Tips and ideas for teaching high school ELA

clip art of Anglo-Saxon warrior with sword and shield; blog post title 5 ideas to make teaching Beowulf fun

While a staple in most British Literature classrooms, Beowulf can be a bit of a struggle for our students. The diction, the figurative language (so.many.kennings), the format. Teaching Beowulf can sometimes feel like a chore. 

Are you looking to inject some excitement into your Beowulf lessons? Well, you’re in luck! In this blog post, we’ll explore five fantastic ideas that will make teaching Beowulf a blast. From interactive stations to creative writing activities, I’ve got you covered. Let’s dive in and discover how to make the journey into the world of Beowulf an engaging and enjoyable experience for your students!

The first Beowulf activity is intro stations. I started including stations in my classroom a few years ago, and I have loved the results. 

Like me, you probably have a boring old PowerPoint with all the necessary background and historical context students need before diving into this classic epic. 

Instead of death by PowerPoint, why not switch things up? Transform your classroom into engaging intro stations where students can explore different aspects of Beowulf. These stations can include whatever you want: artwork, excerpts, historical context, language – pretty much anything you had in those dull presentations. For my Beowulf stations, I included information about Anglo-Saxon culture, topics and themes, epics and epic heroes, and the evolution of the English language; these were all concepts I wanted to cover, but packaged in a more engaging way. 

Encourage students to rotate through the stations, sparking their curiosity and setting the stage for the epic adventures they are about to embark on. 

teaching-beowulf-anglo-saxon-riddles

One characteristic of Anglo-Saxon culture was their love of riddles. Even today, many of us are intrigued by word puzzles. What better way to introduce students to Anglo-Saxons than having them try to solve some riddles? You can find some examples here and here

Another option: Create your own riddles inspired by the epic and challenge your students to solve them individually or in small groups. 

Not only will they have fun deciphering the riddles, but they’ll also develop a deeper understanding of the linguistic and cultural context of the time.

Want to get even more student engagement? Once you’ve exposed them to several examples of Anglo-Saxon riddles, have them write their own for their classmates to solve. 

teaching-beowulf-personal-boasts

 Encourage your students to unleash their inner heroes by crafting personal boasts, just like the characters in Beowulf. In Anglo-Saxon culture, boasting was a way to demonstrate one’s heroic qualities and bravery. And we all know that students love to talk about themselves. 

Have your students write and share their own boasts, highlighting their accomplishments, strengths, and values. This activity not only brings the epic to life but also helps students build confidence and self-expression.

I typically do this activity after Beowulf has arrived at Herot and delivers his first boast detailing how he is going to defeat Grendel, but you could incorporate it at any time. Want to practice some revision? Have students write their boasts before reading, then return to them after reading part of the text and revise their boast, using Beowulf’s boasts as a mentor text. 

teaching-beowulf-modern-retellings

One of my favorite activities for teaching Beowulf is to have students write a modern retelling. The entertainment industry is famous (infamous?) for capitalizing on nostalgia by doing remakes. Why not follow their lead? 

Give Beowulf a modern twist by challenging your students to rewrite key scenes or create a continuation of the story in a contemporary setting. When I’ve done this, students had very minimal requirements:

    • a Beowulf or Beowulf-inspired character 
    • a Grendel or Grendel-inspired character 
    • “Beowulf” had to defeat “Grendel” (doesn’t necessarily mean kill)

That was it. From there, it’s up to them. 

Students can reimagine Beowulf battling monstrous creatures in a modern cityscape or explore how the heroic code translates to today’s world. This activity allows them to exercise their creativity, adapt the themes of the epic to a modern context, and develop their storytelling skills. It also hits those narrative writing standards. Win-win. 

teaching-beowulf-character-interviews

The final activity is a character interview.  Assign students different roles and have them prepare interview questions and responses based on their character’s perspectives.

Students can conduct mock interviews, delving into the motivations, challenges, and inner thoughts of the characters. This activity fosters empathy, critical thinking, and a deeper understanding of the complex personalities in the epic.

Not only do mock interviews promote critical thinking, but they also hit those important speaking and listening standards that sometimes get pushed to the wayside. Plus, think about real-life applications. Who couldn’t use a little interview practice? 

Teaching Beowulf doesn’t have to be a dry and monotonous affair. By incorporating these five fun and interactive ideas into your lessons, you’ll transform the learning experience for your students. From immersive intro stations to modern rewrites and character interviews, these activities will ignite their curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking skills. So, let the adventure begin! Get ready to embark on a journey through the legendary world of Beowulf alongside your enthusiastic and engaged students.

What are your favorite Beowulf activities? Hit “Leave a Comment” and let me know.

And as always – Happy teaching! 😀

Heidi 

Looking for a low-prep Beowulf unit including the ideas above? Check out this Beowulf Unit Plan. 

Curious about my other go-to units for British Literature? Check out this blog post: 7 Units for a Complete Brit Lit Curriculum.

Looking for a British Literature curriculum map? I’ve got you covered. Subscribe below to be the first to know about new resources and blog posts, and receive your free editable British Literature Curriculum Map Scope & Sequence today! 

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