Beowulf Projects for English Class
High-school activities on the epic poem "Beowulf" focus on ways students can analyze and interpret the story using creative writing, artistic expression, acting and storytelling. Beowulf is a tragic hero who proves his courage by defeating monstrous creatures who want to destroy his homeland. Students should learn important themes, such as bravery, honor and perseverance. "Beowulf" is written in the Old English style, so students can learn the rhythm, meter and vocabulary of the era.
Re-Enact Scenes From the Story
Have your class re-enact important scenes from the story, such as the scene with Beowulf and Unferth or the fighting scene with Beowulf and Grendel using a puppet show or a skit. Provide costumes and props, such as fake swords, capes, fake armor and a monster's mask, so students can get into their roles. Ask students to memorize short lines, retell the story in their own words or have a prerecorded narrator read the poem while students act it out. The objective is to help students analyze elements of the story, including language, themes, setting, mood and character development.
Develop a Hero Comparison Chart
Help students create a modern parallel to Beowulf by developing a hero comparison chart, suggests North Carolina educator, Hilda Caldwell. Ask students to list Beowulf's heroic traits, such as strength, wisdom, loyalty and bravery, on one side of the classroom chalkboard or white board. On the other side, have students list modern heroes, heroines and superheroes, such as Superman, Batman, the Hulk, James Bond and Katniss Everdeen. Break the class into groups of three of four to compare and contrast other heroes with Beowulf. The goal is to help students learn that heroic character traits in literature often stand the test of time.
Write Poetry in the Same Style
Encourage students to read individual portions of the poem aloud in class or have them read aloud in unison. Focus on the rhythm, meter and tone of the poem. Discuss how Old English words were often broken into syllables to create a smooth, steady flow. Have students write their own short poems in the same style, using a present-day hero, such as a celebrity, athlete, musician, politician, military veteran or family member they admire as the subject of their poem. Ask students to take turns reading their poems aloud.
Create Movie Posters
Allow students to use their artistic talents to create movie posters for "Beowulf." Have them refer to descriptive passages in the poem to accurately represent characters and scenes from the story. Encourage them to use a quote from the poem as a tagline for their posters. Provide markers, colored pencils, crayons and stencils and allow students to use the Internet to get ideas for their posters by looking at other movie poster styles. Display finished posters around the classroom.
- University of North Carolina School of Education: LearnNC: The Hero Connection -- From Beowulf to Batman
- Penguin: A Teacher's Guide to the Signet Classic Edition of Beowulf; Dana Huff
- Loyola University New Orleans: Moore's Notes or An Idiot's Guide to Teaching Beowulf; Andy Moore
- Katie Novak Education Consultant: Lesson Plan for Beowulf
- Common Core State Standards Initiative: English Language Arts Standards -- Reading -- Literature -- Grade 11-12
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