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What is an Epic?

Epics are stories told on a grand scale, with armies, heroes, gods, and the brutal forces of nature depicted over long character arcs and sweeping landscapes. Protagonists meet with obstacles and disaster, action and triumph. Along with some other patterns and nuances, these elements distinguish epics from other writing styles. In this article, you will learn how to teach students the elements of the epic genre by using fun and easy-to-create storyboards.

A great extension of an epic is to teach the Hero's Journey. Since most epics follow this pattern, the terms are commonly taught together. Check out our lesson on the Hero’s Journey!

Our Recommended Lesson Plan

Overview of the Lesson

What is an epic and what are the attributes of this genre? Teach students the literary form, asking them to think deeply about its style and patterns, and how these affect the work as a whole.

Epic Definition and Origin

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

Epics are mythological histories; they meld together famous figures from history and historical events. Some characters and events in epics are historical, like the Trojan War, while other characters are mostly or purely mythological, like the Olympians, or Perseus.

Six Elements of an 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.

Adventures of Superhuman Strength and Valor

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

Multiple Settings

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

Involvement of the Supernatural

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

Epic Style of Writing

The style of is frequently ornate, drawn out, or exaggerated. Common flourishes are epithets, extended similes, and repeated phrases.

Omniscient Narrator

The narrator sees and knows all.

Grade Level: 6-12


This lesson can be used for many grade levels. Below are examples of the Common Core State Standards for Grades 9-10. See your Common Core State Standards for the correct grade-appropriate strands.

  • ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2: Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text
  • ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10: By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.

    By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, at the high end of the grades 9-10 text complexity band independently and proficiently
  • ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1: Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively
  • ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically

Lesson Specific Essential Questions

  1. How do we use the word “epic” in today's society, and what does it mean?
  2. What are some of the ways people exaggerate when telling stories?
  3. What stories in our media seem to be “epic”?


Students will be able to define an epic story, and understand how it differs from another genre of literature.

Before Reading

Before reading an epic poem or story with your students, make sure to go over its definition and the common elements of the genre. It is helpful to have students compare and contrast this genre with another they have read, like tragedy or dystopia. Students can also think of movies that would be categorized as epics. Having them come up with a list is a great activator. They could also create a storyboard of the movie, and how it contains the elements of an epic.

During or After Reading

While students are reading, or after they have finished, ask them to create a storyboard that shows the major elements of epic. Characters, settings, direct quotes, should be used to explain and support each element.

Find more activities like this in our Middle School ELA and High School ELA Categories!

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