Activity Overview

When reading a story like Beowulf, students will come across unfamiliar words, some of which are no longer commonly used if at all. Many students struggle with these odd expressions. A great way to help students out and engage them with these new words is to have them create vocabulary boards that use Old English vocabulary. However, getting students to use them in context before reading is an excellent way to cultivate the comprehension of vocabulary. You can provide students with a list of words, or if students create them while they read, they can select their own words to investigate!

  • 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.

Template and Class Instructions

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Activity", update the instructions on the Edit Tab of the assignment.)

Student Instructions

Create a visual vocabulary board for Beowulf.

  1. Use the template provided by your teacher.
  2. Identify three words used in the text.
  3. Define and illustrate each word.

Lesson Plan Reference

Common Core Standards
  • [ELA-Literacy/SL/9-10/6] Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grades 9–10 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)
  • [ELA-Literacy/L/9-10/3] Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening
  • [ELA-Literacy/L/9-10/5] Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings


(You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

Shakespearean Vocabulary Rubric Template
Define, illustrate, and give an example sentence for Shakespearean vocabulary
Proficient Emerging Beginning
Word meanings are clear and correct.
Word meanings are mostly correct, but some are unclear or incorrect.
Most word meanings are unclear or incorrect.
Vocabulary words are used correctly in the example sentences in both meaning and context.
Most words are used correctly, but some of the vocabulary words are used awkwardly or in the wrong context.
Most vocabulary words are not used correctly in the example sentences.
Comic Visualization
Storyboard cell clearly illustrates the meaning of the vocabulary word.
The storyboard cell relates to the meaning of the vocabulary word, but is difficult to understand.
The storyboard cell does not clearly relate to the meaning of the vocabulary word.

How To Foster Interest in Old English Vocabulary


Give history

Introduce the historical context of old English vocabulary to students. Teachers can start by telling the significance of old English vocabulary and comparing modern vocabulary with new vocabulary to analyze the changes.


Discuss Evolution

Teachers can conduct a discussion of how language evolution takes place over time and introduce different scripts of old languages from other cultures. Students will develop an interest in finding out meanings and changes in vocabulary in different time periods.


Recommend Period/ Historical Movies/Books

Organize movie nights or recommend period movies that involve accurate depictions of old English vocabulary. This way students can hear actual pronunciations with interesting stories. They can also grasp how words can be used in different contexts.


Play Word Scavenger Hunt

Hold a word scavenger hunt in which participants look around their immediate surroundings for contemporary words that have Old English roots. This will help the students memorize and retain vocabulary in an engaging way.


Induce Conversations

Ask the students to use old vocabulary to participate in class discussions and conversations and the student who used the most words for a month will get an incentive or a reward.

Frequently Asked Questions About Old English Vocabulary in Beowulf

How would you define Old English Vocabulary?

The vocabulary used in the Old English period, roughly from the fifth to the eleventh century, is referred to as Old English. It is the earliest version of the English language and differs from Modern English in terms of linguistic characteristics, sentence structure, and word formation.

Which Old English words in "Beowulf" are used frequently?

The terms "eorþan" (earth), "sǣ" (sea), "hūs" (house), "waeter" (water), "dēaþ" (death), "sweord" (sword), and "fæder" (father) are a few examples of frequently used Old English vocabulary in "Beowulf."

Is it possible to find Old English terms still used in Modern English?

Yes, many Old English terms have remained in Modern English, albeit their pronunciation and meaning may have been modified. "Friend" (frēond), "man" (mann), "winter" (winter), and "mother" (mōdor)are all Old English words.

What role does the Old English language play in comprehending "Beowulf's" themes?

Old English terminology in "Beowulf" might help you better grasp the poem's cultural, sociological, and thematic themes. Honor, loyalty, fate, and heroism are key terms in understanding the epic's themes.

How should one approach Old English terminology in "Beowulf"?

If you are unfamiliar with Old English, it's best to read translations or editions of "Beowulf" that include glossaries or footnotes. This will allow you to enjoy the Old English terminology while still comprehending the broader story. After understanding the meaning of the poem in modern language, readers can also enjoy reading with old English terminology.

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