In this post, I briefly outline why it is both a challenge and a reward to teach mythology as a unit in a middle and high school classroom!
Last year my students sat at desks with
plexiglass screens, but we were still
able to engage in meaningful conversations
(including the meaning of myth). #thumbsup
Mythology is a powerful topic to introduce to adolescent learners in a Language Arts or Humanities classroom. But, there's a catch. You don't want to present mythology as "kids' stuff" — and you definitely want to have a conversation about how students were first introduced to mythology — via Disney's Hercules or from a children's book, or a trip to the library, or not at all! The aura of myth is everywhere. And myths originate from all the world's societies — from the moment the first human could speak, myths have been told.
State and reiterate to students that mythology is a wide-reaching topic, and in every culture and civilization, there is a mythology — the stuff of narrative that sticks, that is universal, and tells a human story. Greek mythology is a standard go-to when teaching myth. It's standard fodder in schools today — especially because of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and Edith Hamilton's Mythology. But don't just stick with the Greeks — provide a variety of mythic stories and see how they are parallel, and share common patterns.
Finding Patterns in Myth and Identifying Tropes
Believe it or not — characters like
Spider-man, from Marvel comics and movies
— are just modern-day iterations of myth.
What god would Spider-man be? Anansi?
In a middle or high school setting, it's important to contextualize myth and to make it relevant for today's learners. How do you do that successfully? The best way to do it is to show how patterns in myth crop up in our everyday world. Perhaps your students are not worried about finding a nymph on the sidewalk, or striding a bull that turns into a God — but, mythology is all around us. I love to use the website TV Tropes — it organizes common tropes found in literature, movies, television, and video games to show how popular allusions form and where they can be found! One good place to start is to show students how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is just another version of mythology, re-packaged for the new media set.
The difficulty with teaching myth to students is just simply the gulf of content that is out there. It can be overwhelming. But less is more. The goal of teaching mythology is to have students make connections. Also, older students can learn about the discrepancies found in myths, and chart out and graph those inconsistencies — such as why the stories from ancient sources change, are adapted, and evolve over time. There is no universal text when it comes to these stories — and prepare to leverage this reality to your advantage. Create group work that has students investigate the differences and similarities found in myth. And make sure to record and document what you find.
Teach a Three-Day Lesson on the Titan Gods and Goddesses
Where to start on a myth unit for middle and high school students? You can start with a lesson on creation myths, but don't forget the Titans. The Titans are the "old gods," and their stories are filled with violence, wonder, intrigue, rebellion, and the rise of the new gods, the Olympians. Learn with your students as you traverse stories that include a father castrated by his son; a wise, compassionate one who attempts to save humankind, and how a jar (or, is it a box?) unleashes mayhem onto the world!
|Use a three-day lesson plan digital download from |
Stones of Erasmus. Adolescents will love the messiness
and insanity of the old gods, the Titans.