Beowulf Unit
Amanda J Ryder
Beowulf Unit
Amanda Ryder
Warriors, Monsters, and Dragons…Oh, my…
Prefatory Statement:
"Beowulf: Warriors, Monsters, and Dragons…Oh, my…" is a four week unit that incorporates the
reading of a difficult text into a junior or senior classroom. One challenge for many teachers is being able to
connect older literary texts to students so that they continue to be meaningful. In this unit, the text is presented
in such a way that students can alternate between seeing Beowulf as an action story and seeing Beowulf as a way
to contrast and compare current ideals and themes with ideals and themes of past and different cultures. Some
of the themes that I will draw on include heroes and hero worship, monsters/villains, the idea of feuds, the role
of women, and the idea of point of view on history. By accessing these themes through Beowulf, students will
be able to compare how they appeared in society many years ago, but also how they appear in society today.
In this particular unit, the final assessment is a portfolio project. Beowulf has a lot of challenging names
and it is often difficult for students to pronounce, much less remember how to spell, them. For that reason, I
have not included any quizzes or tests as assessment options. Students can again connect to the materials that
they are working with because they will be given choice within their projects. For each writing assignment,
students are given multiple topics that they may choose from. Sometimes the class will brainstorm those ideas,
but the students are never forced to write about a particular topic (except for daily journal writing). If students
have some choice in how they connect to a text, then the connection they forge will be that much stronger and,
hopefully, that much more relevant and meaningful.
Class Specification:
-11th grade AP or 12th grade
-with adjustments and a different translation (prose? abridged?) could be possible for younger grades
-more advanced students may be interested in learning more about Old English
Significant Assumptions:
Throughout this unit:
-I assume that students often have a difficult time understanding poetry or prose originally written in Middle
English.
-I assume that students can benefit greatly from the appropriate inclusion of technology and media resources.
-I assume that students are somewhat familiar with writing letters, newspaper articles, and essays- as well as
appropriate responses to journal prompts.
-I assume that students are familiar with searching and finding newspaper or magazine articles with a specific
theme.
-I assume that students are capable, with some direction, of setting up and conducting an interview with a
community member.
Desired Outcomes/Standards/Objectives To Be Met:
Standards:
I. Reading and Literature
D. Literature
2. Read, analyze and evaluate traditional, classical, and contemporary works of literary
merit from British literature.
4. Evaluate the impact of an author’s decisions regarding word choice, point of view,
style and literary elements.
(Minnesota Department of Education Academic Standards- http://education.state.mn.us/
mdeprod/groups/Standards/documents/LawStatute/000269.pdf)
Possible Whole-Class Activities:
-discussions
-have a community member as a guest speaker
Possible Small-Group Activities:
-find newspaper or magazine articles about heroes or people with great responsibilities
-write a letter to the editor about unsung heroes in the community (with the possibility of local publishing- local
library or school library)
-gather local hero stories for the local library (with the possibility of local publishing- local library or school
library)
Possible Individual Activities:
-interview someone that you believe to be a hero
-create illustrations of parts of Beowulf
-create a family tree
-short writing activities
Ongoing Activities:
-Journal: a combination of daily writing concerning responses to the literature, dialogues between teacher and
student as well as student and student, and writing prompts
-Literature Log/Summary Record: Much like a minstrel's recounting, a summary record is a record of major
characters, events, and facts.
Student Resources:
-a translated copy of Beowulf, such as:
Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. New York: W. W. Norton & Company,
2000. (Or another version of the text, but I prefer this one because it is a side-by-side translation.)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Week 1: Is Beowulf a Rock Star, or what?
Activities for the Day
Monday o Anticipatory Set – “It’s action packed, it’s got fight scenes, it’s got hidden treasure and
it’s also one of the oldest surviving texts written in (Old) English. It’s Beowulf. Now,
before you all groan loudly, Beowulf was a warrior of the first class. He won contests
against other warriors, he was known across the kingdom (and in a few others), he was
lauded as a great leader, and he battled monsters. His adventures took him across seas
and across lands, to fight monsters and counsel kings- he was showered with gifts of
gold and armor for almost everything that he did. His quest starts here…”
o Read (or listen to) Lines 1-163 in class modeling how to decode more difficult parts of
the text
o Begin the summary of events record
o Discuss:
• Historical context, lack of known author, etc.
• the significance of family and an individual's identity as part of a family ("…the
son of…")
o Assign the homework of reading lines 164-398 for tomorrow
Tuesday o Have students summarize the events of the lines that they read on their own for today –
remind students to add important events, characters, and facts to their summary record
o Journal Entry: Is Beowulf your idea of what a warrior was like? In what ways does he
fit or not fit the image that you had in your mind?
o Discuss:
• the significant role that Heorot (Hall of the Hart) plays in Hrothgar's kingdom
• why Beowulf leaves his own kingdom to fight Grendel
• What is a hero? Why is Beowulf considered a hero?
o Assign the homework of reading lines 399-835 for tomorrow
Wednesday o Have students summarize the events of the lines that they read for today
o Journal Entry: What is your definition of a hero? Would your definition have been
different 500 years ago?
o Discuss:
• What is a hero? Can we create a definition?
• So far, does Beowulf fit that definition?
• What role does Wealtheow (Hrothgar's wife) play in Beowulf's story?
o Assign the homework of reading lines 836-1250 for tomorrow
Thursday o Have students summarize the events of the lines that they read for today
o Journal Entry: Ralph Waldo Emerson said that, "A hero is no braver than an ordinary
man, but he is braver five minutes longer.” Do you agree or disagree with his statement
and why? Are heroes just ordinary men who do something when other men have
already given up?
o Discuss:
• Why do feuds happen?
• What can be the consequences of a feud?
• Can you think of any modern examples of feuds that exist today?
• In Beowulf, why is the feud between the Danes and the Frisians so important?
• What is at stake?
• What is a wergild (man-price)? (monetary compensation for the life of the slain
man is the only way, according to Germanic law, to settle a feud peacefully)
o Assign first short writing assignment:
Choose 1 of the following (approximately 1-2 pages long, double spaced):
• Based on lines 24 and 25 ("Behaviour that's admired is the path to power
among people everywhere"), write a short essay about whether or not this
statement is still true. Has the passage of time changed the meaning of the
quotation? Has the passage of time changed what behaviors are admired?
• Write a short essay describing the role of women in Beowulf, based on what we
have read thus far.
• Write a short essay based on this question and your own opinions: Can
someone commit heroic deeds or acts without being a hero?
• Allow students to use their own topics- with approval, of course.
Friday o Review key elements that should be included in their summary record
o Give time to work on the short writing assignment
o Have students choose one of their journal entries (or Anticipatory Set Writing) to
revise and expand for their portfolio
o Assign the homework of reading lines 1251-1599 for Monday
Week 2: Are Grendel and Grendel's mother villains?
Monday o Take time for peer review of the first short writing assignment
o Have students summarize the events from the lines they read for today
o Journal Entry: What is a villain? What is a monster? Are they always the same thing?
o Discuss:
• Why does Grendel's mother attack Heorot? Why had Grendel been attacking
the kingdom before? How are their motives different? Is one motive any worse
or better than the other?
o Assign the homework of reading lines 1600-1798 for tomorrow
Tuesday o Have students summarize the events from the lines they read for today
o Journal Entry: Mark Richt once said, "I don't think he's a villain…I like him." Is it
possible to be a nice person and a villain? Do you think that it is possible for someone
to commit villainous acts without being a villain?
o Discuss:
• If Beowulf is such a great hero, why does everyone believe him to be dead?
What does that say about what a hero must be? (mortal)
• Why does Beowulf only remove Grendel's Mother's head and the blade?
• What event foreshadowed Beowulf's foray for an extended amount of time in
water?
o Assign the homework of reading lines 1799-1998 for tomorrow
Wednesday o Have students summarize the events from the lines they read for today
o Give students time to update their summary records
o Group Activity: As a small group, define hero, monster, and villain. Your definition
should apply to Beowulf's time as well as our own – OR – you should have two
definitions and describe the change that has happened. Record your definitions in your
journal and prepare to present them to the class. We will then come up with class
definitions.
o Assign the homework of reading lines 1999-2199 for tomorrow
Thursday o Have students summarize the events from the lines they read for today
o Journal Entry: Hrothgar warns Beowulf not to forget about the fragility of human life.
Why do you think Beowulf needs to be reminded of this?
o Discuss:
• Beowulf's return and reception
o Assign second short writing assignment. Creative Writing: Discuss what difference the
point of view makes to the reader’s understanding. How would the story be different
from Grendel’s mother’s pint of view? Choose one short scene and rewrite it (in prose
or verse) from the point of view of a different character.
Friday o Review key elements that should be included in their summary record
o Give time to work on the 2nd short writing assignment
o Have students choose one of their journal entries to revise and expand for their
portfolio
o Have students prepare copies of their group's definitions for hero, monster, and villain
for their portfolio
o Assign the homework of reading lines 2220-2396 for Monday
Week 3: Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons…
Monday o Take time for peer review of the first short writing assignment
o Have students summarize the events from the lines they read for today
o Journal Entry: Can you think of any other books or movies where a knight or warrior
has to slay a dragon? List a few examples. Why do you think that scenario occurs as
often as it does?
o Discuss:
• How did Beowulf come to inherit the kingdom? Why did he refuse the throne
initially?
• Why was the dragon awakened?
o Assign the homework of reading lines 2397-2723 for tomorrow
Tuesday o Have students summarize the events from the lines they read for today
o Journal Entry: How do you think the Dragon feels in this whole situation? How would
the story be different from his (her?) point of view?
o Discuss:
• Where do Beowulf's responsibilities lie?
• Do you think that he is as excited to go fight the dragon as he was to fight
Grendel?
• Why does Beowulf reflect on his past (approx. line 2430)?
• What is foreshadowed at lines 2510-2520?
o Assign the homework of reading lines 2724-2910 for tomorrow
Wednesday o Have students summarize the events from the lines they read for today
o Journal Entry: Is the story of Beowulf still applicable today? In what ways could it be
useful?
o Discuss:
• As Beowulf is dying, what is he glad of (regarding the dragon's hoard)? How
would Beowulf have responded in this situation 50 years before (when he was
battling Grendel)?
• How does Wiglaf react to Beowulf's death?
o Assign the homework of reading lines 2911-3182 for tomorrow
Thursday o Have students summarize the events from the lines they read for today
o Journal Entry: Would you want the responsibilities that Beowulf had and that Wiglaf
now has? Why or why not?
o Discuss:
• How did Beowulf's people remember him?
• How has life changed for the Geats?
o Assign third short writing assignment. As a class, brainstorm a list of potential topics.
Students may choose one of those topics or may present a topic for approval. They
must have a thesis statement (or a good idea of what they want to do) approved by the
teacher today or tomorrow. Alternatively, may also choose to turn an interview of a
community member into a hero narrative. Based on their interview with the person, the
students will write the interviewees story.
o Have students complete their summary record.
Friday o Arrange for a guest speaker, if possible, from a local college to talk about Beowulf,
Middle English, etc. Alternatively, you can show sections of The Power of Myth video.
Week 4: So, where does this leave me?
The final week of this unit is dedicated to preparing the portfolio assignment. Each student is required to turn in
a portfolio of their work associated with Beowulf. They may use class time for peer review, conferencing, or as
work time. At the end of each day, they must log what they accomplished during the hour.
Each Portfolio Must Include:
 3 revised journal entries (with copies of original entry)
 3 revised short writing assignments
 summary record
 group definitions
 1 piece of artwork or illustration
 1 interview transcript with a short rationale statement describing why the student chose to
interview this person
 1 of the Following:
-1 additional creative writing piece (an additional scene rewrite, a long poem, a
newspaper article, an additional scene, etc.) – Be creative!
-3 additional illustrations of different scenes
-(Students may propose another, alternative idea for this requirement.)
 Survey Questions
o What things did you really like about reading Beowulf?
o What activities/assignments did you think were most useful in this unit? Why?
o What activities were the most entertaining? Why?
o What activities were the least useful? Why?
o Other comments or suggestions for a future teaching of Beowulf…
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Supporting Materials For Teachers Who Teach The Unit:
Video: The Power of Myth
Assessment Task and Grading:
Daily Journal Entries
-students will be assessed on the number of entries made in their journal as well as the content of 6 of
their journal entries (of their choosing)
-students will receive two scores
15pts – 1 per entry if completed
10pts – feedback will be given on some of 6 chosen journal entries and a score will be given
based on the completeness of those entries
Short Writing Activities
-students will complete various short writing exercises based on class discussions, writing prompts,
questions, or their own inspiration – these will be given feedback so that students may correct them and
include them in their portfolio
-students may receive multiple scores on these assignments
30 pts – proper peer review conduct through attendance and teacher observation (3 @ 10 pts
each)
45 pts – final assignment turned in (3 @ 15pts each: 5 pts for grammar and usage, 10 pts for how
well the topic is argued or discussed)
Interview Activity
-students will be required to interview someone in the community
-students must provide a transcript of the interview (tape recorders may be checked out)
-students will be able to choose their interviewees from: someone who is a community hero, someone
who wants to make a local hero known, someone who knows about the time period of Beowulf,
someone who can speak about epic writing/poetry, etc.
-students will be assessed based on a rubric:
Interview
Activity
Rubric
6 4 2 0
Setting Up the
Interview
-arranged for
interview and
provided all
information to
teacher on time
-arranged for
interview but were
late with information
for the teacher
-arranged for
interview, no
information turned in
to teacher
-did not arrange
interview, teacher
arranged it for you
Interview
Behavior
-received positive
feedback from
interviewee
received neutral
feedback from the
interviewee (or some
positive-some
negative)
-received negative
feedback from
interviewee
-did not show up fro
interview
Transcript of
Interview
-transcript was
turned in on time and
complete
-transcript was
turned in late but
complete
-transcript was
turned in, but
incomplete
-transcript was not
turned in
Total Points __________/18 pts
Portfolio
 3 revised journal entries (with copies of original entry)
 3 revised short writing assignments (with rough draft, final draft turned in, and a revised
final copy for the portfolio)
 summary record
 group definitions
 1 piece of artwork or illustration
 1 interview transcript with a short rationale statement describing why the student chose to
interview this person
 1 of the Following:
-1 additional creative writing piece (an additional scene rewrite, a long poem, a
newspaper article, an additional scene, etc.) – Be creative!
-3 additional illustrations of different scenes
-(Students may propose another, alternative idea for this requirement.)
 Survey Questions
o What things did you really like about reading Beowulf?
o What activities/assignments did you think were most useful in this unit? Why?
o What activities were the most entertaining? Why?
o What activities were the least useful? Why?
o Other comments or suggestions for a future teaching of Beowulf…
Portfolio
Rubric
4 3 2 1 0
Inclusion of
All Required
Elements
all final elements
are included
missing 1-3 final
elements
missing 4-6 final
elements
missing 7-9 final
elements
missing 10 or
more final
elements or no
portfolio has
been turned in
3 Journal
Entries: Final
Drafts
journal entries
answer the
prompt
completely
journal entries
begin to answer
the prompt
journal entries
do not answer
the prompt
final journal
entries were not
included
entries have
clearly been
revised and ideas
have been
expanded since
writing on
original
little to no
significant
revision or
expansion of
ideas have been
made
3 Journal
Entries:
Rough Drafts
copies of all
three original
prompts and
entries included
copies of two
original prompts
and entries
included
copy of one
original prompt
and entry is
included
no original
entries included
3 Short
Writing
Assignments:
Final Draft
all three
assignments
have been
revised after a
draft was turned
into the teacher
two assignment
were revised
after a draft was
turned into the
teacher
one assignment
was revised after
a draft was
turned into the
teacher
none of the
assignments
were revised
again
3 Short
Writing
Assignments:
Previous
Drafts
all 6 previous
drafts were
included (3 peer
review and 3
with teacher
feedback)
4-5 previous
drafts were
included
2-3 previous
drafts were
included
0-1 previous
drafts were
included
Summary
Record
Summary
Record is
completed neatly
and includes
major events as
well as names
and significant
details
Summary
Record is
completed with
major events and
some details
Summary
Record is
missing some
major events
Summary
Record is
missing many
major events
Summary
Record was not
included
Group
Definitions
Your individual
group's
definitions and
the class
definitions for
hero, monster,
and villain are
EITHER your
individual
group's
definitions OR
the class
definitions are
presented, but
Definitions were
not included
presented not both
Artwork or
Illustration
artwork clearly
represents a
scene from
Beowulf
artwork is
complete but it
is not clear what
part of Beowulf
it represents
No artwork was
included
Interview:
Transcript
transcript is
included and is
complete
transcript was
included but is
incomplete
Transcript was
not included
Interview:
Rationale
Interview
Rationale clearly
explains the
reasoning in the
student's thought
process as to
why they chose
their interviewee
Interview
Rationale
somewhat
explains the
reasoning in the
student's thought
process as to
why they chose
their interviewee
Interview
Rationale does
not explain the
reasoning in the
student's thought
process as to
why they chose
their interviewee
Interview
Rationale was
not included
Choice:
Creative
Writing,
Additional
Artwork,
Other
To be evaluated by a conference between student and teacher. ______/5pts
Survey
Questions
All Survey
Questions
Completed
Some Survey
Questions
Completed
Survey
Questions not
included
Total Points _______/40 points
Total Points for Unit: 158 points