre. They are eager to engage in the work at hand for two reasons. One is that they know that we will spend time reading a myth in the form of a play at the end of class. Plus the students remember that in order to take part in tomorrow’s group discussion and to work on special projects, they must come to class with today’s assignment complete.
I notice that a few students are having difficulty working out answers to the comprehension questions. Fortunately for me, they are all reading the same myth: Perseus. To better their meet their needs, I pull this group aside and we read the story together. Instead of answering the comprehension questions, we fill out a plot diagram. By focusing on the structure of the story in sequence and identifying its parts – exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution – they are then better able to go back into the text and find the answers to the questions. However, we simply review them orally instead of taking the time to write out responses because with the work they did on the plot diagram the students have already shown competency in understanding the text.
At the same time that sixth graders study Greek mythology in ELA class they are studying ancient Greece in social studies class. Their textbook (World History Ancient Civilizations, McDougal Littell, 2006) includes the myth “Atalanta's Last Race" in the form of a play. There 9 roles. By assigning the narrator and spectator roles to girls, 4 of the roles are female and the remaining 5 are male. During the previous day’s class, anyone interested in taking part in the play put their name in a bin and we drew them out one at a time to assign the roles Those students read the play over for homework to become familiar with their lines. We talk about the need to perform the role with emotion and gestures to convey meaning and connect with the audience. Today as students finish the independent work described above, everyone reads the play to get to know (or, in the case of those assigned roles, to review) the story.
Although this is just a casual readers’ theater performance, not a formal one with props and memorized lines, the students take it seriously. Of course, there is giggling when it becomes clear just what a ‘suitor’ is and that Atalanta will end up marrying Milanion. After the reading, the students note the characteristics that this myth has in common with other myths we have read. Here is an example. We also compare and contrast reading a myth as a drama instead of as a story. The students show insight when they note that the way a performer interprets their lines and expresses emotion may change from actor to actor and that will have an effect on the audience. They also note that the more at ease an actor is with their lines the easier it is for the audience to follow the plot. In addition, we take some time to discuss the first question in the blue ‘Activities’ box: