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Theme: Good vs. Evil in Epic Tales
Grades: Grades 11-12

England's oldest surviving epic tells the story of Beowulf, a Swedish Geat, who comes to the aid of the Danes to defeat Grendel, a monster who has terrorized them for years. When Grendel's mother appears, hungry for revenge, Beowulf follows her back to her watery lair and kills her too. Showered with gifts, he returns to Geatland, where he becomes a great leader of his people. Many years later, he faces the threat of an angry fire-breathing dragon, aroused by the theft of a jeweled cup from its treasure hoard. The aging hero kills the dragon only after suffering a mortal wound, and then dies himself. The Geats bury both his ashes and the dragon's treasure in an earthen tower at the sea's edge, to guide sailors from far and wide.

  1. Loyalty Game.
    Ask students to consider the importance of group loyalty and how such loyalties sometimes conflict with individual needs or desires. Have each student write a list of questions about what to do in situations that test one's loyalty to family, friends, self, country, city, etc. Then have them write the questions on a set of cards for the whole class. Finally, students can take turns asking one another questions from the cards and discuss their answers.
  1. Brainstorming List.
    Have students consider what the word epic means when applied to films or TV miniseries. What qualities do they expect to find in a movie or miniseries that people called an epic? Have them brainstorm a list of these characteristics as well as those that apply to literary epics.
  1. The Amazing Adventures of Beowulf.
    Encourage interested students to create a comic strip based on Beowulf, stressing the epic's action and adventure. Have them focus on one of Beowulf's three major battles: with Grendel, with Grendel's mother, or with the fire-breathing dragon.

  1. All Together Now.
    Encourage students to adapt a portion of Beowulf for a choral reading before the class or at a school assembly. Suggest that they do a bit of research about choral reading techniques and performance before planning their own adaptation.
  1. Once Upon a Time.
    In this project, students will research and present traditional epics, sagas, and hero tales from different cultures around the world. After they take part in a storytelling festival, they will participate in a panel discussion comparing and contrasting the works with each other and with Beowulf.

    Suggested Procedure:

  • Divide students into small groups to research one or more traditional epics, sagas, and hero tales of a different culture or period. Students can use the internet or the library to choose traditional literature from any continent or cultural group. Each group might read all or part of a longer work and/or several shorter works. Students should also research the works' significance to the culture that produced them.
  • Tell students to choose a representative work, or a representative portion of a longer work, to perform during a class storytelling festival. After a short introduction, one or more students in the group will sing, chant, or recite the selection.
  • Following the festival, students will hold a panel discussion in which they compare and contrast the epics, sagas, and hero tales and consider what they have in common with each other and with Beowulf.
  1. Research Customs.
    In this research activity, students will find out more about a specific Germanic or Anglo-Saxon custom mentioned or described in Beowulf. For example, you might suggest they use the library to research and report on the significance of mead-halls or on the funeral rites of Beowulf's day. Have students share their findings in a magazine article.