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Beowulf

Teacher Guide by Rebecca Ray

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Student Activities for Beowulf Include:

Are you looking to inspire and engage your students during a unit on Epic Narrative and Beowulf? Check out this Beowulf Teacher Guide with valuable ways to create visual storyboards that incorporate all four ELA Common Core standards with your unit. These activities will help your student grasp the idea of the Beowulf Epic Hero using storyboards!






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Beowulf Summary

In the lands of the Danes (modern day Denmark), a terrible beast, Grendel, plagued the kingdom of Hrothgar and his people. The Danes suffer for many years until a young, Geatish warrior named Beowulf takes on the challenge of defeating Grendel. He sails with his men to Heorot, and is thrown a great feast on his arrival.

Although many are joyous at his arrival, one jealous Dane denounces Beowulf and his reputation, at which point Beowulf boasts about his accomplishments, his victories, and gives descriptions of stories from the war.

After the celebration, Grendel, arrives and, Beowulf fights him barehanded. When others try to aid Beowulf, they find their swords cannot harm the creature. Beowulf defeats Grendel by tearing his arm off and hangs it as a trophy in the great hall of Heorot for all to see.

The mortally wounded Grendel has retreated to the marshes to die. His mother, a swamp hag, is now enraged. She kills Hrothgar’s most loyal warrior before returning to her lair.

Beowulf, Hrothgar, and their men, track Grendel’s mother, and Beowulf swims into the hag's underwater lair alone. Grendel’s mother appears to be winning against the Geat, but he stabs her with a sword found in the lair. Before he leaves, Beowulf finds Grendel’s body at the bottom of the swamp and cuts off his head as a trophy for the king.

Years later, Beowulf ascends to the throne of his homeland where he rules wisely for over 50 years. When a would-be thief disturbs a dragon, it threatens his land. Knowing he has lived a full life and seeing his death before him, Beowulf charges into the action and defeats the dragon, but not before being bitten in the neck. The dragon’s venom kills him, and according to legend, his body is burned on a great funeral pyre, and a burial mound is built for him overlooking the sea.


Essential Questions for Beowulf

  1. What makes a hero?
  2. What is a legend and why are they important?
  3. How has the concept of a hero changed over decades? Over centuries?
  4. How does an epic differ from other works of literature?

Beowulf Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Beowulf Hero's Journey


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Related to both plot diagram and types of literary conflict, the Hero’s Journey is a recurring pattern of stages many heroes undergo over the course of their stories. Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, writer, and lecturer, articulated this cycle after researching and reviewing numerous myths and stories from a variety of time periods and regions of the world. He found that they all shared fundamental principles. This spawned the Hero’s Journey, also known as the Monomyth. The most basic version has 12 steps, while more detailed versions can have up to 17.


Beowulf Example Following the Hero’s Journey Structure

Stage Summary
Ordinary World Beowulf's ordinary world was Geatland.
Call to Adventure Beowulf heard stories of a monster known as Grendel, who was hunting the warriors of Heorot. Over twelve years, Grendel killed more than 30 of King Hrothgar’s men. The people needed a hero of epic proportions, so they called upon Beowulf.
Refusal (No Refusal) Beowulf could not refuse the plight of King Hrothgar, so he gathered his best men and set off for Denmark.
Mentor/Helper King Hrothgar becomes Beowulf's mentor, though his influence is not seen at first. Beowulf uses the incident with Grendel as a guide when he becomes king. Through Hrothgar, Beowulf learns that a king who cannot fight is useless to his people. Another example of a helper or supernatural aid is when Unferth lends the sword, Hrunting, to Beowulf to help him defeat Grendel’s mother.
Cross the Threshold Beowulf and his men cross the sea from Geatland to Denmark.
Test/Allies/Enemies Beowulf battled Grendel, and outsmarts the monster; He takes Grendel's arm as a trophy, mortally wounding him. Later, he also battles the swamp hag and the dragon. An important ally against the dragon is Wiglaf.
Approach Thinking he has ended the battle, the Geat's throw a great feast in his honor. However, they learn there is a new foe: Grendel's mother. Beowulf’s work is not yet done.
Ordeal Beowulf must defeat the evil swamp hag to save the Danes. To defeat her, he swims into the her underwater lair and stabs her with a sword made for a giant.
Reward King Hrothgar gives Beowulf his finest horses and a massive treasure.
Road back Upon returning home, Beowulf ascends to the throne of his homeland where he rules wisely for over 50 years.
Atonement When he first returns, he gives Hygelac gifts. Years later, his heroic deeds are again needed. When a would-be thief disturbs a dragon, it threatens his land. Knowing he has lived a full life and seeing his death before him, Beowulf charges into the action and defeats the dragon, but not before he is bitten in the neck and poisoned.
Return According to legend, Beowulf's body and a massive treasure were burned on a funeral pyre overlooking the sea. He dies a hero’s death, and his stories are told over generations.
Beowulf Hero's Journey

Example

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Use the story of Beowulf and map it to the narrative structure of the Hero's Journey.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Depict and describe how the chosen character's story fits (or does not fit ) into each of the stages of the Hero's Journey.
  3. Finalize images, edit, and proofread your work.
  4. Save and submit storyboard to assignment.



TEMPLATE - HERO'S JOURNEY

Example

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Elements of an Epic for Beowulf

Generally, epics are mythological histories, meaning they are a melting pot of famous figures from history and historical events. In the case of Beowulf, the battle of Grendel is the beginning of the epic with the famous Beowulf, Warrior of the Geats, as its hero.

Epics typically begin as oral traditions, passed down for generations before being written down. Because of this, epics have an order and repetition of the events that made them easier to remember. Due to their length, these works often took days to tell.

Six Elements Of The Epic

A Hero of Legendary Proportions

The epic hero is typically well known in his time, often reaching superstar status. In ancient legends, the hero often is either partially divine or at least protected by the gods.

"I'm Beowulf! I've killed nine sea monsters." In cell one, this quote shows Beowulf's notoriety. When he first gets to the Denmark, the Dane's throw him a great feast. While there, he brags to Hrothgar about all he's accomplished.


Adventures of Superhuman Strength and Valor

The hero accomplishes feats no real human could, both physically and mentally.

After bragging, Beowulf also tells a story about a swimming match with his friend Brecca. During the match, sea monsters attack, and Beowulf was able to slay the monsters, save his friend, and finish the race.


Multiple Settings

The actions of the hero span the continent, other realms, or even worlds.

In Beowulf, much of the action takes place in or around Hrothgar's hall of Heorot, but Beowulf also goes to the to kill the swamp hag in her underwater lair, and his fight against the dragon is in his home of Geatland.


Involvement of the Supernatural

Gods, demons, angels, time/space travel, cheating death, immortality, and other supernatural elements.

In this epic tale, our hero encounters monsters, a witch, and a fire-breathing dragon. He uses a sword forged by giants to kill his enemies.


Epic Style of Writing

The style of is frequently ornate, drawn out, or exaggerated.

The poem uses traditional "kennings", or compound metaphors, to replace simple objects, and much of the action is relayed at breathless pace, interspersed with digressions about lineage and past deeds. Characters and events are described in a truly epic and poetic manner.


Omniscient Narrator

The narrator sees and knows all.

Throughout Beowulf, the narrator uses 3rd person omniscient narration to tell us the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the characters. He writes as though from a god’s point of view, witnessing and experiencing everything that takes place in the story and sometimes even spoiling what's going to happen next!


Beowulf - Elements of an Epic

Example

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Beowulf Themes

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the poem, and support their choices with details from the text. For best practices, see our article with specific lesson plan steps on setting up your classroom and activities to teach themes, symbols, and motifs.


Beowulf Themes to Look For and Discuss

The Importance of Customs

Beowulf is saturated with the importance of customs and following them. These fierce medieval warriors had strong laws and customs to reduce bloodshed and keep the clans together. Beliefs about hospitality, loyalty, and valor were particularly strong. See if your students can find examples of each in the text.


Good vs. Evil

In the epic, the battle between good and evil is made very literal. The good is represented by the brave warriors, both Danes and Geats, while the evil is represented by the threatening monsters in the form of Grendel, his mother, and the dragon.


Brains over Brawns

A prominent theme in many epic stories is the use of wit over brute strength. In Beowulf's case, although he possesses the strength to win battles, his cunning is an invaluable asset. A prime example is when he tricks Grendel and tears off Grendel's arm.


Beowulf Themes

Example

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Character Map of Beowulf


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As students read, a storyboard can serves as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. A story like Beowulf has many characters to keep track of and a character log can help keep them straight.

Important Characters and Creatures from Beowulf.

  • Beowulf - Brave warrior and future king of Geatland
  • King Hrothgar - King of the Dane's who is threatened by the monster Grendel
  • Grendel - A abominable monster who threatens the Danes
  • Grendel’s mother - A swamp hag
  • Beow - Former King of the Geats
  • Unferth - Antagonist who challenges Beowulf on his word
  • Wiglaf - A young warrior who follows Beowulf to his death
Beowulf Character Map

Example

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.


  1. Identify the major characters in Beowulf and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character from the "Medieval" or "Monsters and Myths" tabs to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Traits, Role in Epic, and Effect on Protagonist.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.


Beowulf Character Map Template

Example

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Old English Vocabulary in Beowulf

Another great way to engage your students is by creating a storyboard that uses Old English vocabulary. Many students struggle with these odd expressions. However, getting students to use them in context before reading is an excellent way to cultivate the comprehension of vocabulary. In the example below, students were asked to create storyboards that use important Old English vocabulary from the epic.

  • Mead Hall - A large building with a single room constructed for lords to hold feasts in.
  • Kennings - Poetic phrases consisting of compound metaphors.
  • Scop - Anglo-Saxon minstrel who tells the story.
Beowulf Vocabulary

Example

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Other Lesson Plan Ideas

  1. Tell the story of Beowulf from another character's point of view.
  2. Create an alternate ending to the epic with a storyboard.
  3. Use a timeline to create a Beowulf summary.
  4. Depict one of the past battles Beowulf brags about.
  5. Add a presentation to any storyboard project.


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