When you think of a hero what comes to mind? Is it an everyday person with an extraordinary quality or ability? Or, does your mind race to someone who has beyond-human skills or powers? Either way, you are thinking about a hero! In this article, we will explore classical heroes and superheroes.

Recommended Classical Hero Lesson Plan

Overview of the Lesson:

Who are classical heroes? Who are superheroes? How can I tell them apart? Teaching students this literary device and asking them to think deeply about the hero's attributes, and how they affect the work as a whole, will instill a deeper understanding of many literary works.

Hero Definition

Classical heroes are otherwise normal people, except they have a great talent. They often possess an attribute or quality that distinguishes them from ordinary people, making them a hero. Sometimes this is great skill, but other times it is a quality of character, like courage. It's important to remember that classical heroes possess something others do not have, but are otherwise equal in their worlds. Examples of heroes are: Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Atticus Finch, Ponyboy, Rikki-tikki-tavi, or King Arthur.

Superheroes can start out as classical or even everyman heroes. Somewhere along the way, they acquire power that makes them "super". However, most superheroes are born with beyond-human qualities. Well-known examples of superheroes would be Superman, Spiderman, or Wonder Woman.

To learn more about other hero types, take a look at our article on "Types of Heroes".

Six Typical Characteristics of a Classical Hero

Humble Upbringing These heroes could have been orphaned, or are poor, and through their humble or modest upbringings, they learned how to face adversity.
A Greatness Foreshadowed For sometime before the hero in them emerged, people foreshadowed this character's greatness.
Strong Ability or Attribute Classical heroes mostly have the same abilities as everyone else. However, they are just a bit better at certain things than their counterparts.
Emotional Quest This hero typically has some emotional issues that must overcome. These may be related to his quest.
Battle of Pride Often the major battle comes just as the hero is sorting out his issues and overcoming his pride.
Death If the hero dies, it's because he was sacrificing himself for the greater good, or because he was betrayed.

Time: 45 Minutes

Grade Level: 8-12


Although this lesson can be used for multiple grade levels, below are examples of the Common Core standards for Grades 9-10. Please see your Common Core standards for other grade-appropriate standards.

  • ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text
  • ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3: Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme
  • ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task
  • ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5: Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest

Lesson-Specific Essential Questions

  1. What makes a person a hero? What are some hero traits?
  2. Is heroism an innate quality or a type of behavior?
  3. What do we learn from classical heroes?


Before starting this lesson students should be able to list various heroes from multiple genres.

After the lesson, students will be able to define a classical hero; list various types of heroes from works of literature, film, and television; and take away the effects of hero on plot.

Anticipated Student Preconceptions/Misconceptions

Some students will have prior knowledge and may know the definition of a hero or confuse the everyman hero with a classical hero.

Lesson Details/Procedure

Teaching the Term

Students will be given the worksheet on the various types of heroes and will be instructed to fill in the boxes to the best of their ability. Do not give students the definition of each type yet, just ask them to list heroes and try to categorize them without your assistance. If students cannot fill in a particular part, then instruct them that they may leave it blank. After 5-10 minutes, ask students to compare lists with someone sitting near them. Then, ask each pair to say one type of hero out loud and complete a master list on the board.

Defining the Term

After students have categorized each type of hero, ask them to come up with their definition for each type, based on the heroes listed in that column. Once the students have shared each definition with the class, give them the textbook definitions and see how close they were!

While Reading

After students have come up with their definition and characteristics, ask students to fill out and keep track of the attributes that make the protagonist of your work a classical hero by writing the answers on: "Six Typical Characteristic of a Classical Hero Worksheet".

After Reading

Reinforce this lesson by asking students to complete their storyboard showing the hero and their attributes. Make sure they are using a scene and quote from the text as evidence. This lesson extension, coupled with a slide show presentation, will help students master the concept of heroes.

Image Attributions
  • Movie • João Lavinha • License Attribution (
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