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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.