Tips and ideas for teaching high school ELA

picture of ship at sunset; text overlay reads 8 ideas for teaching the odyssey

When I taught freshmen, I always loved teaching The Odyssey. Students who were seldom engaged got swept up in the story of the Cyclops; admired Penelope’s clever solution to avoid remarrying; criticized Odysseus’ vanity/pride/poor leadership/etc. We’d stop and watch the movie after each section, comparing and contrasting. I could probably teach this epic in my sleep. It’s one of the very few things I miss about teaching freshmen. 

Tackling this classic text and epitome of the hero’s journey? Keep reading for engaging ideas for teaching The Odyssey.

background/pre-reading activities

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Before I teach any text, I like to give some background information and context – author biography, historical context, etc.

I usually started with this presentation. It covered the basics – Homer, the conventions of an epic, and an introduction to The Odyssey. It also includes a summary of each of the books that we covered. I usually referred back to those when we got to the individual books. 

I also gave students a copy of a map that illustrates the route Odysseus and his men took. Before each section, we’d add a line to the route; by the end, the map is a convoluted mess. 

 

 

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Another activity I had success with was a Greek mythology WebQuest. I used this webquest as the basis for the tasks. The great thing about this activity is that it can carry on throughout the entire unit, as each book has a separate task.  

during reading

Now that the background is done, it’s time for the fun part: reading. 

Flip Books

One of the most successful resources I’ve used for teaching The Odyssey is flip books. I was teaching a group of struggling students and was desperate for a way to engage them. I decided to try reformatting traditional questions into flip books. After a little trial and error with printing and assembling, we got the flip books to work. They were a hit in all of the 9th grade classes.

The flip books allowed for students to keep all their questions for each book in one spot – super helpful come review time. And although they contained the exact same questions I’d used on regular worksheets in the past, something about stapling paper together and flipping tabs made the students more willing to actually complete the work. 

Character analysis 

The most obvious character for analysis is Odysseus – his journey so neatly mirrors the archetypal hero’s journey. However, there are other characters in The Odyssey who are ripe for characterization as well – especially if your read the whole thing and not just the excerpts that come standard in most textbooks. 

Assign students a specific character to track, or divide the class into groups for more collaboration. This is great for not only during reading, but can be used for an after-reading synthesis essay or project as well. 

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Watch the film 

While we read, we always watched the movie. Sometimes we’d do it after each section; sometimes we’d do the whole thing at once. This version is the one I’d always show. Armanda Assante. Vanessa Williams. Isabella Rossellini. Bernadette Peters. Talk about a cast. 

AFter reading activities

I always liked to do something to wrap things up before a test. Here are a few after reading activities for teaching The Odyssey

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Soundtrack Project 

One review/wrap-up activity that has been met with great success is a soundtrack project. The great thing about this project is that it can be repurposed for any text. I most recently used it for Animal Farm (more about teaching Animal Farm here).

Students chose a minimum of 6 songs:

    • theme
    • setting 
    • 3 characters 
    • 1 event

 

They then create a soundtrack using songs that relate to each category. For each song, they had to include: 

    • song name and artist
    • track 
    • lyrics (they could just choose the ones that best fit the purpose) 
    • reasoning behind choosing the song 
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Choice Board

Another after reading activity I’ve had success with is choice boards. We all know that students are more likely to engage in the work if they have some agency over their product. Like soundtrack projects, choice boards can be used for a variety of texts (one of my options is actually to create a soundtrack). I typically give students between six and nine options and a point value. Each option is worth a different amount of points based on the complexity. Students can choose to complete one longer/more complex product or several smaller ones. Try to include products that showcase different strengths – artistic, writing, speaking, creating, etc. 

other resources for teaching the odyssey

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Analyzing Different Mediums 

In many schools, analyzing different mediums is part of the standards. There are so many songs, films, and pieces of art inspired by The Odyssey. My go-tos were always O Brother, Where Art Thou? (basically The Odyssey + George Clooney), The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (several different movies), and Percy Jackson. Most students had seen Pirates and/or Percy Jackson, so these made accessible starting points for other comparisons.

Supplemental Resources

If you’re looking for some nonfiction texts to add to your Odyssey unit, check out CommonLit.org. They have a whole section of related texts. The best part? CommonLit is free.  

So there you have it. Some of my favorite engaging ideas for teaching The Odyssey.  

What are your go-to activities? Reply below and let me know. 

Ready to incorporate flip books and character analysis graphic organizers into your Odyssey unit? Check out The Odyssey Unit Pair Pack. 

picture of ship at sunset; text overlay reads 8 ideas for teaching the odyssey

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